Search This Blog

Monday, August 29, 2011

Scary thoughts

We listened to a wonderful sermon yesterday morning. Our pastor--actually, our former senior pastor--preached on or from (perhaps more accurately, "inspired by"--but in the sense of "provided some excuses to touch on various themes by reference to") 2 Timothy 4:9-18.

Basic outline:
  • v. 10--"Demas has deserted me"--The Danger of Defection: We need to be willing to come back to the Lord if we have deserted Him.
  • v. 11--"Luke is with me"--The Value of Christian Friendship: We need to be willing to be friends and enter into fellowship--true, deep, searching fellowship--with brothers and sisters in Christ.
  • v. 11--"Mark is helpful to me"--The Necessity of Forgiveness (based on reference to how upset Paul had been at John Mark in the past that Paul actually split with Barnabas, his long-time ministry partner, over the man [see Acts 15:36-41]): We need to forgive.
  • v. 14--"Alexander did me a great deal of harm"--Beware of Bitterness: --Kind of a follow-on to the former point about forgiveness.
  • v. 17--"the Lord stood at my side"--The Constancy of Christ: Jesus is always faithful.
Two particularly memorable quotes or stories within the sermon:

From the Fourth Point (about Bitterness):
  • "The Devil has no happy old men or women. He keeps feeding them poison. [The poison of bitterness.]"
And, from the First Point (about Defection and the need for Repentance):
  • The story of Robert Robinson, author of "Come, Thou Fount of every blessing":
    Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
    Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
    Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
    Call for songs of loudest praise. . . .

    O to grace how great a debtor
    Daily I’m constrained to be!
    Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
    Bind my wandering heart to Thee. . . .
    Our pastor told a story about Robinson--about how, long after he wrote this hymn, he himself wandered far from God. And then one day, while riding in a coach, a woman across from him, reading in a book, asked Robinson to read a passage.

    It turned out the words she asked him to read were his very own . . . from that very hymn!
    Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
    Prone to leave the God I love;
    Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
    Seal it for Thy courts above.
    Cut to the quick, Robinson repented of his wandering and turned back to the Lord.
I was inspired by this latter story. Yes, Lord! I want and need to repent. I want and need to "come back" to You. I don't want to wander. (But, O! Lord! How I feel it!)

I determined to find out more about Robinson.

The first biography I happened to read, written in rather stilted, old-fashioned English, mentioned nothing of the incident, nor even hinted that such an incident could have occurred. Absolutely nothing about Robinson wandering at any point in his life after he gave his life to Jesus.

The second one referenced the incident, but rather differently than did our pastor:
Prone to wander Robert was. He left the Methodists and became a Baptist. Later on, having become a close friend of Joseph Priestly, he was accused of becoming a Unitarian. Priestly and other Unitarians denied the full divinity of Christ. However, in a sermon he preached after he supposedly became a Unitarian, Robinson clearly declared that Jesus was God, and added, "Christ in Himself is a person infinitely lovely as both God and man."

Robert died on . . . June 9, 1790. Had he left the God he loved? A widely-told, but unverifiable, story says that one day as he was riding in a stagecoach a lady asked him what he thought of the hymn she was humming. He responded, "Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then."

So, nice story as it is, it may be nothing more than a Parson Weems'-style "George Washington cut down the cherry tree" kind of historically false, but morally encouraging tale.

Well, strange as all of that was, for some reason--I can't think why--yesterday afternoon, many hours before I got around to looking up Robinson's biography (this morning), I got thinking about stories in the Old Testament, and I began wondering: in essence, could many of the stories in the Old Testament be morally encouraging, but historically false tales?

I know, this isn't a new question. I've vaguely thought about it before. But it seems to be knocking with increasing insistence upon my brain.

What if? What are the ramifications? Can a morally encouraging story teach true Truth while itself not being, at root, a true story? Can stories of heroes--the legends of King Arthur, for example, or the stories of Sir Lancelot: Can they teach true Truth while themselves not being true--at least, not true beyond some very surface level?

Is it possible that our Jewish forebears in the faith, men (and, I expect, women) who interfaced with the real, true God: Is it possible that they conveyed true Truth about God and about how God operates in the world while telling morally compelling tales that aren't "really" true in detail?

There. I said it. I at least formulated the question and got it "out of my mouth" or "out of my fingertips."

I intend to return to this question--or the related group of questions, in subsequent posts.