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And Everyone Knew But Me…

December 31st, 2011 | 3 min read

By Kevin White

Time to fulfill a New Year’s resolution… from last year: write more for Mere-O…

I’ve rediscovered a lot of important Christian truths in the tenish years of my adult life. I’ll admit to not always being a paragon of humility about it.

Generally, though, after a little more reading, especially but not exclusively old books, it no longer seemed like I was on the ground floor of a new revival in Christian thought. By contrast, I saw my "discovery" everywhere.

The Reformers were early to the game of rediscovering the Fathers. J.I. Packer and others had already done half a century of yeoman’s work of reviving the Puritans before I discovered Rutherford. And Rutherford was quoting Bernard of Clairvoux like it was going out of fashion. In each case, it would seem as if everyone but me already knew about my new “insight.”

Take the Resurrection of the Dead. I can painfully recall reading a reference to it in an apologetics book at the beginning of 2001, and being totally bewildered. Before too long, I was clearly (and correctly) seeing it all over the New Testament. The more I read newer books on the subject, the more my pride tempted me to see my belated awareness of a basic Christian doctrine as part of some new movement of rediscovery.

But if learning can sometimes lead to conceit, often the solution is more learning.

The examples I turned up of wider-than-expected awareness of the Resurrection came from different eras and levels of sophistication. But despite all those options, I’ll point to a bit of flippant verse from Rudyard Kipling’s Departmental Ditties and Barrack-Room Ballads. Obscure? Perhaps. But that makes it all the more striking:

The Story of Uriah

"Now there were two men in one city;
the one rich, and the other poor."

Jack Barrett went to Quetta
Because they told him to.
He left his wife at Simla
On three-fourths his monthly screw.
Jack Barrett died at Quetta
Ere the next month's pay he drew.

Jack Barrett went to Quetta.
He didn't understand
The reason of his transfer
From the pleasant mountain-land.
The season was September,
And it killed him out of hand.

Jack Barrett went to Quetta
And there gave up the ghost,
Attempting two men's duty
In that very healthy post;
And Mrs. Barrett mourned for him
Five lively months at most.

Jack Barrett's bones at Quetta
Enjoy profound repose;
But I shouldn't be astonished
If now his spirit knows
The reason of his transfer
From the Himalayan snows.

And, when the Last Great Bugle Call
Adown the Hurnai throbs,
And the last grim joke is entered
In the big black Book of Jobs.
And Quetta graveyards give again
Their victims to the air,
I shouldn't like to be the man
Who sent Jack Barrett there.

(For handy reading notes, see here.)

Note the contrast between two snippets. Jack Barrett’s spirit, apart from his body, is figured to know how he was played. But he’s not able to do anything about it from there. At the Last Trumpet (i.e., the Day of Resurrection), when the graves at Quetta are emptied, Jack Barrett will be ready for some post-resurrection fisticuffs. Kipling doesn’t spell it out in so many words, but he clearly expects his reader to put two and two together.

Kipling’s not writing this for churchmen, or in some great evangelical periodical. Indeed, one could almost be forgiven for thinking his real religion was the British Empire. This is a poem for a colonial military/civil service context. In late nineteenth century England, the General Resurrection was apparently a pop culture reference.

If there has been any great forgetting about the General Resurrection, in ostensibly pious and orthodox circles, it seems to have been recent and limited in scope. Be glad that many are pushing for people to be better aware and appreciative of the doctrine of resurrection. But in this case, as perhaps in other cases of rediscovered doctrine, it pays to be modest in one’s estimate in how broadly it was forgotten.

Kevin White