There’s an old story of a man wandering through the woods. On every other tree, there is a target with an arrow in its center. The more he wandered, the more he wondered who the marksman was who performed these amazing feats. Not a single target was missed. In fact, each was hit dead center.
Soon the man came upon a young boy carrying a bow and arrow and a bucket. He asked the boy if he were the accurate archer and the boy admitted that he was. The man asked how, given his youth, he was able to be so flawlessly precise. The boy simply shrugged and went on his way. The man watched as the boy hit a tree with an arrow then proceeded to pull a brush from his bucket and paint a target around where the arrow hit.
This silly story is more profound than it seems at first reading. It reveals much about my life and lots of other lives as well. The question that it illustrates is this: “Do I do what I do because I believe it, or do I believe what I believe because I’m doing it anyway?” In other words, am I painting a target of actions around where the arrow of my nature hits?
I know a lot of people like this. How else can we explain that conservatives who convert to (or are “born into”) Christianity stay as conservative as they were (or more so) just as liberals who find Christ stay or become increasingly radical? Both sincerely justify their politics with Jesus’s teachings. I think the target allegory applies there. We tend to use our religious experience merely to affirm what we are anyway.
I know a person whose lifestyle literally dictates his beliefs. When a life situation changes, an ideal is created that justifies it. That’s one way to truly live out one’s beliefs. Or maybe believe out one’s life. (?) Truth be told, I see it in myself more than I care to admit.
There are many dramatic counter-examples of this phenomenon. John Newton, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Paul are but a few. They lived one way before encountering the living God and changed direction completely after conversion.
The tough question I ask myself (and I think all should ask) is, am I doing anything differently because I am a disciple of Jesus, than I would do anyway?
Let’s see. I don’t beat my kids, but I doubt I would anyway. I would probably give to charity even if it weren’t for my faith. I lead a generally moral life, but then I did before I came to Christ. So is anything different – is my life transformed – or am I just painting targets?
It’s something I think about often. And it doesn’t make me feel comfortable.