Renewed Day by Day

Illustration: All of us need to be reenergized, rejuvenated, and recharged at times, don’t we? Knowing what provides that soul-regenerating life is key. Near the top of my passions is hiking, often with my German shepherd, Brewster. We take to the hills when the weather smiles. Yesterday was one of those times. The sun was out. The temperature was in the 50s. There was a breeze. The hills beckoned. Many of you probably know the feeling.

There is an irony in hiking. The higher I get in elevation, the lower my stress level gets. I find that I focus more on beauty than on trivia. I’m immersed in the creation around me. Yesterday I saw quail, turkeys, whitetail deer, sparrows, robins, and squirrels. I smelled the pines that limned the ridge. The acorns from oaks popped under the soles of my hiking boots. I did not think about globalism or Coronavirus drama or identity politics or of gas prices going up, up, up, or any of that stuff; I just hiked. And I recharged. I term it my soul food because it replenishes something deep inside.

Scripture: In the New Testament era when Paul was suffering for bearing witness to the truth of Christianity amidst a hostile culture, he endured massive persecution and hardship. He was eventually martyred for his allegiance to Jesus as Lord. Paul knew true suffering. He also knew how crucial it was to be anchored to that which overcomes the world—the truth. It was more than pretty scenery and fleeting feelings of rejuvenation. It was the truth of Christ as Lord. Before he was murdered by the Roman emperor, Paul penned these words:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’s sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you (2 Cor 4:7-12, ESV).

“The world is too much with us,” the Romantic poet Wordsworth penned. The seemingly immediate, the bombardment of worldliness, the tyranny of the moment, will steal your joy. But for the Christian, he knows the transformative regenerating “soul food,” if you will: the truth that Jesus is Lord above all, and is with him.

Encouragement:  Just a few verses after the passage above, Paul writes the following encouragement to his fellow Christian pilgrims on the way:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Cor 4:16-18, ESV).

Let us enjoy and appreciate the hikes, the kayaking, the trail runs, etc. But may God’s people also recognize that these are gifts from the Giver, the Lord Himself, so that we might recognize that the beauty of creation is to point us to its Maker, the Creator. It is in Him that we are renewed day by day.

A Day in the Life: Why Good Theology Matters

 “The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.” Many, if not most people, scoff at that verse’s claim. I mean, are we really to believe that God exists, that he is the Author of life, and that he is sovereign over the affairs of men? Surely not, right? That is the world’s general reaction, of course. The concept of the infinite-personal God working “all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph 1:11) seems so foreign to the majority of people.

When I meditated on Solomon’s words, my thoughts reeled. Providence is largely a foreign concept to many people today, at least in my life. Of course, theological circles know the term, and are filled with students who could probably pass exams on providence. But for most folks who are laymen, or those untrained in theology, is providence a concept that the world views as anything other than folly?

Most folks that I’m dealing with in ministry (not all, of course, but many) are battling discouragement. Most are not Christians, so they do not have a biblical worldview. And so one of my default positions is to ask them questions.

Below is a snippet from a recent conversation with one I think God is calling:

“Things are just so rotten. Evil is winning. Where are the good guys, Chaplain?”

     “Can you tell me what you mean by rotten?” I ask.

     “How can you not see it? Rottenness. Did you see how many black boys and girls, men and women, were murdered in Chicago over the weekend?”

     “No. Are you saying that is tragic?” I ask.

     “Really? You don’t think that is tragic?” he responds incredulously.

     “I do think it is tragic. But I’m asking you on what basis do you think it is tragic? Is Chicago to be a “safe space” or exempt from tragedy?”

     “Chaplain, do you really think it should be this way?”

     “I understand your question. I think that Chicago is a microcosm and a symptom of a deeper issue. I think people murder because their hearts are murderous. I think it is a hateful heart that murders. The bodies on the streets are symptoms of a heart issue,” I say. “I know that it may sound silly or foolish to you but may I share something with you?” I ask.

     “Sure,” he says.

