Category: Literature

‘I miss Him’

Anselmo was a benevolent, peaceful man, raised in the church, and thrust into the perils of the Spanish Civil War. Having seen the atrocities of the war, Anselmo’s faith wavered.

Struggling to harmonize the sufferings of the war with the existence of God, he told Robert Jordan, “If there were God, never would he have permitted what I have seen with my eyes.

“Clearly I miss him, but a man must be responsible to himself.”

While Anselmo is nothing more than an imagination of the late Ernest Hemingway immortalized on the pages of For Whom the Bell Tolls, his unbelief and reasoning are typical of the modern mind, which struggles to understand how a loving, righteous God can allow evil to flourish in this lost and dying world.

Clearly the evil of this world cannot be overstated. Texas Child Protective Services are overwhelmed by caseloads as thousands of kids are abandoned, neglected, abused, harmed, and prostituted by their biological families. Human trafficking has become the modern day slavery, a dark underbelly of an otherwise prosperous and advanced culture.

Law enforcement is overwhelmed by the increased prevalence of illegal drug abuse to the point that law enforcement officials, politicians and correctional facilities are even beginning to wonder, “why bother?”

Contemporary Christians preach against judgmentalism and absolute truth while abusive husbands maim their wives. Yet, adding a coffee bar to the church foyer will somehow save the world.

Murder rates skyrocket and hope plummets in the inner cities, and students on college campuses have become incapable of debate without riots.

These are all first-world problems. Overseas, people sleep in fear of being captured and executed for no other reason than being born into the wrong tribe. The atrocities happening around the world are unprintable, but we’ll gladly pretend they aren’t happening if we can build a factory producing cheap electronics, or if we can buy cheap bananas from the despot in charge.

Modern man living in western culture has been blessed with technological and medical advancements that allow him to solve almost any problem that arises in his life. We have become comfortable with modern living.

Therefore, when faced with the suffering that man faces in the third world, and that man has faced throughout history, our perception of blessings versus suffering is challenged, and often, western man comes to the conclusion that suffering negates God’s presence, and with so much suffering in the world, God must not be present at all. Therefore, He does not exist.

This conclusion ignores the facts of God’s character as revealed in the Bible.

First, God did not create suffering, man did. In Genesis 1, God created a perfect world. In Genesis 2, God placed man in paradise. In Genesis 3, man tried to overthrow God, and was thus banished from paradise. In doing so, sin and disease entered in, as did ambition, avarice, lust and evil. The result, man suffers for his sin, and all too often inflicts suffering on others. God didn’t create this chaos, but He is working to correct it.

Since the fall of man, suffering is a natural part of life. Whether it is Adam eating bread in the sweat of his brow, or the Christians in Romans 8:35-39 who are killed all the day long, suffering is a common part of the human existence. In modern times, it manifests itself in political turmoil and physical illness. In other times and places, it manifested itself in conquests, persecutions, and famines.

God is present throughout the suffering. While modern man equates suffering with the absence of God, scripture actually teaches that God is present through the suffering. Romans 8:38-39 says:

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Suffering is not the result of God withdrawing His presence. It is the result of sin and evil. Meanwhile, God remains present, working through the suffering to transform His children into the people He intends on them being, building our endurance, building testimonies for Him, and lining up the global geopolitical situation to bring about the return of Jesus Christ.

God Himself suffered. Or, as Romans 8:32-34 says:

He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? 33 Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. 34 Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.

God suffered in that He gave His only begotten Son, who suffered at the hands of sinners during the crucifixion which resulted in the payment for the sins of all mankind.

Hebrews 4:15 says, He was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Jesus Christ lived the human experience in a country that was occupied by a tyrannical empire, working to survive in a meager economy, before launching his earthly ministry which saw Him live on nothing, sleep outside, and suffer the persecution and rejection of His own people.

God is not some mystic being who sits in comfort in the clouds completely oblivious to the plight of those who suffer. Bette Midler is full of baloney. He is one who has experienced our suffering, weeps when we weep, and takes our pain personally.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Anselmo made the false conclusion that the sufferings of the war negated the existence of God. As a result, Anselmo’s life lacked direction, meaning and comfort. Thus he said, “I miss Him.”

For us, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Recently, I was counselling with a young mother who wanted to get her kids involved in a youth program. She discussed how simple and good life was when she went to church as a girl. There were youth car washes where they raised funds for church camp. There was church camp, retreats, lock-ins, and Sunday night pizza.

“Those were good days,” she said. Truth be told, she was missing the peace and comfort that come from living by faith in the company of other believers. The fact is, this young mother can return to that lifestyle any time she chooses.

So, if you have wandered from the faith, and are finding your life empty and hopeless, address the root cause of your emotional strife. You miss God. But you don’t have to. You can return to His presence at any time. Turn from your sins, place your faith in Him, and then gather with other believers at a true church that teaches His word, and that fellowships together.

Do this, and God will not only give you the grace to endure, but you’ll understand the “why,” and then receive the peace that surpasses all understanding.

