Lucy has a children’s Bible — Hurlbut’s Story of the Bible — that was printed in 1932.
We own two other copies of the same book, but the 1932 illustrated edition is my favorite, and Y and I have learned a few things ourselves from the connections made in the text.
This morning after breakfast, Lucy and I read the first chapter again at the table.
We read about the darkness and light, the water and land, the establishment of the Garden, and the creation of Adam and Eve. Then came this sentence:
For a time, we do not know how long, Adam and Eve were at peace in their beautiful garden.
I’ve wondered about this myself. How long did it take for Eve to turn her unclouded eyes to the tree? How long for the serpent’s words to wear her down?
Afterward, I paged through my own Bible, mulling over the power of suggestive evil coupled with time.
Before the birth of Samuel, Peninnah provokes the childless Hannah “year by year,” driving her into deep sorrow and distress. In Samson’s story, the outcome of Delilah’s persistence is chilling: “And when she pressed him hard with her words day after day, and urged him, his soul was vexed to death” (Judges 16:16, ESV).
The sheer force of cruel repetition can drive a mind mad.
Time in its healing capacity can dull pain and grant us perspective, but tied to provocation — whether to commit a wrong, or to simply believe that our current reality will never end — this is like the slow, unrelenting squeeze of a hand, like a long upward thorn embedded on the inside of a shoe.
In C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra, protagonist Elwin Ransom comes up against the devil incarnate in an isolated world:
“Ransom,” it said again.
“What is it?” said Ransom sharply.
“Nothing,” it answered.
Again there was silence; and again, about a minute later, the horrible mouth said:
“Ransom!” This time he made no reply. Another minute and it uttered his name again; and then, like a minute gun, “Ransom . . . Ransom . . . Ransom,” perhaps a hundred times. . . .
If the attack had been of some more violent kind it might have been easier to resist. What chilled and almost cowed him was the union of malice with something nearly childish. For temptation, for blasphemy, for a whole battery of horrors, he was in some sort prepared: but hardly for this petty, indefatigable nagging as of a nasty little boy at preparatory school. Indeed no imagined horror could have surpassed the sense which grew within him as the slow hours passed, that this creature was, by all human standards, inside out–its heart on the surface and its shallowness at the heart. On the surface, great designs and an antagonism to Heaven which involved the fate of worlds: but deep within, when every veil had been pierced, was there, after all, nothing but a black puerility, an aimless empty spitefulness content to sate itself with the tiniest cruelties, as love does not disdain the smallest kindness?”
– Perelandra, C.S. Lewis, 122-123
On our world, the indefatigable nagging often delivers its blows in sly whispers. Tiny, tack-like insinuations that we are insignificant, failures at our jobs, overlooked, once favored but cast aside, unloved, irredeemable.
Given the right conditions, these can grow increasingly unbearable as the hours tick by, because the age-old destroyer of souls knows that a gradual wearing down can be far more effective than a full onslaught.
But if his strategy is formidable, friends, then so is the might that resists it.
And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her. (Of Potiphar’s wife, Gen. 39:10)
When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. (Daniel 6:10)
Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,
‘You shall worship the Lord your God
and him only shall you serve.’ (Matt. 4:10)
There were no heroic songs sung at dusk for any of these men. Theirs was simply a steadfast hold of refusing to give in, which is perhaps both easier and harder than what we imagine when we consider living our days out for God.
The truth we have about Christ is enough to keep us moored; He, and the Word and the Spirit He has left with us, is our anchor. Some days we will make headway and blaze forth in our struggles, some days we will be beaten back — but in all these, the true victory is our choosing to remain in Him whether daybreak brings relief and reinforcements, or only a cold dawn on the clash of a wearying battle.
“Stand firm,“ Paul writes. “Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved” (Phil. 4:1).
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. (Phil. 1:27-28a, ESV)
Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Eph. 6:13, ESV)
Stand firm, rings the call.
There is a silent triumph taking shape in our times of discouragement, in the viselike grip of unchanging circumstances, and in what seems the monotonous plodding-on of an unseen life.
For it is no small thing to remain faithful.
To be unmoved by hostile persistence.
So much of what we accomplish as children has to do not with the forging of new paths or the advancement of our work, but in choosing to abide in our Father’s words. It’s the simple stride of the everyday, the steadfast holding to what is true, that is real work.
So on days that threaten to pull us under, friend, remember each refusal to be dragged away and enticed is itself a gaining of ground. “[W]e have come to share in Christ,” you and I, “if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (Heb. 3:14).
And I believe that someday we will share these stories: tales of these long and gray days when we waited for the hours to pass — how we heard the waiting growl and incessant roar of an enemy prowling, how we held fast to the Shepherd,
and there, even in the lowering dark, how faithfully He held us.