The Mists are Lifted

timelapse cloudscape with bright sun shining with clouds passing.

If you were ever to borrow my copy of Charles Dickens’ classic novel Great Expectations, one hundred and sixty-seven pages into it—nearly at the end of chapter 19—you’d discover the following line underscored in pencil: “Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts.” Dickens scribbled those words into the protagonist’s mind. Pip is his name. Well, his nickname, that is. If you were to read a little further along, you’d find more of Pip’s thoughts underlined in pencil, leaving clues to his sadness. Riding along in a coach, he ponders, “I was better after I had cried, than before—more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle.” And then Dickens tells us plainly the avenue Pip used to discover his painful awareness: Pip was deliberating “with an aching heart.”

In other words, sadness was not necessarily Pip’s enemy, but instead, a tool for discovering something better, a more honest sense of “self.” And the honesty led to more sunlit possibilities. Less than a paragraph later, Dickens uses the last lines of the chapter to demonstrate this literarily. He concludes, “and I went on. And the mists had all solemnly risen now, and the world lay spread before me.”

Like Dickens, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow captured a similar aspect of sorrow in his poem “The Rainy Day.” In between a few short lines describing intense grimness, he hints at the winds and rains as useful for clearing away lifeless debris. Resting there, he knows something far better behind the clouds, something promising. And so, he ends the poem accordingly:

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall.
Some days must be dark and dreary.

Dickens and Longfellow are onto something here. Being the season of Lent, their intuition is useful, even if only to describe the human condition relative to the hope God gives. For Dickens, sorrow leading to honest confession discovers hope. For Longfellow, a hopeful heart can see through the inevitable clouds and know something better is most certainly hovering there.

These are Christological things, and the scriptures speak very clearly to them.

For starters, Christians know the difference between attrition and contrition—that is, the difference between sorrow for getting caught and a heart that aches because we sinned against someone we truly love. Attrite sorrow produces shameful excuses intent on preserving what’s most important—the self. Contrition can’t bear the sadness it has brought to someone else, and its only aim is to fix it, while at the same time being willing to bear the consequences owed for the crime. Attrition is selfish sorrow. Contrition is sorrow born from love.

King David, a man who knew both forms, wrote by divine inspiration that “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). But he didn’t jot those words before informing his readers that the “Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). In other words, God stands as close to the desolate sinner as anyone can. He is there. And He brings hope, the kind of hope that has a name—Jesus Christ. Through the person and work of Christ, hope takes shape beside us—for us—laboring to win our rescue from Sin’s despairing darkness, changing our attrite hearts into contrite ones.

God promised He’d do this. He announced, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). That’s incarnational language. That’s the heart of the God-man Jesus replacing our hearts of stone. With this Gospel-infused heart, we have ears to hear, know, and be comforted when the Lord says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27); or “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). We know what He means by these things.

He means He has won our salvation. The peace between God and Man that none of us could win has been accomplished by the Son of God on the cross. He has taken our sorrowful and burdensome yoke, placed it on His own shoulders, and given to us His yoke of righteousness. Recreated by this wonderful Gospel, as we face off with the winds and rains inherent to Sin, Death, and Satan—all sadness-inducing things they’d use to impose despair—a contrite heart is a hopeful one, and it stands ready to meet these turbulent accusations knowing that God stands right beside the confessor ready to give love as no one in this world ever could or would.

For the sorrowful, behind this world’s clouds, there’s always sunlight. Bearing the knowledge of forgiveness, the mists are lifted, and new life lay spread before us. Christ is its embodiment.

Again, today is the First Sunday in Lent. Whether the first or last Sunday, all of this is a part of Lent’s message. Listen carefully. It’s there. Know that in your penitential sorrow, a light is beaming. And even as it might appear to be snuffed out at Calvary, know it’s on the cross that it beams most brightly. Your hope is fulfilled in the death of Christ for you. And His resurrection—oh, the glorious resplendence of Christ’s power over Death—is the proof!

A “Praise God” Moment

Apart from posting daily at, I’ve read a little of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations each morning before writing whatever comes to mind. I do this not only because I’m on vacation or because I thoroughly enjoy Dickens’ storytelling but because of his care with words and my goal beyond the reading. His unrestrained festival and mastery of language is the mind’s perfect ignitor at 5:30 in the morning. After twenty minutes with Dickens, it’s hard to avoid thinking and writing creatively, which is what each morning on retreat beckons me to do.

I know I’m an easy target for people who say I’d be better off sleeping in. But here’s the thing—you should try it. Seriously. Firstly, be sure to spend some time in God’s Word. Life is in the Word. Then, after you’ve received what truly feeds the soul, take a chance on a chapter or two from a classic writer, someone like Dickens. Take a chance on Oliver Twist or The Cricket on the Hearth. You’ll see. Whether you actually enjoy the story in your hands or not, excellent word crafting will affect you. Make a habit of letting it do so, and you may very well begin seeing the world around you in a fresher, more genuine way. It may even prompt you to respond audibly. Good writing will encourage this. Superb writing will spark it.

I crossed paths this morning with a superb line.

