Last week I walked into my colleague’s classroom and a student was reading “Harold and the Purple Crayon” by Crockett Johnson. I shrieked with delight. “That was my favorite book when I was a little girl in school.” On Amazon, Harold’s story is told this way: “Harold and his trusty crayon travel through woods and across seas and past dragons before returning to bed, safe and sound. Full of funny twists and surprises, this charming story shows just how far your imagination can take you.”
When we tell God’s Story, God often takes us through woods and across seas and past dragons like Harold’s. From Genesis to Revelation, God travels with his people first in the Garden then across parted seas and through the wilderness until we see God himself walk on the very water that can drown us. We see a God who is Sovereign over creation and a God involved in our daily lives. God is like Harold creating gardens with trees, parting seas, building landmarks and memorials, sketching boats, talking to whales and drawing moons over prophets. In the end of God’s Story God sketches the stories fulfillment: God’s crayon comes to life in His very own Son. When His Son dies on the cross we are reminded that when we are hungry we have our own purple picnic, the Lord’s Supper, to remember even though God left He is still with us.
Much of the world today doesn’t see God or know about God’s Story. Some know parts of it; more than ever before dismiss it. Movies such as “Zeitgeist” and “The God Who Wasn’t There” capture the culture while Christians cower siloed in churches and locked in complacency. We are Jonahs who flee to Joppa to find a ship to Tarshish. Instead of chasing after God’s crayon in wonder like Harold did with his, we flee from God’s presence because we tell ourselves we know Him. God is determined to get his message to the nations and he will because he is God. Meanwhile atheism is on the rise and people shun truth claims made in scripture in a mass cultural decay into modern individualism and we look the other way, write our own stories and use our own crayons.
Our nation is in cultural crisis and now more than ever we are not the United States but divided ones. Once a “shining city on a hill,” we were the promise of the world when in 1630 a tiny ship named Arabella brought settlers to a World that was new. Now, nearly 400 years later we are a flourishing nation with luxuries much like Nineveh in the first half of the first millennium. In what other ways are we like Nineveh? We’ve lost our vision. We know we’ve lost our vision because our children are being shot and killed in our nation’s schools.
Peggy Noonan, author of politics, religion, and culture and a weekly columnist for The Wall Street Journal recently asked this question after the Parkland massacre in Florida: “What has happened the past 40 years or so to produce a society so ill at ease with itself, so prone to violence?” Noonan answers it this way:
“We have been swept by social, technological and cultural revolution. The family blew up—divorce, unwed childbearing. Fatherless sons. Fatherless daughters, too. Poor children with no one to love them. The internet flourished. Porn proliferated. Drugs, legal and illegal. Violent video games, in which nameless people are eliminated and spattered all over the screen. (The Columbine shooters loved and might have been addicted to “Doom.”) The abortion regime settled in, with its fierce, endless yet somehow casual talk about the right to end a life. An increasingly violent entertainment culture—low, hyper-sexualized, full of anomie and weirdness, allergic to meaning and depth. The old longing for integration gave way to a culture of accusation—you are a supremacist, a misogynist, you are guilty of privilege and defined by your color and class, we don’t let your sort speak here. So much change, so much of it un-gentle.” (View Noonan’s article here: The Parkland Massacre and the Air We Breathe What’s gone wrong with our culture that produces such atrocities? It’s a very long list. )
Jonah knew what God called him to do and Jonah knew himself. He wanted neither of it. God was at work drawing the Ninevites and pagan sailors into His Kingdom. Jonah ignored the crayon and fled to Joppa. Noonan says, “Here, to me, is the problem. A nation has an atmosphere. It has air it breathes in each day. China has a famous pollution problem: You can see the dirt in the air. America’s air looks clean but there are toxins in it, and they’re making the least defended and protected of us sick.”
Like Jonah, are we being called? Our children get shot and we get angry. This is our story. In God’s Story, Jonah was angry too but anger wasn’t the only problem. Jonah wanted to live his own life. He cared about that and God but He didn’t care for the world God made and cares so deeply about enough to want to do something about it. Worse, Jonah showed concern for a plant while the pagan sailors, their captain, and even the king of Nineveh all showed concern for human beings. Are Christians any different than non-believers? Does the world know we are Christians by our comportment of love or by our corporate retreat?
We don’t live as apologists defending God to the world and we need to every single one of us. We need to tell God’s Story and in new ways that ignite the imagination. Michael Horton, Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary, says “Doctrine has often been taught in dry and stale and irrelevant ways and that’s to be pitied. It should never be boring.” Today our nation’s children are overwhelmed, lonely, and socially isolated and in response we isolate ourselves. The home of the brave are now the brave at home.
In “Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God,” Henry Blackaby says that knowing and doing the will of God begins with our relationship with God. When we behold Him and love Him we hold his book in our hands like Harold held his crayon. We live in the Story and we see everything in light of this Story. We see who God is and who we are not. We walk with Him and we talk with Him and we see His book is not a collection of words but a Person. We see the Word is a person who became flesh. When you meet the Person of Jesus you encounter not only a Person but the Word which is the Story about God and what He is doing in the world. You see a God who is active. You meet a God who watched the world kill each other and He grieved for it so much so He responded and what God did in response was unthinkable: God didn’t isolate himself. He became a man and chose to die. Our God too holy to look upon sin entered sin. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21)
C.S. Lewis once said “It cost God nothing, so far as we know, to create nice things: but to convert rebellious wills cost Him crucifixion.” Our commission is to count the cost and seek the lost. Jesus told us to baptize, teach, and equip the world and to shepherd others to observe and behold an invisible God who is with us always to the end of the age. Are we doing this? Are you? Do you write your own story with your own crayon or do you believe that apart from God you can do nothing? Jonah tried to write his own story; he was self-centered and hypocritical. Are we? Do we watch our screens in horror while we sit comfortable on our couches? Do we turn off the television only to return to own narrow agenda? Do we respond in arguments over gun control instead of the argument for God’s own Son? Are we immersed in our own stories or God’s? “Sure, you can keep yourself busy. You can immerse yourself in activities, programs, meetings and events but they will not have any lasting value for God’s kingdom. The apostle Paul warned that one day every person’s work would be tested by fire to see if it was done according to God’s will and divine power (1 Cor 3:13) The activities God will commend in the final judgment will be those He initiated.” (Blackaby)
God is writing a Story. Jump onto the pages. Wake each morning and look at God as a Creator and yourself as an actor in His Story, a Story He is writing and not you. Travel with God’s trusty Purple Crown of Glory Jesus Himself as you embark across woods, seas and past dragons before returning to bed, safe and sound. Life will be full of funny twists and surprises. He may take you to Nineveh. He may draw you into the belly of a whale. When you emerge, tell God’s story and as you do remember this: God only sends the one into the deep waters of sin who He knows will hold onto Him. Hold onto Him. If we all do it, maybe then the air we breathe will begin to change.