Amen to Jared’s post below. I’ll answer his ending question with a post of my own that I had been contemplating.
Like an unsightly jagged scar across a face, my next door neighbor’s front gutter hung across the front of his house as I drove up the other day. All but one corner had ripped away from the fascia header, leaving this twisted, dangling gutter angling across their front porch with about a quarter of it lying on the ground. My heart went out to them, for this was not what they needed.
Good Christian friends our age as well as neighbors, we were surprised when she had knocked on our door Sabbath morning to tell us her husband had just been taken to the hospital with a heart attack. Had not just the day before we been joking about clearing all the snow? Had I not laughingly told my wife his acquisition of a snow blower had reduced all our shoveling and our chances of, yes, a heart attack? Thankfully he is stable and has a good prognosis. Yet I knew coming home to this mess would not be welcoming. As we not only share a driveway but regularly help one another with yards, children, pets and so forth, I set out to clean it up.
Before unscrewing the remaining end of the fallen gutter from the side gutter, I attempted to lift the aluminum guttering on the ground to move it away from the house to prevent further damage. Yet I buckled under the weight of it and dropped it again. Like an overfilled ice tray, the whole gutter was solid with ice. I had to crack out with a hammer “ice logs” 4-5 inches thick and a foot or two long to clear the gutters. Clearly the melting and refreezing of the ice and snow over the past days had built up to the point the weight was too great for the gutter and wood to bear. Yet, knowing this was the cause, still I was astonished at the amount of it all.
Though this ice had been building up for days, without warning suddenly the gutter had fallen. So had my friend to his heart attack. And so it is with too many events in this world. A slow and hidden dripping, weakening, failing, or hardening suddenly results in an unbearable load. It is hard enough to spot in the physical world. It was not until my neighbor’s gutter fell that I noticed the one on my garage was just about to do the same, so I set about cracking and digging out ice logs from it as well. In the moral realm, a slow build-up to disaster can be even more difficult to spot. But then a marriage ends in divorce, or a leader resigns from a moral failure, or a pastor is discharged, or a congregation splits, and then everyone wonders, “How did this happen?” Usually a post-check will reveal underlying acts of unfaithfulness had been going on that were virtually imperceptible. Like thickening ice under a cover of snow, men know how to cover their unrighteousness with outer goodness. But they are not so adept at, indeed are incapable of, holding up under their (im)moral weight.
I recall Garrison Keillor telling a story of walking under the icicles in Minnesota when he was a boy. He described the experience, in his typically humorous way, of being bound by snow banks on the walk by his house and having to pass directly underneath these six foot sharpened daggers hanging above him. He imagined them as giant monster teeth that could suddenly break loose and pierce him head-to-toe. We laugh as we identify with the morbid thought. I know my neighbor friend and I will laugh over his gutter and rejoice as middle-aged men over his spared life.
Yet, as God’s people, our laughter in this world must always be tempered with sober contemplation. A local lady younger than me died this week because of the weather, having fallen on the ice, hitting her head, then freezing to death before she was found. Tragically, this took place at a cemetery where she was visiting a grave. Was she ready for her own? Jesus said He comes suddenly, like a thief in the night or like a lightening flash. All these events are reminders that one day soon – too quickly in this life that is like a breath on a cold morning – we will succumb to the death we each carry around in these mortal bodies, our own slow freeze toward rigor mortis.
Morbid thought? Undoubtedly. Yet better that with the preparation Jesus urges than refuse to see the signs of what each of us should know will come suddenly.