Can it really be said that anyone is irreplaceable?
Just a day after publishing this post, I visited the International Christian Community, Lee Abbey at Lynton, Devon for the weekend. On my first evening there the speaker happened to say something in his talk that made me realise that whilst I had not actually made a mistake in what I said below, I did omit an important point. If you have already read this post, before the revision, you only need to go to the final paragraph where I updated it
I once heard it said that a person, any person, is as irreplaceable as the hole left in water when you take your hand out of it. There might be a grain, or perhaps I should say drop, of truth in that but it is not as simple as it sounds. For one thing, it depends on the volume of water and for another, a human being does not merely displace water, we add to it, when we put a hand in. After all, each human is composed of approximately 70% water (please don’t quibble about the exact amount).
If I immerse my hand in a bucket of water, when I take it out again there is a perceptible dip in the water level. There is no hole but there are ripples in the water, which die away quite quickly. This is a bit like a single employee retiring from a small business. Over a week or so there will be ripples until that employees work is redistributed and then calm will return to the surface. In another month someone might be recruited to fill the vacancy, bringing the water level back up as it is displaced again, creating more ripples. Strictly speaking this is not replacement, it is substitution. To “Replace” is usually used to mean putting back the same thing from where it was removed.
In a bigger organisation, the same sequence occurs but the drop in the water level when someone leaves is less and smaller ripples which fan out further but are less perceptible the further they get from the source. The end result is the same with substitution, not replacement. There will of course be times when there is only one set of ripples, when someone leaves but is not replaced, resulting in a permanent drop in the water level. My conclusion from this is that everyone is irreplaceable but also that everyone can be substituted, or can they?
As you will know as a reader of this blog, I am a Christian. I believe in the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus) and God the Holy Spirit. So as a Christian you might think that I believe that Jesus cannot be substituted. I am absolutely sure he cannot be replaced but substituted? That is probably true but is a possibility I think we should at least consider. I focus on Jesus because God the Father has never walked this planet (as far as we know); Jesus has.
When Jesus entered this world, of which we are God’s stewards, as a small baby, he made a big splash and ripples as big as waves spread far and wide, like a huge meteor splashing into the sea. Over the next three decades, until he was, probably, in his early 30s, there were a few rocks chucked into ponds but which calmed fairly quickly and were quite localised, a bit like a squall on Galilee might be. But then he started making more ripples.
The ripples that he started to make as he aged were quite small to begin with but then he started to make them bigger. He didn’t just dip his hand into the water, he started flicking it and splashing it about, so that there were not just ripples from his hands, but ripples from the drops he had splashed too. Those ripples as they grew and began to coalesce started to become currents and waves that could not be held back.
Then after about 3 years of those waves were coming further and further up the beach, splashing over more and more people. Then at a passover festival those waves became a tsunami. Jesus was crucified and three days later he rose again then, 40 days later,at what we now call Pentecost, he left this world. Jesus had jumped into the water and made the biggest splash in history. Those ripples spread out not just across the world but across time and we are still feeling their effect now.
So was Jesus irreplaceable? In this case I really don’t know, perhaps he is the one and only person who is irreplaceable, perhaps not. Either way, he has still been substituted in this world. Jesus’ substitute is all the people who believe in him. We are now the body of Christ and as his body, we must allow ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit, who is continually making ripples of His (or Her) own.The water level might have dropped a tiny bit since Jesus departed the mortal world but the Holy Spirit keeps stirring the water and making waves.