A Time of Revealing

A few years ago I was listening to a teaching from R.C. Sproul entitled, “Have You Lost Your Mind?” It was about, among other things, the dumbing down of almost everything to zero. Sproul lamented soft, shallow preaching from the Scriptures; he lamented the abandonment of logic. He lamented because emotion and personality so often trump revelation and reason. I have since gone back and listened to that teaching again and again on YouTube. It is linked for you here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMfnFg-zIJg

One of the many true statements Sproul made was this one: “We are living in the most anti-intellectual climate in the history of the Christian church.” Agreed, sir! I don’t like having to agree with that statement. I wish it were not true. But it is true. I, too, lament the sad levels to which much of the Christian church has descended.

But I study history. And I see in history that we have been here before. As Solomon wrote, there is nothing new:

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9 ESV)

The deplorable level to which cultures sink morally and culturally is not new. It is as old as sinners. So I find encouragement in the Scriptures when I see we have been here before and what happened. At the risk of getting ahead of myself, a great revealing is at hand.

Just think of Yeats’ poem, “The Second Coming”:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.   
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out   
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert   
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,   
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,   
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it   
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.   
The darkness drops again; but now I know   
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,   
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,   
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

You see it there? “[S]ome revelation is at hand,” Yeats wrote. Yeats, no orthodox Christian, saw there was a revealing occurring in his lifetime. He witnessed the West turning its back on God. T.S. Eliot saw it, too. The Waste Land, Eliot’s sophisticated lament about the consequences of secularism, is summed up in one of the title’s words: waste.

In a Bible class I teach at our church, we are looking into the gospel in Isaiah. God used the prophetic voice of Isaiah in the 700s B.C.

Listen to the words of both judgment of sin and hope from Isaiah:

And it shall be said, “Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstruction from my people’s way.” For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite. (Isaiah 57:14-15 ESV)

What a juxtaposition! God is both “high and lifted up” and yet “with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit.” Both. Simultaneously. That is remarkable. God is majestic and transcendent, yes, but he condescends to the humble. He is near to the brokenhearted. He is a revealing God who reveals to us our need of him and his gospel.

I have a peer at work who has a unique way with words I just love. I do a lot of listening when she has something on her mind and on her heart. But one of the most striking things she has said to me a lot over recent days is, “This is a time of revealing, chaplain. Folks are gonna see who is who and what is what, and there won’t be any hiding.”

I think she is right. It’s not because I needed her to tell me that. I knew that already from what has been revealed. As the writer of Hebrews puts it,

. . . no creature is hidden from his [God’s] sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:13 ESV)

Yeats asked, “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,/Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” Well, One was born in Bethlehem, and if you are intellectually honest, you will face that reality. Maybe not today but you will face it. Now matters, you see. It has everlasting consequences. Why? Because the clock is ticking. Because what you do regarding the person and work of Jesus Christ is determinative. Because he is the One who was, per the Apostles’ Creed,

conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

A great revealing is at hand. A remnant was saved in Isaiah’s day. God revived (gave new life). He made a new heart for the contrite (Isaiah 57:15b). That is the gospel in Isaiah, folks. The revealing God has spoken. As Schaeffer wrote, he is there and he is not silent.

Gideon: Full of Doubt but Saved by Trusting God

Questions: Ever doubted that the Lord was with you? Ever felt like you were insufficient for a task to which God has called you? Ever thought the circumstances you were in were so messed up they were beyond redemption? Well, you are not alone. The Bible, because it is true, describes people the way we really are. It does not airbrush us to make us prettier than we are. Consider the case of Gideon.

Historical context: 1200s B.C. The time of the judges. The Jews had been promised by God a land. But they often had weak faith. They failed to trust the Lord fully. And so they failed to live according to God’s Word to them. They were oppressed by various enemies: the Mesopotamians, the Moabites, the Philistines, and in Gideon’s time, the Midianites. The Midianites were oppressing Israel when God called him to fight in the Lord’s army, to be a warrior for the Lord. And Gideon’s response?

Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house (Judges 6:15). 

Even been there? Ever felt like, “Lord, I trust you, but I’m not up to this task”? God reminded Gideon, however, who is sovereign in warfare. 

And the LORD said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man”  (Judges 6:16). 

