Sunday, December 31, 2006

All That Glitters is Not Gold

I've been informed by reliable sources that my blog is lonely. I've decided to come cheer it up ;-). So. . . I'm back from Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee, where I had a marvelous time with family and friends. Maybe I'll write a bit more on that later. I have a few pictures to post. Any wishful thoughts about writing some interesting Christmas posts seemed to vanish much like the last few weeks vanished in the blink of an eye. Ah well.

For now, though, I thought I'd muse on a few interesting things I pulled from my recent reading of Ben-Hur. I have about three different Ben-Hur-related posts swirling in my head. It's a good book, by the way. Read it!!! I've already waxed eloquent(?) on the Grove of Daphne, and some interesting observations I pulled from that chapter. I wasn't done with my musings on the Grove of Daphne, though. There was one other interesting scene in the Grove that caught my particular interest.

As Judah continues walking through the Grove, awestruck by the beauty around him, he succumbs to the lure of the Grove and begins to be drawn in by its power. He wonders how anything so beautiful could be wrong, and he understands how the Grove lures thousands into her service every year. It's mesmerizing and peaceful, and it must be. . . good? As he is walking tranfixed and caught under Daphne's power, he comes upon a statue of Daphne within the Grove:

He . . . came next to a grove luxuriant, in the heart of the vale at the point where it would be most attractive to the observing eye. As it came close to the path he was travelling, there was a seduction in its shade, and through the foliage he caught the shining of what appeared a pretentious statue; so he turned aside, and entered the cool retreat.

The grass was fresh and clean. The trees did not crowd each other; and they were of every kind native to the East, blended well with strangers adopted from far quarters; here grouped in exclusive companionship palm-trees plumed like queens; there sycamores, overtopping laurels of darker foliage; and evergreen oaks rising verdantly, with cedars vast enough to be kings of Lebanon; and mulberries; and terebinths so beautiful it is not hyperbole to speak of them as blown from the orchards of Paradise.

The statue proved to be a Daphne of wondrous beauty. Hardly, however, had he time to more than glance at her face: at the base of the pedestal a girl and a youth were lying upon a tiger's skin asleep in each other's arms; close by them the implements of their service - his axe and sickle, her basket - flung carelessly upon a heap of fading roses.

The exposure startled him. Back in the hush of the perfumed thicket he discovered, as he thought, that the charm of the great Grove was peace without fear, and almost yielded to it; now, in this sleep in the day's broad glare - this sleep at the feet of Daphne - he read a further chapter to which only the vaguest allusion is sufferable. The law of the place was Love, but Love without Law.

And this was the sweet peace of Daphne!


Perhaps I get strange thrills while reading that most other people do not experience, but this scene actually sent chills down my spine! It is most effective if read in full context, as Judah first walks through the Grove, becomes dazily drawn into its lure, and then suddenly comes upon such a startling scene and reflection. It is masterfully written, to say the least. Lew Wallace has a skilled way of weaving strong themes throughout the text of the book, in fact.

And it really communicates an important idea much better than a theological treatise possibly could. We learn through the eyes of Ben-Hur, just what a Love without Law looks like. We wonder, with Ben-Hur, how anything so beautiful as the Grove could be wrong, and then we are startled when we come upon an unexpected mole on the perceived perfection of the Grove.

Beauty (at least perceived beauty) does not mean purity, and calm is often not true peace. And this picture in the Grove communicates this beautifully! If only we as Christians could remember this, and truly internalize this! Man (myself included) is so prone to look on the outside to judge something, or to assess something based on circumstances. Something is "beautiful," so it must be good. Right?

But yet, we must remember that Satan often appears as an angel of light, and wolves love to appear in sheep's clothing. Satan's schemes are subtle, and he rarely labels impurities with a blinking neon sign that says "SIN." He's much more clever than that! Think of the serpent in the Garden of Eden. He coaxed Eve, he sweet-talked her, he lured her. And she took the bait!

Now, I hope it is obvious that I'm not saying beauty is therefore to be mistrusted. A cursory glance at my previous post on the Grove should banish any such inklings! My point is only this: all that glitters is not gold. Outward "beauty" does not mean inner, true beauty. So how do we discover what is true gold? Through the usual means of grace: prayer, reading and hearing the Word, the sacraments, and Christian fellowship.

Philippians, chapter 4, certainly gives a good set of guidelines for discerning gold from pyrite:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

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