This is the Bridge of No Return separating North Korea from South Korea in the Joint Security Area (JSA) near Panmunjom. The photo, taken on a recent winter’s day, looks into North Korea. The rusty panel marker on the left of the photo denotes the “Military Demarcation Line” (MDL) between the two Koreas. For 2000 meters on each side of this line, the “Demilitarized Zone” (DMZ) serves as a buffer between the two states. North Korea, China and the United Nations Command (UNC) agreed to an armistice on July 27, 1953, but a final peace treaty has never been signed.
The Bridge of No Return was the site of the prisoner exchange that followed the armistice. Prisoners of war lined up on each side of the bridge and were offered the opportunity to go home or remain where they were. Understandably, a number of North Korean prisoners wanted to stay in South Korea. In this one moment, prisoners could choose. If a prisoner crossed the bridge, however, his fate was sealed forever. He could no longer choose to return to the other side.
It seems to me that we all face a number of Bridges of No Return during our lifetimes.
In the moment of decision, we can choose to cross the bridge, or we can choose to stay where we are. Each Bridge of No Return forces us to make a decision that cannot be undone. If the decision turns out to be a bad one, we can never go back to where we came from. With God’s help, we can always move forward, but we can never go backward.
The decision to cross the Bridge of No Return – or not to cross it – had profound consequences for the remainder of the prisoners’ lives. There is one decision that we make that has even more profound consequences. Life and death. Freedom and slavery. Inclusion and alienation. These are all bound up the decision to follow Christ – or not to follow him.
At first glance, this does not seem like a good analogy. You can choose to follow Christ today, tomorrow, or the next day. You can even decide to stop following Him.
Jesus’ call to discipleship in the New Testament, however, required an immediate response. In my experience, the decision of whether to follow Christ is not one that you can carry around forever in the back of your mind until you get around to making it. There are certain moments in one’s life in which the call becomes as real and immediate as it was for Peter and Andrew. When those moments come, one must decide. There may be, in fact, several moments in one’s life in which one must decide for or against Christ. What we do reveals who we are. What we do over time builds a pattern of behavior that is hard to change. Each decision we make either reinforces or changes the orientation of our lives.
The call to follow Christ, then, is not simply a one-time, momentary decision. It’s not simply a matter of signing on the dotted line in order to get a heavenly reward somewhere down the line. Deciding to follow Christ is like crossing a Bridge of No Return in the sense that it changes everything about the circumstances of your life. Christ’s call, in fact, requires a complete reorientation of one’s life. It is this orientation of one’s life toward Christ and in Christ (and his church) that makes all the difference.