Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's psalm of praise

How easy for me to live with you, Lord!
How easy to believe in you!
When my mind casts about
or flags in bewilderment,
when the cleverest among us
cannot see past the present evening,
not knowing what to do tomorrow --
you send me the clarity to know
that you exist and will take care
that not all paths of goodness should be barred.
At the crest of earthly fame
I look back in wonderment
at the journey beyond hope--to this place,
from which I was able to send mankind
a reflection of your rays.
And however long the time
that I must yet reflect them
you will give it to me.
And whatever I fail to accomplish
you surely have allotted unto others.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

What I admire in this poem is first of all the faith. "How easy to believe" he says, which sounds like some hymns I dislike for being too simplistic, singing that all our problems are over when we come to God. But that is certainly not Solzhenitsyn's story. He wrote this after going off to war as a young man, then going to the Gulag for eight years, then nearly dying of cancer, then suddenly finding success as a writer (for once a good surprise). So he certainly knew the bewilderment of not knowing what to do.

I also admire the humility. The fame he enjoys when he wrote this he sees as him reflecting God's glory. And he knows he's not the only one reflecting God's glory, whatever he does not succeed in is the tasks God has given to others.

Can you believe this?

A book I was reading quoted Psalm 46. Very familiar words, but I'm tempted to wonder how one can believe them.

1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

Are you kidding us? You actually expect us to believe you are so serene in God that a cataclysmic earthquake could throw a mountain into the sea, and it wouldn't disturb you? "Oh, that's interesting. How different the mountain looks hurtling through the air. Wow, that splash looks cool. I wonder how big the tsunami is going to be. I'm glad I know God though, otherwise I'd worry."

I don't know about you, but I don't think I could pull that off. If I were at all calm as I watched a mountain flying overhead and splashing into the sea, it would be because I just couldn't believe what I was seeing. Could God keep me calm? I suppose possibly, if Jesus appeared to me, said "Steve, take my hand and close your eyes, you won't want to watch this next part".

But yet the statement isn't false. If I really understood who God is, and that he has promised to always be with me, and to work out every circumstance for good, I wouldn't panic at a huge earthquake altering the landscape or an asteroid the size of Russia heading right for me. I certainly wouldn't panic at some comparatively minor thing like a hurricane that merely flattened my house and cut off power and water to the neighborhood for a couple of weeks. And really minor things like a car wreck or losing my job or discovering I had cancer I'd barely notice.

I can expound how Scripture should give me that kind of confidence in God. But I don't have it. Maybe the Psalmist who wrote these words didn't have it yet either, maybe he wrote this to say "If I really believed what I know I should, I'd be calm." Maybe like me he wrote that down, looked at his words and prayed, "Lord I believe, yet help my unbelief. Help me really get this deep down."

The astounding story in Acts 6

I think the Holy Spirit did something truly astounding in the beginning of Acts 6. Not an astounding miracle like the tongues of fire and the speaking in unknown languages that happened at Pentecost, nor an astounding healing like the crippled beggar.

The chapter begins with tension. The Greek speaking believers complain that their widows aren't getting as much food aid as the Aramaic speaking widows. Typical humanity, one group complains that another group is getting favorable treatment. What would normally happen? Some Greek speakers might start their own church. The Aramaic believers would criticize those radicals that split the church, who accused the apostles of favoritism. The apostles might call a press conference to say they weren't unfair in distributing food, and accuse their critics of disloyalty to the church God has established. The Aramaic believers might wonder why there weren't many Greek speakers in the church, but conclude that the Greek speakers have hard hearts, are just a bunch of barely converted (if that) pagans.

But instead, the apostles call a meeting and say that something needs to change. How rare is it when a majority group running an organization decides to make a change because a minority within the group is feeling disgruntled? Even more astonishing, the seven people picked by the group to take charge of distributing the food are all (judging by the names) Greek speaking believers. This is what astounds me. The Greek speaking Jews perceive unfairness, so the whole church decides they'll fix the problem by having Greeks do the distributing. Truly the Spirit was working in the hearts of the church members.