back to Mainly for the Weary & Perplexed
I'm revisiting this older piece. Recently I've seen vindictiveness, spite, arrogant self-righteousness combined with a demonic grin in what we across the Atlantic call a "sleekit" person [one with a devious, sly, cunning demeanor]. I confess it shook me and tempted me to profound cynicism but maybe more dangerously it made me think there is darkness even darker than the darkness in me. Be that as it may, it also reminded me of the host of people who come right out of Isaiah 32:1-8.
I've told God many a time—when we were alone—that if he thought as I did he'd have absolutely nothing to do with me. And in his Story the Spirit assured me that that is precisely the point—God isn't me or anyone like me! And that truth's one of the faces of the gospel. As my life gains speed on the downward slope of the years I think I'm beginning to get a better grasp on that truth; but I still have a long way to go.
If God is as great as I think he is (and he's infinitely more), would you tell me why he bothers with us at all? Any of us!
Would I choose a relationship with a cockroach? I could see that I might, if I were the Dumas' "Man in the Iron Mask" or Byron's "Prisoner of Chillon" but would I do it under normal circumstances? Sometimes in my melancholy I think I must make God less or Man more if I'm to allow God to choose a relationship with us. But I can't make humanity more—look at us, for pity's sake; the best of us, we're pathetic. It isn't that we're all violent monsters, rapists and barbarians—the kind that stun us when we hear about or catch a glimpse of them. I'm sure I'm supposed to say that that's the worst case scenario but sometimes I wonder, for many of the rest of us seem to care so little; seem to be more than willing to settle for less, so we drift like leaves in a stream.
It's true that Jesus came to convict us of our sins but, as people as far apart as Fosdick and Brueggemann have taught us, he came also to convict us of our possibilities. What I see in and around me is not only the possibility and/or practice of gross evil but the general blasé approach to life; a sort of "who-gives-a-damn-unless-it-affects-me-or-mine?" attitude.
Can you even imagine the din if every sick attitude, every brutal act, every crushing verbal insult, every abuse of power at a service counter or government office, every racist slur could be heard? We'd be able to hear it at the edges of the expanding universe! What if we could hear every groan of a little nation, or smell every cellar that a rapacious landlord calls a house and charges top rates for, or sense the terror of every child suffering in silence—if we were burdened with all that would it not drive us to lunacy?
I've done our business with the same bank for twenty-five years and just this past week I've experienced treatment that set my teeth on edge. Combined with Ethel's pain and health concerns and other such things this bank experience weighed more heavily with me than it would if it were isolated. She and I were discussing it and we began to think of the teeming millions who—as you read this—endure insult and disdain day after day after day without reprieve. We thought of millions who stand in lines for hours but never get taken care of, who lie in hospital corridors on the floors for days on end without anyone attending them, or asking them if they are holding together, or even what their name is. They're burdened with so many things so how do they remain sane? As we reflected I felt my heart sinking—as it does now and then if I don't stay busy.
Is this as good as it gets? Is this what Christ has accomplished in two thousand years—this?
That's why passages like Isaiah 32:1-8 are so precious. It blows the whistle on all that corruption, abuse, indifference and scorn. The passage is filled up only in the completed work of Jesus. We know that and that's why we sing,
A wonderful Saviour is Jesus my Lord
A wonderful Saviour to me
He hides my soul in the cleft of the rock
Where rivers of pleasure I see.
He hides my soul in the cleft of the rock
That shadows a dry thirsty land
He hides my life in the depths of his love
And covers me there with his hand.
But the passage promises more than that. A day is coming, the prophet tells us (32:2), when in the likeness of Jesus, "Each man will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams of water in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land." We're to be part of the healing of the world.
The imagery is vivid and powerful. It's about people travelling through a desert, beaten to exhaustion by a howling wind that just won't let up, they find a cave in the rocks and take shelter from the storm that rages all around them. The imagery tells us of people right on the edge of death for lack of water, and look—astonishing, glorious sight—they stumble on a stream bubbling right up out of the sand—defying the desert conditions. The imagery is of people so hot they're sure they can bear it no longer—sun blasted and heat afflicted they see a huge rock rising up out of the desert floor; is it a mirage? Their strength's almost gone but they make it to the shadow of his massive rock formation and there in the cooling shade their life returns. It wasn't a mirage—it was real! Blessedly real!
We're not to forget what the imagery points to. These are images that are used to describe men and women. The prophet said in the days when a king would reign in righteousness every man (person) would be like something. George Adam Smith was right; it's true that history is more than great men and women but great men and women make us believe that goodness is possible! Those who know the deserts well tell us that if you find even a small pool somewhere and you put a good sized rock near the edge of it that before long, on the leeward side of the rock, protected from the wind, a little garden will appear. Faithful and strong people are like that; they're people we can hide behind and get shelter from the wind when we're vulnerable and with their help a lot of us will take root and grow.
Smith makes that point. At various times in history men and women stood up and faced the scorching winds—people like Noah and Deborah, Abraham and Ruth, Jeremiah and Moses' mother along with a host of unknowns—and by God's grace they kept us alive. The drift of the moral desert choked them of course but where they bravely stood and finally fell, Jesus came and stood and still stands and behind him a vast people takes refuge and grows until that day when he comes to make this world all new in righteousness and joy.
Until that day when everything is made right, when the howling winds of evil and apathy have beaten us so off track so that we're almost despaired of finding a straight path we catch the sight of a gorgeous woman, strong and assuring and she becomes a refuge for the rest of us. When parched near to death what a relief it is to meet someone whose life under God is water to the soul; it's more than relief—it's redemption! And in the burning heat of life what an inexpressible pleasure it is to meet someone who soft as a shadow, without glare and fierceness and incessant demands, cools our fevered hearts and minds.
To meet such people is to be blessed forever. To be such a person…is that "heaven"? Maybe not; maybe it's something better than heaven. Maybe it's to be Jesus to someone, to a whole church, to the community you live in, to strugglers everywhere who can't stop thinking that if they dreamed of you and hoped for you, you must exist somewhere.
The thought of people like you keeps people like me alive with hope! You save us from unbroken melancholy and certainly from a peevish and disbelieving cynicism.
You in your handfuls are a promise that one day this world is going to be filled with people like you!