Things Fall Apart – But Work Remains

As the days grow darker, all the more reason to get involved:

Just after WWI Irish poet William Butler Yeats wrote “The Second Coming”. I am certainly no poetry expert, so I can only say a few rather limited things about it. One, at just 22 lines in length, it is a memorable and oft-quoted poem. Two, although the poem has various bits of biblical imagery in it, Yeats was not a Christian. Three, the first half of the poem (lines 1-8) is clearer in intent than the second half. It speaks to the fact that we live in dark, troubling times with the unravelling of all things. Here is that first part:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.

Some of the most well-known lines are these:

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;”

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.”

Good descriptions indeed of life a hundred years ago – and even more so now. Everything seems to be in turmoil, chaos and disintegration. And so much of this is being brought about by evil men, while good men stand by and do nothing.

That pretty much sounds like what I have been saying for decades about the culture wars in particular, and the decline of the West in general. And from a merely human point of view, it seems that this IS what we are left with. It will likely just get worse, and not much can be done to turn things around.

Of course like many of my readers, I happen to be a Christian. So my point of view is quite different. Yes, in the short-term things in the West may well further deteriorate and the various diabolical assaults on all that we hold near and dear will only intensify.

But this is only quite temporary in the light of eternity. There is indeed a second coming that all believers anticipate and greatly look forward to. It is our “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13). In the meantime, we have work to do. We are to ‘occupy till he comes’ (Luke 9:13).

Yes things are very bleak and disturbing right now, but all the more reason to work even harder, pray even harder, and seek to faithfully serve our Lord in the time he has allotted to us. Regardless of our fav eschatological view (be it a type of pessimistic premillennialism or an optimistic postmillennialism), we all need to redouble our efforts to be salt and light.

And no, that mention of end times views was not meant to start another theological war here! The point is, whatever you believe about the second coming, we all need to be found to be faithful stewards of what God has entrusted to us, including our life, our time on earth, our talents, our gifts, and so on.

One’s thoughts on the return of Christ need not distract us from the tasks at hand. As I wrote two decades ago:

Consider two of the greatest evangelical leaders and social reformers of the past century: Lord Shaftesbury and William Wilberforce. Wilberforce (1759-1833) worked for decades to abolish the slave trade. He was also involved in the Sunday school movement, relief of prisoners, prison reform, working conditions, mentally ill, “the reformation of manners”, etc. Shaftesbury (1801-1885), like Wilberforce, was a member of the British House of Commons. He was involved in alleviation of bad conditions in insane asylums; workers’ conditions, especially women and children; he helped relieve poor housing conditions; had a great interest in missions and bible societies. For 57 out of 60 years in public service he received no salary. Now interestingly, Wilberforce was postmillennial in his eschatology, while Shaftesbury was premillennial. They may have had quite different end time views, but both had a committed resolve to better society around them. billmuehlenberg.com/1999/04/08/end-times-and-christian-responsibility/

So do not let your pet views on the future deter you from fully doing the Lord’s work in the present. We all need to play our part in helping to fulfill what Jesus taught us to pray about: “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

Image of The Soul in Paraphrase: A Treasury of Classic Devotional Poems
The Soul in Paraphrase: A Treasury of Classic Devotional Poems by Ryken, Leland (Author) Amazon logo

I began with a poem so allow me to close with another one: “When I Consider How My Light Is Spent” penned by the great English Puritan poet John Milton (1608–1674). It goes like this:

When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
“Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

American literature professor Leland Ryken says this about the poem:

The occasion of this sonnet is Milton’s becoming totally blind at the age of 44. An early editor coined what became the familiar title for the poem—“On His Blindness.” The poem develops two lines of thought, both encapsulated in the last line (“They also serve who only stand and wait.”). On the one hand, the poem is a statement of resignation, as the poet expresses an implied submission to the situation of standing and waiting. But the poem is also a statement of justification, as the poet finds a way to assert that “they also serve” who only stand and wait. The poet’s meditation is based on an underlying quest motif in which he searches for and finds a way to serve God acceptably. The poem is built around the implied question, What does it take to please God? The entire poem assumes that God requires service, and the key verb serve appears three times.

