“The lights drifted farther away the faster he ran and his feet moved numbly as if they carried him nowhere. The tide of darkness seemed to sweep him back to her, postponing from moment to moment his entry into the world of guilt and sorrow.”
-Flannery O’Connor, “Everything That Rises Must Converge”
On the mountains at the farthest border of the world,
snow-capped and calling,
I felt my way to the thin line of the edge
and looked down into outer space
where I could see the winds of stars fall asleep
below my scarlet knuckles
as the northern lights, with their tin flame of foil fire,
green and white diamond, filmed the midnight sky.
They told stories like my father,
full of heroes and the beauties they fought for,
as every scene of laughter and of sorrow,
played at once along the measures of their gleaming.
Then I balled a few rags of snow in my grasp
and clenched them hard enough for the cold to slide
into my chest and crack my pounding heart alive
as I rose to my feet and steadied my shaking lungs.
I remember those tales well,
my father sitting by my bedside, holding
oceans and sailing ships with the strength of
his love for me.
And I would follow him anywhere,
through the forestry of childhood,
keeping close to his heels as he
showed me where to go,
well into the iron winters of adulthood
as my stride slowly grew stronger, and
he taught me how to breathe
the mountain air of becoming a father.
For now, as I stand at the peak of this universe,
filled with ice and the sweep of shooting stars,
I turn and see the faces of my own children and my beautiful wife,
looking to me with the smiles of home,
and I know it is time to tell my own stories,
to hold their hands and lead them onward
as they keep close to my heels, and I show them
where to go.
Perhaps no writer in the 20th century was better capable of sharing the “shiver of wonder” and the glorious taste of the gospel than C.S. Lewis. Throughout his life, Lewis reveled in the truth and beauty of God, passionately chasing the eternal ache and longing he felt for the joy and ultimate satisfaction found only in Jesus Christ.
Taking the journey one chapter at a time, this new podcast delves into the deeper magic of Lewis’s famous Narnia stories, inviting you to go further up and further in to savor the glimpses of Jesus that lie just on the other side of the wardrobe.
You can listen to Episode 1 – Introduction right here:
One of the most common arguments (though often fired off as an accusation) that Christians hear against the notion of a good and loving God is that such a God, were he truly good and loving, would not send good and loving people to a realm of eternal punishment. How could such a kind and gracious God possibly damn someone to hell? Doesn’t he love everyone?
And so the line of interrogation goes, scores of skeptics placing God in the dock, wagging their finger at such a ferociously tyrannical deity who demands our affection or else. I mean, who does God think He is anyway? Sure, Stalin ought to be doomed to hell, but not Stephanie. God should certainly punish Hitler, but not Henry.
While much has been said on the subject – books upon books from each side, debates and Facebook tirades ad infinitum – a particular series of events in Genesis provides a helpful center for the compass. In Genesis 12-17 God reveals Himself to Abraham and calls him, famously, to become the father of many generations. Father Abraham had many sons, and many sons had Father Abraham…
In Genesis 18, the LORD appears to Abraham (likely one of many Christophanies) accompanied by two angels and declares His intentions to destroy the wicked city of Sodom. What follows is the remarkable discourse in which Abraham bargains with the LORD to spare the city for the sake of 50 righteous people, then 45, 40, 30, 20, and finally 10. Notice, however, Abraham’s original complaint:
“Then Abraham drew near and said, ‘Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be it from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?'” (Gen. 18:23-25, ESV, emphasis added)
Though Abraham’s trust in the LORD and his intimate relationship with Him has been established (Gen. 15:6, 18:22-23), he still takes it upon himself in interceding for Sodom to question God’s intentions. How could God “sweep away the righteous with the wicked”? How could He allow the “righteous [to] fare as the wicked”? In essence, how could God’s punishment for the bad include the good? How could a loving God allow damnation to come to the innocent? Shall not the Judge do what is just? Shall not the loving God (I John 4:8) do what is loving?
We might very well be tempted to respond like Abraham did: “Far be it from You!”
Yet, God’s response to Abraham is revealing. He yields. He accepts Abraham’s plea to spare 50 righteous from the city, and the story does not stop there. Abraham progressively whittles the number from 50 down to 10, hoping to maintain God’s good favor in sparing the righteous. And God continues to accept. What is the point?
God’s lesson for Abraham – and for us – is the same as His lesson throughout Scripture:
There is none righteous, no, not one (Rom. 3:23).
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).
If God should mark iniquities, who could stand? (Ps. 130:3).
We are dead in our trespasses (Eph. 2:1).
Death has spread to all men because all have sinned (Rom. 5:12).
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way (Is. 53:6).
The problem with Abraham’s petition for the LORD to spare the righteous is not in the sincerity of his prayer, or in his trusting in the LORD to do what is right, but strictly in his definition of a righteous man. Apart from God, there is no such thing as a righteous person to be spared. While God’s agreement with Abraham to save the righteous is certain – He will save a remnant from the corrupt city – it will not be because they are righteous. They will become righteous because God has saved them.
