Paul Gauguin, Where are we from?... 1897, Boston Museun of Arts
Thinking of friends of all ages and walks of life, many creeds and stages of belief and unbelief, people I have met or enjoy from afar through books and writings, songs, sermons and speeches on almost everything this planet has to offer. Many of my facebook friends are ministers and missionaries from all corners of the earth, while others are professionals in every walk of life: musicians and composers and poets, medical doctors and dentists, accountants, teachers and lawyers, social workers, civil servants and physical therapists, athletes, computer nerds and psychologists. My good friends are often just plain moms—multi-tasked wives and mothers who do everything under the sun to ensure their family’s well-being. As for where, I have friends in Africa, Chile and Cambodia, Japan, Jakarta and India, Israel and Australia, Korea, the USA and Brazil and Hungary, France and German. The friends whose activity strike the chords of my heart more than any other (despite the strong second place of musicians and poets) are those who, like me, are translators, writers, editors and other communicators involved in producing in printed form the results of their life and thoughts. Time and again, they make me think through the questions in the title of this blog: Where are we from? Who are we? Where are we going?

All human existence, all culture, all dreams, all reason for being is questioned in this painting which represents various scenes of how life goes on, from birth and childhood to death. Writing in 1901 about that dreary time Gauguin said, “I wanted to die, and with that state of mind, I painted it in one single stroke. I hurried to sign it and took a formidable dose of arsenic that was probably too much; terrible suffering, but no death came upon me...”

I had never been attracted to Paul Gauguin. Previous impressionists like Van Gogh, Monet, Degas and Renoir gave me an imprint of beauty in little and great things, but Gauguin’s paintings, especially after he abandoned his family and moved to Tahiti to “find himself” and live close to nature, free from the bonds of the present and discover his own truth” were not the kind I would chose for delight. For all his brilliance, Gauguin was a fool who, after he heard of the death of his daughter, declared: “There is no God” (Psalm 14.1). Gauguin was everywhere, in France, Holland, Panama, the Antilles, travelling the world, moving his family to Denmark hoping things would be better there. (In one sense they were: his wife Mette Sophie Gad courageously took on the job of translating to support the family, while he went away to Central America to “live like a savage” and then to Oceania and finally Tahiti, where he invented the world of NoaNoa and among other paintings created his famous Where from? What are we? Where are we going?

His questions are certainly good ones. Our origin and roots mark, influence, denote and give meaning to the next answer: What are we? What and who we are in one sense are in our DNA, while where we were and where we are now are constantly changing. We are who we are (made in the image of One who declared “I am who I am”) but we are not yet what we will be in the future. A naturalistic answer is no real answer, however, because it remains materialistic and allows no space for transcendence.

In a more positive vein, the Brazilian Christian poet, Gioia Junior wrote:
Where am I? I don’t know,
Nor do I know from whence I come
 Where will I later be is a mystery,
— But I know that he lives!
If I know that he lives—my Savior and my King
— I know that with him I have been
 and will forever remain.
If there is a reason to motivate my faith,
This its heart and soul:
My Redeemer lives
And so will I live with him!

Gioia certainly was thinking of another poet surrounded by naysayers who lived in the land of Uz and was covered by myriad questions about life while covered with boils and abandonment: Job, blameless and upright. Upon learning he 
lost all sons and daughters, all his wealth and well-being, he declared: “Naked came I from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1.21). God asked Satan “From where have you come?” to which he answered, “From going to and fro on the earth”. After the inimical dialogue of friends who blame him for the evil he has suffered, Job exclaims:
Oh that my words were written!
Oh that they were inscribed in a book!
Oh that with iron pen and lead
they were engraved in the rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives
And at the last he will stand upon the earth,
And after my skin has been destroyed
Yet in my flesh I shall see God,
Whom I shall see for myself,
And my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me! (Job 19:23-27)

When we experienced a life-threatening accident in the beginning of our ministry in the city of Jaú, I thought I had lost my husband forever and needed to answer my three young children’s doubts as to why their father was killed, hope dawned when my unconscious husband murmured the words to the song Gioia Jr penned and Decio Lauretti put to music: “Onde estou?... O meu Redentor vive, e eu também viverei”.

A living Redeemer who gives purpose and meaning is the central theme of the Gospel, the good news inaugurated by Jesus Christ and preached by his disciples and apostles after his death and resurrection, through the ages, until now, and will be proclaimed until his return. A prisoner writes with flaming pen, in prayer “that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11). As I translate a book about the Basics for Christians and write my own thoughts in lesser words and works, I am impacted by D.A. Carson’s vision of our faith. His questions provoke me to thinking hard about reason and motivation for being, for living, for writing, for doing any and everything under the sun:
What is it in the Christian faith that excites you? What consumes your time? What turn you on?... abortion, pornography, home schooling, women’s ordination (for or against), economic justice, a certain style of worship, the defense of a particular Bible version, and much more... I am not suggesting that we not think about such matters or throw our weight behind some of them. But when such matters devour most of our time and passion, each of us must ask: In what fashion am I confessing the centrality of the gospel?
This is not a subtle plea for a denuded gospel, a merely privatized gospel, a gospel without social ramifications. We wisely reread the accounts of the Evangelical Awakening in England and he Great Awakening in America, and the extraordinary ministries of Howell Harris, George Whitefield, the Wesley brothers and others. Soundly converted men and women saw that life must be lived under God and in a manner pleasing to him. But virtually without exception there men and women put the gospel first... they reveled in it, preached it, cherished Bible reading and exposition that was Christ-centered and gospel centered, and from that base moved out into the broader social agendas. Not to see this priority means we are not more than a generation away from denying the gospel[1].

What motivates me? Where do I come from? Where am I now? Where am I going? My original questions from a naturalist pagan who rejected the wealth of Christianity find answers especially in the iron pen of the apostle Paul, who said that “with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain…(Phil 1.21) and concludes: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own…forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”(Phil 3.12-14).

You and I have a mission of proclamation—not as intellectually stimulating teachers of the Word nor as pastors, but as redeemed human beings who have a true story to tell—maybe like one beggar to another telling where you can find bread, maybe like a person who lived with questions and found them answered in a Person of full integrity and righteousness. Though we recognize the value of writing fiction as parables, we are totally committed to proclaiming truth in whatever genre or style we pen our thoughts. It must be the verifiable, experiential truth of the gospel, undefiled by the dross of false motivations and mixed conceptions (misconceptions), we denounce the lies people go after, and proclaim truth with life and vision. We are reminded (again by Carson) that “When Jesus denounces the religious charlatans of his day, he ends up in grief as he looks over the city (Matthew 23). For our part, we must not become people who denounce but do not weep. Neither may we become people who weep but who never denounce. Too much is at stake both ways”[2]. We weep as we denounce, and denounce with tears, as we observe the questions and answers of a hurting world.
Elizabeth Gomes

[1] D.A Carson, Basics for Believers, Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 1997, p 27
[2]D.A.Carson, Basics for Believers, p. 93.

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