Blue On Red: The Women of “The Handmaid’s Tale”

“Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” — Matthew 20:22 (KJV)

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We’re now four episodes into Hulu’s marvelous adaptation The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, and the show is hitting me hard in ways both expected and surprising. For instance, I had no doubt that systematic, institutionally-endorsed rape would be disturbing on a whole host of levels, but I’m actually seeing the sinister aspects of Scrabble, macaroons, and Latin primers.

There is much to explore in this show, but one thing I’ve found particularly compelling is the interplay between two groups of “legitimate” women in Gilead’s hierarchy: the Wives and the Handmaids. The Wives are taking quite a bit of heat from viewers (and rightly so). One author calls them the true “gender traitors”; another says they are “cruelly complacent.” And it is impossible to deny either of those descriptions when several of the scenes involve Serena Joy clutching cruelly onto Offred’s wrists during “the ceremony.”

Breathe. Hold. Push.
But the scene that throws this relationship into sharpest relief happens in episode two, “Birth Day.” I’ll give you a brief run down. In one room of a palatial estate, the Wives sit around Naomi, the Wife of Ofwarren’s Commander. She is in labor, but hers is of the faux variety.

Dressed in an elegant white nightgown, she reclines against a nest of pristine pillows on ivory carpet, sunshine streaming through the windows. A harp plays soothing music in the background. The Wives, in their standard blue attire, encourage her through her false pains—the only experience of childbirth she can ever have since she is sterile—all the while drinking tea from prim china cups, feasting on nibbles, and quietly repeating the word “breathe.”

The rhythmic chanting is also going on upstairs, but the words “hold” and “exhale” are added to the mix. Here, the handmaid Ofwarren (A.K.A. Janine), assisted by several of the dismal brown Aunts and a passel of red-clad Handmaids, is doing the real teeth-gritting work of birth—complete with the screaming, panting, and valor it requires.

Offred, via voiceover, sums it up perfectly: “There’s a smell coming from that room, something primal. It’s the smell of dens, of inhabited caves. It’s the smell of the plaid blanket on the bed where the cat gave birth before she was spayed. It’s the smell of genesis.”

Despite the vast number of people in the room, we recognize the moment for what it is. And that makes it one of the most “normal” scenes in the show…until, well, things get very weird and very Gileadean again.

When the time comes to push, the Wife is brought in to experience the moment of birth. She sits behind Ofwarren in a birthing chair—an echo of the ceremony that made this baby possible in the first place—and mimes the moment until the child is born. There’s an instant of respectful silence until Aunt Lydia pronounces the baby to be a healthy girl.

All the women celebrate, and for a fleeting second, there’s harmony. Then the cord is cut and the girl is wrapped up in a clean blanket, but rather than be handed back to the woman who carried her and brought her into the world, she is given to Naomi who has settled into her “rightful place”—the bed Ofwarren previously occupied. As far as the Wives and Aunts are concerned, Naomi has always been there. The birth mother doesn’t exist.

As they coo and carry on over the little miracle, the Handmaids are left to look on from a distance and care for Ofwarren who sobs into her hands. In a moment of solidarity (that also bears a striking resemblance to another, less lovely group scene in the first episode), they wrap arms around the poor woman to comfort her.

It’s very easy to hate the Wives here. After all, they’ve done none of the sweating, bleeding, or suffering. They’ve sacrificed nothing for this moment—only swooped in to capture the prize that makes it all worth it. Yes, they are part of the evil system that made this all possible. Yes, they are cruel and capricious and oppressive. Yes, they are preying on those weaker than they. But—and hear me out here—they are victims too in a way. Like the Handmaids, they endure the ceremony designed by men. They live within the tight confines of the caste system. They feel fear, loss, and shame.

In the hierarchy, they have greater power. Yet when it comes to childbirth—the great pinnacle of achievement for women in this dictatorship—they are powerless. They can do nothing to make themselves (or their husbands) fertile. For that reason and others, theirs is a hollow existence, and all they can do is watch and yearn and covet. Say what you will, but that’s a lousy place to be.

What’s Yours Is Mine
Unlike the women of Gilead, I never needed to give birth. I likely never will. I am, however, a mother of two young boys my husband and I adopted from the foster care system. I didn’t go through the months of pain and suffering it took to bring them into being. The State gave them to me.

