We’ve just wrapped up another school year at Wheaton College, and I couldn’t be more delighted. Don’t get me wrong. It is a privilege to teach here, and I love working with, and learning from, the talented and highly motivated students who fill my classes. Yet the summer affords the luxury of sustained reading, and the even greater gift of sustained reflection, and I couldn’t be more excited. I spend hours of most summer days on a bench near a tiny lake near our home, and every morning that I take my customary seat and feel the sun on my face and hear the breeze rustling through the leaves and see the sun sparkling on the water and, on top of it all, I get to open a good book, I praise God for his kindness.
Like the Pilgrims that I have been studying, I think that we should never feel wholly comfortable in this life. The world is not our home. The New Testament letter to the Hebrews calls us “pilgrims” and “sojourners”–travelers to a better country. I believe that with all my heart, but I also believe that God in His kindness still gives us countless pleasures in this life. C. S. Lewis captured this idea perfectly with one of his memorable metaphors. Let me quote from his book The Problem of Pain:
“The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.”
Here Lewis likened moments of delight to “pleasant inns” that our Father has placed at intervals along our journey. We must not mistake them for home–we are pilgrims, en route to a better country–but we can, and should, enjoy such blessings gratefully. For me, one of the pleasant inns that refreshes my soul is that lakeside bench on a sunny summer day.
Most of what I read on that bench has to do in some way with faith and history, and that also makes me happy. I recently came across a letter that I wrote nine years ago to the elders of my church when we were living in Seattle. “God has been opening my eyes to a new sense of calling,” I told them. “I want to spend the rest of my life reading, learning, writing, and teaching on topics at the intersection of Christian faith, the study of history, and the life of the mind.”
When I sit on that bench with a history book in my lap, I genuinely believe I am pursuing the Lord’s calling. As corny as it sounds, I regularly think of that great line from the movie Chariots of Fire, when Eric Liddell tells his sister, “God made me fast, and when I run I feel his pleasure.” It’s not that I have it all figured out, to paraphrase the apostle Paul in Philippians, chapter 3. I am still trying to understand what it means to think Christianly about the past. That’s why I am so grateful for this opportunity to think out loud with you and benefit from your input and feedback.
My first bench reading of the summer was A Free People’s Suicide, by Os Guinness. In my recent posts I have been focusing on examples of how NOT to think historically, concentrating on works by Peter Marshall Jr. and David Manuel, Francis Schaeffer, and Steve Wilkins and Doug Wilson. In contrast to these, I think that Guinness offers Christians a model worthy of imitation. I don’t agree with his interpretation in every respect, but we don’t have to agree completely with a historical argument to learn from it. In my opinion, the way that Guinness has appealed to the past in the structure of his argument is fundamentally sound. In my next post, I will explain why I think so.