words :: books :: ideas

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Singing with Understanding

Isn't is great when you've read a passage dozens of times, and then you notice a new aspect of it?
Sing praises to God, sing praises!
Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the King of all the earth;
Sing praises with understanding.
- Psalm 47:6-7 (emphasis added)
We are told to sing. But don't just sing meaningless words. Sing with understanding.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Delight of Another

Last week I attended Worldview Academy. One of the major concepts that I brought home with me is that of love. According to Dell Cook, whereas lust is "delighting oneself in one’s own delight," love is "delighting oneself in the delight of another."
Love "does not seek its own" (1 Corinthians 13:5).
Lust is selfish. Love is selfless. "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit," writes Paul, "but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others" (Philippians 2:3-4).
As I have been contemplating this definition of love for the past several days, I ask myself: What can I be doing that will delight others? How can I gain delight from their delight?

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Anticipating Heaven

The following is an essay I wrote for my British Literature class this spring.

I hear it spoken about, a tingly sensation creeps across my skin; I can feel my eyes gleaming with anticipation. In exactly one year, I will be in Italy, then Greece. To prepare for the trip, I intend to learn all I can about the history, literature, and culture of my destination. I will read the epic poems. I will study the famous artwork. I will question eagerly those who have gone previously. I will re-memorize the funeral oration of my Athenian hero, Pericles. In order to go, however, I must sacrifice. I am willing to perform unpleasant and dreaded tasks, such as cleaning out chicken coops and making phone calls, to earn the funds for the journey. I am even willing to miss delightful and fun activities, such as swing dancing and AWANA Scholarship Camp, to save the money for this trip. I know, though, that the pain I procure, and the enjoyments I forego, will be worth the effort when I step aground the Italian and Grecian soil. In the same way that I anticipate going to Italy and Greece, John Bunyan portrays the characters throughout Pilgrim's Progress in anticipation of Heaven.

First, Bunyan demonstrates the hope of Heaven as the reason for the pilgrimage. Realizing his city’s impending destruction, Christian departs on “the road to Celestial City” (p. 83). To save his life, he must leave behind his wife, children, and friends. Rather than contemplating the abandonment of his home, the protagonist states, “I am longing for a better country—a heavenly one” (p. 66). Christian yearns for his King’s land so strongly that he “fell sick with desire” (p. 203). After Christian’s death, God convicts his wife, Christiana, of her sin and invites her to join her husband. The author displays the importance of the afterworld by describing Christiana in a dream, seeing two evil men who plot to “take her thoughts off of what shall be hereafter” (p. 230). Regardless of the peril, she and her children decide to commence on their pilgrimage. She tells her neighbors,
“I’ve now had placed in my hand the wherewithal to get gain, and I’d be a fool of the greatest size if I should have no heart to take advantage of the opportunity. And as for all these troubles you tell me about—which I’m likely to meet in the Way—they’re so far off from being a discouragement to me that they show me I’m in the right. The bitter must come before the sweet, and that will also make the sweet all the sweeter” (p. 234).

Their longing for Heaven entices the pilgrims to begin their journey.

Retaining an eternal perspective not only prompts the characters to start upon the Way, but also assists the travelers while they still live on the earth. Contemplating Heaven allows the protagonists to restrain themselves from iniquity. While Christian stays at the Palace Beautiful, Prudence questions him about what enables him to defeat his transgression. He replies by telling her about four reflections that help him conquer sin—the final of these being, “when my thoughts are warmed about where I’m going, that will do it” (p. 67). Later, Christian and Hopeful trespass on the Giant Despair’s land. When the giant catches them and imprisons them in his castle’s dungeon, the pilgrims consider committing suicide. Hopeful reminds himself and his companion, however, that suicide constitutes murder, forbidden by God. “[H]ave you forgotten Hell, where murderers most certainly go?” queries Hopeful, “For ‘no murderer has eternal life in him’” (p. 152). As well as helping them fight against sin, a desire for everlasting life in Celestial City encourages the characters to continue the journey. One pilgrim, named Mr. Feeblemind, though an ailing man, clings to the hope given to him. He declares,

“this I’ve resolved to do—to run when I can, to walk when I can’t run, and to crawl when I can’t walk. As to the heart of the matter, I’m steadfast. My way is before me, and my thoughts are beyond the River that has no bridge” (p. 348).

His focus—what takes place after death—inspires Mr. Feeblemind, along with the other travelers, to persist.