It must be acknowledged that my sons’ birth mother made poor choices. She didn’t see to their welfare and, at times, even put them in danger. Despite multiple opportunities to change, she did not. She has yet to do so. And yet…

Once the adoption was finalized, we applied for updated birth certificates, ones that show their new names. When they arrived, our lawyer advised me to check over everything and make sure all the spellings were correct and the dates accurate. That’s when I saw something that left me dumbfounded. In the section labeled “mother,” my name was written. My birthdate. My address at the time of the delivery. My state of birth.

All evidence of their biological mother is gone.

Her name and information is buried in court records and electronic details, but as far as this piece of legally binding paperwork is concerned, she’s a ghost.

At each stage of the adoption process, I never lost sight of her. I always reminded myself that my good days—ones where the legal system did its job and brought the kids one step closer to being ours forever—were likely her worst.

I didn’t “steal” her children as Naomi and the Wives did, but some tiny part of me understands their joy. I have children to love and care for, to raise and celebrate. Their base hits in little league are mine. Their science fair wins and good report cards. I’m the one they run to now saying “Mama!” with their little arms outstretched. And while I relish every moment of it, a piece of me knows it came with a price.

So no, I can’t fully hate the Wives though they are petty, heartless creatures. In some ways, I even pity them. Their children and mine became ours as a result of a broken world, one filled with hate, heartache, and sin. But thankfully, a better day is coming—not in the form of a bloody coup, but in the One, the pioneer of our salvation who drank the cup of suffering and died to bring many adopted sons and daughters to glory.

 

 

A Far Way On To Dawn

The winter solstice is upon us, and tonight will officially be the longest night of the year. And, brother, if there ever was a year that demanded a dark night, 2016 is it. I won’t belabor the point by listing many of the challenging and disheartening things that have taken place since this January 1st, and I won’t try to ameliorate them by pointing out the many bright spots the year offered either. To do that is to dwell in the temporal, and relying on the things of this world for our emotional equilibrium is foolish at best.

However, as I stand on the edge of 40, I must admit that the darkness is a little harder to shake off than it used to be. It’s not because I’m growing cynical (though that has happened to some degree) or because I feel lost. On the contrary, I understand myself and my purpose in this life better than ever before.

I think it has something to do with perspective. With a few decades behind me, it’s easier to see things as they are. In middle age, we recognize that time (for us at least) isn’t infinite, some endless skein of hours that spools itself out into perpetuity. The scissors come, the thread is severed, and there is an end to things as we know them. Losing my grandfather to Alzheimer’s Disease, praying for a friend who, though only 42 and the mother of two young girls, learned she has lymphoma, watching marriages end in divorce and death all impressed the same inescapable fact on me—nothing in this life is guaranteed.

In this hard year of bitterness and animosity, with thoughts of mortality in mind, I came across this page in Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, and it stopped me cold.

somethingwicked

 

The character having these heavy thoughts, Charles Holloway, is a 54-year-old amateur philosopher and library janitor who bemoans the loss of his youth and potential. (Though — slight spoiler alert — there’s a great moment of redemption for him in the book.) As someone who has been awake at 3:00 AM several times this year, I concur that it is a hard hour, a sharp and lonely sliver of time. With the house sleeping around you and the world outside the window quiet and still, it’s easy to believe you’re the only soul left and that all else is darkness.

But unlike Mr. Bradbury, who considered himself a “delicatessen religionist,” I believe in “Immortal, invisible, God only wise, in light inaccessible hid from our eyes. Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days.” I take comfort in the words of Paul who tells us, “We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

This year, our family used an Advent wreath at home for the first time, and I have found that the intentional lighting of candles, of discussing what they mean, and allowing them to focus my attention on Jesus has been restorative. Yes, there is darkness, but there is also hope. There is love. There is joy. There is peace. Why? Because there is Christ, the center of our celebration. He is where our hearts must dwell, and he is the only source of true comfort in a world that seems to have skidded sideways.

