‘Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving

The night before Thanksgiving I came across a thread on Twitter that got my wheels spinning.  The account is one I have recently started following.  The language its creator uses is a both more coarse and esoteric than my normal social media diet but I followed him (? – I haven’t followed long enough to know for sure) because when the algorithm served up one of his tweets I often found it thought provoking.

If you didn’t click the link above here’s a quick summary: the series of tweets examines what the Rittenhouse trial means to pop culture or, perhaps better, our societal sense of the world.  Here’s the part of the thread that caught my attention, the thesis of the thread (ignore the attached images):

The theory, then, is that the Rittenhouse trial was timed and broadcast (in the fullest sense of the word) through mass media in order to… ruin Thanksgiving.

Stay with me.

Back to the night before Thanksgiving – I read the thread and, while I am someone convinced we are governed by foolish and wicked people I thought to myself, “Ruin Thanksgiving?  That seems a bit petty.  Surely, at least, they have better uses for their time.”

Pass the Cranberry Sauce – and the Latest Coronavirus Variant

Fast forward a bit. Thanksgiving comes, I do what I hope you were able to – namely gather with loved ones, eat wonderful food, all in celebration of the Lord’s kindness.  That evening, as the carbohydrate coma began to wear off I logged on to social media and saw what many of you encountered around the same time: there is a new (!!) coronavirus variant and it’s super scary – at least according to the hand-wringing announcements that accompanied this news.

Here’s a representative example of the fear mongering that dropped Thanksgiving Evening 2021, just about the time many families would be eating, getting ready to eat, or just wrapping up.

And just like that I realized, “Yes, I suppose they are that petty.  Or perhaps something worse.”

Lewis on Just How Petty the Devil Really Is

Let me remind you of a passage from C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra.

[Warning: Spoilers are ahead but, honestly, the book was written in 1943 so if this spoils some detail for you I hardly think I can be blamed.]

In this section of the story Ransom, taking an early-morning walk, finds mutilated animals littering the ground.  Following the brutalized creatures as a kind of trail he comes upon his opponent Weston, or the thing wearing Weston – the Un-Man.

At last he got up and resumed his walk. Next moment he started and looked at the ground again. He quickened his pace, and then once more stopped and looked. He stood stock-still and covered his face. He called aloud upon heaven to break the nightmare or to let him understand what was happening. A trail of mutilated frogs lay along the edge of the island. Picking his footsteps with care, he followed it. He counted ten, fifteen, twenty: and the twenty-first brought him to a place where the wood came down to the water’s edge. He went into the wood and came out on the other side. There he stopped dead and stared. Weston, still clothed but without his pith helmet, was standing about thirty feet away: and as Ransom watched he was tearing a frog – quietly and almost surgically inserting his forefinger, with its long sharp nail, under the skin behind the creature’s head and ripping it open. Ransom had not noticed before that Weston had such remarkable nails. Then he finished the operation, threw the bleeding ruin away, and looked up. Their eyes met.

If Ransom said nothing, it was because he could not speak. He saw a man who was certainly not ill, to judge from his easy stance and the powerful use he had just been making of his fingers. He saw a man who was certainly Weston, to judge from his height and build and colouring and features. In that sense he was quite recognisable. But the terror was that he was also unrecognisable. He did not look like a sick man: but he looked very like a dead one. The face which he raised from torturing the frog had that terrible power which the face of a corpse sometimes has of simply rebuffing every conceivable human attitude one can adopt towards it. The expressionless mouth, the unwinking stare of the eyes, something heavy and inorganic in the very folds of the cheek, said clearly: ‘I have features as you have, but there is nothing in common between you and me.’ It was this that kept Ransom speechless…

It looked at Ransom in silence and at last began to smile. We have all often spoken – Ransom himself had often spoken – of a devilish smile. Now he realised that he had never taken the words seriously. The smile was not bitter, nor raging, nor, in an ordinary sense, sinister; it was not even mocking. It seemed to summon Ransom, with a horrible naïveté of welcome, into the world of its own pleasures, as if all men were at one in those pleasures, as if they were the most natural thing in the world and no dispute could ever have occurred about them. It was not furtive, nor ashamed, it had nothing of the conspirator in it. It did not defy goodness, it ignored it to the point of annihilation. Ransom perceived that he had never before seen anything but half-hearted and uneasy attempts at evil. This creature was whole-hearted.