     “You have heard of Jesus, right? Well, he claimed to be God in the flesh. He was even crucified by Roman authorities and Jewish mobs for his claims to be God. But the Bible claims that even that evil—the crucifixion of Jesus—is part of the providential plan of God. This is what the Bible teaches. Peter says this: ‘this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it’. What I am saying is that the Bible claims that evil is real, but that even the worst evil—the murder of Christ—was under the sovereign providence of God, because Christ was raised from the dead three days after his murder in fulfillment of promise and specific prophecies. Deaths in Chicago are tragic. The death in Jerusalem was tragic, too. But God is sovereign even over the souls of men. Do you understand these things?”

     “But if that is true, then how come good is losing?” he asks. He is looking right at me, as if to see through me to what is behind.

     “I cannot go beyond what is written. But what God has revealed to us about the most enduring and difficult of questions is that he is working even evil together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose. The Bible says he works all things. That means, among other things, that nothing is random. That means that the symphony has a conductor. That means the limits of the sea are bound by his word. That means that the evils we see are not without purpose. He has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble. Does that make sense?”

     “I need to think, Chaplain.”

     When I have conversations like this one, I am reminded that these conversations are either one of two things: A) random/haphazard/cosmic accidents in a meaningless universe or B) divine appointments where God uses us fallen sinners, even with our feet of clay, for his sovereign purposes.

     When he and I talked, I don’t think either one of us believed we were random, haphazard, cosmic accidents. I think we both believed we were intentional, thinking, rational soldiers who wanted the truth. And that makes all the difference.

Why the Theology of So Many Drifts East of Eden (Part Two)

Have you ever reread a passage with which you are familiar when you suddenly experience a flash of insight? It shocks you. Various words and phrases describe the experience: epiphany, aha moment, light bulb, eureka, flash of insight, enlightenment, etc.

Today is a rainy day where I live and I am inside reading and studying and preparing to teach at a church tomorrow. I am teaching on one of my favorite passages of Scripture. It is a passage where the apostle Paul teaches on a theme humanity reckons with each generation–namely, where we place our trust. That theme shapes the arc of our lives. Depending upon where we place our trust, our lives follow a trajectory. If you trust in government, you will grant bureaucrats more power over your life. If you trust media, you will imbibe from its seemingly endless options. If you trust in fame/celebrity, you will value what the stars of the minute say and do. If you trust in power, you will pursue it or labor to align with those who seem to have it. If you trust in yourself, well, Scripture addresses that, too. A lot.

In the passage I am teaching on tomorrow, the apostle Paul wrote on this theme of in what and in whom people trust:

And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor 2:3-4, ESV).

As I have read these verses, and the passages before and after them, and reread the letter in which they are found over and over, it amazes me how Paul, as credentialed a former Pharisee as you can imagine, with an intellectual resume to which few others would dare want to be compared, viewed himself after being saved by God. What was Paul’s thesis? It was “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (v.2).

I am bad about reading several books at one time. One of the ones I have going currently is Steinbeck’s East of Eden. I have read it before but I am going through it again. Last night when I was up late reading it, I came to this passage:

And I guess a man’s importance in the world can be measured by the quality and number of his glories. It is a lonely thing but it relates us to the world. It is the mother of all creativeness, and it sets each man separate from all other men” (131).

That is a revealing passage. An accurate paraphrase might be, Man’s value, if any, is rooted in his accomplishments. People only matter if and when they have created things boast-worthy. That’s what distinguishes you and makes you matter.

How different the claims are in the Steinbeck passage from the Christo-centric worldview of the apostle Paul. Steinbeck’s voice in East of Eden is that the glory is to man alone because, well, man is alone.

But in the biblical worldview, Paul wrote that when we see Jesus Christ for who He really is, that changes everything. For Paul it meant that his life was no longer about his accomplishments. It was no longer about what Steinbeck’s narrator called “the quality and number of his glories.” No. Once Paul grasped that Jesus’ person and work changed everything, it crushed Paul’s pride and brought him in love with the truth, and the truth was and is a person: Jesus.

