The Hand That Reaches Up
The body does not more surely crave food and water,. the mind does not more truly pine for knowledge, than the soul craves fellowship with God. For even as food and moisture are essential to the continuation of physical life, and knowledge is implied in the construction of the mind, so God is implied in the constitution of our spiritual nature. God is complement to the spiritual nature, just as light is to the eye, music to the ear and pleasure to the touch. David was speaking for all men, as well as for himself, when he said, “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God” (Psalms 42:1).
In the days of feudal Europe, it is said, a certain old castle had changed hands so frequently that former owners and tenants were forgotten. On the wall in the great hall of the old castle hung a curious old harp, retained now as a relic, seeing no one had been found who knew how to play it. But one day a stranger who asked to warm before the huge log fire, espied this old harp, took it down, tuned it up, and then with trained hand brought from it such music as had not rung through the castle halls in the memory of any present. Asked how it was that he could play this harp when so many had tried and failed, the stranger answered, “I made this harp. I know what all its strings are supposed to do.” There is a harp of life that is like that: It has hung there on the walls of time so long that many imagine it incapable of harmony. But God who made it can cause the chords “that were broken to vibrate once more.”
Ask, as the schoolmen did, “What is the summum bonum (the highest good) of life?” and the answers received will be as varied as the stories that gathered about that old harp in the castle. Some there said it was never intended to make music, that it really had no purpose at all. But the heart of that old harp was all the time waiting only for “the touch of the master’s hand.” Just so, the heart of man waits for God.
The old atheists (we called them infidels, i.e. those who had departed from fidelity, when I was a child) were more fortunate than the modern agnostics in that they did profess to come to a place of intellectual rest in the conclusion that there is no God, no immortal principle in man, no judgment to fear, and no eternity of conscious existence ahead. The agnostic, on the other hand, must stand suspended, simply saying, “I don’t know” to every thesis presented. Under the conception, man is made to wander like a lost star or a lonely dove, and is destined to miss God, if there is a God, since the position is that God, being infinite, cannot be apprehended by the finite.
But whether there is a supply for man’s needs or not, one thing cannot be denied, and that is that men of all ages and conditions have this craving. Some reach up the hand in hope, some reach up in despair. Some lay hold upon. something, some grasp at nothingness. But they all reach up. David, the shepherd lad, must have seen the hart risk its life m answering the call of the water brooks, and both he and we have seen men who risked all in their search for the living God. Inward craving, conscious or unconscious, reaching up! These may be properly posited of all men. If there be some who do not thus crave and thus reach up, these are the abnormal, yea, even the sub-normal, for they would be normal and better if they did thus crave and thus reach up.
Among all people, laughing at a man’s religion is a crime. The penalties may not be so readily meted out in courts of justice, but men high and low are wont to place sacrilege in the same category with theft and falsehood, if not also with impurity and murder. A man’s religion may be crude, it may involve a considerable mixture of superstition, it may clearly tend toward disintegration and deterioration, but it is still a proof that man is better than the beast, and no one should attempt to take this religion away except by offering what has proved to be a better one in its place. And this religion, whatever it is, and howsoever many its weaknesses, is a testimonial to man’s inherent (the word is used loosely, for this conviction is in reality the product of prevenient grace) conviction that he is capable of fellowship with someone higher than himself.
It should always be remembered that in religion, it is not alone the bad that is the enemy of the good, but also the good that is sometimes the enemy of the best. Lord Burleigh said, “Beware of the man of unsound religion; for if a man is faithless to his God, he cannot be trusted to keep his contracts with his fellow men.” All this means to say that a man may be better or worse than his religion, but his attachment to his convictions in this regard is an almost infallible index to his essential character.
As a final word, and somewhat in anticipation of things which we are to emphasize later, faith (and we do not pause now to define the word) is the hand that reaches up, even as love is the hand that reaches down. Faith is the means by which men apprehend God, just as the hand is the means by which they grasp things that are intended for the body, and as reason is the hand by which they lay hold upon knowledge for the mind.
An ornithologist observed among his specimens a bird which had lost its bill. Knowing that to this particular kind of bird, the bill is his pick and shovel, his knife and fork and spoon, he would have expected this bird to be thin and starving. But it was not so. It gave the appearance of being well fed. Waiting patiently for the explanation, the ornithologist, at feeding time, saw another bird bring portions in its bill and thrust them far back into the mouth of the unfortunate one, and then turn to repeat the action, cheered on by chirps of thanksgiving from its beneficiary. Some months later, this feeding bird died, and although all that could be done by human hands was done to take care of the bill-less one, it soon died also. In our crippled estate, only God, through Christ, can meet the deep needs of our lives. Without Him, we perish.