God teaches Gideon what he teaches believers throughout church history: it’s not man’s might that saves. It’s not chariots and horses that save. It’s not human machinations and human cleverness that save. It’s the Lord who saves. 

Encouragement: If you’re a believer, and you find yourself putting out the fleece like Gideon did, and you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by circumstances, by oppressors (political, spiritual, personal, etc.) read Gideon’s story again. The Lord reminded Gideon—not just once, twice, or even three times, but repeatedly: “But I will be with you” (6:16) and “Do not fear; you shall not die” (6:23). 

Takeaway: In the NT, Paul reminds us of what he learned, what Gideon learned, and what all Christians are to learn: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25). Believers are warriors, make no doubt about it, and the battles are ultimately spiritual:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12). 

We can find solace in the fact that Scripture shares with us how our predecessors likewise had weak faith at times. But we ought to see the great truth that it is not the strength of our faith that saves but the One—the Lord Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16)—in whom our faith abides. 

The Right of the People

I keep in my pocket a copy of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Pictured above is one of those copies. Have you ever read the documents? They were world-shaping, emancipatory, transformative documents. They remain world-shaping, emancipatory, transformative documents. The first few sentences of the second paragraph in the Declaration are profound. When you ponder what they say, it is no wonder America, in her founding principles, is the envy of the world:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, they they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

The immediate pressing historical despot was Britain’s King George III (1738-1820). The next twenty-seven paragraphs in the Declaration list historical realities the Americans in the original thirteen colonies and more were enduring at the hands of a ruler they viewed as an occupier, one not elected by them, one who did not represent their values. He was a British citizen and Britain’s monarch. The young American patriots did not create another monarchy but a democratic republic. The people, not monarchs or plutocrats, would rule their nation by electing those who represented their values. It was to be a bottom-up republic, not a top-down monarchy/plutocracy/corporatocracy/aristocracy.

I don’t much believe what I see on the ‘news’, because most of it has become crass, juvenile, and utterly anti-intellectual. When Anderson Cooper waded into a pond for the camera in September 2018 in order to make it appear the rains from the storm Florence were hurricane-level behemoths, and camera angles made it appear legitimate to undiscerning CNN viewers that Anderson was braving the elements to bring them the truth, but then other video appeared with the realistic picture of the levels of rainfall, Cooper was again disgraced.

When it is crafted to appear that thousands of supporters have turned out for a politician when in fact there is only a handful of people in attendance, the wise person realizes that truth is not what the media monsters value. When Brian Williams lied about his helicopter coming under enemy fire in Iraq in 2013, he later, only when caught in the lies, said he “made a mistake in the recalling of events.”

I have been in some rather tense situations in various countries across the globe across many years in the military. I promise you: I can remember where I was, who I was with, what time of day/night it was, and what happened. It’s not the sort of thing one forgets. Had the helicopter I was in been shot down, I think I’d remember that clearly, if I’d managed to escape. But for the media monsters, well, “mistakes were made.”

When I read all I could stand of this week’s news, it was more of the same: Critical Race Theory being forced upon the populace by elites; women’s sports continuing to be destroyed by men who say they’re women; U.S. borders inundated with illegals; politicians not wearing their face diapers but sermonizing about how the proles must. And camera-hungry Tony Fauci, doing his best not to pass out when having to speak to Senator Paul and Congress about revelation after revelation of the corruption, about the coronavirus, about masks, about shots, about lockdowns–all for the masses but not for the politicians.

See the parallels? In the 1700s, American patriots were not as dumb or as docile or as dependent upon Britain as Britain bargained for. The patriots were a hearty lot, determined to live and to let live. I sense a similar timbre across America today. A lot of folks have had more than enough. I do not know what lies ahead for the nation. I do know that “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD,” though (Psalm 33:12). But the nation, by and large, hates the Lord. Apparently, most folks think they know better. So, you’re seeing the results. I see a behemoth government, hostile to the people, thumbing its nose at the Lord, and even at those who just long to be left alone by government. We shall see what lies ahead. But as for me and my household, I don’t think that CRT, being ‘woke’, mystery shots, or face diapers are going to be the nation’s salvation. I hope the patriots will read the Declaration and Constitution again, and see why we rightly call the Founding Fathers wise. They knew their history. May we also.

