creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
to the last syllable of recorded time;
and all our yesterdays have lighted fools
the way to dusty death.
Out, out brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
that struts and frets his hour upon the stage
and then is heard no more:
it is a tale told by an idiot,
full of sound and fury,
-- Shakespeare, Macbeth, V.v.
(photo of Bothwell Castle, Scotland)
One week ago today, we anticipated election day. Maybe 'anticipated' is the wrong word. When I use that word, I'm normally thinking of something enjoyable like a birthday party, vacation or Christmas. Now Election Day, 2008 has passed. The much anticipated day has come and gone as indeed all things mortal and finite do. They pass away, become history or are simply forgotten.
Thou dost turn man back into dust, and dost say, 'Return, O children of men.' For a thousand years in Thy sight are like yesterday when it passes by, or as a watch in the night. Thou has swept them away like a flood, they fall asleep; in the morning they are like grass which sprouts anew...
(photo of wildflowers growing in Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh, Scotland)
In the morning it flourishes and sprouts anew; toward evening it fades and withers away...For all our days have declined in Thy fury; we have finished our years like a sigh. As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years, yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; for soon it is gone and we fly away...So teach us to number our days, that we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom. --Psalm 90:3-6,10-12
O Lord, what is man that Thou dost take knowledge of him? Or the son of man that Thou dost think of him? Man is like a mere breath; his days are like a passing shadow. --Psalm 144:3,4
(Becky, dreaming as the shadows fall in St. Andrews Cathedral ruins, Scotland, June, 2008)Minutes and seconds slide into hours and days which quickly mount up on wings like eagles and glide into weeks and months, insistently flying over the horizon into years, heedless of our attempts to call them back. The years drift on, like silent snow, piling up against our windows as we dream, unaware that decades have suddenly written themselves without our cognizance while we busily bustled about, unsuspecting, like children who fall asleep in the car and awaken, snug in bed.
Like sand pouring through the proverbial hour-glass, years crowd into centuries; and, before you can turn around twice, one millenia nudges its way against the second. They push together, surging into the third, then, at break-neck speed, the fourth one skids into line...time is relentless in its onward march. No space left to catch a deep breath...[my photo of ancient monoliths erected in a field in Kilmartin Valley, perhaps earlier than the 9th century, in Scotland]
(painting of The Venerable Bede translating the book of John, by J. D. Penrose, 1902, source, Wikipedia)
The Venerable Bede (A.D. 673-735) wrote to his Anglo-Saxon king:
The present life of man, O king, seems to me, in comparison of that time which is unknown to us, like to the flight of a sparrow through the room wherein you sit at supper in winter, with your commanders and ministers, and a good fire in the midst, whilst the storms of rain and snow prevail abroad; the sparrow, I say, flying in at one door, and immediately out at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry storm; but after a short space of fair weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, into the dark winter from which he had emerged. So this life of man appears for a short space, but of what went before, or what is to follow, we are utterly ignorant."
--[from Ecclesiastical History of the English People (731 A.D.) II.xiii.]
Thanks be to God, we know without the least shadow of doubt from whence we have come and where we are going. How unnecessary for the Christian to live in such despair--we are not as sparrows flitting through a warm room into a shroud of blackness. If this picture of life is valid, should we not live for today, warming ourselves as long as we can by the fire, draining the cup of pleasure to the dregs? The non-Christian world lives by this standard. As blood-bought children of God, ransomed from the world, we have been given a different perspective.
We choose to live opposed to the base standards and God-less philosophies of our polluted world. We choose the perception of eternity in our souls that elevates our existence to noble, joyful heights. So many around us agree with John Gay, an early 19th century British playwright, who wrote this epitaph for himself: "Life is a jest, and all things show it, I thought so once, and now I know it." We must realize at the onset that our enemies are not at all as fierce as they seem. In fact, the Bible informs us that their lives are built on shifting sand and will be swept away by the first real storm that falls. Devise a plan to defeat your tendency to fear these straw men and to throttle your tendency towards fear and anxiety.
We must oppose the straw men of our day by, first, refusing to be shaped by current events and the media. Rather, become a serious student of the Bible, its teachings and history and the history of the world, ancient and modern. Immerse yourself, as much as possible, in learning good theology and REAL history. Not edited, revised and supplemented fables fabricated for public school textbooks, much of the history and discovery channel offerings and most ivy league colleges and universities. Go to original sources or those who used them to write their books -- grasp the macro-concepts of each period of history and then put flesh on the bare bones by reading the biographies and autobiographies of each era. Develop a clear and deep understanding of God's Word as well as a solid, bedrock perspective about history and the people and events that make it and you will find yourself better able to correctly interpret current events.
