This morning I was cleaning up the kitchen and listening to a lecture on You Tube. Oh, you know me–it was Tim Keller talking about The Crossing of the Red Sea as a metaphor for salvation. I was, as I am so often lately, alone, and know I will be for the entire day, except when I go out and buy food for dinner. But since my Italian is limited, so is my conversation.
As I was putting on a second cup of coffee, Dr. Keller got to the part about the crossing proper (about 35:00 into the video). There’s a wall of water on the left, and a wall of water on the right, and the Israelites start crossing. Some of them are confident to the point of cockiness: “The Lord is on our side! Eat your heart out, Egyptians!” and they swagger across. Others are looking at the walls of water (maybe thinking about the physics they learned while building pyramids) and thinking, “I’m gonna die I’m gonna die I’m gonna die…!” But of course the point is, they get across.
I know which one I am, temperamentally-speaking—the latter. Whether the proximate cause is February, too many mid-life changes and reminders that the world is broken, or a mild chemical glitch, I don’t know. It could be worse, I’m sure, but there are days when all my best counsel, which I truly believe, doesn’t make a dent in my mood. And what I like even less is the effect of my moods on others.
On Sunday, a chance conversation with my pastor got me reading about the poet Cowper. William Cowper was an 18th C. poet, a friend of John Newton’s who not only wrote the well-known Olney hymns, but he was also an early-Romantic inspiration to Wordsworth and Coleridge. Yet he was orphaned, bullied, forbidden to marry his first love, and though he became a Christian, he was haunted his whole life by fear of damnation. After his wife Mary Unwin died, he sank into a depression from which he never recovered.
Does this mean he didn’t believe the gospel? Not from what I can tell. More likely he had clinical depression, brought on by his early traumas or his genetic makeup. “Oh! with what a surprise of joy,” wrote Newton a few days after Cowper’s death, “would he find himself immediately before the throne, and in the presence of his Lord! All his sorrows left below, and earth exchanged for heaven.”
So when I heard Dr. Keller talking about the fearful Israelites, I laughed out loud. Alone, in my kitchen. Because if my witness depended on my faith, and on my mood, it would be in big trouble: I collapse under a lot less pressure than Cowper. But it doesn’t depend on my faith; it depends on the object of my faith, God in Jesus. Good heavens, what a relief! And yes, I knew that, but it was good to get a reminder.
Now, that said, the sun is out for the first time in days. I’ve made my confession. Now I’m going to the market, to do the next thing.