IMAGES OF THE INVISIBLE GOD

Whats the cure for or at least the best help toward stabilizing a wavering faith? Whatever others might think, whatever others might major in, in their teaching, the Hebrew writer in 11:6 says a faith-filled vision of GOD is what’s needed.
What led Abel to please God in sacrifice? What took Enoch straight to heaven, what drove the ark-building Noah to build and save a human family, what sent Abraham off in search of a land only God knew where, what led Joseph to say no to a possible pyramid in his honor and Moses to say no to possible kingship? Faith in God. (In this letter, I’m satisfied that the trust aspect of faith is in the writer’s mind.)
And how does such faith in God begin and deepen? By faith Moses saw the invisible, by faith Abraham saw a city not built by man, by faith Israel shouted and saw God’s invisible hand dismantle Jericho. Faith is the substance of things not seen! Without faith in God the heart becomes blind and while it’s true that the mind still functions well enough in various areas, without heart it gathers mountains of raw material but doesn’t know what to build with it. And who will help us to gain a faith-filled vision? And how will they help us—by gathering massive amounts of biblical or theological “information”?

 Mark 14:5 has this phrase, “It might have been sold…” That complaint came from Judas. That was all he could find to say about the precious ointment poured out of its alabaster flask in the service of love. A meal was served in the house of Simon the leper. The Master’s in the place of honor. Mary must have carried something wrapped from home to Simon’s. Then a hush, Mary’s behind the Master, a broken flask, a lovely aroma filling the room. The complaint breaks the silence and suddenly the room is invaded by the noises of the market and they overwhelm a love-laden, life-laden moment. Judas glared and vulgarizes something Jesus, all admiring, says will never be forgotten as long as the world stands.
Judas stood among priceless things that evening in Simon’s house and saw nothing. He saw a dramatic scene, but he missed an eternal truth. His fault here wasn’t that he did nothing but that he saw nothing; he was heart-blind. “The fact that he put a price on the gift proves that he never saw the gift. If he had seen it he would have known it was priceless.” It’s obvious he hadn’t learned to see as His Master saw. Jesus saw more glory in a field of wild flowers than in Solomon and all his grandeur, Jesus said that. A poor widow’s two nickels were worth more than the hefty contribution of the rich and God in heaven wrote an I.O.U. every time a cup of cold water was given by a loving heart. Jesus said that too. All of that Judas must have heard but he hadn’t learned that there are things too beautiful to be sold. He saw love and thought it was waste! He didn’t know what he was dealing with. “But he wasn’t dealing with alabaster and ointment.” And in thousands of moments like this one we never are.
There in front of us, right there, faith-filled and loving hearts are doing things that God is keeping a record of; there, right there in front of us are people whose glory isn’t seen in some specific act, it can only be seen by someone who sees the life lived out over years.
We can’t be God and He doesn’t hold us responsible for not being Him but we profoundly need help if we are to gain a rich vision of God and His Holy Son in whose image we’ve been made. We honor prominent leaders and salaried preachers and teachers—a godly and lovely thing under the right circumstances—but there’s a day coming, I like to imagine, in a better world, when God will bring out a host of unknown, a host of never mentioned people and He will honor them and there won’t be a prominent figure among them. Paul and Peter and Moses and others have their share of praise and glory. And God sees that too and takes note of it.

A man told me of a visit he enjoyed with a charming lady and during a brief lull in their talk about God and life she saw him glancing at a lovely picture on the table beside her. “That’s my daughter and her daughters,” she said. They were pretty and all dressed in white—it was a wedding picture. With joy she began to tell him, he said, about her daughter, her love for God and her mission work in foreign lands. Understandably thrilled she told him about it all. The man told me, “I said to her, if God walked into this room, sat down beside you, put His arm around you and whispered in your ear, I really love that girl,” you’d say, “I know you do.” Then He’d say, “Oh? Why do you think that is?” Then you’d say, “She reminds you of someone.” Then He’d say, “And who would that be?” Then you’d say, “She reminds you of you.” Then God would smile and say, “You’re absolutely center of the target.”
He said, “This woman who didn’t need to be told about her daughter’s loveliness, smiled big and made it clear that she now saw her daughter as even more beautiful than before.”
Life is made up of things that defy all valuation and it’s missing these things that reduces and vulgarizes life. Part of the fullness of life that God even now brings through Christ is to be able to see through new eyes—it’s a new way of seeing life and that only comes via a new and better vision of God to whom to know, said Jesus, is life eternal.
(In this piece I’ve leaned a bit on something George Matheson said many years ago. F.D. Maurice took a different and useful direction on the Judas incident that (God enabling) I’ll make use of some time.).

