William Blake and the God of Good Marriages

wedding-ringsWilliam Blake (1757-1827) was a world-class poet and artist in England whose deceptively simple verses, though they did not resonate loudly in his own time, have served in recent years as shining examples of Romantic poetry in Britain during the time of the French Revolution right across the channel. Two particular publications of his, Songs of Innocence (1789) and Songs of Experience (1794), represent what he termed the “contrary states of the human soul”, that is, the divide between the light and the dark that permeates each human heart. Blake was fascinated with the transition from innocence to experience, that elusive process of shedding childhood and donning adulthood, of seeing the sunlight of day set into the mystery of night.

For Blake, something seemed inevitably lost in the move from purity to worldly knowledge. In his poetry, he often ponders the divine, pure, and perhaps even godly innocence of a child and its painful peeling away as he or she becomes more sophisticated, cultured, educated, and experienced. He considers the grinding corrosiveness of city life (as it was flooded by scores of people drawn to the burgeoning, industrialized London) in stark contrast to the Edenic majesty of the countryside; it was a reminder to him of the unfortunate degeneration of aging against the lily-white innocence of a wild childhood in the fields. In short, Blake fixed his focus on the corrupting influence that growing up seems to have on the human experience.

So it is without wonder that one of his short pieces titled “My Pretty Rose Tree” exposes Blake’s nervousness and fear towards marriage as the poem examines the speaker’s attempt to preserve its sanctity and unity. Here’s the text:

A flower was offer’d to me,

Such a flower as May never bore;

But I said “I’ve a Pretty Rose-tree,”

And I passed the sweet flower o’er.


Then I went to my Pretty Rose-tree,

To tend her by day and by night;

But my Rose turn’d away with jealousy,

And her thorns were my only delight.

The poem is rather simple: the speaker resists the temptation to abandon his wife for another woman only to discover his wife turning away from him out of jealousy, leaving him in a state of despondency and loneliness.

Blake accomplishes many things in the course of this brief verse. It’s notable his central setting is the pastoral landscape (a favorite for Blake) in which discussions of innocence averting temptation take on symbolic meaning through flowers and rose-trees. One can even see the primal example of sinful enticement from the serpent in Genesis 3 evoked in the sweetness of the offered flower.

But the full power of the poem is its ironic turn in line 7. The reader seems to expect the speaker will be rewarded for his fidelity, that the Rose-tree will embrace her champion for resisting the lure. Yet, that is not Blake’s aim, and that is not his conclusion. So what are we to make of this sorrowful ending? What is Blake getting at?

The lonely, dejected condition of the speaker in the final line is a result of his attempt to create a good marriage on his own merits. He desires acceptance, praise, and devotion from his “Rose-tree” for having courageously and adamantly refused a sinful offer. Look how good I am at resisting temptation, he seems to say as he returns to his tree to “tend her by day and by night.” I have been so careful, so loyal, so good.

Such conceit and self-assurance, however, is not what produces strong, faithful marriages. No husband can hope to serve his wife and tend her well if he is looking to his own strength and grit-teeth commitment for validation. The problem of Blake’s poem – why does the rose-tree reject the speaker when he decidedly “passed the flower o’er”? – cannot be answered by human effort. Only God can bind a man and a woman together. It is not within human reason, imagination, will, or power to create or sustain a marriage. Only God can forge the two to become one flesh, and “what God has joined together, let no man tear asunder.”

So Blake’s poem concludes on a painfully tinny, ringing chord, unresolved. The speaker who had hoped his good work had earned a happy marriage is left confused, alone, and nestled knee-deep in thorns, and I cannot help but wonder how many of our marriages end on the same sour note. But I did everything I was supposed to do, the wife mutters. But I never cheated on her, not even once, the husband rants. I followed all the rules, did everything right, cooked and cleaned, provided for and protected…Why is my marriage in such ruins?

The quiet answer to these questions lies only in the God of good marriages. He is the author of all things good. God is Love, and our expressions of love to each other can only be completed in and through His indefinable grace. We cannot earn a good marriage. We can only look to Christ as the center of all things and pray He sustains our union through both the sorrows and the splendor. Remember, we may have excitedly slid rings on each other’s fingers, but only God can keep them there.

The Master of My Peace Calls Me His Masterpiece

I’d like to introduce my guest writer for this post. Will Yancey is a former student of mine, and he revisited our school this week with a powerful zeal and passion for Christ quite visible on his face. This contagious energy for the work of the Lord is a great testimony to Will’s growing faith, but an even greater testimony lies in his even writing this post. Will would be the first to admit that he never really liked to write; yet, here we are. May you be encouraged as you read the Spirit-saturated words of this incredible young man.

