Hi, this is Pastor Ken and these are my thoughts on a Thursday…Fat Man’s Misery
Lest anyone believe I am being insensitive or have stooped to “fat shaming”, let me put that to rest right away. The title for this post comes from the name of a very narrow passage in the subterranean recesses of Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. I was actually surprised that a quick Google search revealed that the name of that passage has not been changed. I guess social justice doesn’t really run that deep after all.
I was introduced to “Fat man’s misery” as a young boy. Somewhere around the age of twelve my parents took me and my two brothers to Mammoth Cave for a vacation. We enjoyed tent camping, campfires, and spelunking for an entire week. Mammoth Cave, aptly named is the world’s longest known cave system and has several different tours available for visitors. While there we did many things that left lifelong (to this point anyway) impressions on me. The 40 plus years since I was there have not taken from me vivid memories of that vacation. One I will never forget was my first experience with total and absolute darkness. My parents allowed my younger brother Gary and I to take a children’s tour without them one afternoon. Following a park ranger with lanterns affixed to helmets on our heads we crawled through a small entrance to one of the innumerable recesses that make up the entirety of Mammoth Cave. After a walk inside of perhaps 200 or 300 yards, the guide had us sit down on rocks, be completely quiet and one by one switch off the lights on our helmets. Lastly, the ranger turned off her light and the darkness enveloped us completely. It was a surreal experience. I recall expecting that my eyes would adjust to the darkness and I would regain at least some ability to see, but that never happened. I remember thinking that I understood what it must be like to be totally blind. I also remember beginning to feel uneasy and insecure in the total darkness and silence. Though the spiritual depths of this are begging to be explored, and maybe I will in a later episode, I want to move on to another memory from that family trip.
During another tour of the caves we took as a family, we followed our guide as a group of people made their way down a long set of steel stairs to one of the entrances to the cave. About an hour later, we emerged in a completely different place in the forest hundreds of yards from where we began our journey. There are several things from that particular tour that I remember. There was a huge room where the “ceiling” was several stories above. That room, named “The Cathedral” was so called because of its size and sound echoing acoustics. I was surprised and somewhat shaken to learn several years ago that the “ceiling” weighing many thousands of tons had come crashing to the floor. Weird to think that as a young boy I had stood under that very space looking up at all that rock, now understood to have been somewhat precariously perched above us.
As a part of that tour we meandered through a series of fissures in the rock that had been worn into smooth paths. Sometimes the “walls” were wide and ten or twenty feet apart, other times much closer maybe a four or five foot span. At one place, the path narrowed to about fifteen or eighteen inches and the walls were only about four and a half feet high. This part of the path, known as “Fat Man’s Misery” was so named not only because it is so narrow but also low and requires one to bend over to pass through. I can only assume that some people have had to turn around and return the way they came, unable to navigate “Fat Man’s Misery”. Even then at my young age that experience caused me to consider Matthew 7:13-14 that I had heard about in Sunday school. That scripture reads as follows in the New King James Version, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, there are few who find it.
Obviously, that particular passage came to mind all those years ago in that cave because the way in front of me was so narrow and difficult to traverse. I remember thinking however, that this narrow path in front of me was the only way to the destination…the exit of the cave. In my way of boyish thinking, if you wanted to get to the preferable destination then there was only one choice…forward. I remember pondering this scripture as a boy and wondering the same thing about eternity. If eternal life in Heaven was only through the narrow gate, even if the path was difficult, why would anyone ever choose anything else? What allure could the wide gate with the easy path have?
I like the way the paraphrase “The Message” puts these verses. It says, “Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention. The reason I like this particular paraphrase of this scripture is because it so accurately reflects our present societal reality. Overwhelmingly we respond to surveys that we are people of Christian belief. Though it is declining somewhat, just two years ago 65% of American adults considered themselves to be Christian. I can say with a good deal of certainty that 65% of the American adult population is not looking for the narrow gate and the difficult path. The fact is that it didn’t matter to those people who were unable to navigate “Fat Man’s Misery” what percentage of others couldn’t either. They were the ones that found themselves unable to arrive at the destination they desired. They were each for all intents and purposes a statistic of one. The same is true for us in regards to our relationship with Jesus. It is called a personal relationship because it is necessarily personal. It will be developed to the degree that we allow and desire to see it developed. There are all kinds of things in life that seek to take our attention but when all is said and done there is only one way to eternity with God…having a close personal relationship with Jesus Christ. With such important implications that relationship should get the Lion’s share of our focus.
In his gospel, the Apostle John records that Jesus himself said this. In John 14:6 Jesus told His disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. Jesus was clear there is only one way to the destination of eternal life in Heaven with Him. He is The Way, indicating that there is no other. Why? Because He is The Truth. Truth is an absolute. There is only one truth and the ultimate truth leads to life…Eternal Life. So, why is it so difficult? Why so narrow? Essentially, we make it so. It is one of those things of which I like to say it is difficult but not complicated. It isn’t complicated because the process is simple…Make Jesus Lord. It is difficult because we have to slip off of the throne of our own lives and allow Him His rightful place there. In the natural, we don’t want to do that. We like to be in control. We like to make the rules. We like to decide the direction we will go. Simply put, we like to think we are in charge. The gate to destruction is so wide because people want to believe they can make the rules, they can be in charge of their own lives…they can be their own lord and sit on their own throne…and if they are “Basically good people”, they will get to go to heaven someday.
Jesus said that’s not how it works. Only those who are righteous can spend eternity…or even a nano-second for that matter in the presence of God. Romans 3:22-25 lays out plainly that because of our sin we have a problem, but through genuine personal relationship with Jesus (the way the truth and the life) we have been gifted a solution. Those verses read as follows in the New Living Translation, We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood (in our place).
You are also a statistic of one. When faced with the narrow gate and the difficult path will you turn away and go back the way you came, or will you follow Jesus. Just as our guide knew the way out of the cave and led us back into the light of day, Jesus said “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (John 8:12) Following Jesus is the only way to emerge in eternal life with God.
So now, entering the narrow gate with a smile on your lips and a grateful heart that Jesus has made a way for you…Go be awesome!