Dan Patterson’s Graduation Address – Adventure Awaits
We were delighted to have Dan Patterson as guest speaker for the 2022 CHC Graduation Ceremony. Here is a copy of Dan’s address on the evening.
Thank you. It is a privilege to be invited here for such an auspicious
occasion. Today Christian Heritage College celebrates and sends out an
accomplished cohort of women and men, hopefully each one better formed
through their studies for meaningful service in the world.
To the families of the class of 2022, these are moments to be proud,
and in addition to the actual debt some of you parents may owed for fees,
food, and board, no doubt each of the graduates here owes you a greater
debt, metaphorically speaking, for the myriad ways your love and support
enabled them to stand here today.
And so, with thanks, we honour you.
To their lecturers and tutors, as an educator sometimes you wonder if
certain students will ever get over the line, but today you can echo that
great moment in cinematic history, Frodo’s infamous sigh of relief at Mt
Doom, “It’s done.” But the deeper truth is, what happens over the spans of
years between students and teachers is one of the richest relationships God
has given us in this life, and as I think back to my own studies, those
teachers who lived out their calling well have left an indelible imprint on
my life. I pray each student graduating here today will carry a piece of your
legacy with them as they live out their own story.
And so, with thanks, we honour you.
But to the focus of today’s ceremony, the CHC graduates,
congratulations. You made it. Overshadowed by pandemics and
unprecedented shifts in digital course delivery, your papers have now all
passed. The time for blessed footnotes, or frustrating endnotes, or
unsightly in-text referencing, those days are behind you. And today you
receive an esteemed piece of paper alongside the a well-earned academic
accolade: Well done, good and faithful student.
But in truth, this is just the beginning of your adventure. Life awaits,
unexplored. According to the Christian story, each one of you, at the end of
this grand adventure, will face you final assessment before the great teacher, where we should all hope to hear his heavenly accolade: well done
good and faithful servant.
And it is this endgame, this vision of the world to come, that is meant
to be the destination for which we set out sights today, with the light of
truth in the way of Jesus designed to serve as our compass.
Now I spend a good portion of my life fielding questions about whether
the Christian story is worthy of belief in our secular age; whether it stands
up to rational scrutiny; whether it really is good for you. And I am
convinced that it is. Borrowing from the language of C.S. Lewis, it seems to
me that the Christianity story sheds light on all of reality, making sense of
our deepest intuitions and experiences, as well as the world around us. And
you too are welcome to ask away at the Christian story. After all, truth
invites questioning. But today, in the few minutes we have together, I want
to funnel the collective wisdom of the Scriptures as best I can to spell out 4
desires that God has for you life, things I wish I had known earlier to better
prepare me for the adventure that lies ahead.
First, God’s desire is that you live on purpose. According to Loren
Eisley, the famed 20th century secular anthropologist, the question of why
am I here seems to be inescapably asked by all people everywhere.
Humanity is hardwired for purpose.
What the Christian story gifts to us is the notion that our purpose is
not a fragile human creation, something we have to come up with
ourselves. Rather, designed for good in God’s image, our purpose is given to
us from above. And what is your purpose?
According to the Christian story you were created for two things: deep
and meaningful relationships, and for a meaningful role.
To love God with all of your being—heart, soul, mind, and strength—
and to love your neighbour as yourselves. Love is at the heart of why you
are here, so be purposeful in forging friendships worthy of eternity.
And to image God in your vocation. Like the God who brought order
from the chaotic waters of creation, and cultivated a small garden in Eden,
humanity was commanded to continue bringing order, spreading into the
wild world beyond the borders of Eden until beauty is framed throughout
The final scene of the Bible, then, far from returning to the garden, transposes the best things of the garden (rivers and trees of life) in to a
city; a place into which the kings of the earth bring the splendours of their
You have a unique contribution to make to that end, with your gifts and
talents and passions, imbued by God, serving as a clue to your calling.
So start small, where you are. Love well. Serve the common good. Use
your gifts, for your work matters. Live on purpose.
Second, God desires that you confront evil. Can there be any doubt
that our world stands in the shadow of Genesis 3. God’s good design has
become damaged by evil; that fallout everywhere seen in human misery.
Of course the evil out there is relatively easy to spot. Greed. Corruption.
Those in positions of power and privilege preying upon the weak. But
Scripture reminds us that any sinister forces out there are the lesser of the
two great tyrannies, easier to confront than the darkness within us.
I have seen too many people set out with great dreams of overcoming
evil with good, and making war on the unjust structures of the world, only
to be taken out by a hidden life of dark desires, their own heart hands
betraying the world they wished to build.