JOE, DAISY & DABSTER

The atheist, Friedrich Nietzsche (or was he a Joban figure?), had little love for people—real people I mean, actual persons. He had a vision of the ideal man but the ideal man didn’t exist so what he was passionate about was an abstraction, nothing real. Poor thing.

O’Henry introduced us to Joe and Dabster, fervent admirers of Daisy. Joe owned a tiny shop and begged Daisy to marry him; Dabster was brilliant, knew a jillion facts, ranging from the shortest verse in the Bible to how many pounds of shingle nails you’d need to secure 256 shingles to the square yard on a split level roof and from there, he could move on to the intricacies of the philosopher Hegel when he was writing while suffering a heartburn attack. To impress her, Dabster took Daisy to the roof of the skyscraper—a new experience for her—and showed her the “bipeds” below, moving like little black ants, and the cars, like toys on a living room floor.
That’s how it started and it’s how Dabster continued, letting her see how tiny and inconsequential humans are.
But Daisy took one look down from such a height and didn’t like the universal view of things. It made people look like fleas, she said, and—what mattered most of all— “One of them we saw might have been Joe.” The philosopher smiled indulgently and went on to fill her mind with facts about distances, sizes, how long it takes light from XYZ-14 galaxy to reach us, the unbearable heat and light of those nightly stars and why it is that humans are so much fungus clinging to the planetary crust. On and on he went, until poor ignorant Daisy cried out in anger, “You’re lyin’. You’re trying to scare me. And you have; I want to go down!”
The intellectual giant was filled with book-learned information but he was out for lunch when they were giving out wisdom, sensitivity and any sense of the grandeur of humans. In all his use of truth, in all his talk about the facts of nature and its vastness he was brainy but heartless and (theologically ignorant to boot).

When they got down, the philosopher lost her at the skyscraper’s revolving door and Joe, trapped in his tiny shop, between his chewing gum, packs of cigarettes and piles of newspapers, was startled when his little door burst open, and Daisy, laughing and crying sent stuff flying as she bundled into his arms. “Oh, Joe, I’ve been up on the skyscraper. Ain’t it cozy and warm and homelike in here! I’m ready for you, Joe, whenever you want me!” Ain’t love grand?
Dabster was neither the first nor the last to make humans look small and insignificant. American historian of some years ago, Harry Elmer Barnes, is credited with saying: “Astronomically speaking, man is almost totally negligible.” Philosopher George Albert Coe responded: “Astronomically speaking, man—is the astronomer!”
Checkmate!
Drama critic James Agate probably speaks for most of us when he says, “Without man…there can be no beauty, and the Milky Way becomes less than a tenantless back-yard. For myself, I place the Himalayas beneath the feet of the little janitor who sweeps my room, and rate the Pacific Ocean less than my butcher boy with the untidy nose.”