Through the Waters

Illustration: We sat in captain chairs on the dock and watched the water. It moved steadily in the canals. 500 miles of canals in the city; that was one of the city’s claims to fame. I remember bringing some of my family to Venice, Italy some years back when I was stationed several hours north of there in Bavaria, and I thought Venice had a lot of canals. Well, it does, but not as many as where we were in Florida. Beautiful boats glided by. Many of them trailed U.S. flags from their sterns. I still get emotional inside when I see our flag. It encouraged me to see almost all of the boats—huge vessels, pontoons, sailboats, speed boats, etc.—fly Old Glory. It manifested something about Americans’ unity amidst their diversity. Some folks sailed; some folks fished; some folks skied; some folks just cruised. But the nation’s colors flew high above the sea. It is an image that I keep with me. When we sat on the dock some evenings, the setting sun played upon the water and cast colors of tangerine, bronze, and flame across surfaces. The fronds of the palms waved as if by invisible hands. And narrow silver fish would burst from the canals’ water so suddenly, your heart would race for an instant. There is something about being on the water, something that speaks to one’s soul. I don’t mean in a pantheistic sort of way, of course, only that the water, to me, often serves as a metaphor for renewal and remembrance.

Segue: In Isaiah, set in the 700s B.C., we see God speaking through the prophet Isaiah to a nation about God’s own glory, about the nation’s sin, about God’s judgment of that sin, and of how the same covenant-keeping God will nonetheless redeem particular people for his new creation. Isaiah’s book is a God-saturated book of cosmic proportions wherein the Creator of all judges sin and yet redeems particular sinners. New is brought out of the old. Clean is brought from the defiled. Justice is brought out of injustice and corruption. All things are made new for those in the Lord. The word through pervades the book of Isaiah.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Isaiah 43:2-3a).

Isaiah brought God’s message to a recalcitrant people: God was with his people to bring them through the valley of the shadow of death. The question they faced is the same all of us face as individual people: are you and I in Christ? Are we God’s people? Or are we like the masses who go their own way and reap the whirlwind of God’s judgment?

Encouragement: For mature Christians who know Scripture well, this may sound elementary, because you already know God’s revealed truth. But for the many people who will likely never pick up a Bible and read it, they likely don’t know, or they have errant views of what Scripture teaches. So here is the bottom line of Isaiah and the bottom line of the Bible: God is good, perfectly good. We sinners are not. Therefore, because God is holy, perfectly righteous and good, he must judge our sin. We either bear the penalty of that sin ourselves, or one must intercede on our behalf who is sufficient and efficient to satisfy the holiness of God. Jesus Christ, the God-man, 100% God and 100% man, was born of the virgin Mary, thereby breaking the sin bloodline, lived a perfect life, was crucified, buried, and rose again as proof of his divinity and triumph over the grave. For those who flee to Christ alone in repentance and faith, he will redeem them. Their sin is imputed to Christ as the one and only acceptable sacrifice, and Jesus’s righteousness is imputed to us sinners. In our place, condemned he (Jesus) stood. As Jesus himself put it,

“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:37-40)

That is good news, folks. It is unimaginably good news for all those who are in Christ. It means that we are new creations because of God who walked through the valley, conquered through the grave, and will bring his people through to their appointed end.

–CH Pirtle

Anchor of the Soul

Illustration: Recently I went on vacation with family and friends. During the late mornings and early days, we’d hit the beach, swim, sun, snack, play Bottle Smash and variations of ladder toss. During the late afternoons/early evenings, we’d frequent one of the local ice cream shops for refreshments. Later we’d gather back at the house for games and meals and fellowship. Most of the folks in the group enjoyed playing card and board games. Some in the group, highly competitive when it came to games, grew animated when someone won with a flush or a full house in Texas Hold’em. (I have never been particularly good at card games. Give me the Scrabble or Boggle board games any day. Words for me, please. You can keep all the geometric and algebraic games; I was not dealt those cards, if you’ll pardon the pun.) Anyway, one evening one of the girls asked a serious question of me as part of one of the games. 

      “If someone could give you something of great personal value to you, what would it be?” 

     “A thing—like an object? Or can it be a quality?” I asked.

     “A quality is fine, too,” she said.

     “That’s easy,” I said. “Loyalty. I like folks that stick.” 