In addition, throughout the story, the characters face numerous difficulties; however, the pilgrims continue to place their expectation in Heaven and the rest and rewards they will receive in Celestial City. Although they already encountered difficulties on the road, Christian and his companion, Faithful, learn from Evangelist that they will face persecution in the Town of Vanity. Evangelist also reminds them that their faithfulness translates into rewards in Heaven.

“I’m so glad,” said Evangelist, “not that you met with trials, but that you’ve been champions and have continued in the Way to this very day regardless of your many weaknesses . . . . at the proper time you will reap a harvest if you do not give up. The Crown is in front of you, and it is one that will last forever. So run that you may win it . . . . Let the Kingdom always be before you, and believe resolutely in things that are invisible. Let nothing on this side of the Other World get inside of you . . .” (p.112).

Once they enter the town, the pilgrims discover the reality that they “must enter into the Kingdom of Heaven through many hardships” (p. 113). When the people of the Vanity Fair realize that Believers walk among them, they abuse the travelers with contemptuous words and actions. In mockery, the townsmen “beat them, then smeared dirt on them and put them into the cage so they might be made a spectacle to everyone of the fair” (p. 121). Christian and Faithful bear their suffering patiently, which incites the people to more rage toward them. Falsely testifying against the pilgrims, the townsmen bring the pair before an unjust judge, who—though not sentencing Christian—condemns Faithful to a torturous demise.

First, they whipped him, then they beat him, then they lanced his flesh with knives. After that, they stoned him with stones, then pricked him with their swords, and last of all, they burnt him to ashes at the stake (p. 127).

Faithful’s death benefits him by allowing him quicker entrance into the “desired Place of Refuge” (p. 59). This suffering and fatality also act evangelistically, provoking Hopeful’s conversion. Hopeful declares to Christian that in Heaven, “you’ll receive a good return for your work” (p. 180). Like a child who enthusiastically devours spinach because he knows pie awaits him when he finishes, the pilgrims willingly suffer trials because they recognize the dessert of Heaven inhabits their future.

Finally, Bunyan depicts the joy of the travelers when their hope lies fulfilled and they reach their heavenly destination. As Christian and Hopeful near their journey’s end, “they rejoiced more than in parts more remote from the Kingdom to which they were headed” (p. 203). Almost each word from their lips speaks of Heaven. Describing the Celestial City, Christian refers to it as “the land that flows with milk and honey” (p. 205). In the Old Testament, this phrase denotes Canaan. Just as God bestowed upon Israel the promised land of Canaan, God provides Believers with a land of promise—Heaven.
The last difficulty surmounted—crossing the River of death—the two men stand upon the border of “the Good Land” where a pair of angels await to escort them to the gate of Celestial City (p. 276). Speaking to the “Shining Ones,” Christian and Hopeful inquire what they will do in Heaven (p. 207). The pilgrims obtain this response from the angels:

“You must receive the comfort of all your toil and have joy for all your sorrows. You must reap what you’ve sown, even the fruit of all your prayers, tears, and sufferings for the King while you were in the Way. In this place you must wear crowns of gold and enjoy the perpetual sight and vision of the Holy One . . . . your eyes shall be delighted with seeing Him, and your ears with hearing the voice of the Mighty One. There you’ll enjoy again your friends who have gone there before you. And there you’ll receive with joy everyone who follows after you into the holy place. Also, there you’ll be clothed with glory and majesty, and put into a carriage that is fit to ride out in with the King of Glory” (p. 207).

Completing their arduous journey, the pilgrims finally arrive at “Mount Zion, the Heavenly Jerusalem . . . the Paradise of God” (p. 206). Bunyan concludes his tale of Christian and Hopeful’s expedition by describing the travelers’ elation. “[T]hey had such warm and joyful thoughts about having their own dwelling there with such a company forever and ever. Oh, what tongue or pen can express their glorious joy!” (p. 208). Bunyan, narrating his dream, writes, “I wished myself to be among them” (p. 210). Their eagerness before arriving in the King’s Land causes the men greater rejoicing when they at last attain the object of their desire.

A key theme in his book, John Bunyan illustrates the pilgrims’ hope in Celestial City. The characters’ anticipation for Heaven encourages them to embark on their journey, helps them as they travel, enables them to endure difficulties, and at the end, rewards them with joy. My trials in traveling to Italy and Greece will not be as hard as those encountered by the characters in Pilgrim’s Progress. Neither will my reward be as great. Indeed, these earthly countries may be worthy of anticipation, but they look like a dime beside a silver mine in comparison to the heavenly country.

Psalm 35:28

And my tongue shall speak of Your righteousness
And of Your praise all the day long.