 

This poem is constructed on the classic two-part structure of the Italian sonnet. The argument in the first seven-and-a-half lines is that God requires active service in the world. This line of thought becomes an increasingly intense anxiety vision for the blind poet, who cannot perform active service. The sestet then offers an alternative type of service, placed into the mouth of a personified Patience. The alternate service consists of standing and waiting, and this has multiple meanings. It is an image of monarchy, first of all, and is offered as a picture of serving God in heaven as the angels do, in praise and worship. The last line also evokes a picture of a life of private retirement, out of the public eye, and it is helpful at this point to know that before Milton became blind he was a famous international figure in his role as international secretary to Oliver Cromwell.

 

The poem is a mosaic of biblical allusions. Particularly prominent are the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matt. 20:1–16) and the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14–30). Both parables portray God as the master who calls workers to their tasks and as the judge who rewards stewards for active service and punishes them for sloth. Also important is Jesus’s famous saying about doing the works of his Father “while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.” www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/3-classic-poems-every-christian-should-read/

Yes, things are falling apart all around us. But you and I need to “consider how my light is spent”. What are you doing for Christ and the Kingdom right now?

[1308 words]

7 Replies to “Things Fall Apart – But Work Remains”

  1. I’m scattered Bill…. so many neighbours, kids and causes, petitions, rally’s, ACL, ProLife… gospels to distribute… tracts to hand out… and yet the Lord is trying to get me to sit still and pen poetry and or write blogs. I’m buried in books and projects..prayer meetings…buried alive, say a prayer for me Bill… family probs with older married kids…

  2. Pearl Miller, I think you are trying to do too much yourself, instead of what the Lord wants you to do, otherwise you will wear yourself out and achieve nothing. Let others do some of these things and you do what you are called to do. Like Martha and Mary when Jesus and the apostles came to visit and Martha was running around in the kitchen like a headless chook and wearing herself out while Mary was sitting at Jesus’s feet listening, and Martha went crook. I am sure that Martha then also went to sit at Jesus’s feet with Mary and then when Jesus had finished talking to them, they both went to the kitchen to prepare food for all those hungry men. Pearl, the Lord is not asking you to do all those other things, listen to Him.

  3. As someone whose sight is having great problems and is not yet 44 I find comfort in that poem.

    I do what I can despite the various limitations I have but often feel no-one listens. I have go from group to group and feel the outsider sometimes called a spiritual child. I try to help and warn and speak but it so often seems to fall on deaf ears. It’s sometimes feels like I am invisible or non existent. Like you are blowing the warning trumpet right in their ear and they act like no-one is there. Or you’re shouting “the British are coming” and no-one gets out of bed to fight. Trying and feeling useless is hard. Worse is when people say you are the problem one you are stirring up trouble in the brethren and are of the devil because of it.

    If my eyesight does go away or get so bad I can’t type I can take comfort that I will be doing what God wants and in so doing I will be serving God.

  4. In the name of diversity, inclusion and equality, satanists are wanting to go to state schools and introduce children to satanic practices, ideas and so on. This is increasing throughout Canada, UK, USA and is before hearings in Australia. The worship introduced to children will include seances, child sacrifice (abortion), casting spells on enemies and sacrilege plus lots more. It is getting to the stage where all state schools are cesspits of depravity and are destroyers of the West. They are perverting innocent minds. The extreme secularists, Marxists and so on by design want conflict between parents and children. Anything that is wholesome and healthy they are against.

  5. Pearl, we are often obsessed with doing things. “Don’t just stand there, do something!” is a phrase we often hear. But sometimes the key can be just the opposite. In Joshua Chapter 3 God says to Joshua “When you get to the edge of the River Jordan, don’t do anything, just stand there!”

    We say, “Don’t just stand there, do something” but God sometimes says “Don’t just do something, stand there – and wait for my signal.”

  6. Very timely topics, Bill. I only mentioned to a friend recently how I had come to realize that some, at least, of my friends who are involved in the culture wars had a post-mil understanding, whilst I, a member of a denomination which favours the a-mil position, am of the pre-mil view.
    That to one side, the greater question of how each of us is to “occupy” is not always an easy one and, for some, that wonderful sense of being engaged as the Lord would have us to be personally is sometimes lost, though we are always conscious of the general call to be ambassadors for Christ. The challenge to be more diligent and/or intentional in daily Bible reading and prayer, while often seen as trite, in my own experience usually merits honest consideration, and can make quite a difference.

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