On a whim…

Life without whimsy is not much of a life at all; without it, a walk in the dark is no laughing matter.

Balancing the Books

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When God made Mr. Harold Dempsey’s face he used silly putty. Harold’s face consisted of one rolling wrinkle after another. Shaking his head, we watched; a classroom of  fascinated boys. His heavy jowls waved in counterpoint as he uttered a familiar declaration, “Boys, I would rather God ‘took a mill stone and tied it about my neck’ than to cause you any harm.
I couldn’t imagine what possible harm he might do. Could he infect us and reduce our faces to a similarly drooping state?
“Now boys,” his eyes drooped joining the general sag of his cheeks, “you are innocent today. But someday you won’t be.”Remembering his words today they seem more coherent than they did to my ten year old ears. Innocence was something Perry Mason dealt with. You couldn’t be innocent of something until you were accused of something and, apart from repeatedly misplacing my father’s tools I was clear of all charges.I wanted to move on. Any distraction from the looming lecture would do. Perhaps we could divert his attention to one of the pictures in our illustrated King James bibles. One favorite was Moses with what looked like fresh baked loaves in his arms. Even though lunch was still a few hours away I could look at the picture and smell the bread. Heck I could taste the melted butter and grape jelly.
Yep, it would have been fine with me if we had moved straight ahead to one of those pictures but it was revival season and Mr. Dempsey was duty bound to press his point. “Yes sir, boys, you may be innocent today but soon, maybe sooner than you think, you are going to have to explain yourselves to God.”
By this point I was probably investigating the picture where Delilah was cutting off Sampson’s hair. There was something about Delilah that I couldn’t figure out. And it started near her neckline and I was making progress when Mr. Dempsey’s next words pulled me back to the classroom.“Boy’s! if you don’t give your hearts to Jesus… well I don’t know how else to say it… if you don’t you’re goin’ straight to hell.” There was something about the phrase “straight to hell” that disturbed my “intense” examination of Delilah. I jerked my head up, the bible fell to the floor and Mr. Dempsey looked at my glowing red face.His next remark was a cinematic event. “Well, that’s something you don’t have to worry about… ” the lighting shifted, silence surrounded us and his baritone shifted to bass. He continued, “’til you reach the-age-of-accountability.”Ah, “the-age-of-accountability”, I didn’t know what it was but it was clearly associated with hell. Not that I knew a lot about hell either. I must have known enough. I wouldn’t eat deviled eggs because they were, well, Devil-ed. And I certainly didn’t want to go to hell by any road, curvy or straight.Maybe “the-age-of-accountability” was like ear wax or tooth decay. Maybe it was something that could be avoided, or if encountered, could be undone. Avoided. Undone. If only the weight of our failures could be so easily remedied.Somewhere in my growing up “the-age-of-accountability” snuck up on me. Mr. Dempsey’s warning seemed opaque when I was ten. Now, having begun what is likely the last third of my life, I find myself accountable. I do not fear hell but I recognize that an answer is due. I must account for things done.Even more, though, I must account for things not done. Sartre once suggested that hell is other people. I can’t say I know his hell. The one I know consists of undone kindnesses, unexpressed grace, unstated affection, under appreciated love. This is a hell I know well. It is for these that I can offer no reasonable accounting. It is from this hell that I most deeply yearn for deliverance. 

Written by David Wilkerson

6 January 2008 at 7:59 pm

Posted in grace, hope, theology

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  1. In an essay about authenticity Thomas Merton wondered whether the reason so many men have a hard time believing in God is that we have a hard time believing that we could be loved, even by God. I have come to have an impression, from listening to friends who are atheists as well as those who profess faith in God, that it is easier to believe in hell than it is in mercy. I thought about this when I read what you wrote here about your boyhood and Mr. Dempsey.


    12 March 2008 at 4:17 pm

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