A smile of recognition spread across her face. “Yes!” she exclaimed, as if my answer resonated with her.

Connection to Scripture: In my studies currently, I am in the book of Hosea. It is an Old Testament book set in the 700s B.C. centered on the idea of God’s loyalty to his promises. It demonstrates God’s faithfulness, steadfastness, and loyalty to his Word. 

     Israel, unlike God, was adulterous. In Hosea’s book, Israel was compared to a loose woman, “a wife of whoredom” (Hosea 1:2), a faithless bride, a sullied bride who betrayed her promises. (If you simply read the Bible, you learn quickly that God does not sugarcoat or varnish reality. He calls things just what they are. Seems to be an inextricable quality of telling the truth.) 

     God commands Hosea to “take to [himself] a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD” (Hosea 1:2-3). If you were a man of God, how would you like that for a mission? It seems unimaginable. But the point should be obvious. God saw Israel’s faithlessness. To be married to one who does not honor the marriage vow is to face failure, her own faithlessness, her own lies. Where was loyalty to be found, then? Would God abandon Israel? Would God abandon his people he had promised to bless? Would God go back on his Word, too? Would God be no longer loyal?  

     By no means! God, unlike the faithless bride, kept (and keeps) his Word. He is loyal to his promises. He does not lie. As Moses put it, “God is not man, that he should lie” (Numbers 23:19a). 

     I like the way the writer of Hebrews phrases it in Hebrews 6:18-20, “so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf . . . ” (6:18-20). 

Encouragement: It is vital to read the story through to the end. When you get near the end of Hosea’s prophecy, you see what God was doing. He was teaching that he is loyal. He is faithful to the end. He is faithful to his promises, faithful to his Word. Listen to Hosea 13:14 where he says, “I shall ransom them from the power of Sheol; I shall redeem them from Death. O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting?”

     I know that we all have different personality types, and that we like different things. Some like poker while others of us like word games. Vive la difference, when it comes to that sort of thing. But I bet we would all benefit from being people loyal to our words, loyal to the end, those faithful, even unto death. That, in fact, is what the gospel of Jesus Christ hinges upon—that God was and is faithful unto death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8). 

     “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2 Corinthians 1:20). Hosea was called by God to teach us about God’s covenant loyalty—his faithfulness—to his Word. I don’t know about you, but I believe the world would benefit from some loyalty. God is loyal, beloved. That is good news for all those in Christ. But for those who refuse and rebel, God is still loyal to his promise to execute judgment. The great offer of the gospel, however, is this: “ . . . everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:21) The Lord Jesus, the fulfillment of God’s promises, is the anchor of the soul, the One loyal to the end. 

Remember When?

Illustration: There is a line near the beginning of Melville’s Moby Dick that remains with me:  “Yes, as everyone knows, meditation and water are wedded for [sic] ever.” This week I took some annual leave.  The family and I are in southwest Florida with friends. We have vacationed together many times over the years. Invariably we make memories that resurface later, memories that remind me that joy is wedded to simplicity. Even for folks who would not customarily look upon the sun in a contemplative way, or listen to the waves roll endlessly in and out again, or focus upon the gulls as they ride the winds and land upon their tiny legs as thin as seaweed, and bury their beaks in the sands for food—you see folks sense a reconnection that comes when we unplug and return—in some degree—to simplicity. We seem to sense a life we have largely forfeited. When we look out upon creation, there is no end of detail. I watched the sky last night when we were at the pool. The clouds looked like one of Bruegel’s paintings. The sunlight above suffused the clouds—the whole western sky above the sea—in colors of tangerine, orange, cider, and flame. 

Connection: Today we will eat breakfast together, swim, walk the shoreline and select from scores of intricate shells that wash upon the shorelines here. We will feel the sun, hear the doves as we walk the boardwalks from which the pink-beaked doves herald their silky ooo-whoo repeatedly from the wires above. The Saint Augustine grass is thick and green in the yards. Burrowing owls—native here— burrow just feet away from the walking trails. Sundry species of ibis scurry everywhere, and the mangrove forests are densely green. Women shake fruit from the trees into colorful sheets by shaking ripe melons from the trees with a long pole. Watching them reminds of watching pecan tree farmers shake their groves of pecan trees with tractors back in Georgia. 

