Before There Was George Lucas or J.R.R. Tolkien—There Was John Bunyan
Episode #8 “We All Need Somebody to Lean On!”
Note: This blog was supposed to be posted before the end of 2019 but was delayed.
2019 marked fifty years since I turned 18. It was a pivotal year—for me, for the nation, and for history. I have been nostalgic of late thinking on such things as; my high-school graduation (and recent 50-year reunion), America’s Moon Landing, Vietnam, even Woodstock. I watched the military draft with special interest during those days. If the lottery had not come about, I was sure to have an all-expense-paid trip to Southeast Asia. But my Uncle Sam (US) did not call out to me because of a providentially high lottery number.
In contrast, the era promised to usher in “The Age of Aquarius” as expressed by The Fifth Dimension’s song (listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kjxSCAalsBE). But this magical age of universal enlightenment was not to be. Nuclear proliferation, The Cold War, Southeast Asia, Kent State/war protests, Civil Rights marches, not to mention three political
assassinations; caused my generation’s personal angst to sky-rocket—to its highest level since WW II. A song that well captures that era was Chicago’s “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” (listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7uy0ldI_1HA).
Both songs sold millions and captured the emotional highs, lows, and unrealized aspirations of my generation. And we were left in an individual and collective moral quagmire with no place left to turn and no hope. My generation gave America “sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll.” Perhaps the false promises of Aquarius can best be summed-up in Bill Withers’ song, “Lean On Me” (listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fOZ-MySzAac). That is where I was—needing something or someone “to lean on.” But I did know to whom I should go! Or where I might turn in my search?
Rightly did Bob Dylan prophesy by song in the early 1960s, “The Times They Are A Changing” (listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fOZ-MySzAac). “They Are [still] A Changing” on the world stage, on the political stage, and on the environmental stage—now more than ever. These are all worldly and external; seemingly with no resolve. But the internal struggles, this personal angst that we all inevitable face(d), has not changed one iota. As I cogitate on all of this, I remember that time—a time when I experienced my own spiritual crisis. One that would change my direction and affections, forever.
The singing group God & Country and Dolly Parton have captured the essence of my our turmoil in the lyrics of “God Only Knows” (listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OHkeGRuEt4w).
The lyrics get it right:
God only knows what you've been through God only knows what they say about you God only knows that it's killing you But there's a kind of love that God only knows
My confusion and anxiety were overwhelming. I needed someone to lean on! But who would—rather who could interpret my “fightings and fears, within, without”? (hymn lyrics: “Just As I Am—Without One Plea” (https://www.hymnsite.com/lyrics/umh357.sht). I needed a guide. I needed someone to interpret all my fears and fightings. In a very real sense, I was on a parallel track with Pilgrim of our serial saga. If Bunyan had been writing now, my name could have plugged into his story in place of his.
On his heavenly trek, Christian arrives at the house of the Interpreter. He welcomed the Pilgrim and immediately begins “to school him” concerning the greatest of life-lessons. This lesson will greatly benefit him as he presses on toward the Celestial City. Interpreter warns, “Remember well,” and “apply your mind seriously to what you’ve seen, lest in your journey you meet with individuals who pretend to lead you correctly but whose ways lead to death” (Hazelbaker, p. 37).
[The Interpreter] . . . took Christian by the hand and led him into a very large reception room that was full of dust because it was never swept. After he had examined the room for a little while, the Interpreter called for a man to sweep. When he began to sweep, the dust began to fly around so much that Christian was almost choked by it. Then the Interpreter said to the girl standing by, “Bring water here and sprinkle the room.” And when she had done it, the room was easily swept and cleaned (Ibid).
Christian became perplexed. “What does this mean” (Ibid, 38), he asks?
So, the interpreter explained it to him. This room is the heart of a person. And the heart was dusty because it had never been set apart by the sweet grace of the Gospel. The dust in Bunyan’s allegory represents the Original Sin that comes down to each of us after Adam and Eve’s Fall. When the Law of God is preached to us, when the sweeping begins; all the old, foul sins are stirred up to the point it makes it hard to breathe. Then, “she who brought and sprinkled the water is the Gospel” (Ibid, 38).
The Gospel is the “Good News.” The Apostle Paul declares this Good News in the New Testament book of Romans 8:3, "The law . . . was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So, God did what the Law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God
declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins."
So, God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. When the Law is preached it stirs up the dust and dirt of our sinful hearts. When the Gospel is preached he then brings the water to sprinkle our hearts and cleanse them.
Paul again declares in his letter to the Romans where he shares:
"But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent?" (Romans 10: 14-15a).
I heard the Law preached. It stirred up the dust and dirt of my sin. And the good grace of the cleansing water of the Gospel was brought to me. I needed someone to lean on. I needed an interpreter to explain the Gospel to me. Thanks be to the Lord—he sought me through His grace.