It meant that the Corinthian believers’ boasts were not to be in human wisdom but in “the power of God” (v.5). That was Paul’s message. How different from Steinbeck’s view. In the Steinbeck passage, man is, if he is lucky and fortunate, creative. But his glories are temporary, and they lack any transcendent or redeeming value because there is no ultimate evaluator (God) or objective standard (special revelation). Man may hold up a trophy to himself and declare his accomplishments, but his trophy and his self-proclaimed accomplishments are vapors blowing across a theological desert. It reminds me of Shelley’s “Ozymandias” poem where man’s boasts are laughable in their tragedy:

I met a traveller from an antique land,

Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;

And on the pedestal, these words appear:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Ozymandias boasted but it was ultimately for nought.

Paul labored to teach his hearers on this issue of where we place our trust. In chariots and horses? In government? In our own accomplishments (like Steinbeck suggests)? In statues to ourselves amidst the whims of thugs and the ravages of time?

No; Paul’s boast was not in himself, or in what he had done or would do, or in men’s accomplishments. Rather his boast was in teaching about the One who not only created the trees but who was nailed to one. His boast was about the One who gave up His life in order to take it up again three days later. It was about the One who was stripped of His garments but offers to clothe sinners with His righteous robes.

A Visit to the Driver’s License Office: A Glimpse of Damnation

Today I had to update my driver’s license. I had to update my motorcycle endorsement on my license. And because I am also military and a veteran, there is even more paperwork to fill out when I update my driving status. Anyway, it was a lovely morning in the DDS (Department of Driver Services). Not. I had an appointment confirmation in my email inbox; I had hard copies of my new certificates from my motorcycle course; I had my old license. I had all the boxes checked. That was my thought; that was my hope. Well, seems Burns was right: the best laid plans of mice and men can still go wrong. When I entered the DDS twenty minutes prior to my actual appointment time (I’m a stickler for punctuality, so I overdo it at times) I walked in on an altercation.

     A man about my age had his young son with him. The boy appeared to be a teenager. The father was obviously upset but I did not know why. Suddenly a woman appeared from the rear of the DDS building. “What may I do for you, sir? Why are you upset?” I knew right away the rest of the morning was not going to go well at the DDS. “Well, I have filled out all my paperwork before I came. Yet this man behind the glass here keeps repeating, ‘Fill out an application.’ I have already done that prior to coming here! That is why I am upset.”

     “Sir,” she said, “did you use the website prior to your arrival? All of the requirements are listed there.”

     “Am I speaking too quickly for you? Yes, I know that. Yes, I used the website. And I have all of the info. But this guy (pointing at the man behind the plastic window) keeps telling me to fill out an application when I already have a completed application in my hand! That is why I am upset.”

     All eyes were on the people in the verbal spat. Then the man behind the plastic window pointed his finger at me: “Sir, come forward.” His voice was hard to hear behind the plastic window. Plus he was wearing a mask.

     I felt like I was in a police state. I felt like common courtesy had grown not just less common but almost absent. “Good morning. I am here to update my motorcycle endorsement on my driver’s license. I have my certificates and appointment time confirmation and application here,” and I slid the documents to him through the half-moon at the bottom of the large plastic window, trying not to show my agitation.

     “Sir, fill out an application,” he said. He had an accent from an African country. Kenyan? Ugandan? He sounded like some of my dear Christian brothers from Uganda that I still miss from my last deployment. But this man was not like my brothers there. This man was rude and seemed to know only one or two phrases in English. One involved directing others to fill out an application. The other involved pointing people to the side wall. 

     “I have already. It is right here,” I responded.

      “Sir, fill out an application,” he said automatically, like Pavlov’s dog.

      “Sir, I have. If you will look at the papers I just slid to you, you will see not only the application, but my appointment confirmation, my license, and my additional motorcycle endorsements.”

     He suddenly grew loud. “Sir! Step over to the side and fill out an application!” he shouted at me.

     I looked at the wall where he pointed. The first man and his son were still trying to explain their situation to the lady who’d come from the back. I retrieved my paperwork from the half-moon at the bottom of the plastic window. I walked over to a shelf on the wall, took an application from the wire cage there, and filled it out. It had the exact same info as what I had come with. Exactly the same info–name, address, etc. You know the drill.

