Over recent flights back and forth across the country, I read–yet again–McCarthy’s The Road. So much has been written about it and about McCarthy that I don’t know that I have anything new to say about it except this: it was prescient.
The narrative is (hopefully) familiar to you. The setting is post-apocalyptic. The world has been blasted by horror. What that horror was McCarthy never tells us. But it was formidable, nightmarish, and perhaps incapable of reconciling. Trees are blown into kindling or blasted shapes. The few remaining people are reduced to scavengers, hunters, and often cannibals. Rape is normal. Starvation is rampant. Buildings are decimated. Money is no more. Man has become bestial. Well, most have. But some “good guys,” those who carry the fire, a few of them, remain. But they’re outnumbered by the enemies of goodness.
The father and son and their fire remain. And they sacrifice for one another. Their love is unlike anything I have ever read in literature. It is the one novel I cannot get through without weeping. If ever there was familial love in literature, this is it. (And yes, I, too, relish Shakespeare’s Lear.)
How was the novel prescient? Here are some ways:
It showed a world where man is stripped of luxury.
It showed man’s lust for destruction.
It showed man’s inescapable need for love.
It showed man’s insatiable appetite for war.
It showed that war is both necesssary and tragic.
It showed man’s problem is his own nature.
It showed man’s hatred of God and his simultaneous longing for God’s providence.
It showed man’s deep longing for beauty.
It showed man’s longing for redemption.
It showed man’s endurance of evil for the sake of love.
If I were on the proverbial island and could take only ten books, this would be in the top five. And two of the others on that list would be from McCarthy, too. McCarthy saw where we were headed and has written it out for all who will attend, and he accomplished it –in all its horror and beauty–in The Road.
On a recent trip out west to minister to soldiers, I was in an airport, having just passed through TSA PreCheck. When I retrieved my bags from the conveyor belt and put my ruck on my back again and walked towards my terminal I noticed a framed image that caught my eye.
It arrested me when I really sat and thought about it but it has been more than twenty years now since September 11, 2001–or 9/11–as it’s often referred to. Over two decades in history now.
Like many of you probably, I remember precisely where I was when the flames burst upon New York City, the ash began falling from the inferno, the Pentagon was attacked, another plane went down in Pennsylvania, the nation’s airports were locked down, and much of the world gazed upon unspeakable horrors, while heroes of uniformed personnel–firemen, police, and the U.S. military leapt into battles to rescue, evacuate, and honor.
Twenty-plus years ago now. And I wonder oftentimes how many of my generation remember or even care. Because I’m a soldier still I am thankfully surrounded by many fellow patriots–those who have read the U.S. Constitution & Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence, and see that they’re worth fighting for.
There are exceptions, of course. There are bad apples in every organization–in police units, in churches, in fire departments, in the military. The tares grow up alongside the wheat, as we were told (Matthew 13:24-30).
The generation joining our nation’s military branches now are often strikingly different from when I joined. When I joined, I wanted to do all the cliched things like see the world, be part of a team, be part of history, etc. But most of all, I wanted to contribute. I did not want to just “be a taker.”
But I’m finding it is often so different with many of the current generation. If and when they look up from their smartphones, it’s usually only to take a picture of themselves so that they can post themselves online for others to adore. It’s emblematic of a generation literally dying from too much self. Can you imagine trying to teach someone who grew up just two generations ago what “selfies” are or why they’re so common? Rather than contribution it’s consumption. Fie!
As I walked towards my terminal, I met a white-haired man wearing a Vietnam veteran black cap. And it was burned into me once again–that history goes on, that almost all names are immediately forgotten or erased. But there are invariably some individuals who put skin in the game, who serve, both to preserve and to bequeath blessings upon the many who take, who reap benefits. Those contributors are still out there, thank God, in often small ways, shaping little arcs of history.
And every once in a while, maybe others will look up–perhaps to see the nation’s colors framed–and remember that the freedoms enjoyed now can and will be taken if a nation’s god becomes self rather than the only Savior.
The older I grow the more I relish the study of history. Not just my own nation’s history, but especially the history of thought, the history of ideas, and historical theology. And you don’t have to go through many volumes of history to learn that nations come and go. Empires rise and fall. Nebuchadnezzar was only king for a day. The Caesars are dead and gone. Pharaohs are subjects of Bible scholars, Egyptologists and archaeologists. Presidents, too, are thankfully temporary. They’re quickly replaced by other sinners. But still, this is history. And it matters in the ultimate sense, whether or not it matters to the masses. I think it’s one more reason the wise are taught to number our days (Psalm 90:12) because the days are both brief and evil (Ephesians 5:16).