Encouragement: When I rose this morning before the others, I did my morning reading, checked the news on my laptop, and quickly relearned why I came to vacation from what I read—critical race theory indoctrination destroying meritocracy; Cuban families fighting for liberty from Communist tyranny just a few miles south of where I am right now in south Florida; Chicago, New York, and many Pacific Northwest cities seeing more murders than deaths of soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq wars. I read of women’s sports being utterly destroyed due to biological males ‘identifying’ as women, and of  superb women being deprived of their opportunities to succeed  in their respective fields. I saw a culture that has chosen to deny reality and mandate madness. 

     Then I closed the computer and looked around. I remembered last evening when we went for ice cream. My son got a waffle cone with the coffee-flavored ice cream he loves. My wife got the peanut butter and chocolate ice cream she loves. And I got the Rocky Road I can never resist. We ate and enjoyed. We felt the sun. We smelled the air. I watched a boy across from me eat his cone so quickly he had lime-green color smeared all over tanned face. I saw folks walk and talk and read and nap in the sun. I saw American flags line the streets of the neighborhood where we are staying. I heard the giggles of children and saw old husbands and wives holding hands. 

     Vacation cannot last, I know that. It is just that—a temporary reprieve from it all. But when I am down here, I recapture a confidence that most folks know basic truths. They know that boys are boys and that girls are girls. They know that it is folly to defund police and let thugs triumph. They know that it is a good thing to fear God, to respect creation and tend it as a caretaker, rather than destroy it. We know that it is right and good and proper to raise our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, instead of teaching them that reality will bend to the will of political correctness, just because that is trendy for some. There is still a remnant of mature, sober-minded people who see. They are awake, I assure you, but not ‘woke’ and it will be the adults, I pray, who triumph over the petulant social engineers trying to destroy the very things that make us all want to go on vacation and recapture. 

With Faulkner & Why

Few literary writers astonish and affect me upon rereading quite like William Faulkner. I am rereading several of his books and stories. I came across multiple passages in The Reivers this week that demonstrate why Faulkner still moves me:

“ . . . Fortune is a fickle jade, who never withholds but gives, either good or bad: more of the former than you ever believe (perhaps with justice) that you deserve; more of the latter than you can handle” (Faulkner, The Reivers, 48). 

Faulkner’s character speaking here posits the idea that Fortune (Lady Luck, Lady Fortuna, the Wheel of Fortune motif) dispenses more good than bad. This astonishes the individual who understands it. But Fortune also dispenses bad, too, and the individual cannot handle it–but he almost always does anyway, enduring amidst onslaughts, earning heroic, often tragic, status.

It is, of course, an easy category mistake to assume that each individual character in a literary writer’s books speaks for the author’s worldview. Doppelgangers exist in literature, of course, but the wise reader will not read each text assuming each character is such. Huck was not Twain; Tom was not Twain. But each boy would have been unthinkable were it not for Twain’s genius. The characters are just that–characters in a unified story. They battle with one another. They illustrate what Faulkner called “the human heart in conflict with itself.”

But Faulkner drops provocative gems like the one above and this one throughout his works, and they offer no end of rumination for the one who reads closely. Here is another example from the same novel:

Because there are some things, some of the hard facts of life, that you dont (sic.) forget, no matter how old you are. There is a ditch, a chasm; as a boy you crossed it on a footing. You come creeping and doddering back at thirty-five or forty and the footing is gone; you may not even remember the footing but at least you dont (sic.) step onto that empty gravity that footing once spanned” (Faulkner, The Reivers, 5). 

This sort of observation moves me, still. Why? Faulkner seems to so focus upon the importance of time. His characters often grapple with the effects of time–chronological time, yes, but also psychological time. How the individual views and understands and shapes time and history, these are forces at play in many of his characters.

Faulkner gets pigeonholed often by those who don’t read him closely as just writing about the defeated South during Reconstruction, or about the “white trash” (the Snopes family, for example) and poor Negroes of Mississippi in late 1800s and early 20th centuries. He did use those tropes, of course, but so much more is going on in his books. He deals with the individual–whether male or female, young or old or middle-aged, white or black, etc.–who is torn, who is both a recipient of the history into which he has been born and reared but is also “doomed” (one of Faulkner’s favorite words) to make his way in the present. He is thereby shaping the future, but the history he inherited and the history he is shaping meet in the crucible of the individual life in calendar time.