On this, the longest night of the year, and every night of my life, I will not stare at the darkness. Instead, I look to the white candle in the center of that wreath, the one that represents Jesus—the God-man who came to redeem and will return to rescue. I sing the last three verses of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” in expectation, knowing that my waiting will not be in vain, for the Dayspring is coming.

Oh, come, O Key of David, come,
And open wide our heav’nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come, our Dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by your drawing nigh,
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Oh, bid our sad divisions cease,
And be yourself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Thoughts That Outnumber the Sand

I have been having serious Kiefer Sutherland withdrawals ever since 24 ended, so I was excited to learn that he was starring in a new show in 2012. The pilot for this show, Touch, aired last week, and two more episodes have been scheduled for this season. I thought this introduction to the series was fairly engaging; it started in medias res with a brief narration from the gifted youngster, Jake,  who sees all then skips to the airport where the cell phone that ties the secondary and tertiary characters together is first located by Martin Bohm (played by Sutherland).

A Chambered Nautilus. Image from seasky.com

The opening voice over is actually quite interesting. In it, Jake explains the precise ratio of the universe (1:1.68) and the subtle laws of behavior and patterns that govern all things from seashells to humankind. Only a few people, he claims, can see the patterns and can intervene in such a way to make sure the people whose lives need to “touch” can do so.

I found myself intrigued because the child’s observation is half correct. The universe does have a system of rules that keep it operating harmoniously. There are indeed patterns and rules, and each and every one of them points to divine engineering, a master Craftsman. Scientists have many names for this amazing power, but I simply call Him almighty God. Where the show takes a wrong turn is when it states the child can see and understand all things through numbers. It is true that some gifted people can see portions of the grand design in that way, but no human is capable of discerning all the intricacies of the universe.

The “Eye of God Nebula.” Image from Geekologie.com

Fox, the network airing this show, describes Touch as, “A drama that blends science and spirituality to explore the hidden connections which bind together all of humanity.” Ah, “spirituality”–that catchy word used by those who are willing to admit that there is a power in the cosmos greater than they are but who refuse to recognize Him as God for some reason. “I’m spiritual” must be easier on the ears than “I’m religious” for some. After all, there is some Eastern flavor to the former, an aura of enlightenment that places one on a higher plane of existence. And isn’t that what most people are searching for—a way to set themselves apart while simultaneously defining the world from their perspective?

Why is that somehow preferable to recognizing that one has a Maker, One through whom all things were created? I suppose recognizing God means subordinating yourself to His ultimate authority, and many people balk at the idea that their lives are not their own to live as they see fit.

Many people enjoy the concept of the “red thread” mentioned in this show, the one that, according to a Chinese proverb (note the Eastern influence), binds all people together. However, this is only true when it involves wonderful things like the path the cell phone takes in the pilot episode. They refuse to recognize it when that pattern compels them to do something they are unwilling to do or give up something to which they’ve become partial. Then words like “logic” and “fate” come into play instead.

The other interesting scene takes place between Bohm and a man named Arthur Teller (played by Danny Glover). The clip I transcribed below is available through Hulu/IMDB. Click the link if you would like to see the scene or watch the full episode.

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Arthur Teller: The universe is made up of precise ratios and patterns….all around us. You and I, we don’t see them, but, if we could, life would be magical beyond our wildest dreams. A quantum entanglement of cause and effect where everything and everyone reflects on each other. Every action, every breath, every conscious thought…connected. Imagine the unspeakable beauty of the universe he sees! No wonder he doesn’t talk.

Martin Bohm: My son sees all that?

Teller: Mr. Bohm, your son sees everything. The past, the present, the future–he sees how it’s all connected.

Bohm: You’re telling me my son can predict the future?

Teller: No. I’m telling you, it’s a road map, and your job now, your purpose, is to follow it for him. It’s your fate, Mr. Bohm. It’s your destiny.

***

Image from smileosmile.com

What he’s speaking of is the omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience of God, and it would be amazing to be able to view the world as He does. What’s exciting is that, one day, we will. For those who have accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, an eternity of seeing this beauty awaits. Our heavenly Father sees and understands these patterns because He created them! It is He who controls it all–everything from the orbit of planets to the breath that you and I draw each and every second, often unconsciously.