Which is why Isaiah Berlin, in his famed Oxford lectures on two kinds
of liberty, taught that a culture who only pursues negative freedom, or
freedom from all constraints, is destined to fall. For negative freedom needs
to be balanced with positive freedom, not simply freedom from external
constraints, the Exodus from slavery Egypt, but also a positive vision of
who we are meant to be, and the freedom from slavery to our distorted
desires to live towards those ends.
So, following the legacy of Jesus, live a life that confronts evil, liberating
humanity from injustice out there, but please, pay attention to your own
heart, and never giving an inch to the evil that would grow up within.
What the Christian story offers through the gospel is the gift of grace;
the love of a God who accepts us as we are, warts and all, but who loves us
too much to leave us as we are, creating in us a new heart, and filling us
with the Holy Spirit to help us become again who we were created to be.
Third, suffer well. There is a harsh truth that few warn us of before it
is too late, but the Scriptures speak to the dark reality that in this life
suffering is inescapable. What the Christian story offers, then, is not an
escape from suffering, even if it does help us avoid the unnecessary
suffering of foolishness. No. What the Christian story spells out is a charter
for how to suffer well, for there really is such a thing.
So what are we to do, then, when suffering comes?
No doubt suffering will provoke us, at times, to doubt. Nearly every
page of the Bible give us the language of lament, with the stories
punctuated by doubts conceived in our dark nights of the soul, and
nurtured by God’s silence. These stories in inspired Scripture give us
permission, along with the emotional register, to voice our own doubts. God
is not afraid of our questions, and as I have discovered as one who has
tended to these doubts, they can become a doorway to a deeper faith.
But the Christian story also redeems our suffering, pointing us to a God
who not only has meaningful reasons for allowing us to suffer, but is in fact
big enough to repurpose our suffering. For suffering serves as the symptom
that wakes us up to a deeper sickness; that our world is damaged by evil;
and it humbles us to go in search of answers to the deeper questions we
might otherwise ignore. The painful trials we experience can also serve as a
forge, exposing our impurities and helping us to forge virtue. But ultimately
suffering points us to Jesus—the invisible God made visible—who not only
embraced our suffering on the cross as he became forever the God with
scars, but also whose brutal murder was used by God to make atonement,
opening up a door of salvation to whosoever believes.
And so, in light of the Christian story, when it comes to you, friends, I
bid you suffer well. Suffering and death don’t have the final word, so ask
your questions, and rail against God, but remember Jesus, the one who
cried out on the cross when the heaven went dark, and if he truly is the best
revelation of God, and God used that darkness of Calvary to bring about the
dawn of the gospel, then perhaps you too can trust him that your suffering
can serve a meaningful purpose. You too can lean into the comfort of his
promises as you suffer in such a way as to tell a bigger story.
Which leads to the fourth and final idea: God desires that you embody
hope. There is a vast difference between the way things should be, and the
world that we inhabit. That will go for your relationships, and it certainly
goes for the church. In this life there will be disorienting dissonance, a gap,
between what we wish things we like, the ideal for which they were
created, aand the messy reality of what they now are.
The question: how will you respond to that gap?
Will you grow cynical and frustrated, throwing stones at imperfect
things, or will you lean in with zeal to start closing that gap. There is
coming a day, the Christian story says, where Jesus will return to set
everything right. Justice will be restored through judgment. Evil will be
done away with, and our suffering, like the tears of this world, will be
wiped away by His hand.
As those people who live between the time of Christ’s two comings, we
are to be a visible outpost of heaven on earth, a foretaste of the world to
come. Our task is to lean into the gap with humble prayer, love, and service
that God’s kingdom come and will be done on earth as in heaven.
We live in a cultural moment devoid of hope, with seculars trapped
somewhere between the void of meaning that is nihilism, and the
weariness with cheap pleasures that comes from the existentialist cry,
YOLO. What Christians have to offer is a vision of the eternal world to come,
where in our hospitality and joy, in our selflessness and sacrifice, the thin
veil of this entirely immanent frame might be pierced with rays from
another world, these solicitations of the spiritual world, that opens them
up to want something more.
Live on purpose.
After following Jesus now for half my life, I have never once regretted
stepping into the Christian story. My only regrets reflect those times I have
strayed from his path. Jesus really is worth believing. As the light of the
world, there is no darkness in him, and no shadow side to be exposed. So
trust him. And as your story in still to be written, as you set out in pursuit
of that heavenly accolade, I hope it will be a story worthy of the generations
to come. The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face to shine
upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift his countenance upon you
and give you peace.