There are three punctuation marks that play important roles in my life: full stop, question mark, and exclamation mark. The full stop stands […]
Published on: 04-02-2018
There are three punctuation marks that play important roles in my life: full stop, question mark, and exclamation mark.
The full stop stands for all the things that are fixed, invariable, and established: things I don’t have to think much about.
“I eat my cereals with soy milk and no sugar”—Full stop.
“My name is Werner Dullinger. I am a pastor, I have a wife and two children”—Full stop.
“On Thursday, my supermarket opens at 9:00 a.m.”—Full stop.
All these things are true. But they do not necessarily have real connections to my life or play a significant role in my life—except for my wife and my children. They are simply statements.
Question marks seem to become more prevalent the older I get. When I was younger, I had crystal-clear answers for almost everything. My whole world was clearly divided into black and white and nothing in between. More experiences and more learning, however, have brought more open questions. Some of the old explanations suddenly don’t fit into my more complex world. I have realized that the world does not just consist of black and white. There are a lot of nuances. That also includes some aspects of my faith.
This is not bad or threatening. I can live with some question marks in my life. But honestly—only questions marks?
That’s not enough; there must be more to life.
Here’s where the exclamation mark comes into the picture. The older I get the more important they become for my life. A sentence with an exclamation mark means much more than a sentence with a full stop. An exclamation mark communicates more emotions and connectedness than a full stop.
“Our team won the world championship!”
“I have to tell you something: I just bought a Porsche 911 with 450 horsepower!”
That’s not just pure information. We can immediately catch the emotion and the connection. Exclamation marks make my life meaningful and worth living.
A Biblical Exclamation Mark
The Bible knows an exclamation mark. It’s not a punctuation mark—it’s a word. Amen is a Hebrew term that means “to be certain, reliable, being sure.” It’s used in different settings. When people accepted the validity of an oath they used to say “Amen” (Num. 5:22; Deut. 27:15; Jer. 11:5). In other instances it became an answer to a blessing (1 Chron. 16:36; Neh. 8:6). In the New Testament, it is regularly used as the conclusion of a doxology or prayer (1 Cor. 14:16). “Amen” is an affirmation, an exclamation mark!
Life becomes meaningful when we say “Amen” to someone or something. We have to say “Yes.” We need at least one exclamation mark.
Scripture is full of people who found their exclamation mark, who decided to commit to something bigger than themselves. Paul puts it like this: “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me, Silvanus, and Timothy—was not Yes and No, but in Him was Yes. For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us” (2 Cor. 1:19, 20).
We are God’s exclamation mark, God’s biggest dream. That’s the reason Jesus came and paid a huge price to realize His dream. Philippians 2:6-8 expresses this wonderfully. In Jesus, God made Himself nothing so that we have a chance to grasp eternity through Him.
There are more comfortable ways to die than on a Roman cross. Yet God stuck to His plan of saving a world in rebellion and persevered until His dream would become reality. Because of that, says Paul, because I do not have to worry anymore about my value, my dignity, my being accepted and being loved, and my self-esteem, I have the freedom to start my quest for my exclamation mark in life, to look for the “Amen” in my life.
Dag Hammerskjöld, the United Nations’ second secretary-general (1953-1961), died in a plane crash in Zambia, where he was to start negotiation to end a bloody civil war. In his book Markings he shared this idea: “I don´t know who—or what—put the question; I don’t know when it was put. I don’t even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer Yes to someone—or something—and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.”*
That’s what life is all about. To discover the question to which we can, from our innermost being, say Yes. It’s almost like falling in love, when we feel those butterflies in our tummy.
Do you remember the crazy things you did in that state of mind?
Driving on a motorcycle for four hours through a rainstorm, just to have 60 minutes with her.
Watching a really boring movie just because she likes it.
Going to a ball game just because his team is playing.
I think no relationship and no dream can survive if this feeling is missing. We can feel this only if it’s our dream we are dreaming (and not somebody else’s), if it’s our question we are answering, and if it’s our “Yes.”
If we want to live our lives, our faith, and our calling with joy and deep inner satisfaction, we have to go back to what initially motivated and compelled us. We have to realize anew what values and priorities we are cherishing with every fiber of our being.
Whether we are church members, teachers, pastors, or administrators, with very busy lives and full calendars, we need this kind of reformation. In the light of God’s all-encompassing “Yes” that He spoke to us through Jesus, we, too, can answer unreservedly and unequivocally “Yes.” God’s “Yes” becomes our “Yes” of self-surrender, and suddenly our lives have meaning and purpose.
* Dag Hammersköld, Markings (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1964).
Werner Dullinger is president of the South German Union Conference, located in Ostfildern, Germany.