Freshman Hilmer, zealous for all things practical and applicable, helped us to an exposition of Romans 12 this morning in chapel. I appreciated everything he said, but one thing in particular stood out. He said that we sometimes have the tendency to make a checklist of good deeds, so that once we’ve had old Mrs. So-and-so over for lunch we can check that off and go on to the next thing. We satisfy ourselves with brief encounters, dipping our toes, you might say, without really diving into the communion of saints.
The reason this stood out was because I’ve had the words of Gandalf in my head over the weekend. I ended up watching The Hobbit twice, first on Friday while fellowshipping with the bros, and then on Saturday with Arenda. At one point in the movie Gandalf says, “Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I have found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay, small acts of kindness and love.” Now there’s a very wide range of application for that small jewel of wisdom, and it can work as an antidote to a lot of contemporary thinking.
We love big ideas, especially the one-size-fits-all solutions that more and more seem to dominate politics. A solitary wretch of a human being wipes out a couple classrooms of children with an AR-15 assault rifle, and the response is to clamour for widespread gun control. Another solitary wretch on the other side of the planet kidnaps children from their parents in order to enlist them in his guerilla army, and the response is to plaster his name across our urban landscapes. There’s no question that the intentions behind these solutions are good and worthy. But what’s problematic is the assumption that these one-time dramatic actions will somehow stem the tide of human darkness. The truth is, however, that the morning after the plastering is done or the legislation has passed, bad men will wake up and go on doing bad things. You’ll never legislate evil out of the heart of man.
It isn’t my intention here to argue for a certain political agenda, but to point out that evil doesn’t meet its match in parliament, or in popular movements, but in the very non-glorious and undramatic moment-to-moment reality of daily life. Evil meets its match when you decide not to share that little bit of gossip you heard; it meets its match when you drop your hammer for the fifth time, and instead of getting frustrated you thank God for the little trials he gives you; it meets its match when in the middle of the night a mother gets up to clean up the vomit of her sick children, and an hour later gets up to do it again. Although God can expand his kingdom in leaps and bounds, he tends to do it moment by moment, almost imperceptibly. There’s a reason Paul commands us “to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs.” Spiritual warfare isn’t long-distance fighting with drones and artillery, but it’s done the old-fashioned way, by the cut-and-thrust of close combat with edged weapons.
One of the evils of feminism is that it has taught women to look down on motherhood. More and more women today are forsaking the seemingly mundane task of raising a family in order to achieve the glamour of earthly power and influence. But God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the wise, and it’s to his great glory that through the humility of motherhood he strikes a hammer-blow against the forces of hell. Motherhood, and fatherhood along with it, are among the greatest gifts a child could hope to receive. It’s thousands of moments that make up a single childhood, and it’s from those thousands of moments that a man or a woman is formed. It’s to the glory of God and for the good of all mankind when those thousands of moments are infused with love, devotion, discipline, and instruction.
This is true of motherhood, but it’s also true of every one of our lives. Every one of us, I’m sure, has at some point wanted the life of a celebrity. It’s those people who seem to have lives that matter, that carry weight and significance. And of course, we, too, want to know that our lives are significant, that we matter. But the beauty of it is that we live in the world that God has created, not the one that the media shows us. That world, as people like Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson found out, gives you glory but leaves you with a wisp of a soul. In the King James Version, Psalm 106:15 says of the Israelites that God “sent leanness into their soul,” a very literal translation of the Hebrew. On the contrary, Proverbs 13:4 says that “the soul of the diligent shall be made fat.” Just put your political correctness aside for a moment, and notice that the Bible is speaking here of a fat soul as a good thing.
And forgive me, but I’m going to run with this metaphor. Our souls are fattened up the same way as our bodies are. We don’t get fat by eating one big meal every so often, but by every day choosing certain foods over others, and eating a lot of them. So when day after day we choose for kindness, patience, gentleness, self-control and the many other fruits of the Spirit, our souls will be fattened up. But if we lust after the world and the empty glory that it offers, we shouldn’t be surprised when the ensuing spiritual anorexia leads to a host of problems.
What I’m trying to say with this, and what Hilmer and Gandalf have in common, among other things, is that it’s the very little and unimportant things that matter a great deal. That is the world that God has created, as foolish as it may seem to us. And the fact is, no matter what our daily tasks are, they offer up countless little morsels of fatty spiritual goodness. Every moment gives us an opportunity to taste the goodness of the abundance of our King, and when we do, we drive another stake into the bloodless and lifeless heart of the evil that presses on all sides. This holds true for the communion of saints, too. What keeps the darkness at bay is applying ourselves, our whole selves, mind you, to the very real and often hard work of building lasting relationships with each other. Evil has no room to grow where we are diligent and intentional with the small parts that form the whole. It’s the diligent soul that is made fat with spiritual food, and diligence is defined as a “constant and earnest effort to accomplish what is undertaken; a persistent exertion of body or mind.” The LORD prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies, and Scripture has given us a resounding “eet smakelijk!”