Monthly Archives: June 2012

“Well, It Just Must Be the Will of God”


“Well, it is the will of God. That’s all there is to it.”

So said an anguished father in India who had just lost his young son in a cholera epidemic. So, unfortunately, says someone at almost every death, tragedy, or disaster the world has ever known.

We say it because we don’t know what else to say. Better to keep our mouths shut. We say it because we feel that in some way everything that happens in a world created by an all-powerful God must be part of God’s will. Wrong. That was true in Paradise, but it has ceased to be true since sin and its consequences, everything from cockleburs to mortality, entered Eden and spoiled Paradise.

The little boy had died. The father was trying to resign himself to life without his son.

“It is just the will of God,” he said again to a wise missionary named Leslie Weatherhead who knew him well enough to try to help him think about what he was saying.

“Suppose someone crept up the steps onto the veranda tonight, while you slept, and deliberately put a wad of cotton soaked in cholera germ culture over your little girl’s mouth as she lay in that cot there on the veranda, what would you think about that?”

“My God,” he said, “what would I think about that? Nobody would do such a damnable thing. If he attempted it and I caught him, I would kill him with as little compunction as I would a snake, and throw him over the veranda.”

“But John,” Weatherhead said quietly, “isn’t that just what you have accused God of doing when you said it was his will? Call your little boy’s death the result of mass ignorance, call it mass folly, call it mass sin, if you like, call it bad drains or communal carelessness, but don’t call it the will of God.”

In a very fine little book entitled The Will of God, Weatherhead went on to say, “Surely we cannot identify as the will of God something for which a man would be locked up in jail, or put in a criminal lunatic asylum.”

But, all too often, we do.

Weatherhead goes on in his fine book to help us be a good deal more accurate in the way we use the phrase “the will of God,” as he talks about God’s original (intentional) will for this world he created, his circumstantial will for this now-fallen world, and his ultimate (or ideal) will for his people for eternity. It’s good to think about such things.

If we are unable or unwilling to work hard enough to deal with such questions, we usually end up adopting the terminology of insurance companies who label everything they can’t control or don’t understand as “an act of God.” We lay at the feet of the Author of life the blame for suffering, tragedy, and death, and we attach to the Giver of all good gifts the responsibility for almost everything that goes very badly wrong. I know, because I’ve done it, too.

It is a mistake that says more about me than I like to think.



Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


To Beard or Not To Beard: That Is the Question


A gentleman by the name of Maynard Good Stoddard wrote an article for The Saturday Evening Post many moons ago which my brother, for some reason, sent my way. It is entitled “To Beard or Not To Beard.”

Mr. Stoddard said that one day he finally figured out why he had been pushed around at home for so many years. It was, he had discovered, because his chin lacked authority. He mentioned that he felt no need for one of those “Jay Leno jobs.” But he felt a definite need for something a bit more along that very distinctive line. It evidently occurred to him that though chin augmentation through plastic surgery might be pricey, whiskers are more or less free. And they do indeed change the character of a chin (and maybe even the chin of a character). A research project on beards was soon underway.

First, Stoddard polled his wife. She said she’d rather “embrace a camel’s hair pillow than a face full of whiskers,” a feeling evidently shared by a Mrs. Abner Billings (now a former Mrs. Billings) whose husband divorced her because she kept spraying his beard down with disinfectant which got into his eyes. The divorce court judge suggested “mowing the hay,” but Mr. Billings countered that the beard was more of a comfort to him than was Mrs. Billings.

According to Stoddard, “Beards have been causing domestic wars ever since wives discovered that whiskers could be mowed, shaven, or set on fire.”

And Stoddard discovered a good deal more in his research.

It was Alexander the Great who first “shot down the beard,” ordering his soldiers to shave lest their manly chins provide the enemy with convenient handholds.

A case could be made that by shaving his beard Louis VIII of France started a war with England that lasted 300 years. The beard-trimming was objected to by his wife, the famous Eleanor of Aquitaine. After their divorce, she married Henry II of England who had a beard he could “tuck into his belt on windy days.”

During the reign of Henry I, Serle the bishop, termed the bearded gents of the Norman English court “filthy goats and bristly Saracens.”

