Monday, March 09, 2009

David Wilkerson sends an urgent message ... ? connecting this to Donne by way of a sermon on same passage

... There will be riots and fires in cities worldwide. There will be looting—including Times Square, New York City. What we are experiencing now is not a recession, not even a depression. We are under God’s wrath. In Psalm 11 it is written,“If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (v. 3).

It just so happens that I have been reading through sermons by the great metaphysical poet and preacher John Donne and about a month or so ago I read his sermon from this very text.

Donne urges us to have caution--we should not suppose simply because things have been done in a way we would not have done them that the foundations are being shaken or changed. It is too easy to suspect from jealousy; to condemn from bitterness; and to presumptuously conclude that anything not done as we would have done things constitutes the destruction of the foundations whether it be the local church, society at large, or other things in our life. Donne goes further to argue that until the foundations ARE destroyed the righteous should be quiet.

Donne also goes on to say that when some irritable private men (i.e. men of no social rank or power but individual citizens more or less anxious to comment on the events of their time) spend all their thoughts on the actions of their superiors they are troubled. THey are off their own center and cannot discern the end toward which things happen. This jealousy becomes a tenderness to the man's own actions which is to him a wholesome and holy jealousy ... but a great suspicion and skepticism about the actions of anyone who in some way outranks him. To such a man every wheel is a drum, every drum a thunder, every thunder clap a dissolution of the whole foundation of the world. If a tile that has broken falls from his home he believes the foundations have been destroyed. If a crazy woman or a bratty kid fall from the Christian confession this man thinks that the entire church has failed and the foundations are gone. One must entail the other even though no such thing is actually the case.

It can be tempting to think the whole world is collapsing because things aren't going your way. The psalmists understood this. If we were to look at the life of any given psalmist and consider the eternal perspective of things what they were going through was not a big deal, right? David should have just stopped whining about how bad things were going, right? Man up, push forward, stop being so self-centered.

In this case I feel it is needful to ask if Wilkerson remembers the context of the verse he is quoting. David BEGINS his psalm by saying, "In the Lord I have taken refuge, how can you say 'flee like a bird to the mountains ... if the foundations are destroyed what can the righteous do?"

Donne accentuates this very point in his sermon, that our true foundation, Christ Himself, cannot possibly be shaken. David's response is to articulate his confidence in God's power and goodness. We don't live in a time like Donne's, where friend upon friend could die by plague. It's not as though terrible things can't happen in the United States. Terrible things are happening all the time but consider the nature of the counsel given? Stock up food for thirty days? Anticipate calamities world wide? Hasn't Revelation warned us of miserable times to come or that we may be in now? Hasn't the Lord Himself promised by way of statement, "In this world you will have many troubles but take heart for I have overcome the world?" It is not clear that now, of all times, is the time for Americans to flee like birds to the mountains.

In other words, John Donne's sermon includes some useful correctives for bloggers. Let's not forget that Christians have a long, venerable history of making crazy, inaccurate predictions regardless of theological or eschatological convictions. The dire warning of Wilkerson is, relatively speaking, nothing especially new. It might even come to pass ... but it is his deployment of Psalm 11 I wish to comment on. In older literary traditions in Christian thought it would be enough to quote a single line to evoke the whole of a famous passage. We seem to have lost touch with that shared understanding of evocation. We seemed to have it even as recently as, say, the speeches of Martin Luther King but that's a tangent I'll drop. May the Lord grant us the wisdom to know when foundations are truly shaken and when a mere broken tile in a house has fallen.

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