A Biblical Apologetic for Fishing

Christian fisher-persons looking for yet another route by which they might justify their obsession might find an ally in the Reverend Bruce Milne, who penned a commentary on the gospel of John for the The Bible Speaks Today series.

In commenting on their Galilean fishing trip recorded in John 21, he notes that the disciples of Jesus have taken it on the chin over the centuries for their decision to go fishing so soon after the resurrected Jesus had commissioned them to be sent as he had been sent (John 20:21).

Milne is sympathetic, which causes me to picture him with his own pole in his hand:

“It has also to be said that in terms of their psychological and emotional well-being a fishing expedition back in the old familiar surroundings of the Sea of Galilee was therapeutically ideal. The last few days had been an emotional roller-coaster. In a matter of a week they had been lifted up to the giddy heights of Palm Sunday, sent spiraling down into the utter depths of despair on Good Friday, and then been swept up again to the heavens by the glory of the resurrection. A good night’s fishing was probably just what a doctor would have ordered.” (310)

There you go. Biblical support for therapeutic fishing.

Soul Doctor

Prone to self-pity, I told my wife the other day that I must like despair like some like ice cream since I indulge so often. But though our thoughts may be trained to flow down well-worn channels, we are never meant to stay there.

My Bible reading plan for the other morning had me reading the book of Lamentations. This is by no means the first place I’d go to or recommend going to when one is feeling the weight of life, and I had little hope of the morning’s reading bringing much comfort.

But the prophet Jeremiah, the book’s reluctant author, has been nicknamed ‘the weeping prophet’ not because he curled up in a useless puddle in the face of the affairs of life, but because he gave expression to the frustrations that life brought to him. He took those frustrations to the One whom he believed to be the source of life.

He wrote as the city of Jerusalem fell apart around him under a Babylonian siege. That siege, Jeremiah had repeatedly pointed out, was the judgment of God upon the squishy, superficial spirituality of Israel. God had had enough and was bringing his promised judgment.

As I sat in “Dr. Jeremiah’s” couch, he showed me that affliction and sin all mixed up and confounded can drag one from freedom to bondage.

“She who was a princess among the provinces has become a slave.” (1:1)

He showed me as well that it is okay to trace this to its source.

“…because the LORD has afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions.” (1:5)

The cause may be my sin, but the source of the affliction is and always will be God. It does not help to try to sidestep God’s sovereignty when we are suffering. In fact, it is appropriate to give full vent to how this makes us feel.

“The Lord has swallowed up without mercy all the habitations of Jacob….” (2:2)

It seems wrong to accuse God of acting “without mercy”, but when that is the way it feels, that is what we need to say. But in Jeremiah I see as well one who, giving vent to bitter honesty, cannot remain at the place of bitter honesty. That is the case with any who truly know God. Yes speaking with such honesty is good, but we must at some point emerge elsewhere.

“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (3:22, 23)

I want to live in that verse, but I often don’t. I think that one of the reasons public worship is so important is that being with God’s people under the ministry of God’s word is a place where, if even for a brief moment, God can move us from the despair of 2:2 to the affirmation of 3:22, 23.

But we want to be there always, not just for a brief moment, we protest from Dr. Jeremiah’s couch. He knows that. But he also knows that in God’s wisdom there is ordained a time for everything under heaven, and for some times we must wait.

“The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” (3:25, 26)

Waiting is something foreign to me and to many others. Waiting is not what spoiled and soft children are prone to practice. But waiting, nevertheless, is what God demands.

It does not take one long to realize that the afflictions facing the Israelites and observed and experienced by Jeremiah were far worse than those faced by the readers of this blog (both of us). Nevertheless, ours FEEL as real and as painful and the hard place for all of us is to wait quietly. Quiet waiting is a far better place than quiet (or noisy) desperation.

And so Dr. Jeremiah dismisses us from his office with a prayer purged of complaint and focused as it ought to be.

“Restore us to yourself, O LORD, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old….” (5:21)

The ellipses can be used to hide things to make the text say what I want it to say. Many writers hide behind abbreviated texts. Here note that I have dropped an important qualifier from the text.

“…unless you have utterly rejected us, and you remain exceedingly angry with us.’

What Jeremiah could only sense is what we know to be fact – that we may trust in one who was utterly rejected for us, so that we might know that God would never remain exceedingly angry with us.