All the “stuff” in creation means nothing if there’s no one to share it with. As the song Islands in the Stream would have it, “everything is nothin’ when you’ve got no one.” Plato discussed living forever only in the context of Socrates’ death. Who’d want to live forever without there being someone to love and be loved by?
In the end, it’s people that matter and it’s people that give “stuff” their value. So while people have the capacity to irritate each other (and so much more) they contribute to the “worthwhileness” of living. If you want to dwell on nothing but the worst face of humans—”be realistic” as that gloomy outlook is called—get on with it. But it’s not the entire story and even if it were—and it’s not!—the grubbiest of street urchins is more wondrous than the blazing sun.
Which leads me to say that passing around pictures and facts and figures about the immensity of the universe to show that humans are a mere speck, hardly worth talking about, misses not only the point of life and Scripture, it burdens the hearts of many who already feel like plastic knives and forks.
There’s nothing to this “logic of size” (W.H. Fitchett’s nice phrase). Try telling parents that their tiny newborn baby is nothing compared with the Rockies or the Milky Way because it’s tiny and they’re big.
Silliness!
[Just recently someone sent me (again) a series of illustrations of the comparative size of the earth to the sun and the sun to the galaxy and the galaxy to…you get the picture. The conclusion drawn was that humans are pathetically miniscule and their troubles are “small stuff” that they aren’t to sweat. Imagine doing that with, say, Mount Everest, a massive skyscraper, a giant bulldozer and a tiny baby. Now, make the argument “from size”. Pathetic!]
The scriptures never compare humans with the size of the immense universe. David was surely gobsmacked by the immensity of the heavens but what amazed him (as he alluded to Genesis 1) was that God made humans lord of it all (see Psalm 8 for yourself and note Hebrews 2:5-9). Isaiah 40 speaks of the vastness of the universe but it doesn’t compare humans with the size of the universe—it aims to describe God and set him over against the gods that are nothing and do nothing and to show why Israel shouldn’t worry about the nations that oppose him.
You want to know what God thinks of sinful humans (even his enemies)? Reflect long on the implications of the Incarnation and at Jesus’ life, the cross and the glory to which He is bringing humans in and through Jesus.

GIVING THE WORLD A SONG TO SING

Ancient Jews weren’t scared witless by the sea but there was enough about it that generated unease in them when they looked at it. Whatever else Genesis 1 taught them, it taught them that God was the Lord of the waters and everything else that existed. He spoke and it obeyed him (see also Isaiah 17:13-14). The sea was no god to be worshiped as it had been worshiped in Egypt, where they had spent so many years. Still, its restlessness, its destructive power and the fact that they couldn’t control it were enough to make it a symbol of threat and chaos. They often spoke of it in those terms, as did other nations.

Isaiah said (17:12): “Oh, the raging of many nations—they rage like the raging sea! Oh, the uproar of the peoples—they roar like the roaring of great waters.” Hearing the pounding of huge waves as they smash against one another with destroying force is a graphic sound/picture of clashing armies and nations. In their wickedness they never ceased to cast up muck and debris (Isaiah 57:20). It was out of the restless Great Sea (Mediterranean) that the four great Gentile kingdoms arose like monsters from a science fiction movie, devouring all before them and oppressing the people of God (Daniel 7:1-8). No wonder that when John describes the conditions of the world freed from the oppressor that he says of it (and there was no more sea)—Revelation 21:1.
With thoughts and images like these circulating in a little nation that—on and off— for centuries had felt the power of oppressors the psalmist’s defiant words in Psalm 46:1-3 ring out all the finer and braver and more trustful. These words aren’t sung by people who’ve known no trouble—they’ve known more than their share! These aren’t the words of a people who think the world can be fixed if only it had “enough information”. This man speaks for his entire people who expect the world to be wild and oppressive and who know that either today or tomorrow they’ll feel the hurt that powerful nations bring to others. Knowing all that, fully aware of all that, certain that it will come to that he says this:
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam and the mountains
quake with their surging.
Picture this believer standing on top of the cliff, watching the huge waves building out there and then rushing for the cliff face with increasing speed and power. There’s the shudder he feels in the ground when they thunder against it, again and again, unrelentingly, threatening to bring down the entire shoreline and him along with it. As he waits for the next bg one he looks landward, to his home and people and the irresistible forces lined up against them. It’s with all those images and realities in mind that he sings into the wind:
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam and the mountains
quake with their surging.
This song is sung by modern believers as well. I know a lot of them personally! They’re intelligent, wide-eyed, politically aware, as realistic as anyone you could meet and when they feel the shudder under their feet they note it well but still get on with their business of world-transformation by “gospeling,” in all the various ways that each of them is able do it.
But look what another believer did in Psalm 117 with such faith-generating truth. This singer is no bigot, no racist, no patriot that confuses rabid nationalism for love of country and nation and no self-centered worshiper. He knew he was part of God’s chosen people but he knew something about his God that needed to be told to the entire world! He must have had his tough times like everyone else; he might well have had long stretches of agony when the first half of Psalm 22 was most often in his mind and speech and then came to experience the last half of Psalm 22. It would have been when he had come through the long scalding experience and not only survived [see Psalm 124] but was filled with a new experience of God, His power to save and His faithfulness—that’s when he would have jumped up in the middle of the congregation and said, “I have something I must sing.” And he sang this for his people but—more importantly, more immediately and directly—for the world!
Praise the Lord, all nations
Extol Him, all people.
For His kindness overwhelms us,
And the Lord’s steadfast truth is forever.
Hallelujah.     (Alter’s Translation)

