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Christian Biblical Studies
Scripture citations are to the NIV-UK,
unless stated otherwise.
Most of us live in a ‘hard world’ – an environment composed largely of concrete, the ubiquitous building material. Our planet has been paved over and built upon to a degree the Romans, greatly skilled in concrete works, could not have imagined.
The historian Eric Hobsbaum refers to the ‘long nineteenth century’, which ran from 1789 to 1914. [note 1] Straddling as it did parts of three centuries, this turbulent period began with the French Revolution and ended with the start of the First World War, an era of deep change in the social, political, and industrial landscape, the effects of which have shaped today’s world. In historical terms the transformation of the western world from agrarian to urban occurred rapidly. Today, China accounts for more than half of the world’s output of concrete, from the Three Gorges Dam to skyscraper cities, multi-level motorways and rail beds for high-speed trains. According to an article in Forbes Magazine (Dec. 5, 2014), China poured more concrete in three years than the U.S. had in the preceding one hundred. [note 2]
The View from Above
In Britain the migrations and settlements of human history are embedded in earth’s landscape. From the air you can read well-worn footpaths, village smithy, the cottage – hundreds of habitations that have ceased to be and are invisible at ground level; whole streets of houses that fell into the sea when the cliff collapsed; the village square that was demolished to allow the owner of a rich estate to expand his garden.
Hollow ways – also called ‘sunken’ roads or lanes – are gullys, usually the result of erosion by water or foot traffic (human or animal), over decades of use, perhaps ‘short cuts’ through field or woods. Some are relatively shallow; others high-sided, deep and narrow. Such features are common to the Bocage landscapes of NW and central France, the Netherlands, Germany and Britain.
Such natural alleys have been exploited for military purposes. For example, in the American Civil War (1861-1865) at the Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia (Dec. 13, 1862); and, most notably, the earlier Battle of Antietam (pron. Anteetam), Sharpsburg, in Maryland (Sept., 1862). This account from the National Park Service gives the gist of this important engagement:
‘The Sunken Road, as it was known to area residents prior to the Battle of Antietam, was a dirt farm lane which was used primarily by farmers to bypass Sharpsburg and been worn down over the years by rain and wagon traffic. On September 17, 1862, Confederate Maj. Gen. Daniel Harvey Hill placed his division of approximately 2,600 men along the road, piled fence rails on the embankment to further strengthen the position and waited for the advance of the Union army. As Federal troops moved to reinforce the fighting in the West Woods, Union Maj. Gen. William H. French and his 5,500 men veered south, towards Hill’s position along the Sunken Road. As French’s men approached the Sunken Road, the Confederate troops staggered them with a powerful volley delivered at a range of less than one hundred yards.
‘Union and Confederate troops dug in. For nearly four hours, from 9:30 a.m. To 1:00 p.m., bitter fighting raged along this road . . . confusion and sheer exhaustion ended the fighting in this part of the battlefield. . . . 5,500 soldiers were killed or wounded and neither side gained a decisive advantage. The Sunken Road was now Bloody Lane.’ [note 3]
It doesn’t require much imagination to adapt the notion of a hollow or sunken lane, and the safety and concealment afforded, for general military use. The man-made construction of trenches from which to wage war has a long history. The ‘sappers’ – men with shovels – form an important part of any modern army, though the ‘shovels’ have long been replaced with more sophisticated methods. In more recent history – within Hobsbawm’s ‘long 19th century’ – the trench has been deployed in the Crimean War (1853-1856) the (Second) Boer War (1899-1902); the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) – sometimes referred to as ‘the first great war of the 20th century’ – trenches and barbed wire; and, especially, the First World War (1914-1918), during which 400 miles of trenches were strung out across the Western Front.
Of trench warfare, the British solder – under the sobriquet of Tommy Atkins – a ‘Private Smith’ laments –
Why weren’t we told
of the trenches?
Why weren’t we told of the wire?
Why were we marched up in column,
May Tommy Atkins enquire?
