A Stay Of Execution


“Imagine, then, a successful businessman who, responding to some slight but persistent physical discomfort and the urging of an importunate wife, pays a visit to a friend of his a doctor.
Since the man has always considered himself a fairly healthy specimen, it is with an unquiet mind that he descends the steps of the clinic with the assurance, gained after long hours of searching examinations, that he has about three weeks to live.

In the days that follow, this man’s thinking undergoes a change, not a slow and subtle change-there is no time for that-but a quick and brutal reorientation. By the time he has reached home on that fateful afternoon, the first shock of the news has worn off, and he is already beginning to see things with strange eyes. As he locks the garage door, his long ambition to own a Cadillac suddenly seems unspeakably puerile to him, utterly unworthy of a rational, let alone an immortal, being.

This leads him to the shocking realization, in the hours that follow, that one can be rich and successful in this world with a perfectly barren mind. With shame and alarm he discovers that he has been making a religion of his career. In a flash of insight he recognizes the truth of the old Greek doctrine that seeming and being are two wholly different things, and on his knees discovers that only his Heavenly Father knows him as he is. Abruptly he ceases to care particularly whether anybody thinks he is a good, able, smart, likable fellow or not; after all, he is not trying to sell anyone anything anymore. Things that once filled him with awe seem strangely trivial, and things which a few days before did not even exist for him, now fill his consciousness. For the first time he discovers the almost celestial beauty of the world of nature, not viewed through the glass of cameras and car windows, but as the very element in which he lives. Shapes and colors spring before his senses with a vividness and drama of which he never dreamed…

To conclude our parable, what happens to our man of affairs? A second series of tests at the hospital shows that his case was not quite what they thought it was; he may live for many years. Yet he takes the news strangely, for instead of celebrating at a night club or a prize-fight as any normal healthy person should, this creature will continue his difficult ways. ‘This’ he says, is no pardon. It is but a stay of execution. Soon enough it is going to happen. This situation has not really changed at all.’ So he becomes religious, a hopeless case, an eschatological zealot, a Puritan monk, a John Bunyon, a primitive Christian, and Essene, a Latterday Saint. In every age such people with their annoying eschatological beliefs have disturbed the placid. (‘perfectly adjusted’) waters of the slough of custom and have paid dearly for their folly.” (The Way of the Church – Nibley, pp. 829-30,933)

The edited tale above, as told by Professor Nibley, should make all of us examine where are priorities are in this life.

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