Basket of Figs

Published 2002-7

Bud Powell

Trinity Covenant RCUS, Colorado Springs

 

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Joining the Human Race

or

Self-Conscious Christianity

I remember when it happened to me.  I regret that it came so late in life, but it was in October 1987, when I was fifty-three years old.  For the first time I came to see that God showers the entire human race with gifts and blessings that are beyond our comprehension.   I “knew” it in my theology, but the truth had never gripped me.  For the first time, I felt a part of the human race.  Until then I had been an observer and critic.

My youngest son was on the sixth floor of Penrose Hospital in Colorado Springs.  He was thirteen and attended the eighth grade at Evangelical Christian Academy.  He had been diagnosed with a seventy-five percent spondylolisthesis.  His legs were going numb and the only remedy was surgery.

The specialist who was going to do the surgery had come to Colorado Springs, brought here for the specific purpose of doing this kind of surgery.  He was one of the most skilled in the United States.  A few years before, my son would have been doomed to a crippled existence or death.  Even so, the surgeon had never performed this procedure on one so young.

He was connected to tubes and monitors.  The blood lost through the surgery would be vacuumed up, cleaned, and recycled through his body.  Blood had also been drawn earlier and saved, so that he would not need any transfusions.  We thanked God for that because the blood supply in those days was regarded with suspicion.

With nothing to do but wait and pray, I took the elevator down stairs to get a cup of coffee.  In the lobby of Penrose Main were many large plaques with the names of sponsors, donors, benefactors—people who over the years had contributed to the hospital foundation, including Spencer Penrose, who had made a fortune in the gold fields and became a major benefactor and developer of Colorado Springs.

My boy would soon to be going under the knife.  Looking at all the names of men and women who had made all these services possible, I thanked God for all the sophisticated equipment and the skills of doctors and nurses, for my employer where I kept books, who had put me on a medical insurance program a few days before my son complained about the numbness.  All the bills would be paid.  I thanked God for all the medical schools where the surgeons, anesthesiologists and others had received their training. It seems that the resources of the whole world and the medical knowledge of centuries of progress were being concentrated in Colorado Springs to cure my son. 

I cannot describe the well of emotion and gratitude that gushed up in my heart during those moments that I stood looking at the names of those who had contributed the millions and millions of dollars to make this moment possible.

At that moment I did not care whether the donors were male or female, Buddhists, Jews, Baptists, Hindus, or Presbyterians.  I didn’t care if they were straight or homosexual.  I didn’t care if they were trying to atone for sins in their past by giving away money or whether they were trying to buy favor with God.  I didn’t care what their motives or their agenda was.  In that moment all I cared about was the fact they all had made it possible for my little boy to be well.

The reason I could be thankful for all of them was not because of their religion or their character.  My gratitude wasn’t toward them, although I might have acted foolish if the Penroses had come into the room, for reasons other than the fact that they have been dead for a number of years.  I was thankful to God.

As far as I was concerned God had used all of them to gather the resources and the skills together to make it possible for my son’s infirmity to go away.  Although many of them might not have given God glory, yet I could do so in my consciousness, so that God was consciously glorified for His gifts through them.  I felt that it all had happened for my son.  God’s love is focused on the proper nouns, not the common ones.

That’s what I mean by joining the human race.   I joined that night.

I saw that a man does not have to give glory to God consciously for an act of his to be glorifying to God.  Others may do so.  I can be thankful for the policeman who keeps order in my community, even if he is not a believer and blasphemes God.  I can pray for him, for he is also a servant of God even if he does not know it.  I was thankful for each person in the operation room that night, and they were not all Presbyterians.

My entire life was changed that night in the lobby at Penrose Hospital.  I have not spoken much of it, because the experience was so personal and enlightening.  For the first time I realized what Paul meant when he said, “All things are yours.” [I Cor. 3:21]. 

It is true that the “plowing of the wicked” is sin, because if a man does not live for the glory of God, to him it is sin.  But that does not mean that I cannot buy the grain that he grew and give God thanks for it.  All good things come from God, and it is a good thing to eat and be filled.  Paul said that even the meat offered to idols may provide a good nourishing meal for a thankful Christian.  An idol is nothing in the world.

I know that everything comes to me from God, for He is my heavenly father.  I rejoice in the city I live in and am thankful for the people who live here.  I am happy that there are good libraries, hospitals, dentists and doctors.  I am sorry if many do not live for the glory of God, but I can still be thankful for the gifts that He has given to men.  It would do some sour Americans good to spend a few years in Afghanistan in a cave.

A man can be a Christian and a good dentist, but he can be a Christian and a bad dentist.  I do not look in the “Christian Yellow Pages,” to find Christian merchants and professionals.  I have been burned too many times.  When I go to the dentist, all I want to know is whether he is a good dentist, that his crowns don’t fall off, that the fillings stay in, that he doesn’t hurt me more than is necessary, and that he doesn’t gouge me with his bill.  I am not concerned to know whether or not he glorifies God, although I will try to witness to him.  I will take care of the glorifying of God, for I will praise God that He has given me a dentist whose crowns don’t fall off, whose fillings don’t come out, who doesn’t hurt me much, and who doesn’t gouge me with his bill.  A self-conscious Christian is an annoyance if he pulls the wrong tooth or gouges me with the bill.

A few years ago, I was asked if we used only Christian textbooks in the Christian school where I worked.  I replied, “No.”  The person wondered how a Christian school could use a non-Christian text.  “Isn’t that denying Christ?”

“Of course not.  The best Christian text is simply the best text.  A Christian algebra text is one that teaches algebra effectively, not one that sticks in Bible verses.  It is Christian to get the right answers and learn the basic skills.  Prayer and Bible reading will not make bad math into good math.  Good literature comes from all nations and cultures, and we can learn from all of them.”

The reason for this is that all truth is God’s truth.  The devil doesn’t have any truth.  Truth is of God and lies are of the devil.  Even the devil has to borrow God’s discipline and order for his kingdom to stay together, for a house divided against itself cannot stand.  The devil cannot even run his own kingdom in terms of rebellion.

Everything that a man has comes from God.  He cannot even shake his fist at God without using the strength and the intelligence that God gives him.  He cannot blaspheme without using the God’s gift of language.

When my gout acts up, I take a pill I got from my doctor, who is a Christian.  I take the pill and thank God for the knowledge represented by the pill and for the relief I get.  It is too bad that Philip II of Spain didn’t have some Allopurinal and Indocin.  He suffered terribly from gout and prayed a great deal, but medicine was of poor quality in those days.  His joints swelled and abscessed.  He was a very self-conscious Christian, though, but he was never able to thank God for Elizabeth of England.  Too bad.  It made him want to conquer England and make them all self-conscious Christians.  He was very bitter when he died.

The truly self-conscious Christian does not draw into a box, pushing away all others who are not “self-conscious” Christians, but he has learned to be thankful for all things, even the reprobate king or the godless scientist or the Hindu mystic.  Each of them will play out the part allotted for them in the great drama of redemption for the glory of God and His Son Jesus Christ.  Not all will be saved, but even Judas Iscariot must play the role assigned to him as the human race unfolds its purpose to glorify God forever.  We shan’t be thankful for Judas, but we are thankful for the redemption.

 

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