I remain with you, Faulkner. I love your commitment, your stories that explore the individual, your meticulous focus to express the inexpressible beauty and tragedy of it all.

Tonight as it rains in my little postage stamp of the South, I will have one of your books in my lap. I will read about the doomed men and women, boys and girls, Mississippi stalwarts all, who endured. Exploring their stories, made possible by you, makes me remember what great literature accomplishes.

Severe but Certain Providence

Illustration: Man overboard. Reluctant prophet. A whale of a tale. Selfish saint. The labels used to describe him are endless when it comes to Jonah, the prophet God called in the 700s B.C. to call out against the people of Nineveh (near present-day Mosul, Iraq) because their evil was flagrant (Jonah 1:2). 

But Jonah fled from the presence of the Lord (Jonah 1:3). How did that work out for Jonah? Was God to be outwitted by this self-absorbed, scared prophet? Was God going to somehow lose track of Jonah and frantically resort to a Plan B? Was God to be frustrated by Jonah’s disobedience? Is that the God of the Bible? Is the God of the Bible wringing his hands over the state of the universe, hoping that rebels will choose to humble themselves and return to him?

No, the God of the Bible is the God who calls sinners to repent in order that they might be saved from the wrath to come. And the God of the Bible is the God whose plan to save particular sinners is guaranteed. How?  Through the proclamation of the gospel. 

The pagan unbelievers aboard the ship Jonah was on repented and looked for mercy and believed the message that Jonah proclaimed. Jonah told them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9). God provided the means of salvation. God is the God of providence. 

They hurled the disobedient prophet into the sea. But was this to be the end of Jonah? Would it be death by drowning as he fled from God? No. “And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17). And Jonah’s prayer? “Salvation belongs to the LORD!” (Jonah 2:9b). 

Three days Jonah was in the belly of the great fish. One would think he had perished. One would think the message Jonah was commissioned to preach was silenced by way of the watery grave. But it was not so. Three days later, the fish appointed by God vomited Jonah out upon the dry land (Jonah 2:20) and Jonah fulfilled his ministry. He went to Nineveh. He spoke the truth. The people believed. Countless individuals were saved through believing the message. God provided the means of Jonah’s preservation. God provided the means of salvation to Nineveh. God provided the means of salvation. God is the God of providence. 

Encouragement: In Matthew, there is a passage where Jesus references the history of Jonah. The scribes and Pharisees were pushing Jesus to show “signs” that he was really God in the flesh. Listen to Jesus’s response:

An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. (Matthew 12:39-42a)

Jesus was connecting the dots for them by saying, “Jonah was three days and nights in the grave. I will be three days and nights in the tomb. But like Jonah, I will be raised.” Why? How? Because God’s message of salvation for particular sinners will not fail to accomplish God’s purposes. Because God provides the means of salvation. Because God is the gospel, as someone has put it. Because God is the God of providence. 

Jonah was reluctant and sinful; Jesus was not. Jesus was and is the only mediator between God and men (1 Timothy 2:5). God is the God of providence who conquered the grave, who rose again, who told doubting Thomas to touch his (Jesus’s) pierced hands and pierced side (John 20:27). This, dear reader, is the God of salvation, the God of providence, the God of truth, who keeps his promises. In a world drowning in deceit, charlatans, facades, masks, lies upon lies upon lies, this is the message of truth for all who will, like fellow sinners in Nineveh in Jonah’s day, believe. 

A Day in the Life

The weather was ideal, so I rode my motorcycle in to work. I had left the house quite early, so I decided to stop off at a Waffle House for breakfast. When I pulled in and turned off the bike and removed my helmet, I saw two women in front of the Waffle House on the concrete sidewalk. Both women wore ragged, filthy garments. Their hair was oily. They appeared to be far apart enough in age they could have been a mother and daughter. Their clothes were stained black and greasy. The older woman sat with her back against the plexiglass of the Waffle House. The younger woman paced back and forth in front of the Waffle House, pulling strong drags on a burning cigarette in her right hand. Her eyes darted this way and that, back and forth, as if she were a caged animal. Her fingernails were bitten down to the quick and her cuticles were soiled and black. She continued to pace back and forth in front of the Waffle House. You could feel the nervousness. I walked past them and into the Waffle House. A young bleach blonde inside said, “Sorry, sir. Can you give us fifteen minutes? He is cleaning the grill,” pointing to the cook behind her who was shrouded in a cloud of steam rising from the griddle. “Sure,” I said. I got back on my bike and went and fueled up at the gas station across the road. 

