My sister and I recently visited a cemetery to photograph some graves per an email request. After some research and looking around, we discovered the two people we were looking for (a mother and daughter) had been buried in unmarked graves. It was kind of shocking. If the notion of people passing by your gravestone and not knowing who you were sparks some kind of existential discomfort, imagine them walking over a grassy patch not knowing you are even there, or ever were.
Such was humanity’s concern as they recovered and again multiplied after the great flood; aspiring to prove their worth and superiority, they strategized: “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”
Obscurity is scary; it goes against the grain of how we value ourselves and what we desire, how we attempt to market that combination, how we measure the success of those efforts, and thus how we derive meaning. It disregards a desperate felt need to be known, appreciated, and remembered; if we or our contributions can’t be remembered, how will our lives have any meaning?
God’s response to these concerns would shape and reveal a truer meaning.
First, He confused humanity’s languages in order to disperse them across the Earth into unique communities in accordance with what He had commanded Noah after the flood, perhaps even preventing future factional bloodshed.
Secondly, He called a man. He promised Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
Through the rest of biblical history, these blessings went from family and flocks to an international community rooted in the redeeming reality of God’s reign. Observe in this promise that preceding every mention of blessing and building is LORD, initiating and activating those blessings. Abram received fame, fortune, and eventually descendants, but those blessings were all framed within the larger plan of world redemption already being enacted through LORD’s calling. Abram’s legacy reveals more about LORD than it does him, which ultimately unveils to us the most pursuit-worthy legacy of all. That legacy is a story of grace that ushers God’s kingdom into our hearts through faith in Jesus Christ; it gets lived over and over again in the lives of those who embrace Jesus’ mandate to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness”, reflecting it in their choices of daily obedience.
Whenever I feel that mortal noose pull tight with that desperate ambition to leave a legacy, I try imagining what kind of legacy I would like to leave; I don’t get very far before realizing it’s a legacy that has been lived and left before and many times thereafter in the lives of the sinner saints before and beside me. I find that both a comfort and a challenge. We don’t need to leave an ambitious legacy that makes a name for ourselves; another Name has already been established and exalted, one that actually can save and redeem. It is enough to join that Name and His Kingdom legacy of faith already laid, lived, and loved and continuing ever on.
Rich Mullins, whose life has often been described as an arrow pointing to Heaven, said, “If my life is motivated by an ambition to leave a legacy, what I would probably leave is a legacy of ambition. But, if my life is motivated by the power of God’s spirit in me and the awareness of the indwelling Christ, if I allow His presence to guide my motives, that’s the only time I think we really leave a great legacy.”