There is an old Chinese tale of five brothers, all of whom looked exactly alike, but each endowed with a different power. For instance, one brother could not be burned. Another could hold his breath indefinitely. Another brother had an iron neck, i.e. neither executioner’s axe nor hangman’s noose could harm him. Another brother could stretch his legs extremely long, so as to stand very tall. But another brother had the strangest power of all – he could hold the entire sea in his mouth! That’s right – this one could swallow the water of the sea. In her children’s book, The Five Chinese Brothers, Claire Huchet Bishop illustrates this feat by representing the brother with a bulging head and cheeks.
Now even as a child I understood that there was no way that the water of the entire sea could squeeze into a person’s mouth. Even though a first-grader, I understood that the capacity of the brother’s head and bulging cheeks, though stretched to enormous proportions, could not contain the water of the sea.
But as I reflect on life, I think there was more truth in that story than I first understood. What I mean is this: that, with human beings, the inside is bigger than the outside. Sound crazy? A pagan philosopher once said, “Fate has given man the soul of a god in the body of a worm.” What the philosopher meant was this, that the human capacity for genius, for creativity, for inexpressible joy and for sorrow as deep as the sea, far exceeds the small physical frame of our body. The biblical patriarch Job – who suffered the loss of all ten of his children and all his wealth – expressed this same idea when he cried: “Oh, that my grief could be weighed in a balance – it would outweigh the sand of the seashore.” (Job 6:2-3)
As ministers in uniform, we chaplains have witnessed time and again the vast measure of sorrow of a mother for her dead child, of a wife for her dead husband, and of a soldier for his fallen brother-in-arms. One time I held a soldier in my arms for two straight hours and he wept inconsolably for his murdered two-year-old son. Another time I tried ineffectually to ease the pain of a young mother whose one-year-old daughter was pronounced dead. This poor mother erupted in frightful surges of grief, repeatedly crying out, “No! No! No!” As I reflect on the grieving, I cannot help but wonder how such small little creatures as we can experience and bear virtual oceans of emotion.
As ministers in uniform, we chaplains have also witnessed love and courage displayed by frail human beings – love and courage that drives them to confront danger and disregard the instinct for self-preservation. How is it that such small creatures can have such large hearts?
And we have also witnessed faith and the universal thirst that all people have for God. Though we are so small the soul within us hungers for a Great Being who is infinite in power, love, and wisdom.
This hunger is evidence in and of itself for the existence of God. For why else would we thirst and hunger for that which does not exist? The fact that our tongues thirst for water is evidence that water exists to satisfy it. The fact that our stomach’s hunger for food is evidence that food exists to satisfy it. And since people appear to be incurably religious – from the most primitive tribes to the most sophisticated societies – hungering for a great transcendent Being, doesn’t this indicate that there is such a Being who can fill the cavernous void locked away in our misleadingly small bodies?
I’ve seen the evidence and I believe there is more to human beings than meets the eye. I believe the inside is greater than the outside. I believe God has left his mark, his nature, and his divine imprint upon our souls. We are his children. And I also believe that there is too much of us for God to discard us after death. For what artist would spend a lifetime creating a masterpiece only to throw it away once it’s completed? What sculptor would spend his life carving a marble statue only to smash it when he is done? God has invested his love and patience and the blood of his own Son in our lives. Why would he do so except to prepare us for eternity with him?
PRAYER: Dear Father in heaven, open my eyes to my worth and preciousness in your sight and help me to have a hope befitting and to live a life worthy of a child of God. Amen.