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Christian Biblical Studies
IF THERE IS ONE GOOD THING to be said for growing old, it is that one learns to be satisfied with less. The combination of advancing years and a potpourri of bitter experiences and disappointments produces a semblance of contentment with one’s lot in life. Alas, there coincides with this state of mind a natural decrease in energy, and it’s sometimes not clear which is cause and which is effect. It becomes more troublesome to get simple things done or to roll out of bed in the morning.
There are exceptions, of course. Sir Ranulph Fiennes, possibly the world’s greatest living explorer, just completed a climb to the top of Everest at the age of 65, four years after a heart attack.[fn1]Such individuals are unusual, though perhaps not as rare as we might imagine. Long gone are the days of the dour ‘granny’ of the sepia photograph and the presumption that the face of anyone over 50 should resemble a dried prune. Better health care, a reliable and varied supply of food, and improved living conditions in large areas of the world mean that people live longer, healthier lives than those of just a few decades ago.
In the frontier days of the United States and Canada, thousands of hardy souls were energised by their dreams to travel for months in wagons, on horseback, or by ‘shank's pony’ to stake a claim to a piece of paradise in the legendary West. From late in that period comes the song whose refrain forms the title of this article, ‘Home on the Range’.[fn2] A sturdy log cabin, surrounded by 160 acres of fertile land, represented the ideal for the pioneer family — free country under a wide azure sky, ‘where the deer and the antelope play’.
The Discouraging Word
Coming from and going to is a quest on which mankind has been embarked ever since Eden, each generation repeating the theme in one form or another. The subtext of the collective experience is that we are, at best, only tolerably satisfied with the state of things. Not that deep happiness is unattainable. But an awareness of the suffering of others casts a pall over one’s own joy. It is difficult to be at ease when so many others are at a disadvantage. Shutting out the misery of the world is nearly impossible for most of us. The grimly routine announcements on the news or the visible distress of families closer to home tend to shred our own peace.[fn3]
Many of us journey for years in a sort of wilderness before we come to our settled home, the Cross. The early Christian years are usually energetic and filled with hopefulness. The amazing recognition that our sins have been forgiven in Christ is the beginning of a new way of thinking and doing. But like the natural life, this spiritual one becomes jaded. The freshness wears off and we lose the ‘zing’. This can occur for various reasons. Sometimes we allow ourselves to be overcome by temptations peculiar to our personality or our circumstances. Poor judgement may send us off in an ungodly direction. Family troubles, private failures, or carelessness as to the circumstances in which we place ourselves — there are numerous forms and points of attack, all of which blunt the shiny new edge of our consecration.
In reaction to this state of affairs we are tempted to resign ourselves to something less than the bright blue sky. ‘At least it’s not raining.’ But passive acceptance lights few fires or scales high mountains. Success in anything requires a lively commitment to a principle or a cause. If we allow the discouraging word of the workaday world to fix despair in our hearts we will slow down.
Discouragement is a hard taskmaster. It comes in all shapes and sizes, but its effect is always to open up a gap between us and our Lord. And it whispers the message that we have lost His favour. That now having wandered so far away, it’s hopeless trying to get back to Him. Just be glad it’s not raining.
We must treat this mental assault for the Piffle it is. We’re nothing in our own power and strength, anyway, so the remedy for the problem cannot lie in that direction. No, the promise of the Saviour to forgive and to abide with us remains. In His intimate address to His disciples, Jesus said ‘the Father himself loves you’ (John 16: 27). Imagine that! It’s as if Jesus and God had been in conversation and God had said ‘don’t forget to tell them from me I love them very much’. How dare Discouragement stay around at such a pronouncement!
The power of the Father who loves you is not shackled by your sins and His willingness to forgive, through Christ, does not expire.
[fn3]For those who passionately believe that most people are headed for eternal torment, daily life could be unbearable, as the tide of humanity passes by on the streets. Further, to claim that mankind will undergo excruciating torture forever, even as the ‘saved’, rejoicing in heavenly bliss, look on, requires some rather complicated mental gymnastics and underscores the difficulty with this doctrine.
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