My father-in-law brought a metal detector to the beach.
I can see him out there, stepping carefully along the shore. The instrument is poised in front of him, and he sweeps it in a conscientious arc just above the sand. He is bent forward slightly, mindful of every tick and warble of the device. He is hopeful in his search, as anyone is who brings a metal detector to the beach. I am reminded of an article I read recently about famous lost treasures from history that have yet to be found. I do not think he is expecting to uncover a chest of gold coins, but perhaps there is something worth uncovering – something more valuable than bottle caps and earring backs.
There is a storm on the ocean. Behind him, I can see white caps scattered all the way to the horizon. The air has cooled and is thick with the smell of rain. The trees sway. The wind flutters my father-in-law’s T-shirt. Still, he goes about the painstaking business of the search as if oblivious to what is approaching.
It is the way with treasure-seekers, I suspect. Whether it’s Indiana Jones crisscrossing the globe in search of the Well of Souls, or just a guy rummaging through an estate sale bookshelf in hopes of finding a forgotten first edition, treasure-seekers are about the business of recovering what has been lost. The search is more important than the circumstances. What lies beneath the sand may indeed prove greater than all the wind and rain a storm can throw your way. These are the things I think as I watch my father-in-law persist in his detecting against a backdrop of atmospheric turmoil.
And one other thought occurs to me as well.
I wonder about our faith, about this thing we call Christianity. I wonder how much has been lost from it over the years, and what elements we should seek to rediscover. What traditions and practices have disappeared, to our misfortune? What sound teachings have we cast aside in favor of convenient sayings and comforting folklore? What ambiguities, to which we once humbly submitted ourselves, have we coldly insisted on defining? I do not presume that we control the system by any means; I simply wonder how our free will and our particular cultural developments have caused us to lose track of certain aspects from which believers once benefitted. Such misplacement must have taken place here and there over so rich and lengthy a history.
The Dead Sea Scrolls were placed in jars and set aside, only to remain hidden for two millennia. But their discovery impacted the fields of archaeology, history, religion and linguistics in innumerable ways, altering assumptions we had accepted for decades and centuries.
Are Christians today so arrogant as to assume the grasp we have on our faith now is of greater strength than any other time? Do we honestly believe we know more about God now than those from past eras? We have been born into a culture that is all too impressed with the newest and thinnest and fastest and shiniest products on the market. Sometimes I fear our churches will forever be drawn to the innovative over the ancestral. That we will perpetually select new methodologies in place of ancient disciplines? Must we always chase after now while abandoning then?
Indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. (Proverbs 2:3-5)
It is a rare thing to find anything of value under the sand. But it does happen. Instead of just the earring back, you find the diamond front that goes with it. Maybe not gold doubloons, but sometimes there’s a 2004 Wisconsin quarter with an extra leaf, or, for the exceedingly lucky, a double-died 1969 penny.
You never know what you might find hidden under the sand – those unanticipated disappearances that have only increased in value since the time they were first lost to the world. Such rediscoveries, if we would commit ourselves to look for them, can rejuvenate our faith in extraordinary ways. Even when the storms of the present age gather against us, we are made stronger, and our connection with the saints of past ages is renewed. The cloud of witnesses rejoices, the angels celebrate around the throne, and the great God who made them all smiles in radiant joy.
Jesus himself described the kind of party that takes place when even seemingly insignificant items are found again. In the age of faster download speeds and mile-long waiting lines at the Apple Store, Christians must be warned to not so easily omit the past. If we truly believe in a God who is intimately active from generation to generation – a God who restores, who values monuments and remembrances – then the ways in which we commune with him and worship him and study about him matters. We must preserve a link to those who have gone before even as we anticipate what is still to come.
I see my father-in-law walking up the path. His shirt is speckled by the rain, but he doesn’t seem to mind. He has not found anything today, but I know his search hasn’t ended. There are limitless treasures waiting to be uncovered for those hopeful enough to look.