We see this played out in the following chapter. In Genesis 19 God’s angels enter Sodom to save Lot and his family from the destruction that is sure to come:
“As morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, ‘Up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city.’ But he lingered. So the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the LORD being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city.” (Gen. 19:15-16, ESV, emphasis added)
This is the cornerstone of God’s work in salvation. It is not God’s offering to save good people so that they may become great people, nor is it God’s accepting of our good merits and our noble desires to be saved. God resurrects the dead (Eph. 2). God causes light to shine out of darkness (II Cor. 4). God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, wholeheartedly obsessed with our sinfulness and in utter rebellion toward God, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).
God did not save Lot because he desired to be saved. Like all of us before we are saved by grace, Lot lingered in the city. He longed to remain in wickedness, not to escape it. He desired Sodom, even above the pressing urgency of angels. Lot’s salvation, and the salvation of his house, came not by his drawing near to God but by the seizing grip of God’s mercy. God came down to save us; He did not accept us as we climbed to Him. All of the initiative is on God’s side. He must seize us, for without it, we will forever linger.
This story is not one of an arbitrary, capricious God, smiting away with the Louisville slugger of holiness, but one of judgment and mercy, dual characteristics of the Almighty God. Abraham was right: the Judge of all the earth shall do what is just. Sin and rebellion shall be punished. Yet, Abraham also saw the merciful Father, extending a gracious hand to save Lot and his family when they had done nothing to deserve or desire it:
“So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived.” (Gen. 19:29, ESV, emphasis added)
God justly destroyed the wickedness of Sodom. God mercifully spared a remnant, not for their righteousness but for His own. God remembered Abraham’s intercessory prayer and set Lot apart from the city of doom.
The question is not how a good and loving God can punish good people; there are none apart from His grace. The question is how a righteous and holy God could save the Lots who linger.
May we rejoice and be glad, filled with the truth that He “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14).
I read another reviewer who labeled this perhaps the most important book Wilson has written, and I am more than happy to throw my support behind such high praise.
I am an ardent fan of Wilson’s and have read several of his books; Empires of Dirt, however, is one of the greatest, timeliest, and most extraordinary of his expressions to date. His grasp of America’s present ills is sure, and his biblical, postmillennial, optimistic vision of mere Christendom a delicious remedy.
Wilson argues for the engagement of all Christians in reclaiming the world for King Jesus, affirming that, as I once heard Wilson quip, if Christ is not Lord of all, then He is not Lord at all.
This book is simply magnificent, though if you are new to Wilson’s style, I would recommend you start with Angels in the Architecture or Rules for Reformers first.
To expand on the poetry I have published here over the last year or so, I thought it would be fun to record readings of some of my favorite pieces from The Cardinal Turns the Corneras well as to introduce newer pieces I have written.
In addition to these readings, I’d like to provide some commentary, background, and/or explanatory notes that situate each poem in whatever experience, memory, or mood inspired it. No writer writes in a vacuum; we are always influenced by something (usually a thousand somethings). 🙂 So, here is Poem Audio #1.
The two poems discussed in this recording are “Falling in Love” from TCTTC and a new piece “Paper Plates.” Each poem has been reprinted below the audio file for those who wish to read along. Enjoy!
“Falling in Love”
The other night I stood for half an hour
Between the night sky and the butterfly wings of sleep,
Trying to count how many times I’ve fallen in love with you.
The streetlights filled our window while you slept,
But all I could do was wander around the room, hands folded,
The wind stirring the leaves on the pavement outside.
For years I have looked beneath the rocks in the river,
Inspected the wrists of jazz drummers
And the breath of blue roses for the full moon.
I have unlaced the fog in the morning
And swept the brushstrokes of dew on the ground
To find the words for our love,
And the candles at every step of our memory,
Lighted by the words we’ve spoken,
They are becoming forest fires.
In my hands are a dozen marbles. When I hold them up to you
To show the colors of my love, the sound of their scattering
On the floor tells me to try again.
And I try again every time,
Finding you over and over in the corner of my eye,
Smiling like the day we first met.
So I stayed awake that night, wondering how
I might manage to hold all this love
When all along it lay quietly in the way our fingers touch when we watch movies,
Your knees bent beneath the blanket,
The hours drifting away like snow.
I’m trying to remember how long we’ve eaten on paper plates,
Cheap napkins with printed lilacs,
Both of us bending the tines of plastic forks
As we slowly keep from speaking.
When did we become so still, so suddenly motionless,
Twin marble statues stuck beneath the weight of water,
Staring in the distance past each other’s ocean shadow?
How did the sunlight in our voices
Fade into the night, our fingers numb
As blackened matches, our gazes turned to separate walls?
There must have been a moment when we accidentally said our last words,
When the sugar in our breath slid deep into our memory,