What do you think of blunt Christian billboards? It’s easy to get annoyed at stoplights because they rigidly alternate between only three options (stop, go, and slow). Imagine how most people feel toward the billboards that bring it down to only two options and say curtly, “It’s your choice…heaven or hell.”
Spiritually speaking, most people want options. They want latitude to customize their spirituality like they create an avatar or order a latte. The idea that there is only one feasible spiritual option strikes them with all the finesse of Henry Ford’s “You can have any color of Model-T so long as it is black.”
Even among Christians, slogans such as “Turn or burn” are used as examples of how not to do evangelism because they are so impolitely stark. Yet the Bible often speaks in the language of either-or dichotomies (e.g., saved and lost, true and false, sheep and goats). If we want to speak the gospel winsomely and intelligibly to a secularized culture, it’s true that we need to not be rude and we need to learn tact. But if it’s the gospel we’re hoping to communicate, we also can’t avoid the Bible’s dichotomies. The Bible’s full of them! Light or darkness. Children of God or enemies of God. Worshiping the lamb or worshiping the beast.
The awkward truth is that, whatever nuance we bring into a gospel discussion, in the end, we will find the road ending, not in a cul-de-sac, but in a fork. Unless we ignore revelation, reason, and reality, the plain truth is that stark either-or’s are inescapable.
We can see a parable of this truth in the recent Blue Origin space flight.
William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk of Star Trek’s Starship Enterprise, recently made the news for going up into space for real. Even apart from his Enterprise and Blue Origin flights, 90-year-old Shatner’s bio is pretty legendary. His career includes starring in numerous movies and TV shows, recording 8 albums, voice acting, book writing, horse breeding, hosting awards shows and Miss America pageants, and even participating in professional wrestling. He’s in numerous “Halls” and “Walks” of fame. His personal bio includes three kids, four wives, and at least five autobiographies.
Yet, nothing in his colorful career—not even simulating space flights for a living—prepared him for what he would experience on the real-life Blue Origin flight. It was a 10-minute flight that went only 66.5 miles up (just past the “Karman Line,” the basic boundary between earth’s atmosphere and outer space). But it was enough of an experience that it reduced Shatner to an emotional post-flight interview in which he just couldn’t get over the stark dichotomy that the experience presented him with.
Commenting on the ominous space he was entering and the fragile, life-giving blueness he was leaving, Shatner said,
“That was death and this was life. And everything else just stood still for a moment. I was overwhelmed….I was overwhelmed with the experience, with the sensation of looking at death and looking at life.”
Although Shatner has written over thirty books and thousands of pages, mostly on the topic of space flight, he knew what was happening in those ten minutes was way bigger than he could capture in words: “Everything I thought might be clever to say went out the window.”
Shatner, who many felt overacted his part on the Enterprise, wasn’t acting when emerging from the Blue Origin. Fighting back tears, he explained, “To see the blue cover whip by! Now you’re staring into blackness….This comforter of blue that we have around us. We think, Oh, that’s blue sky. And then suddenly you shoot through it, all of a sudden, like you whip off a sheet when you’ve been asleep, and you’re looking into blackness….Is—is there death? Is that death? Is that the way death is?”
And there it is: the inescapable dichotomy. Either life or death. Multiple decades of acting and speculating and writing—all reduced to either-or clarity.
Many people live cluttered lives which periodically collide with clarity. But, as disciples of Jesus, we don’t have to wait for life’s Blue Origin events before we know what that clarity is. We have been given God’s either-or statements in writing. In the end, these either-or’s are inescapable. Any eloquence or cleverness with which we paint the gospel needs to go on thinly enough to where we don’t ever obscure the destiny-defining choices: salvation or destruction, light or darkness, life or death.
Like a lot of the Bible, Deuteronomy 30:19 might sound stark, but since its basic truth describes reality’s options, we might as well sit up straight and choose wisely:
“This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”
What does it mean to leave the Starship Enterprise for the Blue Origin? It means saying, “This is for real. And these are my options.”