In the legends of westward migration across the U.S. and Canada probably the most well-known is that of the Oregon Trail, a gruelling plod of over 2,000 miles by wagon and foot, from Independence, Missouri to Oregon City, Oregon, with intermediate destinations en route.
It is estimated that this trail was traversed by ‘about 400,000 settlers, farmers, miners, ranchers, and business owners and their families.’ Not long after the American Civil War ended, the Transcontinental Railroad was completed (1869), making the Oregon Trail redundant. However, still visible along the route are the Deep Hill Ruts, a half-mile long, worn into the sandstone by horses, oxen and people, the channels ranging from two to six feet deep. The site in Guernsey, Wyoming, is now a protected national monument. (Photo, left)
Canadian writer and educator and hierarchiologist, Laurence J. Peter, [note 4] is known as the proponent of the ‘Peter Principle’ of management (1969). This states that,
in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence; that in time every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties; that work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence.
I am overwhelmed with troubles and my life draws near to death.
I am counted
among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength. (Psa. 88: 3, 4; NIV-UK)
In Hebrews 12: 1 the Apostle exhorts us to ‘lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us . . .’. In the Greek the literal meaning is something like, ‘put away all spiritual impediments and the sin you are comfortable with’.
Perversely, we tend to adapt to our sins and, to some degree, incorporate them into our daily routine – and our personality. They become our essential self – not necessarily who we want to be. Outwardly, we might be short-tempered or gruff. Inwardly, we may consider our own interests first. Perhaps we are overly-defensive of our ego or our pride. When it comes to the sin department there is no shortage in quantity or variety. Which is why Scripture declares, ‘There is no one righteousness, not even one’ (Rom. 3: 10). And so Christ died – to bring justification through faith to the unrighteous.
In a different context Laurence J. Peter coined the definition of a rut ‘as a grave with the ends knocked out’. Let’s take this analogy and latch on to it as a metaphor for the life of a consecrated believer who feels hollowed out,
alienated from the Heavenly Father by the sticky sins – those sins you have fallen into after you gave your heart, mind and will to the Lord.
There are sins we refuse to recognise as such, and they may go unrepented of for years. That is, until the Lord calls them to our attention, by harsh experiences or a fundamental shift in our viewpoint – what we might call a secondary conversion.
Then are those sins you have repented of, earnestly and fully, with tears, but feel still the enormity of them and doubt that the Lord has – could possibly have – forgiven you. Then you fall into the the pit – the rut – of dark despair, wearing yourself into an ever-deeper groove of discouragement and depression, hemmed in on both sides until you can’t see over the top. You lack the strength to climb up and out and go rejoicing on your way.
And so you go on fretting, despite the persisting assurance of the Lord, ‘I have forgiven you, fully and freely; I have forgotten your sins – not you.’
What does the Father of the Redeemer Himself say as to the Divine capacity for forgiveness?
Psa. 32: 5 - Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin.
Psa. 103: 11, 12 - For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
Isa. 38: 17 - Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish. In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back.
No Christian, then, need suffer the agonies of alienation from the Heavenly Father, when He is so ready to forgive you in Jesus’ name.
Without a ‘past’ you have no future. The point at which repentance and justification begins is your acceptance that you are a sinner in need of recovery, for ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ (1 Tim. 1: 15). Salvation is predicated on the fact that one is in need of it. From that point forward the real work of salvation, the cleansing, reforming, chastening – sanctification, the forward-looking process – begins.
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1 Eric Hobsbaum<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Hobsbawm>
3 National Park Service <https://www.nps.gov/places/antietam-battlefield-bloody-lane.htm>
4 Laurence J. Peter
Cityscape, top of page: Shanghai Skyline, China; Dreamstime
B&W photo of Bloody Lane; Alexander Gardner; file from The Photographic History of The Civil War in Ten Volumes: Volume Two, Two Years of Grim War. The Review of Reviews Co., New York, 1911, p. 74. Public Domain <https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7331373>
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