I was asked this morning whether I had any aches and pains by the Healing on the Streets team. I did a quick mental journey around the body and could come up with nothing. It occurred to me then that my aches and pains are not physical ones but ones of the heart and the mind. My troubles were not external ones, but internal.
Years ago, two of the members of the Scripture Union group that met at lunchtime at school asked me if there was a way where they didn’t have to read the set texts for English. I can’t remember the offending book, but they did not want to read it. It wasn’t wholesome. There might have been swear words in them. I have always held that we should not hide away from unpleasant things. Things that confront our faith, or mock it, are not things we ought to run from. We need to look at them squarely in the face and call them out. Thinking that faith will buckle beneath things that mock or ridicule what we hold sacred it to have a poor understanding of just who we have faith in. I may have said something along those lines, or I may have told them to talk to their English teacher about the issue. The might be alternative books they could read.
Lately I have found myself in that same situation, having to read a book I’d rather not have to read. Set books, books chosen because they exemplify a specific writing device, is part and parcel of the creative writing degree I am doing. It’s not a Christian creative writing degree course so the books are not chosen to build my faith. All the choices given me are not books I would choose to read. Perhaps I’d start to read but if the characters or the plot become unpleasant, I usually stop reading. I have an essay to write, an analysis of the structure and techniques used by the author. Not reading the book is not an option.
I made my choice and read the book. I didn’t enjoy the book. There seemed to be no characters that I sympathised with. I wasn’t cheering anyone on. The plot left a bad taste in my mouth. When I came to the end of the book, it was with a sigh of relief that it was over. There was no wish to leaf back and read favourite bits because here weren’t any.
Words spoken, words written, words read silently or out loud – words are powerful things. They are creative. They are destructive. The right ones can heal. The wrong ones can destroy. String them together and tell a story and the words seep into the soul.
This week there have been no giants felled or strongholds demolished. I have not lived up to being “more than a conqueror”. I haven’t particularly been conquered either. It has not been an easy week. I have been quite grouchy and for no good reason. Oh, well, there’s the whole thing about the new bus timetable but let’s not go there.
I think it’s the book. It’s a kind of slow poison that has crept off the page and lodged somewhere in my soul, like a stain.
I read Genesis 1:31 in an afternoon quiet time.
Even before I had reached the end of the sentence, I saw myself standing before the word with arms crossed over, perhaps tapping a foot lightly, saying, “Yes, but it isn’t, is it?” All that He has made isn’t very good at all. I did not quite tick off all the ills of the world on my fingers, but it was there – the list.
Then I imagined God, off His throne, storming towards me. He was in my face, punctuating every word with a pause, “I saw all that I had made, and it was very good.” This was not a prelude to a debate It was a this-is-what-it-says-and-what-it-says-is-what-it-is. I kind of saw myself marching out of throne room and slamming the door. If I had a room that’s where I was headed slamming that door too.
“The problem,” said God, standing outside the door I had just mentally slammed, “is not with the word. It’s with you. You have gone sour!”
As a species we have a natural character flaw to pick fault and see the worst in things. Maybe I’m doing the human species a disservice and it’s just me. The papers are full of the not so very good stuff that people do. My ability to see what is good is always under attack. Perhaps there is wisdom in not reading certain stuff like newspapers – but that is hiding, and faith hates to hide.
“Come on out,” said God, “Le Me wet-wipe your inner lens and wipe away all the stuff that has accumulated, all that stands in the way of you seeing clearly.
God wants me to look at His world and echo His words that it is “very good” because it is. It’s not about pretending that it’s not damaged, but about having and using His gift to see beneath the damage, to see the beauty that is there.