A_Painter,_oil_on_mahogany_painting_by_Ernest_Meissonier,_1855The day was cold, dark, and rainy, one of those days that all you want to do is snuggle up with the ones whom your heart adores, build a crackling fire, and press your lips to a hot mug with even hotter joe inside. See, it all seems so perfect, so picturesque, a moment with good friends, good family, beautiful places, and the best memories. You see it on social media all the time, and you desire nothing more than to experience the abundance that you see in others’ lives. All of this is perfect, but then you come to see you are alone. You are not sitting in the Colorado Mountains. You are not gathered around a warm, crackling fire. You do not have friends over, and your family seems more disconnected than ever. No, none of these things are happening. You just sit quietly alone, slowly and mindlessly scrolling through your phone, looking at everyone else’s “perfect” little lives. It hurts. You feel as though your life will never measure up to the standard of the latest Instagram celebrity. You will never go on an adventure quite like theirs. You will never be able to do yoga quite like that girl we all seem to know. And you certainly will never be as beautiful or handsome as that girl or boy who just received 100,000 likes on their latest post. What happens next? You look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself a lie. “I will never be any of these things; therefore, I will never be good.”


So, my question is this: When the world presents a grand horizon of possibilities, why do we feel as though we will never reach any of them? Why do we believe the lies whispered to us everyday? I will tell you why. You and I live in a dark, broken world corrupted by sin and darkness. A world where the deceiver will get you to believe everything except the truth you deserve to hear. As apologist and theologian Ravi Zacharias says, “The truth is the most valuable thing in the world, often so valuable it is guarded by a body of lies.” Like I just said, lies are constantly being fed to you, but in the midst of  the lies, our Lord has already laid right before your eyes an everlasting truth that utterly declares how beautiful you have already been made. In Ephesians 2:10 the Lord announces His glory by laying out exactly how He sees you and how he intends you to see yourself. The verse declares, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus , so we can do good things he planned for us long ago.”

Take a minute.


Rest in that truth and soak it all in.

No matter what you have been told in the past, you are a masterpiece. How relieving is that truth? That we do not have to carry around the burden and the question of “Am I good enough?” We just get to live in the truth that my Father told me: “I’m a masterpiece.” There is no longer a question, but only a truth. So, here is my challenge to you. Live in that freedom every single day for the rest of your life, even if you have to sit and constantly remind yourself of the truth moment after moment after moment after moment. Though the enemy may feed you lies, the best defense against lies is telling them the truth. The truth will set you free. Truth abounds, and it will always be victorious because our Creator is truth.

Just as a boy has to pursue the heart of a damsel who longs to have her heart fought for, so is the way of the Lord in the pursuit of your love towards Him. Unlike the damsel, who shows strength and beauty when she does not quickly give her heart, the Lord desires we give our whole being away for His name sake. What a beautiful picture of love. Our Father will pursue our hearts for all of eternity purely so we can drown ourselves in His fullness. I beg you, live in His freedom today. Do not wait one moment longer to cry out to Him and give yourself away for His name. Oh, and about Instagram, that lie that your life will never add up to those things. Well, you hold the destiny for the quality of life you live in your hands. Go outside. Build a fire. Call everyone you know. Brew some coffee. Tell your family to put their phones away and challenge them to gather together before the Lord. Make memories. Who’s stopping you other than yourself? Adventure awaits you everywhere you go when living life with the Lord. Go outside. Breathe the fresh air and praise the Lord for his goodness, even if you are in the most worthless part of town. You do not have to hike the Appalachian trail with a GoPro to experience adventure. It is in your back yard. It is the closest river or the tree at Grandma’s. Learn yoga and laugh at yourself when you fall over! Who cares if you cannot look like a scorpion. YOU ARE A HUMAN BEING, NOT A SCORPION! Oh, and next time you see that picture of the Instagram celebrity, you look at the picture and you say, “Wow what a beautiful person. God, thank you for making me in Your image just like You did this person.” Then, you go to Him in praise that you are a masterpiece. Never, ever forget the truth. It will change your life.

“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'” -John 8:31-32

Created to Create

The following is an article I wrote on creativity in writing and Christian education originally published on Landmark Christian School’s blog.

old typewriter (focus on text)In Ephesians 5:1, Paul instructs his fellow believers to “be imitators of God as dearly loved children.” Therefore, as followers of Christ and His Word, our first duty in following this command must be to determine, “Well, what is God like?” In opening the Bible, then, to discover the character of God through His revelation in Scripture, we should note the first description we stumble upon: “In the beginning, God created…”

The human capacity for creativity, wonder, and imagination is not only a gift from God to bring Him glory through wholehearted expression and majestic praise but also a mandate; just as the Creator was creative in the design of all things, so must His creation be creative as a way of magnifying Christ through imitating God. When God fashioned Adam from little turrets of dirt and the swirling breath of life, He was not merely stirring human history into existence; He was training us in the way we should perpetuate human history. God, the Grand Storyteller, taught His characters how to tell stories. God revealed the essence of His divinity by sparking divinity in our first family and threading that divinity through thousands of years of plot. When we thus breathe life into the skin of our own protagonists and bid them walk among us in our fictions, when we strain courageously to perfect our poetic effort, when we sing glorious harmonies of praise in reverberating cathedrals, we come as close to the wild invention of God as our finitude allows. We press toward godliness. We imitate God.

