|n the General Conference office of a young writer and editor I mentioned the name of a previous General Conference writer and editor, retired now about 15 years.
“Yeah,” said the young man, perhaps in his 30s, “I think I’ve heard that name.”
He thinks he heard that name? The man was for more than 30 years a towering figure, not only at the General Conference but in the world field. He was a superstar, universally known; and for decades an influential leader in the church, especially in Adventist journalism. But now, half a generation later, he’s only a vague name in this Adventist journalist’s mind?
Reminds me of a story someone else, once influential but now retired, told me. A union conference president had been in office for many years and micromanaged his territory for decades. He was behind building a new union conference office, choosing everything from the location of the building to the color and shape of the bathroom tiles. This man eventually retired and about two years later returned for a meeting. He approached the young receptionist and said he was there to see so-and-so.
“Your name, sir?” she asked.
When he told her, she responded, “Can you spell that for me?”
Here she was, sitting in the exact spot he had chosen, with a desk color and design he had picked out, but she had no idea to whom she was talking.
After almost 25 years of working at the General Conference, I’ve seen many people come and go. And what boggles my mind is that some of them, while here, were significant and influential figures. Then they moved on, and before long it’s as if they had never been here at all. Their presence, their influence, even the memory of their presence and influence, start to evaporate the day they leave. Time, and not much of it either, ravenously devours it all.
Makes me think of Percy Shelley’s famous poem “Ozymandias”:
“I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: ‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.’”
If that’s all that’s left of the great Ozymandias’ works, what about ours? With evanescence so essentially us, how crucial that we always live framed in the context of eternity. Former leaders at the General Conference have moved on; their presence is gone, too—but so what? God alone knows the good they have done, the souls they have touched, and the difference they have made for His eternal kingdom, even if we in our limited and narrow vision can’t see it now.
As fallen humans, we see only a reflection of reality anyway, because sight is nothing but light waves bouncing off objects and then reaching our eyes.
The limits of what we can see, and our fleetingness here, should make us humbly strive to live for what’s not seen; because “we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18).