Back of the North Wind

Discussions of theology, philosophy, religion and life inspired by the writings of George MacDonald (and perhaps others such as CS Lewis) posted by "recovering fundamentalists".

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I am a "recovering fundamentalist". The trick is to figure out how not to throw out the Baby with the bathwater. I learn through dialogue, and so invite commentary on my posts to Back of the North Wind.

Thursday, September 23, 2004


The theme that I read in George MacDonald perhaps more often than any other theme is obedience. MacDonald writes that the only way to truly understand the Universe is to obey -- to follow its rules, God's rules -- to follow your conscience.

I always find myself immediately objecting, "But, obey whom? In what? How am I supposed to know what's right?" And as a recovering fundamentalist, I no longer have recourse to that easy answer: "Just do what the Bible says". I gave that up when I read Psalm 137:

"Blessed is he who dashes all their little ones against the rocks."

MacDonald will not let me off the hook for a moment. His immediate answer:

"Do what you already know you should do. Once you have done that, you will learn what else you have to do."

And of course, he's right -- there's plenty of obvious things to work on, without having to judge more abstract and tricky morality issues. It reminds me of that saying attributed to Mark Twain:

It's not the parts of the Bible that I don't understand that trouble me, it's the parts that I do understand.

Mark Twain meant it another way, but spoke more truly than he knew. (See MacDonald's comments on Wordsworth!) I do understand enough to trouble me until I obey.

Here is an example from George MacDonald's Donal Grant:

"He is a well-meaning man," she said to herself, "but dreadfully mistaken: the Bible says believe, not do!"

The poor girl, though she read her bible regularly, was so blinded by the dust and ashes of her teaching, that she knew very little of what was actually in it. The most significant things slipped from her as if they were merest words without shadow of meaning or intent: they did not support the doctrines she had been taught, and therefore said nothing to her. The story of Christ and the appeals of those who had handled the Word of Life had another end in view than making people understand how God arranged matters to save them. God would have us live: if we live we cannot but know; all the knowledge in the universe could not make us live. Obedience is the road to all things--the only way in which to grow able to trust him. Love and faith and obedience are sides of the same prism.

[Emphasis mine.]