It was 1969 and at the end of a mixed bag of a decade. As an adolescent in the midst of her 13th year, I was acutely aware of what was going on around me—the Vietnam War was still in process, two Kennedy brothers, Martin Luther King, Jr., and a number of others involved in the civil rights movement in one form or another had been killed. Still in the midst of the “Cold War,” we were less than a decade past a time when school kids wore dogtags and regularly went through drills where they crouched under desks or with their heads between their knees. Age 30 was a line of demarcation. If over 30, many people thought those under were irresponsible, lascivious, out of control. If under 30, many thought those over were rigid, oppressive, too in control. Yet, in the midst of it all, we’d actually sent some guys off into space and landed them on the moon! Very involved in the organized church in my small town of Cordele, Georgia, I became aware of another battle raging, one which emanated from the venerated Emory University, not two hours driving away from my home. A professor had said God was dead and the literal minded (I said literal, not liberal, mind you), similarly to today, had a metaphorical heart attack.
I was already questioning spiritual things by that point—the fact that inside church we were singing, “Jesus loves the little children of the world,” and outside church the same people were clearly saying, “But we don’t.” And then I’d read for myself that Jesus talked about loving our neighbors and turning the other cheek, and had even repaired the ear of a soldier cut off by Peter, who’d grabbed a sword from somewhere and lopped it off. Yet at the same time, it was somehow God’s will that we send young men just a few years older than I was halfway around the world to kill the Communists?
For Christmas that year, my sister gave me a little book of poetry and prose she’d bought for me at her college bookstore. It was a small book in size, but there was nothing small about the messages inside. In fact, this little book provided for me the feeling I wasn’t alone in considering the possibility that none of us knows or can know the “whole truth,” and that skepticism and curiosity about contradictions only strengthens, matures, refines one’s faith. To this day, I keep the book close by. It isn’t as difficult as it used to be, because almost 40 years later, I was given the pleasure of republishing the little book by Dr. Lois Cheney, the woman who’d written the gems inside. One of my early favorites is now a favorite again.
How does God’s truth prevail?
A large chunk of truth was placed right in the midst of men by the Almighty God. And people saw it and were awed by it, and were humbled by it. They walked around and around it, looking at it, gazing at it, and loving it. Then they got organized.
First, they posted a guard over it, while others built a fortress for it. That was o.k. for a while. Then they decided to do more with it. So they sent in five wise, devout men to study it. They stayed in there a long, long time. Then strange and quarrelsome noises began to come from within the fortress, and out stalked the five men, red-faced and very angry, each with a large packet of papers under his arm. They walked off in five different directions reading loudly from their papers, which said what the chunk of truth really meant. People scurried around, first listening to one and then another, and finally they grabbed up all their belongings and followed after the one they liked the best. And they built little camps about a mile away and studied the pages of their chosen leader, which told them what the truth really meant.
Things would be calm for a while, then from first one camp and then another, would come sounds of angry voices and scuffling. And you’d see several people jump up and walk off in different directions with fresh packets of paper under their arms, that explained what the truth really meant. Again, little clusters of people would follow, and they’d establish fresh camps about a mile further off. This went on and on.
Soon there were many, many camps for miles and miles in all directions, each with its packet of papers, explaining how the truth really was. Sometimes they would argue and debate which of them was closer to the ancient fortress. Sometimes there’d be awful fights between camps, and the camp that won would proudly enlarge its scope of what truth really meant, and pride themselves on expanding and perpetuating the real truth. Sometimes camps would combine their packets of paper. Sometimes some people would get weary with the whole thing, and go off without any papers at all. They’d establish camps where the land was good or the water was plentiful or some other reason than setting up a camp around some silly papers.
Every once in a while would come a wanderer, usually all alone. The wanderer would roam through the camps or skirt them, and would wind up coming right up to the neglected and overgrown fortress, and walk right in and stare at the real chunk of truth. The wanderer would gaze and gaze at it, and pick it up and handle it, and stroke it, and start strutting all over the place, glowing and carrying on, and generally throwing camps into confusion. The wanderer would do all sorts of old-fashioned things in old-fashioned ways, grinning and humming all the while.
And that’s how God’s truth prevails.
Which one of these people are you? Are you waiting for the same thing I am?