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Saturday, May 29, 2004

Fear and Trembling

I just discovered Amy's blog, and I think that you should visit it. Start with this essay. Anyone who has ever wrestled with God will find that her words resonate within.

I haven't been able to get Amy's essay out of my head. It struck me in particular because I am reading Philip Yancey's excellent Disappointment With God. In it he quotes Herman Melville:

"The reason the mass of men fear God, and at bottom dislike Him, is because they rather distrust His heart, and fancy Him all brain like a watch."

Even the mournful words in the last letter of one of God's apostles carries a hint of this fear at being in the grip of a Creator whose purposes exceed our knowledge:

"For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come."

But the faithful Paul continues:

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing."

It seems that many faithful paths lead to Golgotha. Most of us do not forfeit our lives in one shedding of blood and flesh, rather we forfeit pieces at a time -- for perhaps this is the only way we can bear it -- dying to ourselves a slow death, persevering for a perfection that we cannot attain here and, truth be told, do not really want.

And we wonder, does he hear us? Does the being who set all of this in motion hear our cries and care? Even the man after his own heart wondered this.

"I cried out to God with my voice --
To God with my voice;
And He gave ear to me.
In the day of trouble I sought the Lord;
My hand was stretched out in the night without ceasing;
My soul refused to be comforted.
I remembered God, and was troubled;
I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed."

I read through these psalms as my daughter lay dying. I found anguish to match my own, and hope that for a time I shared, and rejoicing that I could not understand. At some point, I knew I was reading them not just for my own edification, but in order to find something to read at her funeral. I settled on sections of the fortieth psalm, because it captured in one place both our despair and our hope.

"I waited patiently for the Lord;
And He inclined to me,
And heard my cry.
He also brought me up out of a horrible pit,
Out of the miry clay,
And set my feet upon a rock,
And established my steps.
He has put a new song in my mouth --
Praise to our God;
Many will see it and fear,
And will trust in the Lord.

Blessed is that man who makes the Lord his trust,
And does not respect the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies.
Many, O Lord my God, are Your wonderful works
Which You have done;
And Your thoughts toward us
Cannot be recounted to You in order;
If I would declare and speak of them,
They are more than can be numbered.

. . .

I have proclaimed the good news of righteousness
In the great assembly;
Indeed, I do not restrain my lips,
O Lord, You Yourself know.
I have not hidden Your righteousness within my heart;
I have declared Your faithfulness and Your salvation;
I have not concealed Your lovingkindness and Your truth
From the great assembly.

Do not withhold Your tender mercies from me, O Lord;
Let Your lovingkindness and Your truth continually preserve me.
For innumerable evils have surrounded me;
My iniquities have overtaken me, so that I am not able to look up;
They are more than the hairs of my head;
Therefore my heart fails me.

. . .

Let all those who seek You rejoice and be glad in You;
Let such as love Your salvation say continually,
'The Lord be magnified!'
But I am poor and needy;
Yet the Lord thinks upon me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
Do not delay, O my God."

Hope and fear, rejoicing and trembling. For some reason these contrary emotions are bound up together in our experience with this Creator.

posted by Woodlief | link | (4) comments

Monday, May 24, 2004


So the wife is going to have a baby boy. Caleb knew she was pregnant before we did; one day rubbed her flat stomach and asked, "When are you going to have that baby in your belly?" Another embarrassing trip to CVS later, and we had our answer, namely that this year we are going to finally be outnumbered in our own house, and that the ringleader is destined to be either a psychic or an obstetrician.

But this was only part of our answer, because as regular readers can well understand, we were hoping to have a little girl again. There were some tears when a recent sonogram showed another little boy, and guilt over shedding the tears. We spent the following weekend watching the boys play in the back yard, and being reminded of the sweetness that underlies their sweat and lunacy. Any child is a blessing, even though we had different plans, even though we bought a little pink dress because we were so sure this one was a girl, even though we had chosen her name.

Any child is a blessing, we know this when they look up at us in their delicate, vulnerable state and see us as their world, a response out of all proportion to anything we deserve. And for a time they are ours, and it is an interlude filled with love and sacrifice and frustration that we wouldn't trade for anything. Those little boys are precious, and I'm glad to add another to their number.

Now there is the matter of the naming. We started a trend, or rather Caroline did, when she told us she wanted the brother she wouldn't see to be named Stephen. We liked the name "Caleb," and so he became Stephen Caleb. The next one was Timothy Eli, the first name to honor the wife's dead father, the second because we liked it. Two boys with a New Testament, Old Testament name, each called by the second one (though Caleb often gets called "Stephen" when he is in trouble, which is probably less than prudence dictates, but more than he would prefer). We feel a bit like those parents whose first names begin with the same letter, and who think it will be cute to give each of their children a name beginning with that letter as well. At some point it isn't so cute, but you're locked in.

We may break bold new ground, however -- very bold, if Caleb has his way. "What should we name your new little brother?" I asked him yesterday.

"Hmm," he replied. "I think Isaac, or Fluffy."

Isaac Fluffy Woodlief.

We may have to get Caleb a rabbit, or perhaps a kitten. He is stubborn and persistent enough to have this new one answering to "Fluffy," if he sets his mind to it. Sometimes good parenting consists of channeling natural childhood inclinations into the right places.

Come to think of it, that's probably true for all of us.

posted by Woodlief | link | (18) comments