     After I completed it, I walked back over to the masked man behind the plastic window. I slid the documents to him again. He looked at them, at my licenses and certificates, and said loudly, “There! Go over there!” And I joined the other browbeaten drivers in DDS and waited for the next round of abuse.

     After fifteen or twenty minutes, an intercom came on and an electronic voice called out the number of my ticket. “B119 at counter 12.” I stepped up. A young girl of Asian ancestry asked, “May I help you?” And the routine started again.

     There are days when one can understand why people simply snap inside, when they say to themselves, “Yes, if anything proves the smartest and fastest and strongest don’t survive, just step into a government building run by robotic masked shills standing behind plastic windows, who seem only moved to a modicum of joy if they can make your morning miserable. Dante’s levels of punishment in The Divine Comedy omitted one—a government complex with bureaucrats inside who torture the damned.”

     When I exited the building, I looked at the faces of the damned where they stood in line awaiting the protocol. The man and his young son were still there, trying to convince the lady that they’d completed all of the paperwork accurately beforehand. And the folks in line, their faces were like those who know the game is rigged but they’re sentenced to play anyway. I walked finally out of the building, inhaled some of the morning air, wondering if I smelled of sulfur and brimstone.

Choosing

Illustration: Anyone else read Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” in your school days?  

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

An enduring archetype in literature is the path/road/journey. It makes sense why. Man has to choose which way he will go. Hither or yon? This road or that one? This job or that one? This person in my life or another one?  This school or that one? 

When I teach this poem to my students, I ask them what they think it means. They usually say something like, “Well, it takes courage to go down the road less traveled. But I’m brave, so that’s the way I’m going. The world will see because I am, if nothing else, in charge and determined.” Um, might there be more? 

Scripture: Hebrew poetry uses the archetype of the path/road/journey, too. When my son was younger, I used to help him memorize several of the Psalms. Psalm 1 was one of his favorites. It speaks, like Frost’s poem does, to the necessity of choosing, and of the consequences of our choices. In Psalm 1, David contrasts two types of people—the wicked and the righteous, the one who walks with the evil/wicked in contrast to the one who walks with the good/righteous.

Blessed is the man
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.

Alternatives: The speaker in Frost’s poem says he will be telling of his journey “with a sigh” (line 16) in retrospect. He seems to be looking back sadly and in much grief. He is ruing the choice(s) he made. In Psalm 1, David teaches by way of contrasts but he teaches so that those who heed the teaching might see the consequences before it is too late. The good man is compared to a fruitful tree. He is “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season” (v. 3). On the other hand, the evil man walks “in the counsel of the wicked” (v.1a) and scoffs (v.1b) and mocks. He is one who—for now–laughs at the idea of God and of God’s judgment. In Frost’s poem, the speaker looks back with a sigh. In David’s psalm, the wise man is blessed but the fool perishes. 

Encouragement: As I watch my kids grow and develop and choose, they are a microcosm of a much bigger story. We are all choosing whom we will serve. Are we choosing God’s way or man’s way? Are we choosing wisdom or folly? Are we placing our reasonable faith in chariots and horses or in the name of the LORD our God (Ps 20:7)? I pray we are choosing wisely. Seems to me much is at stake.

Choosing

Illustration: Anyone else read Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” in your school days?  

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;


Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,


And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.


I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two reads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

An enduring archetype in literature is the path/road/journey. It makes sense why. Man has to choose which way he will go. Hither or yon? This road or that one? This job or that one? This person in my life or another one?  This school or that one?

When I teach this poem to students, I ask them what they think it means. They usually say something like, “Well, it takes courage to go down the road less traveled. But I’m brave, so that’s the way I’m going. The world will see because I am, if nothing else, in charge and determined.” Um, might there be more?

Scripture: Hebrew poetry uses the archetype of the path/road/journey, too. When my son was younger, I used to help him memorize several of the Psalms. Psalm 1 was one of his favorites. It speaks, like Frost’s poem does, to the necessity of choosing, and of the consequences of our choices. In Psalm 1, David contrasts two types of people—the wicked and the righteous, the one who walks with the evil/wicked in contrast to the one who walks with the good/righteous.

