Recently, as I was listening to a song by James Blunt, I found myself crying. This will come as no surprise to those who are less than appreciative of the creative efforts of the one time captain in the British Army and who will, therefore, see my distress as nothing more than the inevitable consequence of exposing oneself to the work of the aforementioned musician. Even so, the reason I was reduced to tears had nothing to do with the artistic merit, or lack thereof, of what it was that I was hearing.
The particular song in question was ‘Monsters’. In it Blunt sings of how his father had once chased away the monsters that had existed in his son’s life, and of how he needn’t be afraid now that he is seemingly drawing near to the end of his life. The reason given for this is that Blunt junior has now taken on the responsibility of chasing away the monsters that appear to still prowl the environs of Blunt senior’s remaining years.
So why the moist eyes?
I think, in part, they began to spill over on account of the fact that my own dear father is now 89 years old and, though he is still pretty fit and well, is, inevitably, drawing ever closer to his own death. For him the time has indeed gone or, at least, it largely has. But more specifically, my sadness reflected a realisation that, despite being a genuinely great Dad who, over the years, has lessened a great many of the fears I have myself experienced, he has, of course, been no more successful in completely chasing away all the monsters in my life as I myself have been successful in completely chasing away all of those that have inhabited the lives of my own children and those of others whom I have loved or cared for both inside and outside of work.
Life is at times a scary business and, as doctor I see perhaps more of those things that lurk in the shadows than some others. The world is full of protracted dementia and premature death, it’s full of cancer and coronavirus, pain and paralysis, sickness and sorrow. It is, on occasions, a confusing and confounding place, both wild and unpredictable. Whilst, for a time, we may be able to cage some of the monsters we encounter, as with those great creatures of old, the Behemoth and Leviathan, we can never tame them fully. That is as true today and it will still be true tomorrow.
Perhaps, in part, that’s the point of monsters. Perhaps we are meant to be terrified by these fearful creatures, at least for as long as it takes us to appreciate that it will always be beyond our ability to domesticate them and thus, render as harmless, that which threatens us most. (See Job Chapters 40 and 41). Only then, perhaps, will we come to realise that our only hope lies, not in ourselves, but in the one who created what terrifies us, in the one who, as their creator, stands high above each of those dreadful dangers and who, more terrifying perhaps than they are themselves, sovereignly controls and constrains them such that their sphere of influence extends only as far as he decrees.
Constrained by our limited minds, there is, of course, an unfathomable mystery to God that we will never completely understand, an infinite depth to his being that we will never fully plumb. But by faith we know that this fear inducing deity, is also a God of love. As C.S. Lewis helpfully reminds us, God is not safe, but he is good. In the book that bears his name, Job, in his anguish at the devastating loss he has experienced, pours out his complaint to God. When it is eventually answered, it is out of the whirlwind that God graciously speaks. [Job 38.1].
Whatever our current circumstances, however incomprehensible we may be finding what is happening to us today, God has promised that he will ultimately restore the fortunes of his children just as he restored Job’s. And when he does, it will be as a result of his loving kindness and his infinite goodness. Though he may, in his mercy, first have cause to humble us, an experience which we may find to be deeply painful, having done so he will vindicate us, accepting us as righteous on account of the perfect life lived by Jesus. And in the end, he will richly bless us, a consequence of who he is by nature, a compassionate God who invites us to take refuge in him. Then, just as those who, sheltering in a crevice of a rock can marvel at the frightening force of the storm, so we, safe in Christ, will be able to marvel at the fearful awesomeness of who God really is.
So who will protect you from the hooded claw, who will keep the vampires from your door? Surely only the one who is sovereign over all that is evil – surely only the one who, though God, paradoxically ‘emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men and, being found in human form, humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.’ [Philippians 2:7-8]
This is the power of love, the power of that perfect love shown by the perfect God who is love. His is a love that chooses to suffer, a love that chooses to lay down it’s life, and a love that, in so doing, subverts evil, disarms it of its power, and defeats death itself.
My father may not have been able to chase away all the monsters in my life but he has pointed me to the one who can, a father who is greater than either of us could ever be. God is the only perfect father, one whose son I am glad to be. And he is the one to whom I seek to point others, including my own children, because, since his is the only perfect love, and since ‘perfect love casts out fear’ [1 John 4:18], he alone is the one who can deal with all that frightens them, all that frightens me and all that frightens all those I love and care for.
Contrary to that which is suggested by the lyrics of James Blunt’s song, there is, though, a need for forgiveness. But the good news is that, on account of Christ’s death in our place, our faultless Heavenly Father, who does indeed know all our mistakes, lovingly offers that forgiveness to all who will receive it. If then, when our time is gone, we know his forgiveness, and if, as we close our eyes in sleep for that final time, we hear someone gently whisper ‘Don’t be afraid’ we will know, even then, that there really is nothing that we need fear.
For then all the monsters will have been chased away forever.
For those who may not be familiar with the song ‘Monsters’ you can hear it here. You can say what you like, I think it’s all right!