The value of poetry is often found in its ability to capture the core of nuanced situations.
Prior to moving to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, I did some research on the area and was shocked to discover this article by The Gospel Coalition:
It’s an article worth reading, at once eye-opening and encouraging. It lays bare the state of faith in Cedar Rapids but also testifies to the loving labor of pastors seeking to change this biblically illiterate landscape. Since arriving here myself, it does appear that this article is becoming somewhat outdated and that the endeavors of faithful churches are making an impact.
Still, we are far from the mega-church, Bible-and-coffee culture of metropolitan Arizona, in which devotionals (along with avocado toast and dairy-free lattes) are part of a complete breakfast.
Driving through Cedar Rapids and the surrounding Linn County, I was baffled by the area’s low biblical literacy ranking. There are churches everywhere, from denominational cathedrals to tiny neighborhood churches to charismatic chapels. How, I wondered, could a city so speckled with various churches be so devoid of scripture?
Do all these churches sit empty on Sunday mornings?
Do they teach from the world rather than the Word?
Do they preach upon spiritually deaf ears?
Are they working faithfully but, simply, enduring the pressures of a post-Christian culture?
Try as I might, I could not determine any one explanation. A stanza of poetry, however, continually came to mind:
“Water, water, everywhere,The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (Samual Taylor Coleridge)
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.”
Biblical illiteracy in a seemingly churched area is as dispiriting as thirst at sea. The statistics provided by The Gospel Coalition may offer practical insight into the state of faith in Iowa but the causal reality is perhaps better grasped via poetry. After all, we can explain why salt water is unfit for drinking, but this does not begin to capture the despair of a dying sailor. The poetic fact of the matter is that souls are perishing in the midst of apparent plenty.
While we should sorrow over this reality, we should not be surprised by it. It is an age-old tragedy, captured by the Old Testament prophets:
But my people have changed their gloryJeremiah 2:11b-13
for that which does not profit.
Be appalled, O heavens, at this;
be shocked, be utterly desolate,
declares the Lord,
for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
broken cisterns that can hold no water.
Consequences are demonstrated by statistics, but the true causation is found in scripture. We are parched upon an abundant ocean because we have forsaken the Lord and sought satisfaction apart from him. Not only are we afloat in a sea of salt, but we have thrown our freshwater overboard under the delusion that there’s plenty of seawater around anyway. This exchange may manifest in a multitude of ways: It may be in churches standing for nothing in order to stand with everyone, in exercising their rights at the expense of the vulnerable, in chasing after culture instead of Christ, in pursuing numerical rather than spiritual growth—to name only a few examples. Individuals in and apart from such churches may drink such corrupted water, perhaps even drowning in it because it is all that is drawn for them. Alternately, they might leave the Church altogether, deciding it has nothing better to offer them than the polluted waters of the world.
It is our prayer and calling as Christians in this county, then, to haul fresh water from the well of truth—those depths which will never run dry—for those who have lived so long in disguised drought that they may not even recognize their thirst. It is our calling not to mimic the accessible seawater of culture, which brings only torment, but the pure, living water found in Jesus Christ:
A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”John 4:7-15, ESV
Here we find that Christ alone offers satisfaction. But what of those who cannot remember their thirst? Those who have lived in spiritual drought for so long they cannot draw from this well alone? It is our job as the Church to offer undiluted biblical truth to a thirsting world and, in so doing, to share the Living Water himself. It is our responsibility to share the well given to us and to provide others the tools for partaking of it through study, devotion, prayer, worship, and obedience. We are surrounded by water, but only the Jesus of the Bible will give satisfaction and salvation; we must not allow our fellow sailors to die in the midst of plenty but, instead, bring them the redeeming refreshment of the truest Fount.