Blessed is the man
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.

Alternatives: The speaker in Frost’s poem says he will be telling of his journey “with a sigh” (line 16) in retrospect. He seems to be looking back sadly and in much grief. He is ruing the choice(s) he made. In Psalm 1, David teaches by way of contrasts but he teaches so that those who heed the teaching might see the consequences before it is too late. The good man is compared to a fruitful tree. He is “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season” (v. 3). On the other hand, the evil man walks “in the counsel of the wicked” (v.1a) and scoffs (v.1b) and mocks. He is one who—for now–laughs at the idea of God and of God’s judgment. In Frost’s poem, the speaker looks back with a sigh. In David’s psalm, the wise man is blessed but the fool perishes.

Encouragement: As I watch my kids grow and develop and choose, they are a microcosm of a much bigger story. We are all choosing whom we will serve. Are we choosing God’s way or man’s way? Are we choosing wisdom or folly? Are we placing our reasonable faith in chariots and horses or in the name of the LORD our God (Ps 20:7)? I pray we are choosing wisely. Seems to me much is at stake.

In Praise of Books, One in Particular

I have read some remarkable books over my lifetime. Like other serious readers, I have a list of writers and books to which I return again and again. Some names on my list of enduring favorite literary writers are known to many: Flannery O’Connor, Dostoyevsky, Shakespeare, Milton, Dickens, Cormac McCarthy, Hawthorne, Melville, Eudora Welty, and Faulkner. There are others on my list of enduring favorites, but I return to these writers’ wells of wisdom again and again.

The same is true when I study history. There are scholars who write books too important to neglect if you are a thoughtful person. Carl Trueman, once again, has written a book that merits close reading and examination. Pictured above, it is a 2020 publication. In short, it examines how modern man arrived where he is. Where is he, exactly? Well, he’s a therapeutic, psychological, confused, ‘feely’, emotive, self-referential mess.

Most honest people acknowledge the West is amidst a massive cultural sea-change. The hangover from postmodernism has left a world reeling where logic is out but victimhood is in. Character is out but intersectionality is in. Male and female are out but alleged ‘non-binaries’ are in. We’re in a post-Christian, post-logical, post-coherence world.

And Trueman explores the antecedent thinkers who enabled it: Foucault, Marx, Freud, Nietzsche, Rousseau, Wordsworth, Darwin, Shelley, Blake, and more. Relying heavily upon paradigms proposed by thinkers Philip Rieff, Charles Taylor, and Alasdair MacIntyre, Trueman wrestles with their models of explaining how we got into such a mess.

If you do not have a background in theology, philosophy, history, or ideas, don’t be scared off. Trueman’s writing is so clear, so compelling, so well-documented and explained, you will not get lost. He will hold your attention. This book is that good. Read it. Think about the challenges he raises. And think about his call for the redeemed community to once again act with courage, clarity, and conviction.

Closer Than a Brother

Illustration: During recent upheavals in our nation, GA’s Soldiers and Airmen have once again answered the call to serve. Our chaplains and assistants are right there alongside other Soldiers and Airmen. Pictured above is 1-121 Infantry chaplain, CH Phillips, speaking with his fellow Soldiers, encouraging them, speaking truth to them, while they were all deployed to Washington D.C.

As I spoke with him and the other chaplains, I was struck that I never heard about division among the ranks based on race or gender or politics. I just heard, “My guys were doing this, so I was there” or “The Airmen were over there, so that’s where I went.” I never heard, “Well, folks separated based on their identity groups and no one spoke to each other.”

The Soldiers and Airmen were a unit; they had a mission; they did not fracture over skin color, or over liberal vs. conservative, or over any of the other stuff that keeps so many in our nation polarized and on edge. And there, in their midst, were the chaplains/shepherds, tending America’s Service Members.

Most Service Members were guarding with guns and ammo; the chaplains were guiding with the spiritual shepherd’s staff, tending the flock over which the Lord appointed them.

Scripture: In Ephesians, Paul penned these words: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another” (Eph 4:25, ESV).  Paul was reminding the Ephesians that, if they were Christians, they were to be truth-tellers. Their lives were to be characterized by truthfulness. They were to have “put away falsehood.” It was only when truth was the foundation that true unity could be established.

