Lest you be overwhelmed with excessive sorrow

Where do we start today? The film-makers have just stashed away the bonnets and top-hats, packed up their Victorian facades and swept the mud off the roads at Lyme Regis, 20 minutes from here, after taking over the town to film Mary Anning the Lesbian Fossil Hunter, aka Kate Winslet. My wife can take her morning coffee uninterrupted again.

Truth, of course, is of no importance nowadays: I doubt any of the movie people went to Lyme Museum to see Mary’s commonplace book, full of extracts of hymns and pious writings, or would have let it change their agenda if they had. Mary was brought up in the Congregational Church Sunday School, and switched to the parish church where she is buried in 1830, because of declining numbers and an unpopular new pastor, but she remained throughout her life “devoutly religious.” Even Wikipedia says so.

I’m not quite sure why it’s OK to bring someone like Mary Anning to wider public attention by attributing to her a sexual deviation which she would have abhorred, but it probably has a similar motive to the pardoning and lauding of Oscar Wilde as an icon of love suppressed by bigotry, without mentioning his paedophile tourism. But both cases are simply cases of lying with an ideological agenda, this time to the abuse of the memory of a great woman. And by the way, the film company hasn’t paid the local council for the use of their land yet.

This is just another example of the realisation that corruption and untruth underlies much, or most, of what passes for culture in the West just now. It’s frankly depressing when, at the foot of a manifestly biased bit of reporting on Brexit, the Independent posts its little advertising mantra:

At The Independent, no one tells us what to write. That’s why, in an era of political lies and Brexit bias, more readers are turning to an independent source.

Well yes, they are – but not to the Independent, unless they’re naively gullible. As I said in my last post, nobody needs to tell you what to write when you’ve been employed because you’re already on-message. In any case, a little “independent” research shows that the bias lies less in what is written, than in which stories are ignored.

Well, OK – it is important for Christians to appreciate the prevalence, and the evil, of human evil, because for too long they seem to have slipped into the false belief that the world is, in reality, nice and reasonable, and simply needs to be wooed into even more niceness and love by the harmless, inclusive and welcoming Jesus. But the danger is that, once one really does come to see that the prophet Jeremiah was not being unchristian, but speaking by the Spirit, when he said, “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?”, then that realisation can lead to despondency. The risk is only greater when the fountainhead of evils appears within Christ’s Church, whose leaders are prone to sound as credible as the Independent in their claims to follow his teaching.

Well, I would certainly counsel, as a relief, reading the pure word of Jesus in Scripture (remembering that his Spirit inspired it all). After all, John 17 reminds us that he received his words direct from the Father and gave them to believers as a permanent gift – and that he sent his Spirit to remind us of those words, not to replace them with subjective feelings masquerading as “the Word made flesh.”

But another antidote for the discouraged is a thought which, in retrospect, I should have included in the conclusion to my book, God’s Good Earth (whilst leaving out the typos that reader Ben mentions in a recent comment!). I close the book by listing ways in which we benefit from the knowledge that the natural creation is actually good, as it came from the hand of God, and not corrupted either by the Fall or by some Demiurgic “selfish evolution.”

What I omitted is that this insight can be as instructive in the goodness of God as is contemplating his law prayerfully, and as refreshing to the heart discouraged by its own evil, or the evils of human society, as any other glimpse of divine truth.

I do actually hint at such a thing in the book, in the anecdote of a woman in a filthy cattle wagon on the way to a Nazi death camp, who suddenly saw “paradise” by glimpsing the ordinary world outside. There are similar astonishing episodes in Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. The prisoners living amidst squalor, injustice, starvation and rampant human evil in the camps are marched out to another day of hastening their death by logging – and suddenly are transfixed by the beauty of a snow-fall. Natural reality cuts through human falsehood and the crushed spirit.

It’s as true in everyday life: if I’m at all demoralized by writing about the passage of laws wresting the moral education of children from their parents by a punitive and immoral state, or the silencing of Christian preachers on the streets, or the banning of theological writers from Facebook (I cancelled my account yesterday), then I have only to take faithful labrador Jake on his walk.

The banks of the lanes are covered by pure-hearted yellow primroses, set off by the darkly wise violets. The bee-fly with her aburdly long proboscis works the strawberry-flowers honestly for her nectar. “The hawk of truth flies with a still cry,” and though his dealings with the dark eyed and small animal “caring for his fur with pointed paws” may be deadly, they are truthful, and they are wholesome, and they lead us to joyful contemplation of the God who made them. Which seeing Mary Anning’s fictional Lesbian affair will not, the whole aim being to deny the created order as a product of the Patriarchy.

It is not only the sky, but the whole of Christ’s creation, that day after day pours forth speech, and night after night knowledge, to the ends of the world. You only have to get your head round an attitudinal reversal to see it: replacing the lie that humanity is good and creation cruel and indifferent with the biblical truth that creation is a good gift, and the human heart an ungrateful rebel. Try it – you’ll like it.

A final song – it’s more about truth and Christ than truth and creation, but it deserves more airplay than it’s had.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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