He calls on all the peoples and nations of the earth to praise God—Yahweh! And why should they? What reason does this believer give the entire human family to praise Israel’s God? Here it is, “Because His kindness overwhelms us.” His kindness overwhelms Israel—that’s a reason for the entire world to sing His praise? It’s clear the psalmist had a richer understanding of God than many of his fellows. He and the little woman in Matthew 15 had much in common.
This psalm is about the experience of the People of God as a whole and it’s about the non-Jewish nations as a whole. It’s cosmic in scope, it’s humankind in breadth; it’s about the God and Father of all of us and the psalmist says, “Look at us and learn about Him. About Him! Like you, we’ve been in and through trouble but here we are (Isaiah 43:1-7)—alive and well. In his goodness to us and his sustaining covenant faithfulness He speaks a message of His faithful love to you. Rejoice in Him. Rejoice in Him because His kindness overwhelms us.” Rejoice in the one true God that is the God of His chosen People because He is the God of the entire world and He has called His People to tell the world that He is for them also!
Tell that to the NT Church and to the abused and plundered and kept-ignorant people of the world! Give them a song to sing!

(Holy One, we thank you for showing us in the Lord Jesus what holiness is—for showing us that it isn’t a stiff-arm aloofness and forever forbidding. Thank you for showing us in Him, in His permanently choosing to be a human, living, dying and dealing with the Sin of the entire world—thank you for showing us what grace is. Thank you for calling out an elect People to tell that good news to a plundered, tormented world and give them something and Someone to believe in and to sing about. Help us to be faithful to our hope-bringing and joy-bringing message about Thyself so that we will not stuff ourselves with more and more while millions of Lazaruses lie dying all over our world.)

A ROMANTIC CREED

Sylvester Horne put it this way in his Yale lectures all those years ago: “What is the Gospel? It is contained in a verse of one of the greatest Christian hymns:
‘Were the whole realm of Nature mine; That were a present far too small! Love so amazing, so Divine, Demands my soul (my life my all)!’
That is to say that my soul is a greater and bigger thing than the whole realm of nature. Do you believe it? I agree it is the most romantic of all beliefs. It affirms that the soul of every forced laborer on the Amazon is of more value than all the mines of Johannesburg, all the diamonds of Kimberly, all the millions of all the magnates of America. It affirms that in God’s sight all the suns and stars that people infinite space, are of inferior worth to one human spirit dwelling, it may be, in the degraded body of some victim of drink or lust, some member of the gutter population of a great city who has descended to his doom by means of the multiplied temptations with which our so-called society environs him. It is a romantic creed. But if it is not true, Christianity itself is false.”
If you gained the creation, Jesus said, “and lost yourself  you made a bad bargain.” Jesus said that! Not a philosopher, not a mathematician or a renowned religious leader—Jesus! The evil magician kept crying in the street, “New lamps for old” and a servant girl in Aladdin’s house exchanged the world for a piece of shiny metal when she threw Aladdin’s lamp down to the evil sorcerer who knew the worth of Aladdin’s lamp.
Jesus knew the worth of a human. Knew what they were destined for and why they were created by God. He knew the sickest of them was worth His living and dying and rising for (see Matthew 9:11-12; Jeremiah 8:22; Revelation 3:17-18). Paul knew that too for he said that “all things” (the entire creation, humans included) were made in and through and for Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:15-16). “You were made for me,” Jesus would say to the most burdened human on the planet.
But unless they meet Jesus—in person or via the Church’s gospeling about Him—the burdened soul will never know who it is that looks back at him/her from the mirror. They will never know that God lovingly created them to be His  companions; nor will they get a glimpse of the glory they were made for. The very wealthy and the very gifted, the marvelously educated, housed, employed and powerful will never know how God views them or how He wishes to further bless and use them (see Numbers 10:29-31 where one of the elect, in the name of God, speaks to one of the non-elect and sought his expertise and help in the service of God).
God seeks to narrow no one, to rob no one; He doesn’t want them to sell themselves to gain the beautiful when they can have Him and all the honorable and joy-bringing things that are part of fullness of life. He longs to open their eyes and their hearts to the recovery and experience of the greater glory, usefulness, adventure and life as a helper and companion of God who is the God of healing, enrichment and life!
(
Oh God, we pile up words like high hills in a vain attempt to give you what you deserve—we know before we utter them that they fall short but we can’t not make the attempt. Unless you enable us we know that we will continue to swap the wondrous for the shiny metal and ourselves for the galaxies. We know that we will cheat and rob our beloved little children before you will ever purpose to rob any of us. Bring to us, then, we pray, those who teach us by word and deed, by attitude and behavior about you that we might be delivered from death and dishonor and brought deeper into the romance of life and adventure. And Holy Father, we pray for all those who never do and never will in this life get to hear about you and so they are impoverished. We think noble thoughts of you and believe that you will do what is generous and right by them in a coming day. This prayer in Jesus Christ who has re-visioned you for our salvation and enlightenment.)