The first sentence of chapter 54 in Great Expectations spoke eloquently of spring in England, describing it as a place where “the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.” This verbal arrangement’s crispness caused me to say aloud, “Michigan and England are more than historical cousins. They’re neighbors.”

Why did I respond this way? Because what Dickens described was so incredibly familiar that I had to respond. I knew exactly what he was talking about. Like the people thousands of miles away in England, I know the Michigan days when springtime promises summer, but its breezes remind me of winter—when its sun hints at sunscreen, but its shade demands a jacket. Dickens’ snare of careful language caught me with truth in a way that caused a celebratory response.

I suppose that’s one thing of importance to consider this morning, especially in preparation for hearing from the historic lectionary’s suggested Gospel readings of either Luke 15:1-10 or Luke 15:11-32. Since I won’t be at Our Savior in Hartland this morning, I can’t say for sure which Gospel reading Bishop Hardy has selected. Either way, Jesus’ careful words in either text are more than capable of ensnaring the listener with a two-part truth.

The first part is that, in our Sin, we are lost. The second is that God’s love moves Him to seek and find us. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done any more than it matters our origins or appearance. We mean a lot to Him. We are His sheep. We are His precious silver coins. We are His children. When we wander away, He’s willing to endanger Himself to find us. When we are lost, He’s willing to get on His hands and knees in the filth to retrieve us. When we reject and insult Him, He continues giving us the inheritance of His Gospel, and then He stands ready at the edge of His kingdom’s property to embrace us when that same Gospel produces a penitent faith that longs for home.

I’m guessing that some of the Lord’s listeners whispered audibly to themselves the familiarity of what Jesus was describing. In some circumstances, the Scriptures tell us that people heard the Lord’s preaching and couldn’t help but call out God’s praises. And why was this true? Because again, His Word caught them in truth. It reminisced the messianic promises given so long ago—words that described God Himself as the One who would not only do the ultimate finding of that which was lost, but He would accomplish it by enduring humanly unendurable consequences. How could they not be glad about this forthcoming victory taking shape before their eyes?!

I’ll add that beyond the simpler perspective of basic language, not only were Jesus’ words so incredibly well-crafted, but they were (and remain) life-giving words—words through which the Holy Spirit works to find and then recast the human heart into something far better than it was before.

I suppose these things lead me to something else.

I’ve been told by some people that Christians ought not to act too celebratory following the overturning of Roe V. Wade. I even received a reprimand by text from the Michigan Senate Majority Leader for disagreeing publicly with his expression of this sentiment. I’ll say that while I understand the premise of his concern, he’s wrong. This isn’t an “in your face” moment for the Church. It’s a “Praise God!” moment. And yet, it doesn’t change the fact that what has happened is a vindicating triumph destined to bother the enemies of God no matter what. There’s just no way around the world receiving this as an “in your face” moment. That’s how it works for the world when God’s people win and death loses to life.

Knowing this, imagine if Moses had warned the Israelites not to express their songs of praise too openly on the other side of the Red Sea after being delivered from certain death (Exodus 15:1-21). Imagine if he’d urged such things because he was concerned about offending his former family—that is, the house of Pharaoh—and preserving future political relations with them. Imagine if the disciples, having gone into Jerusalem after the Lord’s victorious resurrection and ascension, had subdued their joy out of concern for offending their fellow countrymen or the Sanhedrin’s failed attempt at suppressing the Gospel (Luke 24:51-53).

Go anywhere you want in the Bible and imagine this of God’s people amid His victories.

Again, here’s the thing. When God’s people celebrate His victories, it is a powerfully confident proclamation of the Gospel itself. Neither the Israelites nor the ragtag band of disciples deserved rescue. It’s the same with the unborn. The Sin-nature makes all human beings into God’s enemies. But God rescues us, anyway. He wants to save. And when He does, spiking the football, dancing, giving high-fives to one’s teammates—rejoicing—is in perfect order because it’s a fruit of faith. It knows it’s been snatched from the edge of eternal death by truth. For the record, Jesus describes the very corridors of heaven resonating with similar angelic gladness when even one sinner is snatched by truth in this way (Luke 15:7).

But wouldn’t our gleeful response in victory make the devil and his ilk angry at and less inclined to work with us?

You bet.

Such rejoicing is an affirmation and perpetuation of the Gospel itself, which the devil and his compatriots hate. And why? Because the Gospel will always be the means through which the Holy Spirit works to change the hearts of God’s enemies into His friends (Romans 1:16). If you subdue this Gospel joy in such moments, you risk hiding the opportunity for a good word of truth to snatch others away and into the Lord’s kingdom (Matthew 5:16).

I don’t know about you, but I intend to celebrate and do it openly. After fifty years, it’s certainly time for it. Yes, I’ll continue supporting the areas of opportunity most pro-choicers are saying will become horribly burdensome—such as adoption, foster care, and the like. By the way, I don’t know how anyone could look into the eyes of an unadopted or foster child and say he or she is the reason we need to protect abortion. That’s just sick. But that’s the logic of those who lost this round, and we’re delighted they did. When they lose, death loses. Praise God for that!