When I was a teenager I read a book that shaped my life. The book itself wasn’t much but it had a poem, a Shakespeare sonnet, right on its front page. And that poem seemed to capture an adolescent ideal that with an adolescent naivety I thought might save me:
They that have power to hurt and will do none,
That do not do the thing they most do show,
Who, moving others, are themselves as stone,
Unmoved, cold, and to temptation slow,
They rightly do inherit heaven’s graces
And husband nature’s riches from expense;
They are the lords and owners of their faces,
Others but stewards of their excellence.
I shiver to think back on that chilly and barren vision of human excellence: “unmoved, cold, and to temptation slow.” And I thank God that God, in time, saved me from my own salvation. Jeremiah though brought it back to me today with his distrust of human desire—”the heart is devious above all else; it is perverse—who can understand it?” And that coloured the gospel for me. What do I see there? I see two terrifying longings and one great chasm.
The longing of Lazarus in his poverty to be like the rich man. The longing of the rich man in his torment to be like Lazarus. And fixed between them a great chasm which no one may cross. Those two longings are terrifying because to take either seriously, to let it echo in our own hearts would surely shake us, crush us, at the very least move us to response. Who can face either torment and not have their stomach turned and their heart broken? Only Abraham it seems can keep his cool. Only Abraham manages to be unmoved, cold, and to temptation slow. And did you notice how he keeps his cool? I imagine it’s the same way that the rich man once kept his cool with Lazarus at his door. “Between us a great chasm has been fixed and no one may pass.”