Image from geniusbeauty.com

He knew each and every one of us before we were even formed in our mothers’ wombs, and He desires that each and every one of us be reconciled to Him. Jesus Christ died for every single human being on this planet, but He would have done the same thing had it only saved me. Or you.

Yes, any one person would have been worth the cost of Calvary to Him. The extent of that love is so unfathomable that my heart aches when I dwell on it. You and I matter that much to the God who created a universe we have yet to fully fathom. Why would anyone want to live without Him? Isn’t a God who is willing to do that worth serving, worth laying one’s life down for? He certainly is to me.

Image from ptialaska.com

What the creators of this show fail to understand is that every one of us actually can see the patterns, the intricacies of our beautiful world. His handiwork is all around us from the glory and perfect harmony of a coral reef to the amazingly intricate structure of weather patterns. Even our bodies are absolute marvels of creation, yet we take them for granted and refuse to see the hand of God in them!

The sun, moon, and stars. The changing of seasons. Flowers of every shape and color. The symphony of birds’ songs. The scent and flavor of an orange. All of these wonderful experiences are ways in which you and I can perceive and commune with God. There is no need for mathematical analysis or cold abstraction with our heavenly Father, for He has made Himself more than apparent to us if we will only take the time to look.

This truth is what David praised in Psalm 139:

13 For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
14 I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
16 Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.

17 How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.
When I awake, I am still with You.

That is the God who has already touched my life and yours, and He alone is our purpose.

Tell It To My Face(book)

“If writers wrote as carelessly as some people talk, then adhasdh asdglaseuyt[bn[ pasdlgkhasdfasdf.” —Lemony Snicket

This morning, one of my co-workers came into my office where I was happily whittling away on a study guide my company is getting ready to publish. He revealed something to me that was majorly mortifying, altogether atrocious, downright disconcerting, mighty malodorous, and completely calamitous.

I, yes I, had an error on my Facebook page, a horrible (and wickedly ironic) one.

I misspelled my job title.

Not a bad thing if you’re a ornithologist, a sommelier, or a hermeneuticist. All those are incredibly difficult jobs requiring very specific (and I’m guessing non-interchangeable) skill sets. After all, you wouldn’t want a wine steward teaching you about birds, would you? How about a Bible scholar choosing the perfect Merlot to go with your Kobe beef?

I, however, do not hold one of these lofty positions. Oh no.

I’m an editor. Someone who has no excuse when it comes to being able to spell something…particularly the word “editor.” Seeing as I just added another “I” (making it “Editior”), I suppose I can blame it on the incredibly small font or the rapidity with which I double checked everything as I tried to beat the rush and swap over to the timeline format. Whatever the reason, I missed it.

But I digress. What I did isn’t as important as what my co-worker did…more specifically the manner in which he did it.

This guy, let’s call him Norbert to protect what little sliver of privacy he still possesses in this cyber crazy world of ours, who knows what I do for a living, chose not to call me out in the public sphere for my error. Never mind the fact that it was the orthographic equivalent of the Great Wall of China–one of the few man-made structures visible from outer space.

He did not gleefully point it out on my wall. Why? He said he didn’t want to embarrass me, particularly because it was late when he saw it, and he didn’t want it to sit out there all night gathering replies like random dust bunnies. Thanks to him, I didn’t wake up this morning to a self-esteem demolishing bunker buster of a post festooned with a string of LOLz.  Everyone I know—all the way from my former students to the adorable granny I used to take Zumba classes with—would have dog piled on me. Why? Think about it. If there’s something more fun for people than catching a word nerd in a verbal faux pas, I don’t know of it. Except perhaps geocaching; that looks like a fabulous way to spend your spare time.

Instead, dearest Norbert came by my office, messenger bag on shoulder and coffee in hand, looking rather bashful and remonstrating himself (albeit only slightly) for the doleful news he was about to deliver. He did it tactfully in a performance worthy of a Golden Globe for “Best Actor in a Truly Awkward Situation.”

I want to win one for curling…seriously.

He told me, and I performed an Olympic-worthy headdesk (one that merited a 7.5 difficulty level and earned me a 9.0 from the German judge). I then fixed the error and began to ponder not only my own fallibility but also what else there was to be taken from it…spiritually speaking. Because there was a time my pride might never have recovered from such as this.