Encouragement: There are calls by politicians and bureaucrats for unity. But unity, according to God, comes when the medium of exchange is truth. When I look across our formation, I see chaplains shepherding our Soldiers and Airmen and their families. May the Lord raise up more who are redeemed by the way, the truth, and the life, to be voices of truth. May they shepherd well and point them to the One who sticks closer than a brother.

John Steinbeck: East of Eden (Part One)

Several years ago I was atop my issued government bed in Afghanistan reading East of Eden for the first time.

I was reading many other books at the same time, so that is perhaps why I did not notice as often as I should have many of Steinbeck’s observations.

Steinbeck’s title, of course, is biblical. It refers to the fall, to man’s rebellion and the resulting curse from God for his (man’s) rebellion. The upshot? Banishment, judgment, exile. Betrayal, bitterness, war, and on and on brought consequences. Ideas had consequences. As Solomon said (again, in the Bible) nothing is new under the sun.

I prefer different types of narration than Steinbeck uses in Eden but this passage, among many others, remains noteworthy:

I think the difference between a lie and a story is that a story utilizes the trappings and appearance of truth for the interest of the listener as well as of the teller. A story has in it neither gain nor loss. But a lie is a device for profit or escape (74).

I do not know if you have read the novel. I have, but it is worth rereading. And so my evaluation of the importance of this passage–among many others–may not resonate with you. But I think that Steinbeck used in this novel the models of biblical fallout without heeding their goal.

Steinbeck’s success in this novel comes through his accurate observation of human motivations, of man’s covered ways of coping with pain and betrayal and hurt. But he seldom fails “to own” his own his own sinfulness. He uses others’ sinfulness in an effort to justify his characters’ own sins. The novel laments the cycles of human depravity but does not propose the means of redemption. Rather the implication is that man is doomed to repeat his folly in each generation.

I do not wish to spoil the novel for you if you have not read it. It is worth reading. But I wonder if there was redemption neither the author nor his characters was willing to embrace.

Though the Fig Tree Should Not Blossom

Scripture: Habakkuk 3:17-19 reads this way:

Though the fig tree should not blossom,

nor fruit be on the vines,

the produce of the olive fail

and the fields yield no food,

the flock be cut off from the fold

and there be no herd in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the LORD;

I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

GOD, the Lord, is my strength;

he makes my feet like the deer’s;

he makes me tread on my high places.

Context: Habakkuk was a prophet in the 600s B.C., during the final days of the Assyrian Empire and the beginning of the Babylonian Empire. Why is knowing that important? Because believers in the one true and living God have gone through, and continue to go through, hard times. God’s people are promised trouble. “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33b). God’s people go through the valley of the shadow of death (Ps 23:4a). In the 600s B.C. God’s people were in a dark place spiritually. But God had his prophet to speak to those with ears to hear.

Connection: Perhaps my favorite part of chaplaincy is talking with people offline, when they speak honestly, not just fill up space by bloviating. Recent conversations reveal many people are troubled. They are down. They are worried. They are grieving over the jettisoning of God from almost every area of life. Most folks don’t want God. He is perceived as a killjoy by unbelievers. Biblical illiteracy is at an all-time high. The list could go on and on. Thus, many believers are troubled. And yet, God has his Word to encourage the true believers. As in Habakkuk’s day, when Israel was headed into captivity in Babylon (present-day Iraq) under Nebuchadnezzar, God spoke.

Encouragement: I don’t know where you are on an individual level, but the Lord does. John wrote about God’s omniscience: “… he knows everything” (1 Jn 3:20b). Listen to David in Psalm 139:1-4:

O LORD, you have searched me and

known me!

You know when I sit down and when

I rise up;

you discern my thoughts from afar.

You search out my path and my lying

down

and are acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue,

behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.

Takeaway: Habakkuk spoke to believers in his day. God still speaks through his Word today. God remains the same. “The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth” (Ps 145:18). The great enduring question remains the same, too: Do folks really want the truth?