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.