HOW LONG?

Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool…but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” John 5:5-9
This is the word of a confessor, a confessor who admitted his utter and absolute need of help or there could be no hope even though his heart longed for health, for freedom and for fullness of life.
Jesus gave him no lecture about God helping those who help themselves. He gave him no good advice about avoiding a victim mentality before walking away to some other person who could contribute to his own healing. I have only one point to make here and I know that what I have to say needs balanced. If you tell me what I have to say here needs balanced you’ll be wasting your breath—I know it! I do know it!
But balance is for those who can contribute to their own healing and I am not “God enough” (nor is anyone else) to know who these are and I’ve seen enough people, like little animals caught in cruel snares, vainly struggling to get free; in agony and without hope unless someone strong comes and patiently works with the captive, even if and while the captive protests and mistakes rescue for further torment.
The story of Christ meeting that powerless man is more than (not less than) the meeting of two persons; we’re not to read the story that way!
It was the meeting of two worlds—an old world and a new world. One was a world where the powerless were left to do the best they could (or not) the other was a new world that was made new by God walking into it. Every incident we read involving Jesus is about God on a mission of deliverance—a deliverance of a world and not just some individuals lucky enough to meet up with Him.
One world is the survival of the strong, the other the strengthening of the weak. The one would support only those who could contribute to hope and the other sought out those who had sunk into despair. This lame man well illustrated “a world” without pity because his malady was desperate and no one had the time for him or the patience for him—there were no one prepared to help him to healing and joy and joyful righteousness.
Understand this: I’m not saying there were no kind and humane people in the world—there were such people. Jesus was not the first kind man! I am saying there existed (and exists) “a world” that is shaped by the forces of evil that humanity turned loose and ended up imprisoned in that world. I am saying that when we see disease and abuse, despair and cruelty, selfish indifference and a shrugging at the state of the oppressed we’re seeing the “world” in which this man was living.
I am saying that “the world” that that man was a part of is human existence lived out under the spell of satanic and demonic power; it is this world, there aren’t really two; it’s this life; this life under evil, godless mismanagement.
We humans invited the powers in and this world and human existence became something other than what God made it for and intended it to be. But rather than obliterating it and humanity with it, God came in and as the human, Jesus of Nazareth, to redeem and reconcile it to Himself “in Christ!”
Something has actually, really, happened since Jesus came and is now Lord! Another Adam, the last Adam (1 Cor 15:45), now has dominion and is God’s servant Son undoing the work of the first Adam (Romans 5:12-21) and when He completes that undoing and has destroyed the last enemy He offers to God the dominion. In doing that He does precisely the opposite of what the first Adam did and as the Head of the redeemed humanity He acknowledges God’s overarching dominion.
I’m saying that Jesus, being God being a man, represents and brings another “world”—it’s this world, not another, it’s this world re-visioned and seen by the eyes and hearts of faith as under new management in Jesus Christ. It’s this world since Jesus entered, showing that the prince of this world has been kicked out, the usurper has been exposed and his corrupt and corrupting vision of human existence is false. A world seen and acted in by Jesus is reconciled to God!
Jesus doesn’t represent a kind humaneness, He approves kindness and humaneness (its the work of God though He isn’t given the credit for genuine kindness and compassion and warm justice). but Jesus, being God being a man, represents and brings into reality a “new” creation where Sin and Suffering and Death don’t belong.

