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The Back Pack


As a school teacher I was able to take part in many camps over the years, which although challenging, were usually very worthwhile as you got to know the kids on a different level.

One of my favourites, yet most challenging camps, was the Yr. 10 five-day hike to Lake Tarli Kahng, which is a natural lake in the Alpine region of Victoria. It is truly beautiful and if you ever get the chance to go and visit it, I would recommend it. I would point out there are places you can drive to which reduce the hike to perhaps a one-day round trip.

However, in an attempt to give the students a wilderness experience we were dropped off quite a distance from the lake and so were required to walk in to the area carrying everything on our backs in packs, including food, water, tents, spare clothes, and medical supplies. What made this camp even more interesting was that it was done before the days of mobile phones and so we were really out of touch and required to be quite self-sufficient. Oh, and did I mention the twenty odd river crossings and the fact that Lake Tarli Kahng is 850m above sea level and so a significant amount of uphill walking was required?

Needless to say, there were some pretty nervous students listed for this camp and so in an attempt to prepare them, training started weeks before the event and included setting up tents on the oval, cooking camp meals and a practice hike to Lysterfield lake carrying packs filled with telephone books. Unfortunately, this particular training hike was a dismal failure as kids soon worked out that they could lighten their loads by simply tearing out pages from their phone books, which they did with great gusto. I can still see hundreds of pages blowing down the road that lead to the lake and staff madly running up and down the line of sixty odd students threatening to throw them in the lake…metaphorically speaking of course.

However, despite all the training and coaching and threatening we found that students still tried to bring too much on the hike and so on the departure morning, before they were allowed to get on the bus, their packs were weighed. This was always a fun time as students about the size of Kermit the frog would try and convince the staff member on duty that they would have no trouble carrying a 28kg pack the 40 plus kilometres required. Inevitably many packs would be emptied on the door step of the bus and items examined to see if they were really necessary. Within minutes a significant pile of non-essential items would start to fill a trolley parked nearby.

Let me tell you what my all-time favourite items were, that we found in a pack…

When it was weighed, the teacher could not believe how much it registered and almost did his back in getting it on and off the scales. You can imagine the expression on the faces of the staff and students as they gathered around watching the pack emptied. To their absolute amazement and delight they found tins and tins of baked beans, an electric hair dryer and a full-size cast-iron BBQ plate.

This find illustrated the fact that despite staff’s best attempts to convey expectations and requirements to the group in the lead up to the camp, there were those who just didn’t take it on board. Consequently, those people end up carrying things in their back packs which are not necessary, don’t work and weigh them down making the journey unbearable.

In John Bunyan’s classic book, Pilgrim’s Progress we are introduced to his main character, Christian, who has a burden on his back that weigh’s him down and makes his life unbearable. He became aware of this burden when he read the Bible. At this point, readers will often embrace the conclusion that the burden Christian carried was his sin which he became aware of when faced with the truth of the scriptures. The problem with this interpretation is that when Christian begins his journey he eventually passes through the “wicket gate”. Bunyan uses this narrow gate to represent Christ which is the point of salvation to all those who accept him personally as their Lord and Saviour. However, when Christian passes through the gate and is saved, he does not lose his burden, which of course you would expect if it represented his sin. Instead, it is not until further on in his travels when Christian finds the cross of Jesus and the tomb that the burden rolls off his back and into the tomb. At this point in the story he exclaims…

“He hath given me rest by his sorrow, And life by his death.”

What is John Bunyan trying to convey in his story about Christian?

Well I am not going to pretend to be able to fathom the depths of Bunyan’s Puritan theological framework and his adherence to a rather strict version of Calvinism. However, I did find the following comments by Jim Orrick, professor of literature and culture at Boyce College particularly helpful…

“Christian’s burden represents not sin per se, but it represents the shame and doubt that he feels because of his sin. Christian’s sins get forgiven when he received Christ, which is represented by his entering the Wicket Gate. But Christian does not yet understand the basis of the forgiveness, so his conscience continues to bother or burden him. Put in more technical terms (always a welcome means of clarification) the burden represents psychological guilt not forensic guilt”.

“What has all this got to do with us I hear you ask”?

“Afterall Pilgrims Progress was written in 1678!!! Come on Bruce can’t you be a bit more relevant than this?!!!”

Well, let me have a go at making it relevant.

I would suggest that many of us in this day and age carry, unnecessarily, the same burden in our back packs that Christian did. A psychological guilt and shame for our sin, despite the fact that we have personally accepted Jesus’ sacrifice for that very sin. We have failed to embrace fully the truth that Jesus has made amends for our shortcomings and that we are now credited with his righteousness.

Or as some like to put it, we have not fully embraced the substitutionary atonement of Jesus and his imputed righteousness.

Regardless of what language we use the conclusion is the same… for Christians there is no legal reason for our guilt.

As Paul screams from the rooftops in Romans 8:1&2.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death”.

We stand now before God forgiven and with the righteousness of Christ.

Now at this point one may be tempted to suggest that because as Christians we have a new status and since there is no legal reason for our guilt, we can let “our hair down” and do what we like, or as my Mum used to say, “carry on like pork chops”.

That is presuming upon grace of God and Paul faces this argument in Romans ch.6:1-4.

“So, what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realise we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace-a new life in a new land!

So, then this week let us remind ourselves every day that we live a “new life in a new land” where there is no legal reason for our guilt and therefore no need to carry around the burden of false shame and guilt…

And let us echo the words of Christian…

“He hath given me rest by his sorrow, And life by his death.”



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