Get to the Point

Reading the first column written by our local paper’s latest religion editor, I was immensely relieved to learn that he was a Christian. It was not that I expected him to cover only Christian events. His job is much broader than that, and I can’t imagine how difficult such an assignment must be. But at least he identified his viewpoint. The previous editor, an excellent journalist, never chose to clarify his own personal perspective. In reading his thoughts, I found it frustrating not having that piece of information.

Another columnist whose writing appears regularly in the religion section of the paper is purportedly a pastor—a Christian pastor. But every column to date feeds me little more than pablum. It’s sweet and mushy and goes down easily … and offends no one. The words Jesus and the cross are apparently too strong, too controversial to swallow. Christian writer Elisabeth Elliot once said, “Any message that makes the cross redundant is anti-Christian.” I am spiritually hungry for more than pablum and have stopped taking the time to read the column, knowing I will not get any meat to chew.

This same frustration grabs me when people tell a story—verbally—and never satisfy me. The narration goes on and on in excruciating detail, but with no climactic ending. Somehow these ‘Svengalis” can command my attention, against my will. I maintain eye contact grudgingly, not able to look away … let alone walk away. Enduring such a long story, I expect a fantastic end, but it often fades into, for me, a “So what?”

On the other hand, other people, whose information I want or need, avoid talking about what is important and beat around the bush because they feel guilty and fear the consequences of honest communication.

Over the last couple years, I have received a letter every month from people who don’t exactly come to the point. I am not frustrated, however, with their communication. In fact, I read their missives very carefully. One sounded like this:

“As we read the stories of the season, we see that the changes we face are really rather minor compared to the distressing changes others have had to endure. Imagine what it must have been like for the twelve, enjoying a holiday meal with their teacher. He spoke of betrayal and denial, but they all said they would be faithful. …

“Whatever the twists and turns in the path of our life, it is all part of a single path that has been laid out for us. That thought gives us comfort and courage.”

On the back side of their letters they always list their “executive summary.” Each line begins with: “We hope…” or “We’re thankful…” or “We continue to hope….” An executive summary is a document that broadly summarizes a project, eliminating details readers will not understand. The authors of these letters worked in a restricted country where Christianity is not popular. They couched their messages in obscurity—not due to cowardliness, but to avoid being sent home or endangering others. The interested reader must make an effort to understand, and to reply to them.

Jesus also spoke to people in a way that demanded attention and digging for truth. Mark 4:33–34 says, “With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.” One book defines the parable as “the designed use of language purposely intended to convey a hidden and secret meaning other than that contained in the words themselves; and which may or may not bear a special reference to the hearer, or reader” (Aesop’s Fables; Doubleday, N.Y., 1968; p. 25).

Parables make for memorable stories—easy to remember, but often hard to understand. I wonder how many people who listened to Jesus were initially confused over his theological viewpoint. How many were impatient for Him to get to the point? Or did many of them just not care? Apparently, only the ones who listened and wanted to understand did. No wonder Jesus said over and over, “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:23). Jesus had a reason to be “secretive.” His messages were directed to those in His kingdom, and also to those desiring to enter it.

Jesus not only told parables, but lived His life as a parable. If you watched Him closely, you could learn much about His Father and how He loves us. I wonder about how I live my own life from day to day. Do people know for sure that I am a Christian? Do I clearly identify my viewpoint? Do I refrain from using Jesus’ name and speaking about His sacrifice on the cross, avoiding the Truth for fear of offending? Do I talk too much and not relay information worth hearing? Do I beat around the bush, avoiding confrontation? Am I talking in parables? Why? Do I really need to hide honest spiritual communication with others in this country at this time? And what kind of parable does my own life show to others? Am I leaving them frustrated, trying to understand me? Do they feel like saying to me, “Get to the point!”?