     When I returned, the two women were still there, but they appeared to be angry with each other. They were both mumbling curses to themselves but the curses were loud enough that even I could hear them when I turned off my motorcycle. I went in again. This time, the cook said, “Sir, I appreciate your patience. Thanks for coming back.” “Glad to,” I said. He was a nice man. And then an older lady appeared and asked the words I’ve heard countless times at Waffle Houses, “Know what you’re having, hon?” I love that. “Yes, ma’am. I do,” I said and gave my order. 

     Over the next few moments, the food came and I began eating. Then, Thwack!!! The younger woman outside the Waffle House kicked the window. The cook looked up from his griddle. The bleach blonde said to the older woman who’d been my waitress, “Call the Po Po!” I looked out through the greasy window over my shoulder. The woman’s eyes were ablaze and crazy, Charles Manson eyes. 

     I finished. I cleaned up my table, laid the utensils on the plate in my habitual way, the fork on top of the spoon, and the knife between the second and third tines of the fork, and walked to the register to pay, trying not to appear nervous or agitated. The older waitress said, “The police won’t come for this stuff anymore. We’re stuck with’em.” 

     I finished paying, tipped the older waitress generously. She looked at me and thanked me. She was visibly nervous, visibly unhappy, visibly stuck. This was her world, day in and day out. I did not know what to say. I uttered some hackneyed phrase, I think, like, “I hope you have a good day,” and left. 

     I put on my helmet, started the bike, rode on to work. But I felt I had failed somehow—failed to alleviate suffering, failed to speak appropriately, failed to understand, failed to see how we have come to a place where law enforcement cannot/will not respond when desperate women camp in front of a Waffle House. One woman had kicked the glass nearly in, and yet there were employees–working, doing their best, trying to support their families, doing their best to wear smiles, greet customers, wipe down tables, and scrub the griddle.

I had failed to do something, anything, redemptive. I felt I had failed as part of a larger failure wherein a culture’s foundation has been destroyed, and where the good guys who once showed up are now handcuffed, and each man is on his own. Lord, be merciful. We have lost our way.

The Work of His Fingers

Illustration: My buddies were fishing. I was, too, but I tend to observe a lot. When I looked up, out, around, and above, the spectacle surpassed any painting. Sunlight washed the hills in light the color of honey. The green grasses bent in the breeze in the meadows. Wildflower clusters of white, black, and gold carpeted the fields. Willow tress arched over the pond’s edge. Geese huddled at the far end of the pond in descending order according to size. The white bark of the aspen trees complemented the green of their boughs. The windmill turned in the breeze and oxygenated the water. We kept fishing and catching rainbow trout, their shiny skin displaying the slippery sheen of colors, justifying their name. If you had eyes to see and ears to hear, I don’t know how you could miss the message. God was heralding his majesty. 

Scripture: David wrote the following in Psalm 8:3-4:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

We must be careful, however. Of what? Of worshiping the creation rather than the Creator. The creation exists to point us to its Author, God himself. If we don’t rightly understand that God transcends his creation and is sovereign over all things, we become guilty of exchanging the truth about God for a lie and we worship and serve “the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” (Romans 1:25).As beautiful and alluring as creation and creatures can be, they are not self-generating. They exist because of their Author. God “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3).

Encouragement: I kept fishing. My buddies did, too. We caught some more rainbows. We enjoyed the creation in light of what the Author of life penned for us—a story of the transcendent God, who created all things, who upholds them, who calls his people to steward creation, and acknowledge the wisdom of the only transcendent, sovereign, good, and holy God. As Paul wrote in Romans 1:36, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” The mountains are not accidental. The sun is not accidental. The white of the aspens is not accidental. The intricate shiny pastiche of colors on the trout is not accidental. They all exist to call our attention to the One who is the Author of beauty–because he is the One who is Beauty himself. Delight yourself in creation to see that creation and we creatures attest to our Creator.