-- By Dr. Roger D. Duke --
When I reflected on Christian’s plight brought about by Worldly Wiseman’s advice, a dark cloud of “writer’s block” hung over me. What would Pilgrim’s next personal encounter be? I knew it would be with Evangelist. But what would it emphasize? As I read, re-read, and pondered the Pilgrim’s Progress (PP) story-line; one sentence grabbed-me: “What are you doing here, Christian?” (Hazelbaker, 20). Eureka! I found it. This was the segue for this latest encounter.
In my flash of discovery; I proceeded to YouTube, typed in “What Are You Doing Here?” To my amazement, Lake Street Dive (the singing group’s) song, “What I’m Doing Here” popped-up. The keen observer may think it a stretch to mix, mingle, or compare Bunyan’s allegory with a pop-tune by Lake Street Dive. Consider Christian’s predicament. Then consider how the singer’s confession describes her similar state:
Nobody knows what I'm doing here And I ain't got a clue Messin’ around with these other fools . . .
Can't you see me, see me Nobody knows what I'm doing here And I ain't got a clue Messin around with these other fools . . .
(Retrieved: Metro Lyrics, http://www.metrolyrics.com/what-im-doing-here-lyrics-lake-street-dive.html)
Christian is on his way to the Celestial City. He was turned out-of-the-way by Worldly Wiseman’s foolish advice. This could lead to his ultimate demise because he heeded such unwise counsel. The romantic lover is “Messin’ around with these other fools”—and doesn’t know why or how she got there! One listens to a fool—the other ends up with fools. Their present destination proves wrong for both, but the results are the same for both. Christian knows how he got where he is. He followed a foolish man’s advice. Christian knows why he got there. He wanted soul-relief allegorized by the physical burden on his back. Contrast this with the fickle singer; she only bemoans the fact,
There's been so many nights When I've longed for your touch There's been so many days When our love was not enough . . .
Both seek solace; hoping to find it in the people and circumstances of this world—one at the advice of a fool, the other in the arms of a fool.
Pilgrim wanted immediate relief from his burden. He suffered so badly; he longed for the shortest, easiest route to end his pain. Enter Evangelist. This is their second encounter. Evangelist scolded; “What are you doing here, Christian?” No response. “At those words . . . Christian did not know how to answer, so he stood speechless before him” (Ibid, 20). For the place where Worldly Wiseman’s counsel led him was the mountain of the Law of God—Mt. Sinai. Out of it came lightening, thundering, and fearful judgment. Evangelist relates how, “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law’” (Ibid, 26; See, Galatians 3:10, New Testament).
As the allegory unfolds, Bunyan employs persons named Worldly Wiseman, Legality, and Civility his son, whom Christian encounters. All are dangerous to Pilgrim seeking refuge from the City of Destruction. Worldly Wiseman represents the wisdom of this age and how it would point him away from the correct path to the Celestial City. Legality represents the keeping of the Ten Commandments, moral law, or other personal code-of-ethics. Civility represents the outward acts done for neighbor and towards neighbor. But all these lead to Mt. Sinai, which represent The Law. Only condemnation comes by one trying to keep The Law. These all miss the road to Immanuel’s Land. So, Evangelist declares to Christian why he should hate Worldly’s advice: “First—his act of turning you out of the Way: second—his work to render the Cross offensive to you; and third—his way of setting your feet in the path that leads to the administration of death” (Ibid, 23). Pilgrim is on a damnable road morally, emotionally, intellectually; having listened to damnable advice; having come to a damnable place in his progress to the Celestial City. And yet there is hope. This is one of Christian’s many turning points of his journey.
Here is an insightful parallel in the Gospel account of the Prodigal Son found in Luke16 (New Testament). This parable is very similar to Pilgrim and balladeer of the song “What I’m Doing Here?” He is plagued by foolish thoughts, resulting in fool acts, ending up in a foolish place. The Prodigal requested his inheritance before his father had even died. In that culture this was tantamount to declaring; “I wish you were dead so I could get my inheritance money!” The father went ahead and gave him the money. Then, as Jesus tells the story, he foolishly takes his money and journeys into another land where he “devoured [his father’s] . . . living with harlots” (NIV). (This is the elder brother’s confession upon his younger brother’s return. The text of Luke shows his jealous, envious, and spiteful spirit towards his brother. He, like many of us, thought he was getting a raw deal. It appeared the elder brother; the Father loved the Prodigal son more than him. Thus, he became infuriated when the sinning brother was received by the Father.)
Jesus, the master storyteller, weaves a great word-picture for His hearers. The younger brother indeed “took his journey into a far-country and there wasted his substance with riotous living” (KJV, Luke 15:13). He soon ran out of money. Then came a famine in the land. So, he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country. His job? Feeding the hogs! (“Slopping the hogs!” as we say in the South.) It got so tough for him, he became so hungry; he got down on all-fours and ate the carob husks the hogs ate. Now for a Jew to even be near the “unclean swine” was indeed a disgrace. Then Jesus declared, “He came to himself.” He confesses and recounts to himself; “How many hired servants of my fathers have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!”
Then the Scripture reveals a change of heart: “And when he came to himself” (Luke 15:17). With repentant resolve he declares; “I will arise and go to my Father, and will say . . . I have sinned against heaven, and before thee” (Luke 15:18). Similarly, this is what Christian confesses to Evangelist. And after their encounter, Christian sought repentance and set his foot on the narrow-way laid out for one who would go to the Celestial City.
Takeaway Questions for Reflection
First, all of us should ask the question of ourselves: “What am I doing here?” Obviously, this is not a literal question but metaphorical. A question to evoke personal reflection. Where are you in your life circumstance? Have you been “messin around with these other fools?” all to no avail? What is your goal? Is it to “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we are dead?” Or is there some deep longing of the soul that has not been satisfied—cannot be met by this world’s system and the things attained or possessed?
Secondly, have you ever “come to yourself” like the Prodigal Son or Christian of Pilgrim’s Progress? Have you gotten away from the noise of this world and the flashing pictures of the iPhone to really think about your life and what it means? James, the Lord Jesus Christ’s human brother, declares that our life is nothing more than a morning vapor. Something that is seen but soon burned away and gone. I would implore you to get alone and think about, “What am I doing here?” and “Have I come to myself?”
Third, if you are moved with an internal interest, this may be the initial stirrings of what is known in Bible-talk as “repentance.” Repentance has been described as “a change of mind, that leads to a change of heart, that leads to a change of will.” In other words, I have changed my desire to live for myself and choose to take up my Cross and follow Christ, to be his disciple, and to live by his commands.
I would commend the reader to get alone and take a heart inventory. Then ask God the Holy Spirit to reveal Jesus the Savior to you.
A parable “is an earthly story with a Heavenly meaning.”