June 24, 2014

Horse 1701 - And you will contribute a verse... What will your verse be?

O ME! O life!... of the questions of these recurring;  
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;  
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)  
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d;  
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;         5
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;  
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?  
That you are here—that life exists, and identity;  
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.
- Walt Whitman, "O Me! O Life!" from  Leaves of Grass (1900)

Or an Apple advert - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ShyrAhp8JQ

What will your verse be?

Moreover, what would your verse be if you knew that it was going to be the last? When faced with the realisation and after being told that your time upon this earth was absolutely drawing to a close, then what would your verse be? How would it change?

I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me.
- 2 Peter 1:13-14

Ouch. Just ouch.

To put this into context, as best as I can make out, this letter was written in about 67 or 68AD. According to tradition (which is sometimes unreliable), Peter was crucified upside down because he didn't think that he was worthy enough to be crucified in the same way as Christ. I don't know how reliable that is but Peter was probably executed in the year 68AD under the Emperor Nero, which means to say that his second letter may have been written in the last few months that he was alive and in a worst case scenario, possibly in his last few weeks.
This means that this letter, carries a sense of urgency which perhaps isn't as looming as other parts of the New Testament.

I don't know how many people read scripture and consider the literary structure of a book or a letter but the Apple advert and the Walt Whitman poem used in it, made me rethink the Second Letter of Peter.
I admit that this sounds totally bonkers but in all seriousness, it does hold a very strong, almost poetic structure about it, in the form of A-B-A.

The opening chapter is our first section A, a kind of plus sort of section. Peter offers some form of guidance to his readers when he talks about the sort of character and discipline that Christians should aim for.
If one's faith is real, he argues, it will act as a defence to ensure that you will not backslide or be deceived by people who intend to misdirect your faith for other purposes. Make efforts to add knowledge and self-control and godliness and love and you will not fail.
Of course like all of these pieces of advice, writing them down or merely hearing them isn't all that useful unless you intend to practice them: "if you do these things, you will never stumble". The word "do" is so small and yet it is often the smallest of instructions which have the biggest impact.

The second chapter is our section B, the counterpoint to the opening chapter. If guidance was offered in chapter 1, then a warning of danger is given in chapter 2.
False teachers exist and you would do well to stay alert so as not to be deceived. This letter was written at a time before the New Testament was properly compiled and so it would have been far easier for someone who sounded as though they spoke with authority to lead people astray.3
At the end of chapter 1, the hinge into chapter 2 is that scripture is reliable and the apostles as eyewitnesses to Christ's death and resurrection were also reliable but false prophets will invent stories.
These are people who are not afraid of powers and angels and things that they do not understand and they will eventually face judgement and be destroyed. Firey Peter who cut the high priest's servant's ear off, even thirty years later is still just as passionate and firey even in a letter.

Just as if you were to wrap a criticism in a complement sandwich so that you don't disheartening the receiver, the third chapter of Peter's letter is again a section A; but this time it is a reminder of hope.
Christ will return; be mindful of that fact. He hasn't delayed his return, he's got that under control; so stop worrying about it. Time is irrelevant to God, he will do things in his good time. Be alert though, Christ will return when you least expect it and those who are unprepared will be judged, found wanting and punished.
In the light of this, make efforts to be spotless and blameless; keep short accounts and be on guard - you have been forewarned.

I know that Whitman was a religious skeptic but works of literature do not belong to their authors entirely. When Whitman talks of cities filled with the foolish, and  plodding and sordid crowds, he writes to a similar sort of audience as Peter did 2000 years previous because human nature does not change.
Whitman tells us that "the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse" but Peter tells us something even harder, that the powerful play will stop, and you will still contribute a verse. What will your verse be?
Make every effort to confirm your calling and election; be established in the truth; there will be false teachers among you and they will perish...
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.
Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?

What will your verse be?

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