Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Inefficient God, Part 2

Out of fourteen years in jail under the Communists in Rumania, I spent three years alone in a cell thirty feet below ground, never seeing sun, moon or stars, flowers or snow, never seeing another man except for the guards and interrogators who beat and tortured me.
I seldom heard a noise in that prison. The guards had felt-soled shoes and I did not hear their approach.
I had no Bible, nor any other book. I had no paper on which to write my thoughts. The only things we were expected to write were statements accusing ourselves and others.
During that time I rarely slept at night. I slept in the daytime. Every night I passed the hours in spiritual exercises and prayer. Every night I composed a sermon and delivered it.
I had a faint hope that one day I might be released. And so I tried to memorize the sermons. In order to do this, I used a device of putting the main ideas into short rhymes. There are precedents for this. Omar Kayyam, Nostradamus, Heinrich Seusse and Angelus Silesius all condensed into extremely short verses a wealth of philosophy, religion and prophecy. So I composed my rhymes. These I learned by heart and kept in my memory through continual repetition. When my mind broke down under the influence of heavy doping, I forgot them. But as the effects of the drugs passed, they came vividly back to me.
Here are just a few of the sermons. My unusually good memory retains some three hundred and fifty.
These sermons are not to be judged by dogmatic content. I did not live on dogma then. Nobody can. The soul feeds on Christ, not on teachings about him.
From the dogmatic point of view, David and Job were wrong to argue with God. From the dogmatic point of view, the author of the book of Esther was wrong not to write one word of praise for the God who had just wrought such a great deliverance for his people. From the dogmatic point of view, St. John the Baptist was wrong when in prison he questioned the fact that Jesus was the Messiah. Dogmatists could even find fault with Jesus himself. He ought not to have trembled in Gethsemane. But life, even religious life, is not concerned with dogmas. It pursues its own course, and that course seems foolish to reason.
I have lived in exceptional circumstances and passed through exceptional states of spirit. I must share these with my fellow men. They need to be known, because even now tens of thousands of Christians are in prison in Communist countries, tortured and drugged and kept in solitary cells and put in strait-jackets as I have been. Many of them must have similar reactions to mine. Jesus, in his compassion for the multitudes, became one of them, a carpenter in a poor country among an oppressed people. You cannot have compassion (the word means suffering together) unless you know the state of heart of those who are suffering.
To be in a solitary cell under the Communists or the Nazis is to reach the peak of suffering. The reactions of Christians who pass through such trials are something apart from everything else.
The purpose of this book is to make these thoughts and feelings known to those who are on the side of the innocent victims. With many of the thoughts expressed in these sermons I no longer agree myself any more, now that I am living under normal conditions. But I record my thoughts as they occurred to me then.
Reader, instead of judging, enter into fellowship with your Christian brothers who are in prison in situations where, to use the words of Bede, "there is no voice but of weeping, no face but of the tormentors." Put yourself in their situation; "remember them that are in bonds as bound with them." Use your imagination to feel what it is like to be in solitary confinement and tortured. Only then will you be able to understand this book.
It contains the sermons of a pastor whose pillars of reason rocked under strain, as I recognize now. There were times when I was near to apostasy. Happily, just on those worst days I was not tortured. Probably I would have cracked then. The tortures happened only after I had overcome despair.
It has been easy for me to reconstruct the whole sermon out of a short poem, because while I left the solitary cell the solitary cell has never left me. Not one day passes without my living in it, whether I am in a large rally in the United States, in a church or a committee meeting in Britain, or just sitting on a train. My real being has remained for ever in solitary confinement. I don't so much live my present life, as relive continually those prison years. This is not because they are an essential part of my personal history but because I am not the real me. The real me is those who are in lonely, dreary, damp cells today, in Red China, in Albania, in Rumania, in North Korea and other Communist countries. Thety are the little brothers of Jesus. They are the most precious part of the mystical body of Christ on earth. I am living their life when I relive my years of solitary confinement. It is a strange experience. It may lead to madness. There may already be madness in these sermons of mine.