With that hope we leave our appointment with this soul doctor. And the good thing is that his consultation was free.

Tears

I’m working on a sermon in which a beloved brother dies, and the One who could have kept him alive and could have saved them the hurt and suffering delays in a seemingly callous way. We wonder where God is in our suffering, but often we don’t have to wonder where people are. They tell us, when maybe they shouldn’t.

I was reminded of a very wise, very short song by Charlie Peacock.

Now is the time for tears
Don’t speak
Save your words
There’s nothing you could say
To take this pain away
Don’t try so hard
You can just simply be
Cry with me don’t try to fix me friend
That’s how you’ll comfort me

Heavenly Father cover this child with mercy
You are my helper through this time of trial and pain
Silence the lips of the people with all of the answers
Gently show them now is the time
Now is the time
Now is the time for tears

Our Heavenly Father

For a meeting the other night, I was led to read for our devotional a portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, a portion which we all needed to hear:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:25-34)

I’ve read the passage, of course, dozens of times. But it certainly takes on greater meaning when read during a period of uncertainty and transition.

No one, I have long held, is able to stop worrying. We cannot “turn off” the worry button. What the passage asks us to do is to look to the abiding and unfailing love of our Father. When we do that, and see that he has loved us to a degree in his Son that we cannot measure, worry of its own fades to the background.

When I read it, a memory was triggered, a memory of some lines from an old Phil Keaggy song. The lines (dredged up from some deep part in my memory and reproduced here, perhaps imperfectly) may not be original with him, and they will never be mistaken for great poetry. Nevertheless, they drive my heart to where it needs to be:

Said the robin to the sparrow,
“I would really like to know
Why these anxious human beings
Rush about and worry so.”

Said the sparrow to the robin,
“Friend, I think that it must be
That they have no heavenly Father
Such as cares for you and me.”

Blessing

Hit me with the simple stuff.

I can argue the Trinity. I can defend the sovereignty of God against all comers. I’m not afraid of the debate about predestination.

It’s the simple stuff I forget.

Earlier last week, a friend suggested a book to me, Shattered Dreams by Larry Crabb.

When it came Friday, I glanced at it quickly, a glance which included reading the first sentence:

“Three ideas fill my mind as I write this book. The first is this: God wants to bless us.

That simple statement knocked me silly.

It is so simple, and yet do easily forgotten by some of us that God loves us and therefore intends to bless us.

All last night I kept repeating those four words to myself, and to my wife. What profound encouragement that is.

God wants to bless us. So simple. So profound. And, by me, so easily forgotten.

For the Not Yet Dead

We who live insulated lives cannot begin to comprehend the depth of emptiness which arises when one we love is lost. I shudder to think how devastating such would be to me. Some of you already know.

For reasons I need not go into now, a friend recently re-introduced me to John Whitehead, a feisty, bull dog kind of guy, a guy you always want on your side in a battle.

But even bull dogs suffer. Whitehead writes,

Recently, my wife of 42 years, Carol, suddenly passed away. Nothing can convey the feeling of lostness that has come over me. I feel like a gutted fish. My sense of being has been amputated. All sounds, even human voices, seem shrill and overbearing. Strange headaches and twilight sleeping. I have trouble swallowing. A vacuum has descended and all the color has drained from the world and it has not yet returned. Maybe it won’t.

I’m grateful for Whitehead’s honest reflections on loss, shared fully here. Nothing prepares us for this.

But perhaps we can be prepared for being there for those who are facing loss. Our temptation would be to talk someone like Whitehead out of his grief. To throw Bible verses at him, in a way meant to comfort, but which only sting.

Joe Bailey lost three sons in tragic accidents, very close together. In his helpful little book The View from a Hearse, sadly out of print, he makes this poignant reflection:

“I was sitting, torn by grief. Somewon came and talked to me of God’s dealings, of why it happened, of hope beyond the grave. He talked constantly, he said things I knew were true.

“I was unmoved, except to wish he’d go away. He finally did.

“Another cam and sat beside me. He didn’t talk. He didn’t ask leading questions. He just sat beside me for an hour and more, listened when I said something, answered briefly, prayed simply, left.

“I was moved. I was comforted. I hated to see him go.”