I listened to the most recent episode of This American Life and was not disappointed to find interesting content and thought provoking ethical dilemmas—as usual. Odd thing about that show. Inevitably their will be at least one ambiguous unresolved moral conflict. The recent episode “Mistake Were Made” I want to make comment on.
The episode was all about the lack of genuine repentance; not really being sorry for something when you know you should be, apologizing anyway, but not really meaning it. It’s in our sinful nature from early childhood to have this problem, but as moralized people of society, we know that at the heart of an unrepentant spirit we’re wrong, and should apologize for not being sorry in addition for the wrongs we do in the first place. But the show didn’t have much to say about the moral right or wrong in the matter. I’d like to say for the record that you don’t find forgiveness and genuine repentance in any other culture or faith other than Christianity (well, the Old Testament Jewish faith too, I guess) . Odd that morals all go back to something religious, but today we just accept them as “cultural norms.” In truth, morality is always dictated by some religious compass whether it be man’s own worldly wisdom or taken from the authority of the Bible. Morals such as repentance and forgiveness being from Christianity is hard to escape, so usually unbelievers gloss over the issue and try not to think about it much.
So in this episode they took examples of unapologetic people in unusual circumstances from around the country and told their stories. The stories were captivating, beginning with a man that was responsible for the early development of cryonics. Good story, but that man’s story is not what I want to address. In “act three” as they call it on This American Life, the last segment was poetry of an unapologetic nature. A contributor to the show introduced a well-known bit of poetry called “This is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams:
I have eaten
that were in
the ice box
Which you were
they were delicious
so sweet and so cold
So the idea in the poem above is it’s a note from a unrepentant husband to his wife. He’s apologizing, but not really. Apparently this poem has been a big hit among poets, and many have their own version of “This is Just to Say.” The poem is often taught to elementary students and they write their own version as well. Odd lesson to be given in school; learning how not to ask forgiveness. You’d think any virtuous curricular activity would want written a genuine apology letter. I guess that’s too old hat for modern secular education.
And the show continued with contributors of This American Life writing their own treatments of “This is Just to Say.” This is where it got really interesting. Most of the poems posed the unrepentant spirit of bitter people towards others that had hurt them. A girl hurt by a sibling carves the sibling’s name into a family recliner, thus getting the sibling in trouble and getting revenge. I think you can see the degrading nature of that story. And like I said, most of the poems from the contributors were of a vengeful nature. Then there was this one thrown in the middle of them:
“This is Just to Say”
by Jonathan Goldsteen
This is just to say
I have eaten the
fruit of knowledge
but nothing happened
Not a word
not even a drop of rain
So I was just wondering
are you there?
And the show continued. If you had sneezed while listening to the podcast you may have missed it entirely. Subtle, eh? Not really.
I want to say that I respect poetry as a good art form. Like any art form it’s proper intent is to reflect the nature of God and communicate a reflection of the real world with fresh insight (see some of my other posts on the arts if you want to know my thoughts on the arts).
Many Christians would be quick to judge this poem as blatantly sinful in its message. I did, for one, but then I reflected on the matter some more, and I noticed some peculiarities. First, The poet is speaking to God as he addresses God. Unless the poet is really confused, it is apparent he’s talking to God. While the poet is questioning God’s existence, he’s asking God about God’s existence. It’s nigh to an atheistic “I dare you” to show yourself. Funny thing is, an atheist doesn’t acknowledge God to begin with, and if he does, he’s obviously not an atheist. The poet is asking God for a sign. Maybe it’s more deistic than atheistic.
Another problem is the poet assumes he’s brighter than most and can give God a situation where God cannot help but demonstrate He’s alive and involved in the affairs of men. A little biblical knowledge about God would be good for this poet to brush up on. Not only do you not address God casually, you don’t question God’s authority if you want to be biblical about doing this. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom,” says the scriptures. In the poets mind, he is wise to question God existence because like his parents always told him, “never assume.” But if the poet was truly wise, he wouldn’t have the casual approach to making demands on the Creator of the universe.
The poet also doesn’t know the Bible very well, although he’s apparently meaning to address the God of the Bible. The reference to the fruit of knowledge is a dead giveaway. While the volcanoes and rain were/are other signs of God’s judgment they’re more obscure. So the poet is addressing Yahweh, but even so, he cannot do that biblically correct. A little refresher on the first three chapters of Genesis would clarify for the poet it wasn’t the “fruit of knowledge,” but the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” The fruit of that tree was what was forbidden. Knowledge in and of itself is something God’s Word respects and encourages man to pursue, but the poet’s twist on the fruit as the “fruit of knowledge” implies that knowledge itself is what God forbid man to gain in the garden of Eden. That is totally uncharacteristic of the biblical God of the Bible altogether.
And nothing should happen should the poet eat that fruit today, if my theology is correct. Adam and Eve were told not to eat the fruit—not the poet. Also, Adam and Eve already got the punishment for eating the fruit and mankind was banished from the garden of Eden. When that was done the discipline for eating of that tree was finished. Still, there would be no way to obtain some of the fruit to know if an individual would be disciplined on top of what Adam and Eve did if we were to eat it today. God’s Word is mostly silent of impossibilities. So to get the fruit would mean God slipped up and you found some; again, uncharacteristic of the biblical God. The poet would be unable to get the fruit in the real world.
But we know from the Bible Adam and Eve weren’t able to get away with eating the fruit as the poet suggests he was able to. Eating the fruit itself had more than one effect on Adam and Eve as well. Eating the fruit meant two things. First, the first man and woman was now introduced to a sin nature, lost their innocence and their spirits were corrupted. Second, they were separated from the fellowship with their Maker because they were sinful. These things happened to them not because they ate the fruit itself, but because they rebelled against God. The rebellion meant the first man and woman rejected God’s plan and wanted to define themselves as something other than consistent with God’s will. Rebellion was the sin and cause of all the discipline. It wasn’t even eating the fruit that was so bad. There are some schools of Christian thought that believe God would have let man eat the fruit eventually if man had stuck to God’s bigger plan.
Back on topic, the poets urging God to strike him dead or something to show that God is real and involved in man’s little world…. Wow. Not giving God much of a choice, are we? Again, the poet’s unbelieving spirit conveyed illustrates that he does not understand what God is like. If the poet respected a divine authority as real and involved in his life, most likely the poet would have more respect. Since the poet has first rejected divine authority in his life—wants his will, not God’s, to be done in his life—he wants to believe he isn’t accountable to God with what he does with his life. Thus he chooses to believe God is not real. So the poet is somewhat of an atheist(fool). God proving he is real may not reverse the poet’s stubborn rebellion at all. Man’s will to defy God is obviously worth the risk to the poet. If the poet is wrong, and God does exist, he’s not in God’s good graces for the rebellion with a biblical God.
And when all is said and done, the poet is being somewhat facetious. The original poem, and following it’s tradition, communicates an unrepentant spirit towards someone the poet knows he should be repentant to. Knowing that he should be sorry for his unbelieving nature towards God, but isn’t, makes me wonder if the poet is an atheist or deist at all. At the heart of the poem, the man is acknowledging God’s authority, but saying he isn’t sorry about his rebellion. The poets got guts.
The unrepentant spirit is usually hand in hand with ignorance. People that aren’t sorry don’t realize the consequences for defying the moral law of God. With a little understanding, no one is so flippant about saying they’re not sorry but they’ll apologize anyway… to God. If you want more insight, checkout this topical search of unbelief in the Bible. If that won’t make you a believer, and apologetic… then I’m sorry for you.