You see what is happening here?  This Satanic vessel, this perverse caricature of the Incarnation (what, in part, all demonic possession is), this hellish nightmare of an obscenity – how had it been occupying its time in the night?

Torturing frogs.

And why? Why something so… petty?  Because causing misery was its own reward.

Let me show you one more passage from the same book.  It’s a bit lengthier but hang with it (and I’ve underlined the most important part).

Ransom kept his eyes fixed upon the enemy, but it took no notice of him. Its eyes moved like the eyes of a living man but it was hard to be sure what it was looking at, or whether it really used the eyes as organs of vision at all. One got the impression of a force that cleverly kept the pupils of those eyes fixed in a suitable direction while the mouth talked but which, for its own purpose, used wholly different modes of perception. The thing sat down close to the Lady’s head on the far side of her from Ransom. If you could call it sitting down. The body did not reach its squatting position by the normal movements of a man: it was more as if some external force manoeuvred it into the right position and then let it drop. It was impossible to point to any particular motion which was definitely non-human. Ransom had the sense of watching an imitation of living motions which had been very well studied and was technically correct: but somehow it lacked the master touch. And he was chilled with an inarticulate, night-nursery horror of the thing he had to deal with – the managed corpse, the bogey, the Un-man.

There was nothing to do but to watch: to sit there, for ever if need be, guarding the Lady from the Un-man while their island climbed interminably over the Alps and Andes of burnished water. All three were very still. Beasts and birds came often and looked upon them. Hours later the Un-man began to speak. It did not even look in Ransom’s direction; slowly and cumbrously, as if by some machinery that needed oiling, it made its mouth and lips pronounce his name.

‘Ransom,’ it said.

‘Well?’ said Ransom.

‘Nothing,’ said the Un-man. He shot an inquisitive glance at it. Was the creature mad? But it looked, as before, dead rather than mad, sitting there with the head bowed and the mouth a little open, and some yellow dust from the moss settled in the creases of its cheeks, and the legs crossed tailor-wise, and the hands, with their long metallic-looking nails, pressed flat together on the ground before it. He dismissed the problem from his mind and returned to his own uncomfortable thoughts.

‘Ransom,’ it said again.

‘What is it?’ said Ransom sharply.

‘Nothing,’ it answered.

Again there was silence; and again, about a minute later, the horrible mouth said:

‘Ransom!’ This time he made no reply. Another minute and it uttered his name again; and then, like a minute gun, ‘Ransom … Ransom … Ransom,’ perhaps a hundred times.

‘What the Hell do you want?’ he roared at last. ‘Nothing,’ said the voice. Next time he determined not to answer; but when it had called on him about a thousand times he found himself answering whether he would or no, and ‘Nothing,’ came the reply. He taught himself to keep silent in the end: not that the torture of resisting his impulse to speak was less than the torture of response but because something with him rose up to combat the tormentor’s assurance that he must yield in the end. If the attack had been of some more violent kind it might have been easier to resist. What chilled and almost cowed him was the union of malice with something nearly childish. For temptation, for blasphemy, for a whole battery of horrors, he was in some sort prepared: but hardly for this petty, indefatigable nagging as of a nasty little boy at a preparatory school. Indeed no imagined horror could have surpassed the sense which grew within him as the slow hours passed, that this creature was, by all human standards, inside out – its heart on the surface and its shallowness at the heart. On the surface, great designs and an antagonism to Heaven which involved the fate of worlds: but deep within, when every veil had been pierced, was there, after all, nothing but a black puerility, an aimless empty spitefulness content to sate itself with the tiniest cruelties, as love does not disdain the smallest kindness? What kept him steady, long after all possibility of thinking about something else had disappeared, was the decision that if he must hear either the word Ransom or the word Nothing a million times, he would prefer the word Ransom…

Then all at once it was night. ‘Ransom … Ransom … Ransom … Ransom,’ went on the voice. And suddenly it crossed his mind that though he would some time require sleep, the Un-man might not.

