The Work is “Donne”

Wilt Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which is my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive those sins through which I run,
And do them still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.
Wilt Thou forgive that sin by which I have won
Others to sin? and made my sin their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallowed in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.
I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
Swear by Thyself that at my death Thy Sun
Shall sine as it shines now, and heretofore;
And, having done that, Thou hast done,
I have no more.

A Hymn to God the Father John Donne, 1623
John Donne

I enjoy studying the poetry of John Donne. https://www.biography.com/writer/john-donne Even though he lived 400 years ago, he wrote about very timeless and personal topics. Donne lived during a time of religious tumult and persecution. Born into a Catholic family, he later converted to Anglicanism and became a powerful preacher, as well as a poet, and lawyer. Throughout his life, he wrestled with deep theological questions of sin, guilt, redemption, and death. Yet he did so with wit, humor, and passion. The poem above, written during a long illness and near the end of his life, is filled with puns on his last name, Donne. Would God’s redemptive work ever be “done” in “Donne?” He struggles with the knowledge that his sins, having been forgiven, must be forgiven again and again. Does God never say, “Enough! I am done!?” What about stubborn sinful habits? What about sins that have led others to sin? What about last-minute, unconfessed sins?

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The real question is, “How sufficient is God’s Grace?” Does God sprinkle out Grace sparingly on each sinful act, or does Christ’s blood cover All? Do our stubborn, habitual acts of rebellion pile up to a point where God cannot forgive? Having forgiven us once, twice, seventy times seven– is there a limit to His willingness to pour out Mercy? Theologically, the Bible is clear. The answer is a resounding, “NO.” God will not withhold His Grace from those who have sought it. God will never be “Done” with “Donne.” Nor will He be “done” with any of us who have chosen to follow Him. But in his all-too-human logic, Donne jokingly suggests that though God “hast” done/Donne, He “hast not” done/Donne. In other words, while Donne “belongs” to God– he has confessed his sins, and eagerly seeks to follow Christ, he still wrestles with fears that his small sinful acts prove that God does not fully “have” him– that He still lives separated from God.

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But the final sin of the poem is fear– fear that somehow, at the last, Death will prevail, and Donne will “perish on the shore,” rather than be taken into Heaven. He pleads that Christ’s blood (“Thy Sun/Son”) will be sufficient; that God’s promise of eternal life will indeed hold true, and that the work of salvation is indeed “done.” In the end, the poet hopes that “Thou hast Donne.” And he must trust that God’s promises will hold, for “I have no more.” Donne cannot stop death, he cannot do anything to save himself from sin, but he can be “done” with worry and trust in “Thy Sun/Son.”

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I am strangely encouraged by Donne’s poem. We all have moments of questioning and niggling doubts. And even though we “Know” the truth, our fears and emotions can play tricks on our mind. But Donne, even while putting such doubts and fears on paper, takes them to the Source of Hope. This is not a poem of accusation or despair. It is an honest and passionate desire to hear God’s calm assurance. And it is part of a long tradition that runs through the Bible. Jacob literally wrestled with an angel of the Lord (Gensis 32), Moses argued with God about going back to Egypt (Exodus 4), David questioned God (Psalm 10); even Jesus asked God, “Why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27). But in our doubts and questions, God’s still, small voice echoes, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5), “My Grace is sufficient for you.” (2 Corinthians 12:9), and “Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39).

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God’s work is ongoing, but it is also “done”– it is complete, whole, sufficient, and eternal. And even if we occasionally wonder and even question, we can choose to rest in His promises. Just as the poet concluded, if God “hast” done/Donne, “I have no more”– he needed to have no other fear of sin or sin of fear. And through Donne’s poetry, God’s assurance is being passed on– the work continues to be “Donne!”

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Prayer In the Digital Age

Wilt thou love God, as He thee? then digest,
My soul, this wholesome meditation,
How God the Spirit, by angels waited on
In Heaven, doth make His Temple in thy breast.
The Father, having begot a Son most blest,
And still begetting (for he ne’er begun),
Hath deigned to choose thee, by adoption,
Coheir to His glory and sabbath’s endless rest;
As a robbed man which by search doth find
His stol’n stuff sold must lose or buy again,
The Son of glory came down, and was slain,
Us whom He had made, and Satan stol’n, to unbind.
‘Twas much that man was made like God before,
But that God should be made like man, much more.
John Donne, Holy Sonnets 1633, No. 11

 

In the Garden

1 I come to the garden alone,
While the dew is still on the roses;
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear,
The Son of God discloses.

Refrain:
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own,
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

2 He speaks, and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing;
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing. [Refrain]

3 I’d stay in the garden with Him
Tho’ the night around me be falling;
But He bids me go; thro’ the voice of woe,
His voice to me is calling. [Refrain]

Baptist Hymnal, 1991

 

Sanctus Real– Pray (You Tube)

 

Times have changed– God has not.

God does not have a Facebook or Twitter account; he’s not in Pinterest or Instagram.  He doesn’t post selfies or have a blog.  But he is the same God that Adam and Eve walked with in the Garden of Eden; the same God who spoke to Moses as a man speaks to his friend.  He is the same God who listened to the impassioned Psalms of King David, and the lamentations of Jeremiah.  He is the same God who has inspired awe and fear in the hearts of apostles, poets, philosophers, songwriters, and evangelists over the centuries.

When we come before God, it is tempting to see him through the lens of our own times– we want him to be one of our “peeps”, accessible, someone who will answer a text or voice mail, “like” our post or “follow” us as we babble about our hours and days and show pictures of what we had for dinner or what we looked like heading out to the concert. We want him to be about US, instead of us laying down our lives for HIM.

Media– especially social media, can help or hinder our prayer life.  We can access all kinds of helpful tools to focus our prayers, link up with prayer partners and groups, listen to inspiring music or peaceful slide shows for meditation…  But more often than not, media becomes a distraction or even a substitution for real, serious, personal communication with God.

God is not our virtual friend; he’s not one of our “peeps” or “the man upstairs.”  He is the Sovereign Ruler of the Universe– every galaxy created at his command; every particle obedient to his whim.  And he has given us the privilege to come before him as his adopted and beloved children to lay our hearts before him and receive his wisdom, forgiveness, strength, and joy.  “Liking” your friends’ posts with Bible verses, sending a thumbs up or an emoji when someone puts up a picture of Jesus on their wall–if that’s the sum total of what you call worship, God has another name for it– Idolatry.

That may seem really harsh, but Idolatry is ANYTHING that we are worshiping in place of God himself.  There’s a reason we don’t have statues of God the Father in temples and churches, synagogues, and chapels around the world.  God warned us thousands of years ago about the dangers of creating substitutes.  Even things that are meant to remind us of him can become substitutes for worship.  That doesn’t mean that the crucifix necklace or the picture of Jesus knocking at the door are automatically evil– but when we stop reaching out to the real God, and focus on a false image, no matter how lovely or touching, we can fall into idolatry.  And the distractions of the digital age have been shown to create isolation and depression, and become impediments among our human relationships..  We don’t have meaningful meditation or intimate conversations online with people at the other end– what makes us think that wireless devices will bring us closer to God?

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t use technology to enhance our worship–just don’t make it an entertaining substitute for the real thing.  You wouldn’t (or at least I hope you don’t) text and catch up on Twitter while having a face-to-face and heart-to-heart talk with your spouse or child..give God the honor, the time, and the respect he deserves.  You don’t have to live like a stone age hunter to get some alone time with God, but it is a great idea to set aside some time to unplug from media and the noise of this world, and plug into the wonder of meeting with God in the Garden.pexels-photo-130154.jpeg

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