Several years ago, a counselor recommended The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions. The puritans get a bad rap, historically, and their history illustrates the complex tensions that come with fallen people following God in a fallen world.
Here are two thoughts worth considering from the “The Love of Jesus,” page 24:
“Thou art beyond the grasp of my understanding,
but not beyond the grasp of my love.”
This, I think, illustrates our proper position before almighty God. It is not a love born of ignorance or superstition—I love my children, but they are beyond my comprehension in that to be able to describe them fully would require knowledge of biology, neurochemistry, psychology, and so on that is beyond my capacity. I don’t withhold my love from my kids just because I cannot describe in literally exhaustive detail how their cells work. I emphasize exhaustive detail, not just sophisticated or expert-level understanding of life at the cellular level. I suspect even the greatest cell biologists in the world would say there is much left to learn about how cells work. Even once we know literally everything there is to know about the cell, we move a step down and have to know literally everything about the cell’s fundamental components—the fundamental particles that make up the atoms that make up the molecules that make up the…you get the point. To put my kids beyond the grasp of my love because I don’t know much biology—ninth grade was a long time ago—would not be intellectually rigorous or admirably skeptical. It would be foolish. “Thou art beyond the grasp of my understanding, but not beyond the grasp of my love” is not a statement of poorly-understood devotion born out of fear, ignorance, and superstition. It is a profound and appropriate statement of proper humility.
A few lines later, we read:
“I am never so much mine as when I am his,
or so much lost to myself as when I am lost in him;
then I find my manhood.”
We are rebels, and not in a good way. The fall of man is a rebellion against the only entity in all of reality that is actually worthy of worship and against whom rebellion is unambiguously blameworthy. Every day is another struggle between my rebellious and submissive selves. The former wants to be captain of my own soul, so to speak. The latter recognizes that taking the helm is a fool’s errand and recognizes that there is liberty—in the deepest sense—in such submission. Again, this is not a recognition birthed in fear and superstition but a joyful recognition that we find our joy, our hope, our completeness—our humanity— in Christ.
The profundity of a statement like this makes me wonder why puritan prayer doesn’t play a more prominent role in our study of the American literary tradition. I understand reading “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” as an exemplar of puritan thought, but what I read in The Valley of Vision makes me yearn for more.