You see it, right?  The repetitive croaking of Ransom’s name, over and over and over – all through the night.  What was the Un-man doing?

He was tormenting Ransom for the same reason he brutalized the frogs – it was the only kind of misery he could create.  Earlier, frogs were what he had – frogs, along with his long fingernails – and so he tortured frogs.  Now the tool available was his voice and the object at hand was Ransom.

The Un-man resorted to pettiness.  He resorted to petty torments.  If all he could do was create misery then create misery was what he was glad to do.  Lewis has given us a powerful insight into the mind of our enemy.  Misery, by any means – even the most petty – is a sufficient prize in his estimation.

Well Then, Let’s Fight

If we live in devilish – or Devilish, more likely – times of petty torments what do we do?  Certainly Scripture gives us many resources.  Trusting in the sovereignty of God is one powerful aid.  Trusting that He really meant it when He had Romans 8:28 included in the inspired text is a particularly sweet version of that aid.

One other is the power of giving thanks.  You know 1 Thessalonians 5:18 – “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  Living under petty tyrants, of both the terrestrial and infernal sort, falls under the all circumstances in which we give thanks.

So, too, are seasons of great difficulty.  Think of Habakkuk 3 – the prophet has seen Babylon fall on Judah as an expression of God’s judgment. And Babylon has done this job thoroughly, to a far greater degree of devastation than even the prophet expected.  The land is scorched.  The people dragged away to exile.  The prophet is shaken and broken-hearted.

What does he write?

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.

Fight, Specifically

The image at the top of this post comes from a timely bit of writing from Doug Wilson in which he encourages us to fight – to fight with Thanksgiving.  It is from this passage I took the title above (the bolded emphasis is mine).

The only reference I will make to the tumultuous times in which we live will be here, the first thing mentioned. I am grateful to God that He has placed us in this time, so that we could be faithful to Him in this time. Any other time would have been ill-suited because God does all things well. So instead of asking why God has given “these times” to us, we ought to be asking why God gave us to “these times.” The joy of the Lord is our strength, and is not just what we are fighting for. It is what we are to fight with.

Here’s another from the same author in the same vein:

And the same goes for thanksgiving. Because the unbelieving heart does not want to thank God for anything, we should be making a point of thanking God for everything. Always and for everything giving thanks (Eph. 5:20). For what? For the way wheat turns into biscuits. For the noise of a lawnmower three houses away. For the size and taste of grapes, the purple ones. For the gracious lines of a woman’s neck, running up to her ear. For waves on the Oregon coast. For a wood fire in late autumn. For warm socks. For turkey and gravy, and all the trimmings. For the way intelligent design runs through absolutely everything.

But it is not all Norman Rockwell, although we are thankful for him too. For dragons to fight. For lies to resist. For towers to topple. For unbelief to persuade. For evangelicals to get saved. For Reformed churches and seminaries to reform.

Wilson suggests Psalm 136 as a model of specific, joyful, delighted-in-the-Lord, thankfulness that works in part like a sword parry and counter-strike.

Give it a read and get to fighting – specifically.

Help Your Comrades in Arms

One last encouragement: Paine’s these are the days that try men’s souls had already become cliché by 2020 but we are living in a time when old things are becoming new again.  Helping your fellow church members, family, friends, and loved ones maintain morale is among the most pressing services we are called to offer. It takes much encouragement to simply go on being normal in a perverted world. You may never have thought about starting a formal Galatians 6:10 (So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith) ministry at your church but now might be a good time to get crafty about how to guard, maintain, and repair encouragement in your circles of concern.

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