There’s a key moment in the film Gladiator where the character Maximus (Russell Crowe) observes, “Brothers, what we do in life, echoes in eternity.” You might equally say that it echoes in history, spreading out like ripples on a pond. An effective Christian witness can tell a powerful story of faith which shapes lives for years — or even generations — to come.
Conversely, a maladroit witness can adversely affect those same lives, often in unimaginable ways. This sobering point hit me recently as I was reading through the memoir of atheist Barbara Ehrenreich. At one point in the book, she recounts how she had always remained committed to a secular and skeptical position, ever since her youth. As she says, “The one place I never thought to look for answers was religion.” She then explains why:
“That approach had been foreclosed at some point in the late nineteenth century when, according to my father, his grandmother Mamie McLaughlin renounced the Catholic faith. When her father was dying she had sent for a priest, only to get word back many hours later that the priest would come for no less than twenty-five dollars. Perhaps the priest could be forgiven for dodging the long ride by horse or mule to whatever makeshift, mud-bound mining camp she and her family lived in. But Mamie did not forgive him.” (Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth about Everything (Twelve, 2014), p. 2)
This implications of this passing revelation are simply stunning. Perhaps 120 years ago, a priest shirked his duty to offer last rites to a dying man, and a century later that led to a young woman never considering that Christianity might be true.
As we navigate our own lives day to day, seeking to do so as witnesses to Christ and his kingdom, we should ask ourselves whether we have done anything like that priest, a regrettable action which might end up making atheists a century from now.