The Sun Also Rises

ErnestHemingwayPreface: During my college days, I lacked the proper appreciation for the education that was afforded me. Therefore, over the past several months, I have been reading up on the classics that I missed out on by skipping English class. My latest venture has been in the works of Ernest Hemingway.

At first glance, The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway, was a pointless novel following the misadventures of Jake Barnes, a World War I veteran working as a foreign correspondent in Paris for a New York paper. His misadventures go from dining in restaurants, to drinking in bars, to having coffee in local cafes, to his fruitless pursuit of the Lady Ashley, (or Brett, as her given name is).

There’s a love interest between Jake and Brett, but due to some undefined injury, Jake cannot consummate a romantic relationship with her. So, he aimlessly eats, drinks, and wanders in Paris, repeatedly coming into contact with Brett, who always seems to be in a relationship with someone she doesn’t love.

Seriously, that is the plot for, like, 75 percent of the book. The day ends, Jake and his “friends” go out to eat, then out to drink, then out for coffee. Then, the next day comes. The same routine ensues, until Jake and his friends take a trip to Spain to go fishing, and then to watch the bull fights in Pamplona.

Upon reaching the end of the book, my first thought was, “What was the point of all that?” Did Hemingway really waste two weeks of my time to tell me a series of bar and fishing stories? I mean, seriously, the book only described my last two years of college.

Perhaps the book was autobiographical. Perhaps Hemingway wrote the book merely to explore his own thoughts, emotions and struggles. Hemingway himself drove an ambulance in World War I, was seriously wounded, and worked as a journalist in Paris. He was a known drinker, carouser, and lover of pleasure.

Perhaps, unlike authors Ayn Rand or Harper Lee, Hemingway was not writing to convey a certain wisdom upon us. Perhaps his writing was a selfish attempt to self-counsel, and to work out his own insanity.

Or, perhaps there was meaning to The Sun Also Rises. Starting with the title.

The Sun Also Rises could be a tongue-and-cheek jab at Jake’s lifestyle of late night drinking and carousing. A lifestyle like that does not witness many sunrises. Usually, the sun is already up, the man begins his day, and continues until long after the sun has set. No doubt Jake saw many sunsets, but not many sunrises. Having witnessed many sunsets, perhaps the title is a reminder to Jake that “the sun also rises.”

Or, perhaps there is more meaning to The Sun Also Rises, and that Hemingway is more covert in conveying his messages to us.

The Sun Also Rises takes place in Paris during the roaring 20s, as young veterans of the first World War seek meaning to life, but wander aimlessly as members of “the lost generation.” Indeed, having won the war, one would expect the 1920s to be a time of great hope and prosperity. And to an extent it was, but after having survived the bloodshed and ensuing famines and plagues of World War I, many wondered, “What’s the point?”

In a time of great hope and prosperity, the lack of meaning and purpose lead many down a road of hopelessness and despair. Though the allies had won the war, the sun was setting on the glory of France and western civilization. Dreams had been shattered during the war. Friends and family lost, lives ruined. The sun was setting.

This was captured in the hopelessness that Jake felt in The Sun Also Rises. He could never marry the woman he truly loved because of what the war had done to him. His abilities were limited, and he was relegated to being a foreign correspondent in Paris. After life in Paris, Jake knew that life would never be the same if he were to return to his hometown in the mid-western United States. His sun was setting.

Yet, through the labyrinth of bars, cafes, restaurants, inns and bullfight arenas, Jake comes to clarify his feelings toward his friends, Brett, and his career. As the novel ends, he begins to find peace in this clarity, thus, “the sun also rises.” In this clarity there was hope, and reason for optimism. His wounds were not miraculously healed, nor had his dreams come true, but there was peace and clarity, and therefore hope. “The sun also rises.”

While The Sun Also Rises is completely devoid of spiritual insight, there is still a lesson to be learned.

Victory and prosperity do not equal happiness. The Sun Also Rises takes place during the prosperity of the 20s in the aftermath of victory in World War I, yet the characters found themselves depressed and hopeless.

Happiness does not come in wealth or achievement. If you cannot be happy now, you will not be happy if you obtain more. Happiness comes in having purpose, and living your life by that purpose. That purpose is found in the Lord, for He was the one who created you with it. Learn this precept, and you will see that the sun also rises.

Objectively analyzing Rand

Ayn RandHoward Roark was an idiot.

He represented himself in a court of law, fulfilling the old proverb, “A man who represents himself in a court of law has a fool for a client.”

He sat there at the defense table while a coalition of accusers bent on destroying his career testified against him. He never cross-examined. He never defended himself. He was thus found liable in a civil suit that cost him everything.

In the book, The Fountainhead, Roark was an architect who rejected long revered traditions and cultural influences, and designed buildings based on what was practical.  He cared less for critical acclaim, and more for producing a product that served his clients well. Those who commissioned his buildings were well pleased, even if their friends belittled their choices. Those who hated him aimed to destroy him.

