Before the Furnace Doors
Acts 10: 14
“But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.’”Posted 1/24/14
By Reverend ray
“‘I know little of the country,’ he said, shaking his head, for such as I, pass all our lives before our furnace doors, and seldom go forth to breathe. But there are such places yonder.'”(Dickens, Charles; “The Old Curiosity Shop”)
My mind was carried back to the years spent in the steel mill as I read the passage from Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop and in particular, my mind fixed on a fellow steel worker, Fred.
The old man in Dickens’ story was the figure mentioned in a previous installment of Dribble. He would rescue Nell and her grandfather from the cold and rain to bring them to a building full of iron pillars, deafening noises, and white-hot doors on giant furnaces that were belching out intense flames that seemed as though they were dragon’s tongues licking at the air.
Here had lived this man, now old and decrepit, from the time he was a baby. He had known no other world than the hammering of steel, dust and dirt of the ashes and the warmth of the furnace’s heat.
He knew little or nothing of the outside world, of its beauties, it fresh air, or the warmth of the sun. Indeed, for him to have wandered far from the mill left him helplessly disoriented and fearful.
My fellow employee, Fred was much the same, for he rarely broke routine or ventured from the world he had made for himself lest he risk becoming lost. Fred, like the man in Dickens’ story, had spent his life before the furnace doors.
Granted that such cases seem, at the same time, mournful and honorable; mournful that life seemed to cage them in to an unconscious confinement and honorable for such unquestioned loyalty and devotion to simplicity.
But let me now take into consideration the former of these two points and make an observation or two that might cast our own Christian lives in a little clearer light.
In the passage selected we find Peter confronted with something not so much different from that of the old man or Fred.
For Peter, his tradition was not merely a rut he had gotten himself into, but the traditions and cultural teachings of his Jewish ethnicity had shaped his attitude and perception of the world and people outside his Jewish tradition. The fact that God was confronting him here with it is indicative of the fact that he was unconscious of how his tradition had shaped his prerogatives.
It would take a major reconstruction project to transform Peter’s view of the Gentile world and its people. The point here is that our traditions and training throughout childhood and even our culture can weigh in heavier on how we conduct our Christian life than the Word of God.
And the mournfulness of this is that we are tragically unconscious many times to how it affects this life. Even worse, we interpret scripture through these same lenses in order to re-enforce our traditions rather then conform to the pure word of God.
In essence, we find ourselves staring at the same old furnace doors of traditions (“our ways”) day in and day out without ever discovering the beauty of God or the wonder of His glorious work in and through us.
I am not here suggesting that as Christians we abandon everything that has shaped who we are but that we avoid the error of letting those things determine how much the Word of God is going to shape and, if necessary, reconstruct our lives in order that we might see beyond the furnace doors.
There are no cultural, traditional or social influences yet that forged a perfect man, but Christ has said; “be ye perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” It might be time to stop staring at the furnace doors.
Dribble from the pen