WORLD’s 2018 Books of the Year
There is in poetry a thing called “the turn.” It is that place in the poem where something happens and the verses, be it gently or wrenchingly, are torqued in a new direction. All that was concealed or latent becomes clear at last.
I believe this is deeper than poetry. I believe in fact that literary art, from Hamlet to Wordsworth’s “Old Man Traveling,” cannot but incarnate the rhythm God embedded in the universe itself. What goes up must come down. What cannot be sustained will, in a chain of acts reversing it, be finally unraveled and undone. The very nervous system of the reader, unawares, finds its release from tension in this blessed fulcrum where all starts turning to rights.
It is amazing to me that everyone at once, the wise and dull alike, beheld that precise turning point in Esther. Here a plot to wipe out Israel from the map is foiled. The movement up until “the turn” was all in the direction of success for wicked Haman—then something, some empirical event that was discerned like tea leaves by its viewers, tipped the scale, and simultaneously they knew the jig was up.
Haman’s own family seems to recoil from him at this instant, acknowledging at arm’s length his inevitable fall: “And Haman told his wife Zeresh and his friends everything that had happened to him. Then his wise men and his wife Zeresh said to him, ‘If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of the Jewish people, you will not overcome him but will surely fall before him” (Esther 6:13).
The yearning for justice is as engrained as yearning for the last note on a scale to be played, and godly souls feel ill at ease till it’s complete.
Hamartia, in Greek tragedy, is the fatal flaw in the protagonist that brings about “the turn” and his demise, that starts unraveling “the best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men” (Robert Burns). It also is the Greek New Testament word for “sin.” Hamartia means “to miss the mark,” “to err.” That is, it is man’s own diabolical devices, not some extraneous punishment deus ex machina, that turns on him.
The psalmist nearly stumbled into cynicism when he saw how wicked men prevail with lies and bogus accusations of the godly: “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. … They scoff and speak with malice. … They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth.”
God then showed him “the turn”: “But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors! Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms” (Psalm 73).
In this universe God made, streams run to the sea; salmon swim upstream; monarch butterflies, at winter’s coming, fly 5,000 miles in search of warmth; objects tossed into the air return to earth—and doings among men are subject to “the turn.” The yearning for justice is as engrained as yearning for the last note on a scale to be played, and godly souls feel ill at ease till it’s complete.
They crave “the turn” like watchmen on the tower watch for day. Jesus says they won’t be disappointed: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).
The body of our Lord was laid inside the earth, but three days was as long as earth could hold its hostage down; a physics in the warp and woof of nature made the Innocent burst forth and Death release its booty: “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24).
Every lie will come before His judgment seat. “Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment” (Proverbs 12:19). All is in subjection to Him, rest assured. “At present we do not yet see everything in subjection to him” (Hebrews 2:8). We go, for now, by what we do not see.