The Hound of Heaven

Allowing ourselves to become captive to Christ’s spirit, to allow oneself to be apprehended, taken into custody like a Sheriff would an escaped inmate, is as close a description as we can imagine to the meaning of utter, complete and unreserved commitment of oneself to Christ. 


 

Thomas Kelly wrote that “the outer pageant of history ultimately rests on the eternal drama ever being enacted within the silences of human souls.” He refers us to Francis Thompson’s nineteenth century poem “The Hound of Heaven”. It’s been years since I read such elegant language. Its’ opening verse goes:

  

 

I FLED Him, down the nights and down the days;               

  I fled Him, down the arches of the years;     

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways               

    Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears     

I hid from Him, and under running laughter.

 

The hound of heaven comes baying relentlessly after us, following our desire to run and hide, Jonah like, believing that somehow we can out distance the one who calls us; that we can hide, Elijah like, in a cave and evade the divine love that pursues us; and that, at last we can go into such darkness where divine light dare not go.

 

The grand drama of the Hebrew children’s exodus from Egyptian bondage into a promised land, the restoration of God’s chosen from Babylonian captivity to nationhood—essential elements of Salvation history tells us of the work of the Eternal God of Love. Jesus tells us that the Good Shepherd risks all to hug the wayward lamb to his chest, restoring it to its intended place. Jesus tells us that it is the prodigal father who races to embrace the wayward son and restore him to his place within the family. The skepticism of Thomas is met with a vulnerability that melts his reservation.

 

Christ’s Spirit, forever active as early as the dawn of creation, is ever the initiator, the aggressor, the seeker and stirrer of us into the fullness of life as God intended. Christ desires more for us than we know to desire for ourselves. Infantile in our ignorance of the delightfulness of a treat offered us, we turn from it, preferring a risk averse life limited by our notions of what gives us security in an uncertain world.

 

In the text we read just last week in Ephesians 4 Paul begs his readers that with humility, gentleness, patience and forbearance, to lead a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called. He wrote: “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.14We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

 

Allowing ourselves to become captive to Christ’s spirit, to allow oneself to be apprehended, taken into custody like a Sheriff would an escaped inmate, is as close a description as we can imagine to the meaning of utter, complete and unreserved commitment of oneself to Christ.  

 

Some would call it Holy Obedience. Kelly opened his 1939 William Penn lecture by quoting the words of Meister Eckhart: “There are plenty to follow our Lord half-way, but not the other half. They will give up possessions, friends and honors, but it touches them too closely to disown themselves.” This is as far from mild conventional religion as you can get. It is revolutionary. Explosive. In speaking of this life Blaise Pascal had for it one word “Fire!”. It is that to which Jesus pointed when, in John 3:3 he said: “You must be born again…” It is that to which Paul pointed when, in II Corinthians 5:17 he said: “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature.

 

It all happens in the inner sanctuary of your own soul where God meet us in awful immediacy. To fall into the hands of the living God, to be invaded to the very depths of our being by Christ’s spirit, to be uprooted from every worldly assurance and security where our old self is left defenseless is an overwhelming experience. And it is then, in the ocean swells of that moment that begins as stark terror that the unspeakable peace, ravishing joy and calm sweep you into the center of Christ’s limitless love.

 

Edwin Markham so long ago penned:

‘He drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.

 

Long before it could occur to us, such was Christ’s design for all of creation. To be drawn into a divine circle of love. And we, the heretic and rebelious, reject the offer of life unlike anything the world can offer. But we can’t deny the wistful longing deep within. It is Christ’s spirit calling us to return, to come home, to be restored. David wrote:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

2He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;

3he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

4Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me.

5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

 

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