Brewster and I got in a little bit of time on the road today. Neither of us moves very fast anymore but it was nonetheless a nice afternoon for a cool stroll in the hills. He’s been a faithful hiking buddy for a long time now.
A Snapshot from My Study: In a book I read recently, the author wrote the following:
“The nation that turns from God will always turn to other gods. Even if it never utters their names or erects their idols, even if it turns to atheism or a form of secularism, it will always be led to the worship and serving of other gods. The dynamic can be seen in Communism, Nazism, Fascism, and any other ism that seeks to drive out God. Other things will take on the aura and authority of godhood and seek to reign in His place.”
This is precisely the Bible’s teaching concerning false worship or what Scripture calls idolatry.
Paul’s reasoning in Romans 1 is clear as crystal:
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:21-23, ESV)
The Exchange: It is interesting, is it not, that the opening quote focuses on how man will worship. We will give ourselves to reverence. We revere someone or something(s). The question, however, remains: Are we revering the truth or the lie? Will we believe God as revealed in His Word or will we believe the lie of Satan in his many guises, whether they be serpents, bulls, Hollyweird, self, etc? If and when we worship anyone or anything but the truth, i.e., the Lord God, we exchange the truth for a lie.
God’s Diagnosis: God does not hide His diagnosis of man’s root problem. We chose folly; we chose to believe the father of lies, Satan. And we thereby demonstrated our folly. Claiming to be wise, we became fools. How? Through the exchange.
Pilate as an Everyman (a Fool): You remember the scene of Jesus before Pontius Pilate, don’t you? It’s where Pilate played the fool, the postmodern, relativistic, secular man of the hour. He played the ultimate fool:
So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”
After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him. But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber. (John 18:33-40, ESV)
Postscript: Notice any patterns? Here is a sampling:
Worship is inevitable; we all have a “God of the system.” The question is, Is it the one true and living God?
Rejection of truth debases man. We become like what we worship. I’ll leave it to you to decide if you think most folks are becoming more like Christ or more like Baal.
Truth is always the target of Satan’s kingdom of darkness.
There is no lack of Pilates in the world system.
You don’t have to be a Pilate.
The light of the world has overcome the darkness (John 1:5). And He has a name (John 8:12).
Card tricks for the child: I once knew a man who was good at card tricks. He shuffled a deck of playing cards dexterously. When a child my favorite trick for him to do was for him to guess the one card I had picked from the deck and then returned to the deck of cards. Not only could he pick the card I had chosen, but he could apparently knock it through the table and it would appear on the floor below. He’d retrieve the card and then ask me with a smile, “Is this your card?” and of course, it would be the card I had chosen.
“How did you do it?” I would ask.
“Easy,” he said. “Magic.”
An example from ministry: When I was a young pastor at a rural church, one time my wife and I did a puppet show for the children. It was “old school,” as some folks might say today. We had hand puppet characters with defined personalities and we presented a storyline, a narrative with a message from Scripture, in hopes of gripping and educating the children. We presented the gospel message of man’s sin, God’s righteous judgment, Christ’s atoning work, and redemption for believers. Simple and to the point.
I am a much older man now and have learned a fair share about ministry, about human nature, about good and evil, about angels and demons, about Judas Iscariot who revealed who he truly was, and about puppeteers and marionettes. Those characters my wife and I had on our hands were being controlled by us, and we brought a certain narrative to the hearers in our little church. We presented the gospel message of Christianity.
And the world system is a show, too. And there is certainly no lack of puppets. Why? Because there is no paucity of puppeteers. I would go so far as to say there is at root one throughly evil puppeteer pulling strings that cause many of the marionettes to move, to talk, to smile, to shake hands, to slap each other on the back, to smile again, and then to disappear behind the curtain again until . . . wait for it . . . the next act. He wants to be like the Most High. He loves not the truth but only himself. But he knows, and we should remember, that even Satan is a creature: he is not the Most High God. And he hates that reality.
Hamlet as a connection: I am a voracious reader and this week I read again possibly the greatest of plays. Marcellus spoke unvarnished truth in his line, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” (1.4.90). And I love Horatio’s response to Marcellus: “Heaven will direct it” (1.4.91).
There is, in my view, a warfare being played out. There are marionettes and puppeteers. There are invisible hands playing out a narrative. And those puppeteers have souls–some souls of light and some souls of darkness. And if you observe carefully, you can see behind the curtain. And you might be surprised to see that puppeteering can actually be a way to entertain the gullible into slavery, into treachery, into places where there is gnashing of teeth.
I cling to Horatio’s belief that “Heaven will direct it.” Why? Because unless God redeems this puppet show, what you may find behind the curtain are not angels of light, but the damned angel of light who camouflages himself as an angel of light and sulfuric minions dancing masses unto damnation.