This evil threesome made themselves at home in humans and so humans came to be known as “sinful flesh” and God came in and as the man Jesus Christ in the very image of that sinful flesh (Romans 8:3) and in Jesus of Nazareth, His life and work, God “condemned Sin in the flesh” and re-visioned humanness and so re-visioned the world. That vision is only seen by faith in Jesus Christ, a faith that insists that the new world already exists but will be brought to glorious completion in a coming day.
This sinner in John 5 lay for thirty-eight years waiting deliverance but others have waited longer than that, much longer than that, for their deliverance. A life-time!  Waiting for spiritual power, spiritual wealth, for health to flow through them, for the inspiration to joyfully live righteously more consistently, more holistically and more thankfully and all of this as a result of seeing GOD walking into their lives, making them believe that not only can they be healed but that He has come to bring that very thing about!
Jesus announces the arrival of a new world!

PENNY CANDLES & MASSIVE SUNS

The pillars of character may well need added strengtheners if we work to build them only in the presence of the Glorious God. Poverty of spirit or mourning over our own inner disorder can hardly be difficult when we’re alone with Him.It’s easy to be humble then. A candle will get no credit for admitting its light is weaker than the sun’s. That might be humility; it might indicate the absence of pride or smugness. Let’s come and look at a shamed sinner and check our “prideometer” then.  Come and match ourselves with Peter in the very moment when he’s cursing and denying, watch David in the very act of virtual royal rape of the girl or watch him while he’s plotting and murdering and listen to his profoundly callous dismissal of the husband’s death when they bring him the word!
In those moments, or some modern equivalent, will we bow our heads and pray, “God me merciful to me a sinner.”?
In the presence of Christ we’re all wrong and we confess that with ease but what’s our response in the presence of sinners caught in the act? In prayer, alone, with no one around to impress with our words, only God and us, to sense then our uncleanness, deep regret and the wish we were different, surely that’s no great feat of humility—is it? To be aware of and confess our own sinfulness in the presence of the tragically fallen or unclean is something else.
I’m not talking of compassion, don’t you know, for even compassion can be felt by the strong. I’m talking about identification with the one before us in agony that shame and guilt brings. If we feel our need of cleansing even while we look at someone who’s caught in a web of sin that clearly shows itself, perhaps we’re beginning to get the sense of our solidarity with our sinful human family. They are us.
I was about to explain what I wasn’t saying but that would have been a mistake. The above either stands of falls without caveats. Here’s K. Baker’s poem: Pronouns

The Lord said,
”Say, ‘We.’ “
But I shook my head,
Hid my hands tight behind my back and said,
Stubbornly,
“I.”
The Lord said,
“Say, ‘We.’ ”
But I looked upon them, grimy and all awry.
Myself in all those twisted shapes? Ah, no!
Distastefully I turned my head away,
Persisting.
“They.”
The Lord said,
“Say, ‘We.’ ”
And I
At last,
Richer by a hoard
Of years,
And tears,
Looked in their eyes and found the heavy word
That bent my neck and bowed my head:
Like a shamed schoolboy then I mumbled low,
“We, Lord.”
Not “My God” but “Our Father.”