Such was the set-up for the lawsuit that wiped Roark out in the middle of the book. A religious enthusiast contracted with Roark to build a temple for all religions. Roark initially refused, being an atheist, but relented at the insistence of the buyer, who was put up to it by an altruistic leader in New York.

Roark designed a temple that looked nothing like the classic temples of the ancient world, neither did it look like a church. The client was unhappy, and sued.

If I were Roark’s attorney, I would have argued that the buyer was warned the temple would not look like any temple ever built, that Roark was given total creative freedom, and that the services requested were delivered on time. If I were Roark’s attorney, I would have won that case. And I don’t even have a law degree.

Following Roark’s legal demise, his girlfriend marries another man, and Roark vows to wait until she leaves her new husband and returns to him. At this point of the book, I had to call “bullcorn!”

The Fountainhead is one of the definitive books of 20th century America. Written by noted philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead has inspired many successful Americans. Mark Cuban, an entrepreneurial maverick, says he reads it for inspiration. Cuban built his fortune online, founding and eventually selling Broadcast.com. He owns several other companies, and gained his biggest notoriety as owner of the Dallas Mavericks NBA team.

You can see a lot of Roark’s character in the way Cuban runs the Mavericks. From his battles with the NBA commissioner, to his taunting referees from the sideline, to his multiple attempts to incorporate Dennis Rodman into the roster, Cuban has lived up to his team’s name.

Still, Cuban fights. Roark surrenders.

In addition to the adventure of a maverick architect, The Fountainhead offers legal drama, romantic drama, irony and the occasional laugh. At face value, the book is a good read, and is the favorite of a lot of people for a lot of different reasons. The problem is, the book was not written to entertain us.

The Fountainhead is Ayn Rand’s philosophical manifesto written in novel form. The entire work was written to propose, explain and promote her political philosophy of “Objectivism.” With Roark being the embodiment of Objectivism, it comes as no surprise that his character has no soul.

Roark has no passion beyond his designs. He has no passion for his girlfriend. He has no passion to defend his practice in court. He pours his heart into his work, then offers it on a “take it or leave it” basis without passionately advocating for it. He just exists, an odd colored flower in the garden of New York.

Ironically, his lack of soul exposes the fallacy of Objectivism.

Boiled down to one sentence, Objectivism is the belief in that which can be verified through tangible means. It removes the aspects of faith and morals, and evaluates everything through the lense of what reality can be verified, what works, and what does not.

As a result, Objectivism promotes selfishness, individualism, to an extent, libertarianism, and social liberalism. And while Objectivism is very strong on individual rights (of which I strongly support), it falls short in that it denies the one thing that sets man apart from the rest of creation, his spirituality.

As such, when Objectivism was captured in one fictional character, that character turned out hollow. He had no soul. (Not that he didn’t have a soul, which he didn’t, he was fictional, but he didn’t have soul. There was nothing to him.)

In promoting her philosophy of Objectivism, Rand often discussed “the virtue of selfishness.” This virtue was lauded for its harmony with human nature. In order for there to be true harmony, each individual can only be expected to act in his own self-interest. Expecting an individual to act against his best interest is immoral, as is the individual who does not act in his own best interest.

Not only does this teaching run contrary to scripture, it denies man’s spiritual nature, and ignores American history.

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote about the natural law, the inherent sense of right and wrong that is present in each individual. Whether that individual believed in God or not, that individual had a concept of right and wrong. We may argue about family values, and what does or does not constitute marriage, but we all agree that a man should commit himself to his wife, and that a man is not to just take whatever woman he pleases.

We may argue about what constitutes stealing, and what does not, but we all agree that it is wrong to go into your neighbor’s house and take his television. This is what Lewis referred to as “The Natural Law.” Of course, when he wrote about “The Natural Law,” Lewis was obviously referring to Romans 2, which says that when men who do not have God’s law, do by nature the things contained in God’s law, men become a law unto themselves.

And that natural law defines morality, and that law tells us that only doing what’s in our own best interest is not moral. When we follow such a lifestyle, the Holy Spirit convicts us and we have a guilty conscience. Objectivism denies that our conscience even exists. Objectivism has no soul.

Furthermore, if Objectivism were the pre-eminent philosophy of the day, America would fall. In his essay, Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about the role the Christian faith played in American society. De Tocqueville wrote that without faith, democracy would falter, because individuals only acting in their own self interests would tear the society apart. With the Christian faith, individuals felt responsible to contribute to society. Thus they did, and thus democracy works in America.

It was a sentiment also expressed by John Adams, who said that the Constitution was written for a moral and religious people, and that it was wholly inadequate to govern any other.

In addition to Objectivism not working for the afore-mentioned reasons, it will not work because it denies the Spirituality of man. We all are embedded with that natural law, and when it has been violated against us, we feel the hurt. Man cannot be expected to turn off his Spirituality. It doesn’t work.

So, while I applaud Rand’s efforts to stand up for individual rights, we must be careful not to blindly follow her entire philosophy. It goes against human nature, denies reality, and therefore can never work.