I’ve been reading through the Bible slowly from Genesis to Revelation. This is something I have not done in many years. I have taken some sidetracks and rabbit hole excursions along the way, but I am still plodding forward.
It’s amazing that circumstances of life arise from time to time of which the particular passage I am reading comes to bear on those circumstances. This is the case in a poignant way in regard to a conversation I had with a very close friend recently.
We were talking about the Catholic Church and a very bad experience that someone very close to both of us had being raised by strict parents in a strict Catholic school setting. I was also raised Catholic, though my experience differed from his. I didn’t go to parochial school, and I didn’t experience the strictness of the Catholic Church like he did, though I certainly saw evidence of it.
In my friend’s case, the strictness and severity he experienced bordered on abuse. I don’t know the details, but his reactions to things religious suggest he might have some degree of PTSD as a result of his experiences.
I don’t mean to pick on the Catholic Church. I have seen the same “spirit” evident in other denominations as well. Certain Baptists and Pentecostals and people we might label “fundamentalists” or other labels have exhibited a similar spirit as the Catholics in the focus on do’s and don’ts and religious rituals practiced in front of foreboding audiences. The Westboro Baptist Church is a very extreme example of the legalism and dogmatism I am talking about.
In the context of this conversation and these thoughts, I read these words the very next day that were penned by Paul the Apostle about two millennia ago:
Therefore, let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival our new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance is in Christ. Colossians 2:16-17
I’ve heard the following Chinese parable a couple of times. It’s on my mind today:
An old farmer who had an old horse for tilling his fields. One day the horse escaped through the fence. When the farmer’s neighbors sympathized with the old man over his bad luck, the farmer replied, “Is it bad luck? Good luck? I don’t know?”
A week later the horse returned with a herd of wild horses from the hills. This time the neighbors congratulated the farmer on his good luck. His reply was, “Is it bad luck? Good luck? I don’t know?”
The next day, when the farmer’s son attempted to tame one of the wild horses, he fell off its back and broke his leg. The neighbors came around again and commiserated with the old farmer about his very bad luck, but the farmer’s reaction was, “Is it bad luck? Good luck? I don’t know?”
Some weeks later the army marched into the village and conscripted every able-bodied youth they found there. When they saw the farmer’s son with his broken leg they let him off. Now was that good luck? Or was it bad luck?
We like to jump to conclusions, and we have a tendency to jump to those conclusions pretty quickly. We do this even with ultimate, worldview positions. We have a tendency to want to measure everything by the tools that are convenient and familiar to us, but sometimes we need to be willing to venture off from the light of our comfortable positions into the darkness of unfamiliarity to gain a bigger perspective.
For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. (Luke 8:17)
Shakespeare was right. We strut and fret our hour upon the stage. But who are we performing for? Our friends and family? Neighbors? The public? Do we perform for ourselves alone?
We have but an hour. Rather, it is more like a minute, a second… a millisecond in the scope of time, on this stage of space/time in the very small act we call human history. According to Shakespeare, our lives are “an idiot’s tale, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.
That may be so if there is no God and no life beyond this brief, strutting hour. It would all be meaningless, an idiot’s tale indeed, if this universe is not the work of a Creator and we are not His image bearers.