To my ultimate surprise and delight, there was a lesson for me. I began thinking about his methodology and realized that it was a perfect example of how Christians should correct one another in love.

Matthew 18:15-16 reads:

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED.

Rather than tell two or three people (who might then tell two or three more), he came straight to me. Yes, it was in reference to an extraneous “I” in a word I should have spelled correctly, but the same principal holds true for everything from skipping church to cheating on a spouse or robbing the till. Matters only need to be escalated to those two or three witnesses–not the entire church–if (and only if) the mano-a-mano method fails to produce results.

The same thing holds for Matthew 7:1-5:

Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Believe it or not, I never castigate people for poor grammar or spelling because I have plenty of “planks” in my own eye in this regard. Likewise, none of us are without sin, and we shouldn’t be overly eager to point out the shortcomings of others because we have more than enough of our own to work through with the Lord’s help.

Remember brothers and sisters, we’re here to aid one another rather than tear each other down. Life is hard enough, and we shouldn’t be putting rocks in each other’s spiritual knapsacks as it were. Instead, as the apostle Paul said, we should “encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing” (1 Thess. 5:11).

Gold medal for you, Norbert. Gold medal all the way. 🙂

Love Letters of God

Of all the servants of Jesus Christ, the one with whom I most easily identify is the apostle Paul. He struggled with many of the same issues I face—pride and illness being chief among them—as well as a list of trials as long as my left leg. He went through a series of painful deprivations and punishments I cannot even imagine enduring. However, Paul is the man who also said in Philippians 4:11-12:

I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.

I admire him because he both made statements like these and lived them out. Don’t believe me? Go read Acts 16:25, and you’ll find a man who has been beaten and chained to a wall who, instead of worrying or griping, is praying and singing to God. That is evidence of someone who is content in all circumstances!

Of all his amazing epistles, I believe 2 Corinthians is my favorite. The first reason is because my personal scripture, the one I use when I give my testimony, can be found there (12:7-10). It is the passage that helped me make sense of my disease, what purpose it served, and why God allowed it to happen to me. I feel a kinship with Paul for this reason because I know what it feels like when your body betrays you and you cannot live a “normal life” because of it.

Another reason I love studying this letter to the church is because of its personal nature. More of Paul’s heart is on display here than in any of his other writings. In everything he penned, his encyclopedic knowledge is made apparent, as are his rhetorical and philosophical skills. After all, this man, before being struck blind on the Damascus Road, was a Pharisee, a group of Jews who were highly respected for their learning and were considered to be the best and most accurate explicators of Jewish law.

In Galatians, he patiently and methodically explains why there is no longer a need to rely on the law for salvation, and his soaring language in books like Ephesians makes the spiritual inheritance all believers enjoy as clear and understandable as a one-bowl recipe. However, his work in Romans is his most masterful and still stands as the book of the Bible that Christians use to share the truth of salvation with non-believers (a technique commonly referred to as walking the Romans Road.) However, only in 2 Corinthians does Paul “get personal” and share his feelings and emotions as well as his thoughts.

I must throw a in caveat here. All scripture is inspired by God and given to men like Paul to compose and share with us; however, there is something of the scribes He chose in those works as well. Their diction, the ways they turn a phrase, and other little affectations show that while the truths are certainly God’s, there are flashes of the humans who served as His amanuenses as well.

Finally, Paul was a man who wrote beautifully but was less than impressive when it came to speaking in public, and that’s another reason I identify with him. I, too, am good with a pen and terrible behind a podium (especially when the speaking is extemporaneous!)

Because it is my favorite, I return to 2 Corinthians often for comfort,  to re-read familiar passages when the world seems to be out of whack. While studying it, I am reminded of why I trusted Jesus as my Savior and why I can stand firm on His promises no matter how unsettling my circumstances. Today, I was reading and came across a few verses I’ve read many times before. However, for some reason, it jumped off the page at me. It is 2 Corinthians 3:1-6, the passage in which Paul defends his authority as an apostle and a messenger of Jesus. it reads:

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you? You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

What struck me was the beautiful metaphor in this passage—“You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men.” A letter of commendation was a form of communication written by one individual to another “vouching for” a third person who was unknown to the letter’s recipient. (Yo hear them mentioned often in an Austen novel as “a letter of introduction.”) Essentially, it was a document in which one friend told another, “I know you don’t know this person, but I do. He’s okay; you can trust him.”

