A few weeks ago I had occasion once again to roam through the halls of the British Museum. In miles of corridors and galleries one finds displayed the debris of centuries of human history – walls and gates, paintings and sculptures, mummies and money, and myriads of inscriptions in clay and stone. On sticks and stones and gold and bronze, in the curious squiggles of hundreds of long-dead languages, are recorded the exploits of thousands of warriors and kings.
Such displays are a testimony to the insatiable curiosity of man; devoted scholars have spent their lives learning to read most of these messages. And so, I stood entranced, reading the cards and plaques which told spartan tales of hunting lions and capturing slaves and slaying enemies. The “great” had ordained that it be written down, engraved in stone, so that the ages would remember the deeds of those called “mighty” and “brave” and “powerful.” Now, before me, their foresight lay in pieces of rubble. All that remained were half-told stories of times too remote for our imagination. Passing by their memorials was an endless stream of gawking and pointing tourists who neither knew nor cared about the difference between Ramses the Great and Alexander the Great.
Still, there is in all of us a craving for immortality – a desire to let the world know that we have been here. In hundreds of trivial ways we try to leave our marks. Note the trees that carry the message that John loves Mary, and the concrete walks engraved with neighborhood initials, and the water towers touting the “class of ’86,” and, in a more generic vein, the age-old message left in countless places that “Kilroy was here.”
I confess that I am as guilty of this human frailty as are the children who leave their marks in sidewalks. On my recent trip, I was working in the British Library, which is housed in the same building with the museum. After I finished my work, I found myself drawn to the catalog which lists the 9,000,000 volumes housed in the library. I could not leave without seeing whether or not the world’s famous library had any of my books in its collection. I am not going to tell you what I found until the end of this article.
The point of this tale is, I think, perfectly clear. Fame is fleeting and immortality is not within your grasp. Wherever you write your name – on official documents, in books, or in stone – the time will come when it will be irrelevant and irretrievable.
The image that came to my mind as I pondered these things was the biblical language in Revelation 20:12, 15: “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works….And whatsoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”
Well, I shall now tell you that three of my books were in the British Library – that is one of every three million books in the collection. But I hope I can truthfully say that it was curiosity and not pride which led me to look. This much I know: some day the British Library will be gone – as the great libraries of Alexandria and Nineveh have been destroyed. But my name is in a book which will never decay or be destroyed. “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven…” (Hebrews 12:22-23).
I shall never be forgotten.
Article by David Edwin Harrell