Spurgeon’s Sky

June 2015

Charles Spurgeon was a great writer and theologian. I, of course, like to imagine him as a big sturgeon coasting languidly along a riverbed with a pipe in his mouth, but that’s just because I’m strange, and hungry so often. Anyway, he said this: “The grandeur of the arch of heaven would be spoiled if the sky were supported by a single visible column, and your faith would lose its glory if it rested on anything discernible by the carnal eye.”

Now, we of The Bible Church, place a high value on the idea of possessing a rational faith. My husband is the treasurer of a nonprofit that brings preachers into bars and pubs to defend the legitimacy of Christianity. And for good reason.

But I think what Sturgeon meant has more to do with visible proofs of God in our own lives, and how even visible “proofs” can get in the way of faith itself. We hold so tightly to our little evidence, our blessings and lack-of-hardships.

I see the way God has provided financially for my family and me, for instance. And while that might bolster my faith in a generous God, it becomes dangerous to lean up against that particular column. And not just because when financial turmoil hits, the column buckles and implodes my perception of God, but because, even if I was forever financially secure until the day I die, I could be tempted to believe God’s provision meant something about me that it really doesn’t. That I’m some kind of super-duper, extra-special person. Or worse: that his love is normatively expressed in a comfortable paycheck. What appears to be a pillar can just as often be a stumbling block.

And what about the “bad” stuff — the awful diagnosis? For every pillar, there’s a wrecking ball.

So how do we find the glory of faith? It all seems hopelessly frustrating. How do we get past the futility of trying to sort out both the affirmations and disappointments of God in our lives?

Maybe it’s best to go back to Spurgeon’s sky.

Just look at it — at night. You don’t see all the mathematical equations and laws of physics it represents. You don’t see the proofs for why the sky should be scattered so broadly and brightly. You look through the lens of proof, and then past its lens. Glory is in the sum total. And there are black holes and disturbing, inexplicable phenomena. But just lie there for a moment. Take the whole picture in at once — eyes open, breathing in, watching. Receive the panorama for what it IS, without flinching or whispering. Suddenly I’m so small and God is so big.

Maybe the glory of faith is in taking the sum total of everything I see, the good and the bad together, and then seeing through it, and past it. Letting those particulars give way to the mysterious. Permitting the inexplicable to just sit there without badgering it. Allowing God to emerge as a whole thing, not as a bunch of particulars, and then letting his dark beauty fill me with humility.

And humility, at least for me, leads to quiet hope. I don’t know why it should, exactly, but it seems to. Maybe this elementary hope is the seedling of actual, capital-F Faith. And maybe the frustration-then-humility-then-hope-then-faith is an unavoidable cycle that must be constantly re-engaged.

Well. All of this is easier said than done.

Most people are way better at it than me. Hebrews 11 contains quite a laundry list: Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, David and Samuel and the prophets; Rahab, Moses, Joseph, Jacob, Isaac, Abraham. “These were all commended for their faith,” says the writer, “yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (11:39-40).

Those people never saw the fulfillment of their faith in their lifetimes. They had to wait and obey, and were never given a timeline — their work would stretch beyond their natural lives, it turns out, but they didn’t know that. I’m sure they were probably tempted to believe all sorts of awful things about God and themselves based on this incomplete, lopsided data. But somehow they were still able to live by “faith.” Somehow, some way, they had still been able to allow enough glory to emerge from their limited, sum-totaled experience of God; enough to wake up, make coffee, and put one foot in front of the other every morning (or, most mornings; or at least, an adequate amount of mornings) despite what must have sometimes felt like a random, open-ended kind of a life.

I want to be like them — a little glory every day.


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