Shawn Tucker has sent us a follow-up to a recent post. Some great ideas — thanks, Shawn! I will note that I like the optimism of his metaphor.
Steve Evans’ recently presented a sort of thought experiment about a permutation machine. The machine would allow one to see all of the other alternative outcomes for one’s life choices. In order for such a machine to make sense, you have to imagine that time moves in one direction, and that while there are many alternatives for each choice, only one can be selected. In addition, you have to imagine that each choice is completely unique and can never be revisited. You only had one chance to send or not send that note in 5th grade, to say hello or not say hello to that person in your Biology class, or to let or not let that hand linger there a little longer.
Thinking about time, choice, the path of one’s life, and even eternal consequences in that manner can be interesting.
It can also be the clap that triggers an avalanche of anxiety. If I start to picture how one seemingly minor decision might prove unique, crucial, and irrevocable, making a world and an eternal world’s difference, I can easily feel paralyzed with dread about making any decisions. And I would add that the common notion that the “pains of hell” are at least in part the knowledge of what I could have or be had I only made different decisions from the one’s I made only compounds the sense of dread.
In the place of such a view, perhaps we could imagine an ice cream truck. I don’t know if these are regular fixtures anywhere, or even if they ever were, but we’ll imagine a white truck slapped with colorful stickers on its sides moving slowly through a neighborhood followed by a vapor trail of happy kids waving nickels. The truck stops at regular intervals and dispenses rocket pops, ice cream sandwiches, and fudgsicles. But inevitably some poor child is late or another one’s mom is using this experience to teach a lesson about saving one’s allowance or the value of keeping one’s bedroom clean. Still, the great thing about the ice cream truck is that it will be back tomorrow or the next day, hopefully when one has the necessary change or a clean closet (or at least has things convincingly stuffed under the bed).
So what if we think about time, choice, the path of one’s life, and eternal consequences with the notion of the ice cream truck? Unlike the previous version of time, the ice cream truck will come back. Getting ice cream from the truck is not a unique, one-time experience. Missing the truck now does not mean it is gone forever. And if you make a poor choice this time—getting a boring vanilla ice cream sandwich instead of opting for the very-worthy-of-extra-expense strawberry, chocolate, vanilla one—does not mean you are stuck with that choice forever. Financial folly, domestic disorder, and parental punishment do not turn momentary weakness into permanent prohibition.
The real value of the ice cream truck way of looking at time, choice, life, and eternity is that we can think of God as wanting us to acquire certain qualities or traits. Those traits are the ice cream. God sends many experiences and people into our lives to give us a chance to get to develop the faith or patience or resilience we need to be like Him. Sometimes we are ready and waiting, eagerly holding our money in a tight little fist. Sometimes we are not ready, but the truck will come again tomorrow and the next day, and many, many more times. And it seems like it will keep coming long after this life has ended. In fact, it seems to me that the only way that the truck will stop coming is if we willingly, willfully, and very permanently move ourselves to somewhere where it does not go.