|Posted by John Suttles on March 7, 2015 at 9:55 PM|
Teaching requires imagination. This is precisely what makes teaching an art. When we teach our children, we are preparing them for what they will become. A classical preparation requires the exploration of the rich heritage from which they have come since our human connection is solidly grounded on the Biblical revelation that we are made in God’s image.
Our human nature transcends nationalities and cultures. How starkly or how quaintly this can be recognized is the measure of a good story. No requirement is made upon the author to be Christian. Rather, it requires an author to be simply human, gifted with a keen sense of observation and the ability to weave those observations into characters of the story. It is then left to us as teachers to pick out the small lessons as well as the large ones and to unravel them, then re-weave them as teaching applications.
As a culture, we have ceased to put a premium on the study of the classics. Our perennial complaint is that we can’t understand Shakespeare. Besides, math and science, we continue, are much more important. But why must the list of classics begin and end with Shakespeare? So many books for all ages of readers have endured the test of time, introducing us to characters who live in our own neighborhoods. Not only are the plots timeless, but the authors prove their intense understanding of human nature in the development of these characters.
Often one action or one line in the story will provide the perfect rabbit trail for exploration with our children that leads straight to the Scriptures. One of those nuggets can be mined from such a charming children’s novel as Anne of Green Gables. Consider the timely discussion about despair commencing from a conversation in a children’s novel written in 1908 by Lucy Maud Montgomery.
Woven throughout the charming tale of the little orphan girl, “Anne-with-an-e” of Avonlea, are characters steeped in the waning Puritan influence of her day. But all of that stabilizing influence seems long gone in our modern generation that has thrown out the Puritan baby with the bath water. That, however, is not the topic for this discussion. What is though, is the solid counsel Marilla gave to the forlorn and despairing Anne. This is a superb teaching example that can and should influence our own young daughters.
Anne’s shattered dream of belonging had buried her appetite for her supper in wretched despair. She besought Marilla to confirm that Marilla herself had indeed suffered under the weight of such depths of despair. Marilla stalwartly replied that she had never been in such despair. For Marilla, to despair would be to turn her back on God.
Anne’s own youthful tangle of despair was managed by imagining things to be different. But Marilla’s understanding of theology was acceptance of things as they really are. Her conviction required us to accept our circumstances as God’s ordination that He did not intend us to imagine away. This dialogue in the plot of this beloved story has opened one of many learning explorations. We could debate Marilla’s position on imagination as being an integral part of our creativity. But what about despair? Was Marilla right? Should Christians not be given to despair? If our circumstances are ordained by God, may we not as Christians even be permitted grief?
Grief may attend us at times without despair; but left too long alone, it becomes the birthing mother of despair. Despair will never leave the nourishing breasts of grief, nor will Mother Grief easily find strength to renounce such an unworthy child as Despair. Marilla’s theology was a statement of her unyielding moral rectitude and a defiant barricade protecting her rational fortitude from unmoored feeling. But what does the Bible teach us?
Consider Job. This is the man we readily call forth as the paradigm of suffering and grief. Intermingled in Job’s monologue of suffering are the oscillations from the tongue of grief. “Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a man child conceived” (Job 3:3). But never did Job despair; for he vowed, even in the midst of his grief: Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him…”
Consider Naomi. Her loss was immeasurable, and her prospects were bleak. She changed her own name from Naomi (pleasant) to Mara (bitter); for she told her friends, “the Almighty hath afflicted me.” (Ruth 1:20) But in her grief, Naomi followed the prescription of the Scriptures and turned to the Lord. Back to Bethlehem she journeyed; back to the “house of bread” she went. She had once been fed there; surely she would be fed again. Her grief was turned to joy in the gift of a daughter-in-law better than seven sons and a grandson that would be the grandfather of King David.
Consider David. His sin with Bathsheba had laid upon him grave consequences that overwhelmed him with inestimable grief at the death of his son Absalom. David had repented, but the reaping of the consequences repaid him with fresh batches of grief. Even victory could not assuage the grief that threatened a plunge into the depths of despair. God had given David the victory in battle; but then, in mercy, He sent Joab with a timely rebuke that David’s overmuch grief seemed to create confusion between his friends and his enemies. “Now therefore arise,” directed Joab, “go forth, and speak comfortably unto thy servants…” (II Samuel 19:7).
Consider Habakkuk. His prophecy was called “the burden” in 1:1. His grief overwhelmed him, and his “belly trembled; my lips quivered at the voice: rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself…” (Habakkuk 3:16). Yet, in such depths that could have sunk him into despair, Habakkuk confirmed his only hope in the Lord: “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:18).
Consider Paul. In his testimony to the Corinthians, Paul provided a list that could have led him to the depths of despair in his afflictions, reversals, stripes, imprisonments, tumults, labors, watchings, and fastings; but his griefs and sorrows never resulted in such despair. “As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing,” he wrote. “For the love of Christ constraineth us…” (II Corinthians 6:4-5, 10; 5:14).
Even King Saul can be considered as the example of despair that was allowed to fester to its unrestrained conclusion. (I Samuel 28: 21; 31:3-4)
These examples by no means extract all the riches of the Scriptures on this one topic, but are only meant to whet the appetite of those of us assigned to prepare the participants of the next generation—connecting them to their ancestors who fall in line with all the great lineage named in the Scriptures. Let us be inspired to read and to teach our children to read—and to read with discernment that mines the gems to be polished with the chamois of God’s Word.
Dr. Teresa Suttles