Paul is telling the believers at Corinth, “You are proof of my authority. You are a changed people because of the God who I serve. The fact that your hearts were renewed by the Holy Spirit is the only evidence you need to know what I say is right and from God.”

He then goes on and creates an extended metaphor from this original comparison:

  • “You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men”–You are my letter, and all men can look at (“read”) you. They know you have been changed because of the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • “being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us”–You are, in truth, a “letter written by Christ.” It is He who has wrought such a change in your lives, and I, Paul, am but a steward. I care for you, but I am not your author.
  • “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God”–The change in you was not written in permanent ink but with the Holy Spirit. It is His indelible mark on you for all time as a child of God.
  • “not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”–You are His writing surface, and He marks you as permanently and definitively as He once wrote the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone.

That is simply amazing text! However, Paul follows it up with the best part of all. After explaining that his “adequacy is from God,” he explains the difference between the writing surfaces (the stone versus the human heart). When he states, “As servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit,” Paul is indicating we are not bound by the laws he knew so well. None of us is forever a slave to over six hundred laws that could never be perfectly followed and always required sacrifices for atonement. The covenant Jesus established at the Last Supper is the New Covenant, the one for which He was the atoning sacrifice that covered all our sins. This is why he states, “for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

Think about what this means. As Christians, we are walking, talking, breathing, living love letters of God. Each one of us is evidence, a letter of commendation others can read to learn more about Him. That is why our actions and our attitudes are so essential; we represent the Lord in all our daily dealings with the world. That is why one of the last things Jesus taught His disciples is important for us to remember; it is the essential rule we must follow in our role as His missives. In John 15:35-36, Jesus states, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (Emphasis mine).

Friends, we are truly the love letters of God, ones who must always strive to be accurate representations of their Author.

A Little Thing Am I…

I’ve had a poem brewing in my head for some time about the concept of “dying daily” and what it means to empty one’s self of…well…self in order to be a truly useful vessel for Christ while I’m in the world. The reason it’s a struggle for so many Christians is because it’s just darned hard to give up what you believe to be vital, your identity and sense of individuality, especially when the world touts its importance above everything else. However, we are in it as believers, not of it, and more is expected from us.

This is the result of my musings, and there will likely be other drafts to follow. I would truly appreciate any feedback or comments you would like to provide!

Please click on the image below for a full-screen version of the poem, which I have tentatively titled “Self-Actualization.”

 

Both Small And Exceedingly Wise

Whenever you’re at a loss as to what to read in the Bible, I highly suggest the book of Proverbs. It is a thirty-one-chapter collection of Solomon’s wisest aphorisms and insights, many of which are cleverly written and very memorable. I always seem to find something relevant to whatever I’m dealing with when I read them, and I always close the Word of God feeling encouraged.

Today, I came across Proverbs 30 and 31, written by Agur and Lemuel respectively. Some scholars believe they were penned by Solomon and/or Hezekiah, but regardless of the author’s identity, they both remain worthy of study. Chapter 30 is the more abstract and metaphorical of the two and is divided into shorter statements, several of which are “lists.” The one that caught my eye, Proverbs 30:24-28, reads:

Four things are small on the earth, but they are exceedingly wise: The ants are not a strong people, but they prepare their food in the summer. The rock badgers are not mighty people, yet they make their houses in the rocks. The locusts have no king, yet all of them go out in ranks. The lizard you may grasp with the hands, yet it is in kings’ palaces.

On a first read, the surface meaning is easy to see. These animals survive because of their adaptability and their smarts. However, I think there’s some symbolic value regarding the Christian life as well.