MY COMRADE GOD

I’m an old man now. It’s true that many things I once thought pleasurable are no longer that and it’s true that many things I once thought were worth worrying about are no longer that. It’s also true that some truths I once thought were of momentous significance are no longer that. That doesn’t surprise me—I’d heard my mother say many times about different things that I’d change my mind when I got older; she was right, I experienced the change repeatedly as I grew into adulthood.
Some things I outgrew (some I wish I had outgrown and haven’t) and other things were like sandcastles at the seaside—they were never meant to last; even children knew that and they were often happy about it as they watched intently the smaller waves undermining the walls of their castle and then shrieking with pleasure when the entire thing collapsed under the assault.
Many things have changed because I have changed but some things I knew even when I was young are still with me. I sensed them, knew them as a boy knows things in that true but inexperienced way but now with a load of tears and years and bygone fears I know these truths as well as I know any truth. I have a deep sense of my limits and I can explain and illustrate what I mean by that but strange as I sometimes think it is, it’s my awareness of my limits that have opened my eyes to truth too deep and too assuring that I can’t hold on to all the threads that weave together that create the network that supports me.
I haven’t changed my mind about how I need and want God in my life. I now know that, somewhere at a great depth in my soul—a depth that goes beyond rational thought, a depth that becomes part of the substance of one’s thought and how we think. It’s more than just the correct conclusion to points made or texts exposited—though all of that is present. I know now that I need more than a God—I need and want the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.George Adam Smith the famed Scots theologian and commentator was correct when he said:
“The chief thing for individuals, as for nations, is not to believe that God reigns so much as to know what kind of God He is who reigns.”
I have believed that for more years than I can remember but I believe it even more fervently when I hear some say that there is a God who has created countless millions of his creatures for no other reason that to ceaselessly torment them through endless time because it pleases him to do so.
I must believe because I want to believe and am urged by the biblical witness to believe that God has come in and as Jesus Christ “not to condemn the world but that the world through Him might have life.” (John 3:16-17; 1 John 2.2.)

As was usual where I grew up in Belfast, I began smoking as a boy and stayed at it for quite a while. The cheapest and the most popular cigarettes were Park Drive and Woodbine. As boys we looked in the gutters and found the most of what we smoked (yes!) because we didn’t have the money to buy many. Now and then we’d buy one or five and split the price between us.  I always thought Park Drive & Woodbine were harsh and when I met the young girl who’d become my sister-in-law I knew they were harsh. She worked in a tobacco factory called Gallaghers and they give her free cigarettes. She’d sometimes get Players Greens—I loved them, they were smooth on the throat and easy on the lungs. But normally it was Woodbine.
G.S. Studdert-Kennedy, a courageous and highly decorated  WWI chaplain, was well remembered in Belfast in my day though he died eight years before I was born in 1937. He got the name Woodbine Willie (he handed them around to the soldiers and smoked a lot of them himself). He spoke my own heart and the hearts of millions of others in this, another of his often riveting poems. Please, be patient and read it all the way through. The truth GS spoke here is one of those truths that mean more and more to us when we reflect on the horror and evil and suffering of the human race. There is one true God and He loves the entire human family and if that isn’t true nothing is worth believing!
                               THE COMRADE GOD
Thou who dost dwell in depths of timeless being,
Watching the years as moments passing by,
Seeing the things that lie beyond our seeing,
Constant, unchanged, as aeons dawn and die.
Thou who canst count the stars upon their courses,
Holding them all in the hollow of Thy hand.
Lord of the world with its myriad of forces
Seeing the hills as single grains of sand.
Art Thou so great that this our bitter crying
Sounds in Thine ears like sorrow of a child?
Hast Thou looked down on centuries of sighing,
And like a heartless mother only smiled?
Since in Thy sight to-day is as to-morrow.
And while we strive Thy victory is won,
Hast Thou no tears to shed upon our sorrow?
Art Thou a staring splendor like the sun?
Dost Thou not heed the helpless sparrow’s falling?
Canst Thou not see the tears that women weep?
Canst Thou not hear Thy littlest children calling?
Dost Thou not watch above them as they sleep?
Then, O my God, Thou art too great to love me,
Since Thou dost reign beyond the reach of tears,
Calm and serene as the cruel stars above me,
High and remote from human hopes and fears.
Only in Him can I find home to hide me.
Who on the Cross was slain to rise again,
Only with Him my Comrade God beside me,
Can I go forth to war with sin and pain.