But if Erasmus was right when he wrote In Praise of Folly, why should not folly be allowed to speak for itself? Communism has driven mad many pastors and other Christians, whose mental health broke down under prolonged torture. Why should only wise men say what they think about Communism? Why not let the mad speak out of their madness? It is the maddened thoughts of those who are kept in conditions of hardship beyond description that I here put down on paper.
I have had moments of knowing the victory of faith in prison. I have also had moments of despair. I thank God for both. The latter had some good in them, in that they showed me my limitations and taught me not to rely on my own victories, nor on my faith, but on the atoning blood of Jesus Christ.
New causes always produce new effects. Solitary confinement under the Communists is something new in church history. It cannot be compared with the Roman or even the Nazi persecutions. Consider the difference made by the fact of intensive doping or scientific brainwashing, and don't be surprised at our thoughts and reactions.
I am conscious that some of the speculations in these sermons are bold, with a boldness that can only come from a long term of silence. Do they represent the truth, or are they heresy? Truth is the correspondence between thought andreality. But does anyone know the whole reality? We lived in a reality apart, and our thoughts may have mirrored it correctly, although it seems strange to those who live a quiet, normal life. In any case, that is how I thought then. The minds of thousands of Christians who are tortured in Communist prisons today are battered by just such tempests. This is what I have to put on paper, for the benefit of those Christians who do not wish to lead selfish lives but to have fellowship with those who are passing through not only physical tortures but also extreme spiritual tension.
And now let me tell you the words of the psalmist: "Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and incline thine ear. Forget also thine own people (whether you are Catholic or Protestant, fundamentalist or radical), and thy father's house" and, blindfolded as we prisoners were, go down with me into the subteranean prison. Hear the cell door shut behind you. You are alone. All noise has ceased. Your only air supply comes through a pipe. If you feel the impulse to scream at the thought of being confined in such a place, just scream. The guards will soon put you in astrait-jacket. But "the King shall greatly desire thy beauty", if you stay here for as long as he has ordained for you.
Accept your thoughts of despair and of faith, your doubts and their solution, your moments of madness and their passing away. Allow it all to happen to you. You imagine that you are thinking. In fact, you are being thought. You may be an experiment for angels. You may be the object of a bet between God and Satan, like Job. Be determined only to cling to God, even if he slays you, even if he slays your faith. If you lose your faith, then remain faithlessly his. If all the fruits of the spirit disappear, and you remain a barren tree with only leaves, remeber that leaves also have a purpose. Under their shadow, the fruitful ones may rest in the embraces of their Divine Lover. Leaves are used by the bride to make a garland for her beloved. Leaves are changed into healing medicines. An even when the leaves become yellow and fall withered to the ground, they can form a beautiful carpet on which he will walk towards those who, unlike you, have remained faithful to the end.
Go down into solitary confinement. I have brought you to the door of your cell. It is here that I disappear. You remain alone with him. It may be your bridal chamber. It may be a chamber of spiritual torture. I have to leave you. My place is in my own cell. You look at me and think you see madness in my face? I don't mind. Very soon, you will look like me. And perhaps you will say to Jesus: "I am black, but comely."
We have gone down into the darkness. Here you will experience the pressure, but also the rapture, of the great depths. At a great depth, things do not have the same colour as on the surface. Your sense of direction disappears. Your mind changes, supposing that you are able to keep your mind. You will probably wander off the right way.
May God help you! May God have mercy on all miserable sinners who pass through the rapture of the final depths.


John said...

Just a note to let you know the Cyber Hymnal (linked from your blog), has a new URL: http://www.hymntime.com/tch. Please spread the word!

God bless...


Andrew Matthews said...

Thanks, Dick. The link is now updated.

Jib said...

Thank you for sharing this.

Have you heard of F.W. Robertson? I highly recommend checking out his sermons if you haven't.


And thank you for sharing this, very, very much. By simply posting this on a blog, people like me -- however few -- can find inspiration and hope that we otherwise wouldn't have had access to. You never know who you're helping, but that's just a testament to the fact that no act or thought of positivity and love ever goes in vain, no matter what.

Thanks again.

Andrew Matthews said...

You are very welcome, Matt. Thanks for the recommendation.