The Ants

From what I know of ants (most of which, I’m sad to say, comes from A Bug’s Life), they work as members of a team to harvest food they will use survive the hard months when nothing grows. One ant alone might not be able to gather enough for the time of famine; however, by working together, they provide plenty for all. I see a connection to Christians; we should work together for the greater good here on earth, providing for one another. However, the same can be said of our work for God’s kingdom. Remember, Jesus advises in Matthew 6:19-21:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;  for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The Rock Badgers

With no Disney movie to guide me, I had to ask the all-knowing Google what a rock badger is exactly. Apparently, it’s called a rock hyrax and is a “terrestrial mammal, superficially resembling a guinea pig with short ears and a tail.” They live in little families and forage in groups while one or two stand lookout and warn the rest if predators are coming. If they’re threatened, they all scamper back up to the rocks that cover their nests. In essence, to get at one, a hunter would have to pull apart the side of a mountain. Pretty secure digs!

Wikipedia, the other great source of knowledge on the web, mentioned something I thought rather interesting: “In Israel, the rock hyrax is reportedly rarely preyed upon by terrestrial predators, as their system of sentries and their reliable refuges provide considerable protection. Hyrax remains are almost absent from the droppings of wolves in the Judean Desert.”

Our connection to this animal is even more obvious. As Christians, Jesus Christ is our rock and our strong refuge. Nothing in this world can rob us of our salvation, our eternal life in Him.  Like God did with Moses, He puts us “in the cleft of the rock” and covers us with His hand for our protection and deliverance (Exodus 33:20-23).

The Locusts

Like the ants, locusts aren’t a problem individually. However, get them in a group, and you’ve got trouble. (Just ask the Egyptians!) This passage isn’t telling Christians to descend upon others and eat them out of house and home, but that is something I think we Baptists could manage with little effort. 🙂

What the proverb is saying is that believers were never meant to go it alone in this life. We’re instructed time and time again in the Bible to work as one body, using our spiritual gifts in ways that make light work of anything. We are each blessed with talents God means for us to use in His service, and none of us should ever compare those talents. Some are born to serve, others to lead. Teachers are meant to educate fellow believers to help them better understand God’s Word, and those who have the power to exhort should always encourage others. Healing, prophecy, tongues–the list goes on and on! This is now though no one person (“a king”) leads us,  we “advance in ranks” with Jesus Christ as our leader. Because of that, we can change the world in the power of His name!

The Lizard/Spider

This last one is an interesting translation conundrum. In most versions, it reads “A lizard you may grasp with the hands.” However, in the KJV and NKJV, the text is “The spider skillfully grasps with its hands.” There is even a third translation that lists the animal as something “poisonous,” which lends itself to either animal, though more readily to the spider. All three versions, however, close with “And it is in kings’ palaces.”

Whatever way it is translated, the animal (like the ant, rock badger, and locust) is small and seemingly helpless. However, its size is of no consequence because that is exactly what allows it to dwell in the home of a king. At the risk of sounding like Yoda, “Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you?”

The animals in question here could dwell happily in the palace of a king, often going unnoticed for their entire lives because of their size. In the opulent home of a ruler, they would be protected from the elements, provided with an ample supply of food, and experience less exposure to predators than they would in their natural environment.

Like them, we will dwell in the home of our heavenly Father, but instead of skulking around or weaving webs in corners, we are joint heirs with Jesus, and each room of the heavenly palace is as much ours as it is His. We did nothing to earn our place there, but it is one of the many blessings we are granted because of His great atoning sacrifice on the cross.

Interestingly, these four animals appear to be part of a pattern.

  • Ants–Symbolize our life on earth, our labor and our toil. This pertains to all humans (both saved and unsaved).
  • Rock Badgers–Those of us who know Christ as Savior are like these creatures. As the psalmist said, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1).
  • Locusts–Rather than dwell in our own land, we are meant to go out as a part of the Great Commission and do to so as Christian soldiers.
  • Lizards–We will receive our reward in heaven when our lives are over and dwell in the place Jesus left to prepare for us.

Yes, the Book of Proverbs does offer amazing insight and wisdom, most of which is packed into portions of text so compact they would make IKEA engineers jealous!

Yes, I may be small in comparison to this world and the universe that surrounds it. However, the same God who made it all knows me. The very hairs on my head are numbered by Him, and nothing escapes His notice. Why should I ever be afraid when that great God is with me?

I’d love to hear your favorite Bible passages, be they from Proverbs or another book. Please take a moment and share your thoughts below!