Frank Stockton tells a tale that most of us have read at one time or another in our school days: The Lady or the Tiger. He uses much more flowery language to set up the story, but the short version is that a barbaric king has an interesting way to mete out justice. The accused goes into a great arena where he has two doors to choose from. Behind one is a fierce tiger designed to tear the accused apart should fate find him guilty. Behind the other is a beautiful lady who, upon being chosen, will instantly marry the accused. He sets that story up to tell about a commoner who loved the king’s daughter and was discovered by the king. On the big day of trial, the guilty man bows before the king and the princess. The princess has discovered the secrets of the doors. She has a dilemma, though. The lady is one the princess hates, and she has concerns that her lover might have been flirting with the prize. Still, having discovered the secrets of the doors, she indicates to her lover the door to choose.
And that is the end of the story as the author leaves the ending for his readers to choose. It’s a maddening, shaggy dog story, but it presents an interesting ethical question. Would the princess allow her lover to marry a bitter rival, or would she rather see him eaten by the tiger? It’s an ethical dilemma that reminds us that our choices have consequences – in this case I think of the choice the princess made and how it would affect her life. There is a choice that has even more far-reaching consequences: the choice of whether or not to follow Jesus. “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:11-12)
John makes the choice pretty clear: if you have the Son, you have eternal life; if you don’t have the Son of God in your life now, you don’t have eternal life. Perhaps before you get to that decision, you have to decide what you think about life after death. If you believe that life on this earth is all there is, then the question of eternal life has no meaning. If you believe in eternal life, though, the doors are set before you. There is no guesswork in choosing a door in this arena, though. God has labeled the doors before us. On one door we see the name Jesus Christ – the Son of God. If you walk through that door you are committing to live for Him. On the other door is the word “yourself.” If you walk through that door, you choose to live for yourself. You may talk about doing good deeds and nice things if you choose that door. Many people who live for themselves do wonderful things and support charities and help people – but they do it for themselves and they feel good about themselves when they do those things, as well they should. If you are living for Jesus Christ, you may do the exact same things, but you’re doing it for God, you’re doing it for His Kingdom and you thank Him for the strength He gives to be able to do them.
If I understand John correctly, the state of eternal life begins once we follow Christ and begin our relationship with God. The Holy Spirit takes control in our lives and begins molding us into the image of God’s Son. Instead of bitterness, we gain peace. Instead of seeking revenge when wronged, we seek to forgive. Most of all, our lives become full of the love of God to share with others. John has reminded us again and again throughout this letter that love is the key indicator that we are God’s children. He talks about not continuing in sin, sure, but that’s because we are compelled by the love of God and not the desire to exalt ourselves. When we are filled with God’s love, we seek ways to extend that love to others. The doors are set before you right now. Do you choose eternal life with Christ or your own way?
Oh Lord, I have chosen eternal life. Let me show the joy of that choice to others in all my actions.