This truth is compounded as Paul exhorts us in another letter that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Eph. 2:10). It is notable that the Greek word rendered as “workmanship” here in Ephesians is poiema, from which we can clearly see our English word poem. So, we are, quite truly, the poetry of God, created in the loving care of a master wordsmith. We are a robust, abundant, vibrant kaleidoscope of God’s artistic pleasure, penned with brilliant passion, and when He “saw all that He had made, [He declared] it was very good” (Gen. 1:31, emphasis added).

So, since the poetry and creativity of God is rich and imaginative, we must see that the education of our next generation is not simply a means of hardwiring them for social contribution but a full-throated movement to awaken their wonder, to intensify their desire for truth, goodness, and beauty and, from that desire, to pursue creatively the worship of a glorious God. We must train our students to express themselves well, to write with passion and authority, but, more importantly, we must teach them to approach their individual calling, whatever it may be, with godly creativity – that, whatever they do, they do it with all their heart unto the Lord (Col. 3:23). We cannot be in the business of piling young people onto the conveyer belt to college, cookie-cutting them into monochrome caricatures of human beings. They are the living, breathing poetry of God, descendants of the very dust and bone of Eden, with voices and diverse passions. By teaching them to think creatively not only in a Creative Writing elective but also in math, science, physical fitness, history, and athletics, we are raising them to imitate God in all His multifaceted character.

As educators, we recognize not every student is called to a writing career. However, the world needs businessmen and bakers, mechanics and managers, and my prayer is that we provide it with Christian graduates that, like Daniel, rise to the top of their field for the excellent spirit within them. But the world certainly cannot bear the weight of any more graduates who shuffle through life bored and half-asleep. As Douglas Wilson once quipped, we cannot live in a world where “the bland lead the bland.” Creative thinking and creative writing are essential tools not only to our scholarship but to our souls. Creativity is the signature of God on the well-rounded human being, fully equipped to navigate a broken and creaking world with the fire of a full imagination.

May we all learn to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8). May we raise (and be) a generation that sees the glory of God in all things, that creatively expresses His praise in every word with plenty of color and sonorous splendor. May we truly absorb the words of John Piper:

 “[W]hen a person speaks or writes or sings or paints about breathtaking truth in a boring way, it is probably a sin. The supremacy of God in the life of the mind is not honored when God and his amazing world are observed truly, analyzed duly, and communicated boringly. Imagination is the key to killing boredom. We must imagine ways to say truth for what it really is. And it is not boring. God’s world – all of it – rings with wonders. The imagination calls up new words, new images, new analogies, new metaphors, new illustrations, new connections to say old, glorious truth. Imagination is the faculty of the mind that God has given us to make the communication of his beauty beautiful.”

The Past Tense in Our Present Time

cross-shadow-kerepesiAs an English teacher, I often instruct my students to discuss the characters and actions in whatever work we are studying by using the present tense. For instance, Hamlet contemplates death as he faces Yorick’s empty skull, Beowulf aspires toward a sense of eternal glory as he wrenches Grendel’s arm off, and Gatsby stretches ever farther for that ephemeral green light on Daisy’s dock. I remind them that the literary present tense preserves the immediacy and continuous action of the narrative upon each individual reading; these characters, in a sense, are always contemplating, aspiring, stretching every time we open the book.

By extension, we often consider ourselves to be winding our way through an eternal present; even now, I am typing, and you are reading. We seem to be quite smitten by the present tense. As American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow put it:

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,

Is our destined end or way;

But to act, that each to-morrow

Find us farther than to-day

We seem to believe that our present action is the fulcrum on which our entire life is balanced, and, in a way, this is true; our choices have consequences, and our actions have reactions.

Yet, perhaps even more true is the asphalt-solid reality of the past tense. What if we must look to the past for that fulcrum? What if our most important reality is behind us?

Throughout the New Testament, God calls us to live a life of calm assurance and steady footing based not on our present circumstances or the sheer potency of our daily choices but on the power of a work He has already accomplished. In II Corinthians, Paul discusses the transformative power of salvation, concluding:

All this is from God, who through Christ has reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation […] We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (II Cor. 5:18, 20-21).

Notice the verbs. Christ “has reconciled” (past tense) us to himself, and, on that basis, we must “be reconciled” (present tense) to God. What God has done allows us to be what we must be. He made (past) him to be sin, so that in him we might become (present) the righteousness of God.

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul makes a similar case:

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (Col. 1:21-22).

The reconciliation necessary to make us worthy of welcome into God’s family has already happened. “Take heart,” Jesus says, “for I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). He is the LORD, and He has done it. For all your anguish, your waiting, your grieving, your anxiety, your frustration, your tedious repetition, your feelings of insignificance, your worry, and your regret, God has assured you that He has made all things new. He has reconciled us to Him; He has fought the good fight; He has defeated death and all of his friends.

There is no more glorious truth than the triumphant whisper on our Savior’s lips: “It is finished.”

Therefore, be reconciled to Him. Align your heart to the truth that has already been accomplished. He has reconciled the world to himself, so be reconciled! Trust the King; He is good! Be done with your nail-biting, your heavy shoulders, your saddened eyes. Sin is unraveling, and the glory of the LORD is filling every pore of this universe. Everything sad is coming untrue.

Rejoice evermore.