I remember in 1965, my fifth summer visiting Atlantic City with my parents, grandfather and uncle, I was six years-old. One bright sunny morning, we walked along the boardwalk, feeding the pigeons Planters peanuts. Tagging along, I followed my mom to the front of Boardwalk Hall, also known as Kennedy Plaza. On this particular pier, there was a shoulders and head bust of former President John F. Kennedy. It had only been there for one year.
Although the statue attracted a crowd, the largest gathering emerged when someone spotted a couple of huge whales. I do not believe anyone knew whether they were Blue whales, Sperm whales, or Fin whales; they were just enormous whales to me. However, I certainly remember being fascinated, watching them glide over the watery horizon, fountains of water shooting into the air. The sheer power of these giants so mesmerized me that I asked my mom, “Will they live forever?”
Her answer revealed a stark fact I had never been aware of before then. “No honey, nothing lives forever. Everything dies sometime.”
She tried quickly to change the subject. “Even us?” I pressed.
“Yes, even us. But not for a long, long time.”
I thought about her words the rest of my vacation and at some point; my mom sensed my distress and decided to explain why I had nothing to worry about if I believed in Jesus. If I did, I would go to heaven and live forever. I wondered if the whales believed in Jesus. The Sunday school teachers at the church my parents took me to every week were saying the same thing, that Jesus loved us and if we believed, we would be saved and live forever.
Fifty years later, I look back at that defining moment and have concluded with what I believe are three prominent influences in a person’s life that likely determine his or her belief in a God and eternal life, or lack thereof, on a worldwide scale.
1) education: Everything we learn is taught to us in public schools, private schools, churches, our parents, etc. and form the basis of our understanding of the past, present, and future life we live.
2) observation: All that we observe in the nature surrounding us, the people we meet, how they conduct their lives, the good, bad, and ugly, the beautiful…merges with our education, sometimes in conflict, other times in cohesive understanding and confirmation.
3) experience: Our own experiences with life…the people, places and things we have direct contact with throughout our journey. We test, trial, learn from our own successes and failures, feel…physical and emotional, think, and make decisions based on our experiences, observations, and our education. Together, we form our personality, character, and belief…a belief in God or not.
“But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve…as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).