If you are following along in the Summer Read, this post was born of Chapters I-III of Gulliver’s Travels. If you happen to be reading the kiddos’ version, it would help if you’ve read through pg. 27.
On Selecting Your Shoes
Rather than combine two ideas into a single post, I’ve opted to post twice this week, figuring maybe one would bless you. Reading can be such a chore. 😉
Throughout Gulliver, we as readers face the task of deciding whose shoes we are to wear in the moment. Gulliver provides the primary perspective. As literary historian Pat Rogers noted in an essay, it is curious that the one item Gulliver would not give up to the Lilliputians was his pair of spectacles. He is prepared to give up “his money, his watch, his guns, his razor, his handkerchief, his knife and even his ‘Journal Book.’ Rogers contrasts this to Robinson Crusoe, who saw no value in those things which helped him maintain perspective. To Gulliver, sight is critical, so it is easy enough to read the story and become Gulliver.
However, as Swift’s task seemed to be drawing out the absurdities of others through observation, it is helpful to assume the role of the Lilliputians, even if we are slightly taller than six inches. It is in the notion of the little people that we often find curiosity and conviction. Rather than reading with a finger pointed, it is sometimes helpful to read with a mirror.
The contract between Gulliver and the Lilliputians struck me, particularly from the vantage point of the smaller folk. As I considered the terms of the agreement, I found myself asking, If I knew someone HUGE, what would I require of them in order to keep them in my life? What would be the boundaries?
Gulliver’s terms, in very brief:
- The Man-Mountain cannot leave without permission.
- The Man-Mountain cannot come too close without permission.
- The Man-Mountain cannot interfere with infrastructure.
- The Man-Mountain must not trample.
- The Man-Mountain must serve as a delivery system.
- The Man-Mountain must fight for the Lilliputians.
- The Man-Mountain must provide labor.
- The Man-Mountain must pursue and share knowledge.
- If he complies, we will provide for the Man-Mountain.
By virtue of Gulliver’s size he is “dangerous.” Apart from his exhaustion following the shipwreck and/or the Lilliputian’s deception involving a questionable drink, he cannot be controlled. He submits to their requests in his benevolence. But even in gentleness, there are still aspects of his person that they cannot comprehend or handle.
Perhaps these terms make sense when their knowledge of such a being is limited. The Lilliputians had received glimpses of Gulliver’s kindness, but they had not the time nor the evidence to completely trust him. Their time had been consumed cleaning up, restoring self-determined order to a world invaded by such a presence. In their ignorance, their primary interest was control. They saw the potential of having such a Man-Mountain on their side, but they could not surrender sovereignty. Instead, they chose to deliver terms of surrender to a being whom they so precisely calculated would contain 1724 of their own.
In a moment, I am prone to look at the Lilliputians demands and think them silly. Did you laugh there as well? Walk through the terms of the contract, though, replacing Man-Mountain with God, and the mirror falls firmly into place. I’m not so foolish as to see deep parallels between Captain Gulliver and the Creator, but rather in this instance I choose to put on the shoes of a Lilliputian and ask myself a few questions. I ask myself when I’ve treated the Sovereign King in similar fashion. Granted, we aren’t as likely to do so through a written contract, but through our behavior, we often make similar requests.
Don’t leave me, but don’t get too close.
Help me, but only when I ask.
Serve me, and I will serve you.
Sometimes it feels as though we have to clean up the mess of having God around – explaining his actions, questioning his motives in the events of the past and the minutiae of everyday living. In our ignorance, we choose to live under the illusion of control. We extend the contract in foolishness, expecting the Sovereign of the universe to surrender to our terms.
The trouble is, if God is God, that means we are not. His terms, not ours. His sovereignty, not ours. His glory, not ours.
In the gospel, though, God has given us a lens through which to view all of his actions, a filter through which we understand all of his words. What might seem a mess without the cross becomes quite clear in light of such amazing love. He has given us the ultimate act of sacrifice as the linchpin to our own existence. He gave his only Son to die in our place, suffering a fate our sin deserves, offering the life he earned in perfect obedience, so that we could find redemption in him. And with that redemption comes surrender, mediated by the Son of God – Jesus. We tear up the feeble contract we might contrive and live to know God on his terms – through the person and work of his Son as revealed in the Bible. The “terms” are found in the story of Scripture. We leave our ignorance in the past and seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. Love demands as much.
Tune in next week! Until then, press on and enjoy!