My walks through the streets of Edinburgh normally have a soundtrack. That is the beauty of the i-Pod: I create the accompaniment to my day. The white buds hang lightly in my ears, filling them with everything from Brahms or Grainger to Wesley or Watts. On clear evenings, nothing injects gravitas into a walk to Tesco (a grocery store) like the first forty-five seconds of Percy Grainger’s “Colonial Song.” Pedestrians become noble protagonists in a thousand one act plays. Every gesture is replete with meaning. Storefronts are displays of the human condition. Postmen are harbingers of love and loss.
Then the battery dies.
Wistful ears are hijacked by inharmonious chatter and viscosity-plagued bus engines. My protagonists become annoying obstacles to a tidy stroll. Postmen just bring bills. In short, I lose the drama that I had so enjoyed with the aid of a soundtrack.
This experience is not limited to i-Pod junkies. People experience it every Sunday at about 12:15. The sermon concludes and our minds abandon the things above for the things at hand. The doors open and the noon day sun seems to say, “And then there is this world...” Something like a battery dies and we surrender the drama.
But what if we could infuse every situation with meaning without plagal cadences? Is there a way to persistently celebrate the dramatic spiritual dynamic underpinning all of life? The puritans thought so. Many puritan divines had a handle on the drama of life. Their appreciation for the nobility (and iniquity) of the human drama did not come from a choir or an i-Pod. It came from a settled belief that God’s providence was real, and his plan was unfolding before their eyes.
As a caveat, puritan attempts at “tracing the hand of God” could saunter into excess. For example, Thomas Beard's The Theatre of God's Judgments (1597) is a catalogue of events which Beard interprets with a confidence akin to ‘third person omniscience.’ He rightly expounds on scriptural examples of God’s wrath on sinners. Yet, he ventures further into second hand historical accounts of the death of notorious sinners and mines them for God’s purposes. It is always a bit disconcerting when someone seems to know exactly what God is doing in every given situation. Therefore, when I say ‘celebrate the dramatic spiritual dynamic,’ I do not mean that we are infallible interpreters of what God is doing moment by moment.
But we can celebrate what we do know. There is a difference between knowing what God is doing and knowing that God is doing it. We cannot perfectly parse world events. But come tsunamis, birthdays, or unyielding depression, we can know that God is working all things for the good of those who love him, those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). That is the kind of drama that many puritan divines cultivated. They had an interpretive motif which linked world events to God’s covenant love toward his elect. Our hope does not rest in our ability to unravel the divine tapestry (lets not take our cue from Beard here). Rather, like many other puritan exemplars, we ought to wrap ourselves in it and know it was made for our good.
So tonight as I walk to Tesco, I wonder if Romans 8:28 could be my soundtrack? If so, I will see pedestrians as beings made in His image. As I navigate the chaotic sidewalks, I will know that each step is ordered. Life would not be as dramatic as a Beethoven symphony suggests. It would be much more so.