Second, know where you fit into the picture in your moment in history. Our very existence is defined, not by what someone else says about it but by the knowledge that God had a reason for your birth. He knows everything about you and me because He planned for each of us to be here--at this specific point in time and space, and He fills each life with a dynamic sense of meaning as we find our meaning in Him. Macbeth*[see quote above] was wrong. A Christian should never feel that he is "a poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage...full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." You are significant because God wants you here to find your rest in Him and to do all His holy will from a grateful heart. Once you've discovered your raison d'etre, passionately devote yourself to living it, every day, with every fiber of your being and every moment of time you are given. Calvin said that truly knowing yourself and God are the necessary ingredients for living a satisfying life. (Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, I,i.ii.)
Third, (or perhaps first in order of importance), believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation and you will never die--you will continue to live beyond the grave. Our bodies will grow weary and sick, although some are taken even before the aging process begins to show; but YOU, your resurrected body and soul, will never, ever, ever die! I find that truth more than comforting. Purpose infuses my days, months and years as I realize that I was created on purpose by the Sovereign God of the universe, the One Who alone keeps the planets from crashing into the sun, Who sustains all that He has created until its appointed time to die, Who has never failed in one promise He ever made, Who has revealed Himself and His holy will in His law/word in the Scriptures and through His only Son, Who daily prays for me and empowers me, by the Holy Spirit Who indwells me, to live and move and have my being in Him.
Hallelujah! Praise Jehovah!
Oh, my soul, Jehovah praise.
I will sing the glorious praises
of my God through all my days.
Put no confidence in princes,
nor for help on man depend.
He shall die, to dust returning,
and his purposes shall end.
Happy is the man that chooses
Israel's God to be his aid.
He is blessed whose hope of blessing
on the Lord his God is stayed.
Heav'n and earth the Lord created,
seas and all that they contain.
He delivers from oppression,
righteousness He will maintain.
--Psalm 146, 1912 Psalter
One week has passed since election day, 2008. Four (or more years) of formidable socialistic, pluralistic, anti-Christian, pro-abortion, pro-homosexual, pro-'everything I'm opposed to' politics seems probable from this vantage point. I cannot change the election results. I tried as best I could to influence anyone who would listen prior to the election. So what now? I could easily choose depression, anxiety and fear as the motivating factors for my attitude and decisions in the days ahead, but to do so would demonstrate a pitiable lack of faith in God's promises.
My reaction as a Christian may only be informed by God's Word. Despite alarming headlines, I must remind myself daily to remember what I know is true: God is still on His throne, therefore, nothing essential has changed in God's universe! I need not live as a sparrow flitting through a warm room to the unknown darkness beyond it. I know something neither the sparrow nor unregenerate man can know--God reigns! Therefore, I will continue to walk down the path the Lord has clearly marked for my life until He welcomes me home, knowing without a doubt that, though trials may lie ahead, "God casues all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose," Romans 8:28. While I remain here, I will endeavor to trust Him, the all-wise Sovereign and Lord of my heart Who is the God of history. My confidence will not rest in princes nor will I fear what they can do to me. My hope rests in the knowledge of His providential care Who does all things well.
This is my recipe for post-election depression: By His grace and in His strength alone, I will nourish my hungry heart on His delicious and satisfying word; I will pray on my face before Him, begging for mercy and cleansing for myself, my dear ones, His bride the church and our poor, deceived nation. I will exercise my faith by working with all my heart in my callings "as unto the Lord." I will worship on His holy hill each Lord's day, drawing comfort and strength as I commune with Him around His table and in fellowship with His people. Finding His mercies new and fresh every morning, I will sing His praises so loudly that the din and confusion of the world will simply fade away to a dull, boring roar, like the droning of a wasp caught in a jar and fear and depression will slink away into the darkness where they belong.
I believe that God is stronger than any double-minded politician. I believe that Good will triumph over evil. I believe that Truth will win over falsehood. The world will be changed in my life-time and in the years to come as it has been in years past, not through the machinations of men and political activists, but through the blessings and curses of a mighty Warrior Who strides over His defeated enemies, the sword of His Word prevailing now as it always has throughout the centuries. Enlist in His army and know that, regardless of election results, sin and even death, the victory has already been won. Praise be to God!
"In peace I will both lie down and sleep, For Thou alone, O LORD, dost make me to dwell in safety." --Psalm 4:8