I’m reading a new George MacDonald (GM) book…and if you’ve never read any George MacDonald, this one might be a good one to start with. (Read why in my first post here.)
The miners are still talking amongst themselves about the rumors surrounding the mysterious old woman.
‘When our cow died,’ said another, ‘she was seen going round and round the cow-house the same night. To be sure she left a fine calf behind her—I mean the cow did, not the witch. I wonder she didn’t kill that, too, for she’ll be a far finer cow than ever her mother was.’
Maybe it’s just me, but I think that’s some perfectly genius writing. All the while they are blaming the old woman for their problems, they are in reality giving testimony to her goodness, and they don’t even realize it. They are so prejudiced against her they are blinded to what seems (to the reader at least) an obvious truth. The truth is, as we saw in the last post, they don’t want to see it. They want her to be a villain. They would far rather believe their cow had qualities of cunning and benevolence and generous intent which outwitted the witch’s intent to harm them, than believe the old woman was actually out to do them good, not harm.
Like I said yesterday, I am anxious to see how GM ends the story, probably because my heart is so burdened for the “miners” that I know. They are “happy” in darkness (or more exactly they have a kind of perverse happiness in their misery). They enjoy digging up dirt, no matter where they find it, or who it’s on. They sooner trust in darkness and dirt than the light, and they are suspicious of anything that seems clean. At least the dirt is “honest” they will say. ‘Some pretend to be clean, but none will pretend to be dirty, so at least the dirty can be trusted.’ They don’t realize that the only thing you can trust about dirt is the fact that it is dirt and therefore not to be trusted. You never know what it may be hiding. It’s true; some things may appear clean that are not, but the only way to know the truth about a thing is to clean it up and get it into the light. Only then can you know what it really is. And though there may be imposters, that doesn’t change the fact that a thing that is truly light and truly clean is light and clean and therefore true. The real thing is not changed by the false thing.
The miners and their ridiculous trust in the dirt reminds me of a time when a kid asked my dad to play pool with him. Dad doesn’t really like pool or play it, so he declined. The kid persisted. Dad caved with a caveat, “Ok, I’ll play, but I warn you right now, I cheat.” “That’s OK!” the kid happily replied, focused only on having achieved his goal of having a game with my dad. The kid broke the balls, may have even knocked a few in before his time was up, I don’t remember. But eventually it was Dad’s turn. He took the cue ball and moved it close to a pocket. He then took one of his striped balls, put it just so between the cue ball and the pocket, and easily shot it in. Indeed, I doubt if anyone could have missed it at that point.
“What??? You can’t do that!” the kid nearly shouted in indignance. “Why not? I told you I cheat!” Dad barely eeked out for all his laughter. (He has always loved pulling a good gag on anyone…and this was just too easy!) “Well, yeah, you said you cheat – but I didn’t think you meant like that!!!!” Apparently, in his mind, there were certain acceptable levels of cheating and this was not within those parameters…(and, oh my goodness, don’t get me started on what this is probably saying about our kids and their sense of moral relativism, etc.!)
Dad’s simple reply was that, “cheating is cheating, son!” It was an unorthodox lesson, I grant you, but whether or not it stuck with that kid, it stuck with me! Mostly because it was funny…I don’t think I’ve thought much about the wisdom in that little exchange until today – but here we are, some 15 or 20 years later and now it comes to me – so maybe we should give a little more credit to the delayed power of humorous object lessons! (I wish I remembered who it was, I’d love to see what he remembers from that day and how it impacted him.) I guess he thought that if Dad admitted he was a cheater, then he could be trusted—and he could. He could be trusted to cheat. Dad went for the full disclosure ahead of time. He admitted he was dirty, but the kid was still surprised to find that the dirt was…dirty!…dirtier even than he expected. Cheating is cheating. Dirt is dirty. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that just because someone admits they are dirty, or a cheat, that some how that little bit of disclosure means they can be trusted.
That reminds me of Albert Camus’ book, The Fall. Did anyone read that? It’s about a guy who confesses all his wrongs, but in the end, you find that his confession is really just a power play. He isn’t confessing to be humble and honest, he is confessing to remain hidden. It’s like when someone pleads guilty in court to one crime only to keep people from discovering the far more heinous crime they are really guilty of. It’s deflection and misdirection by controlling the information and in the end, the readers feel like total suckers for actually believing his “humble confession” when they find out they were being played. It’s a great book. Really. I mean, yeah, you feel like a sucker at the end of it, but it’s also pretty genius (and just think – you can be spared the sucker syndrome and just appreciate the genius, thanks to me for spoiling it for you!).
I’ve digressed a little, so let me go back to Curdie and the Princess and remind you what started this rant. The miners interpret circumstances involving the old woman with a bias. They don’t want her to be good. They are sure she must be bad, so they assume that all she does is bad and all the good that happens is despite her, not because of her.
I think God must know how very like the miners we are. I think He knows that we are tempted to make the same assumptions. I think He knows how often we blame Him for all the bad that happens in the world. I think this is why he wrote things directly to the contrary, to help set us straight—things like, “ Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:16-17).
What’s your bias? When you know God’s been involved, do you assume His involvement is for your good, or for your harm? Or do you even know? Maybe you haven’t ever thought about it and assume you must be neutral. (I’m sure the miners would have thought that they were neutral too.)
How do you feel about darkness and dirt? Are they more comfortable to you than the clean and the light? If so, why don’t you trust the light? What happened to make you think that what seems clean must somehow be false? Maybe you’re skeptical, but if it was proven to you that such a thing as clean and light really existed, how would you feel about it? Would you want to know it if it was found in a person? Would you want to be it if it was offered to you, yourself?
Do you ever think that a thing which proudly claims to be dirty and dark is somehow honorable or trustworthy because it’s admitting that truth about itself (or him/herself)? Is there a distinction to be made between something which claims to be dirty and dark, versus a thing which claims to have been dirty and dark? What are the signs that something/someone has changed, and that dirt and dark are part of their past, not their present?
Do you relate more to that kid who played pool with my dad, or my dad? Are there levels of acceptable dirt, darkness, cheating and sin in your way of thinking? Or is sin, sin; cheating, cheating, dirt, dirty?
Have you ever been guilty of confessing a thing, not truly for the sake of confession, but for control? (Or maybe you’ve known someone else who did so?) How can you tell a real confession from a fake one?