The Truck Driver’s Question

Large truck with one door open, in front of green trees and a sunset or sunrise sky.Will the human species survive us – humans? A major U.S. Catholic magazine, Commonweal, recently raised that question, in the format of a symposium of experts. But another life-and-death question, much larger in scope, has long claimed my own life and heart. I want to explore that question here.

I heard it most poignantly already when I was a college student who had a summer job on a county road-repair crew. Our truck driver was an alcoholic of longstanding. We all crossed our fingers when he drove us, in the back of a big yellow dump truck, to our worksites.

One day, our crew was hard at work repainting the guard rails of a small bridge. The stream below was in turmoil, after several days of heavy rain.  Our driver stood there, taking it all in. At one point, he fixed his eyes on the rushing waters beneath us and said softly: “Where’s it all going? What does it all mean?”

I could feel the urgency of that question for him. That experience has haunted me ever since. More to the point, it has long driven my own spiritual life. Sure, along with many others, I’ve been deeply troubled by other wrenching questions, too, among them the issue of “theodicy.” That’s this question: how could a good God create a world in which there’s so much evil? After all, theologians in my generation grew up facing the wrenching reality of the Holocaust. In our post-Holocaust world, many of us have kept asking: “Where’s it all going? What does it all mean?”

Toss in the issue of what is sometimes called cosmic futility to sharpen the question even more. According to many cosmological physicists, our universe is going nowhere, when everything’s run its course. Ultimately our multi-galactic universe will arrive at an all-comprehending Heat Death, a universal state of cosmic stasis. So much for where it’s all going and what it all means. We have our final answer: according to the canons of science, the grim reaper, Death, will have the last word, universally.

The end-time vision of faith, as it’s announced in the Scriptures, could not be more different. Where’s it all going and what does it all mean? In accordance with God’s promise, says II Peter 3:13, “we wait for a new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.” According to this angle of vision, not only will humans be bodily resurrected at the Very Ending, but all things will be made new. Call this this the Cosmic Rebirth of all things, which, from the perspective of faith, follows the Heat Death of all things. That, I believe, is where it’s all going. That, I believe, is what it’s all about.

I wasn’t able to share that kind of vision with the inebriated truck driver on that bridge so many years ago. Kneeling amidst some weeds, splashing paint on the guardrail before me, the only thing, as I now recall, that I could say at that moment was this commonplace: “It’s all gonna be okay, I believe.”

What did that truck driver make of that simple, hopefully not simplistic, testimony of mine? I never knew. But I’ve been grateful for the poignancy of his questions ever since. Where’s it all going? What does it all mean?