According to Stoddard’s research, Peter the Great levied a tax (“a sir-tax”?) on Russian beards. King Charles swept the points of his moustache upward and sported a beard shaped like a downward flame. Edward II’s beard was long and patriarchal. Henry VIII’s was knotted. The Roman Emperor Hadrian grew one to cover his warts.

Beards. I’m pretty sure that God, unlike most wives, is neutral on the subject. What comes out of our hearts is far more important to him than what graces or disgraces, as the case may be, our chins.



Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

The God of the Universe Is Our Father

Christians are united as brothers and sisters spiritually by the very same  truth that makes siblings brothers and sisters physically—they have the same father (well, Father, in this case).

What an amazing blessing! God is our Father!

It is not simply that God gives us physical life, though he does, and in that sense God is the Father of everyone, but God is our Father in that he gives his believing children a new kind of life, a spiritual life which, unlike biological life, will never fade but is fit for eternity.

The two gifts of life, for which biblical Greek has two completely different words, are similar. Biological life and spiritual life look alike, but, as C. S. Lewis writes, they are actually as different as night and day. One is a photo of a place; the other, the real place. One is the statue of a human being; the other, the actual living person.

The business of Christianity is to impart to human beings genuine life, the life of God which comes only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

“This world,” Lewis writes, “is a great sculptor’s shop. We are the statues and there is a rumour going round the shop that some of us are some day going to come to life.”

The difference, you see, between mere biological life and spiritual life is the difference between a “carved stone” and a living, breathing human.

Our God is the greatest King, but it was no royal nobility which caused him to send his Son to give real life to you and to me.

Our God is the most powerful Judge, but no legal demands of any law—and certainly no merit on our part—obligated him to freely extend life and mercy to any of us.

Our God is the most masterful Creator, but nothing in his great creative energy forced him to fashion sons and daughters out of statues.

But thank God himself that God is also our Father, and out of his deep Father’s love for his children he extends to us freely the blessings of genuine life, life fashioned to be able to experience an eternity of Joy.

No description of God is as expressive or beautiful or full of meaning as this: God is our Father.



Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Just Thinking About “Time in a Bottle”


“What is a grain of wheat?” Paul Tournier asks. “It contains a whole plant you cannot yet see. What is a silkworm? You cannot define it without seeing in advance all its metamorphosis. What is a child? You cannot describe him without thinking of the whole life of the man, with all its unknowns, for which he is preparing.”

As I first read those words years ago, I sat at my desk and examined the little Christmas present I had just received from my mother. It was a simple little thing—a small bottle with a glass stopper. Inside were ten or fifteen marbles. She’d tied a thin baby blue ribbon around the little bottle.

Once it was a vitamin bottle, but now it was becoming a very special paperweight. I remembered the marbles, every one. They were mine, or at least they had been.

The bottle? The bottle once sat on the small table by my aged maternal grandparents’ bed in the old house at Robert Lee, Texas. It had held just enough water to use to take a pill or to wet a dry throat.

Dr. Tournier writes of the metamorphosis, the transformation, we see when caterpillars are changed into butterflies and blonde-headed little boys into graying grandfathers. That little bottle is for me an appropriate symbol of the process. Nestled inside the glass bottle of the aged are the glass trinkets of childhood. Thus encapsulated by a marble-filled bottle is the whole spectrum of life from spring to winter, from youth to old age.

No one is immune to the metamorphosis wrought by time. With each tick of the clock every one of us is being transformed. Tournier is right. We see a small child and wonder what the adult will be like. We wonder about the many unknowns life holds for graduates walking across the stage. We each, no matter what our age, remember what we ourselves have been and ponder what we may yet become. The present flits into the past on the wings of a hyperactive hummingbird, and we are powerless to slow it down or grasp it into stillness. The future races to meet us with blinding speed, oppressed with such a low opinion of itself that it can’t wait to change its name to “The Past.”

But Christians needn’t be frightened of the frenetic future or paralyzed by the echoes of the past. We are all being changed, but God’s children know that the transformation can be filled with joy and hope. Our Creator promises to lovingly fill our lives with His life, continually re-creating us by Resurrection power, changing us “into Christ’s likeness from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).



Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

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