July 23, 2009
by Patrick Lafferty
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Clap your hands, all peoples!
Shout to God with loud songs of joy!
...Sing praises to God, sing praises!
Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
Psalms 46:1, 47:1-6
It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.
If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.
Final answer: A. Aramis.
Three memorable lines from three very different stories—each line, though, with a strikingly similar motivation.
Sydney Carton utters the first in what is the last line of Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. He speaks from the shadow of the guillotine of revolutionary France, prepared to give his life for Charles Darnay, the condemned man with whom Carton has deliberately switched identities because of their mutual resemblance. Despite all he would lose, Carton knew his sacrifice was nothing compared to what it would gain—Darnay’s life as well as the good that awaited Carton in death.
In Star Wars, Obi-Wan Kenobi speaks the second line just before Darth Vader takes advantage of Kenobi’s suddenly defenseless repose and, by all appearances, vanquishes the Jedi knight by lightsaber. Like Carton, Kenobi knew there was something greater to be secured by his loss.
The third line is vocalized with an intriguing tone of relief by a winsome twentysomething named Jamal, the protagonist of Slumdog Millionaire. Caught in a part love story, part rags-to-riches story, Jamal has made it to the final question of India’s version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, while also cultivating a love with a childhood friend, Lakita. For reasons beyond his control, Jamal has been separated from Lakita—his hopes of ever seeing her or hearing from her again essentially dashed. When he phones his brother for help on the final question, it is Lakita who happens to be in the possession of the phone. He hears her voice and discovers she is safe, but when she cannot help him with the question, Jamal simply answers blithely—no longer caring a whit whether he wins the money. Like Carton and Kenobi, Jamal relinquishes what is costly because he knows there is something more valuable, more sure, more worthy to be had.
C. S. Lewis famously wrote that in the gospel of Jesus, myth became fact (God in the Dock, 66–67). The archetypal yearnings of humanity, variously expressed in our legends and fables, eventually entered into history in the person of Jesus. He, like the three characters above, relinquished what was precious to Him for the sake of something of immeasurable value. Such was His praise of the One who brought Him to that moment.
For the last two Sundays we’ve heard how Psalms 46 and 47 bring us to a posture of hope and praise. Those who are confident in God as their refuge and strength (Ps. 46) naturally give praise to God—in the context of these two Psalms, through clapping, and singing, and making music (Ps. 47).
But praise comes in many forms. For our three protagonists, praise comes in the form of relinquishment for the sake of love. For Darnay, Carton offers his life. For Luke, Kenobi offers his immediate presence. For Lakita, Jamal was willing to forsake 20 million rupees. Each saw a greater refuge in what they sacrificed for, and that loving sacrifice was their praise.
The quality of our love reveals where we place our trust. If we find ourselves withholding love, it may reveal arrogance or indifference in us. But it might otherwise reveal fear—fear of what we might lose (or what we might be left with) if we relinquish something of value to us.
Mark has outlined for us what a real stillness before God will lead to. To that list we add freedom to love extravagantly. Abundant care becomes not only possible but preferable because you no longer fear losing what cannot be taken from you. The Christ who bestowed all that we would gain all is meant to persuade you of the fact that He is our true refuge. Persuaded of that in the stillness of prayer, praise will flow, and often through relinquishment for love’s sake.
Who are you afraid to love right now? Nothing the Lord has given you in Christ—forgiveness, favor, renewal, eternity—can ever be siphoned from you. How might the truth of His being our strength in those ways free you to love?