It can take some time in life to figure yourself out. We grow up wanting to be like our heroes, but can’t quite figure out what made them tick, or if we’ve got it in us to tick the same way. We stumble through the latter years of youth looking for affirmation in all the wrong places, searching for someplace to hang our hats and be at home. During the first years of adulthood we swim around in our own skin, looking for the fit that will be there as soon as we stop swimming. We try to figure out our personalities and our propensities and our gifts, looking for some magical key that will define who we are, what we should be about, and how we should spend our lives.
Throughout this journey, we often come across roadmaps that show forks in the road. One of those forks, not for better but for worse, is found at the prophet/poet road sign. This fork actually appears at regular intervals in our journey, whether we consciously notice it or not. At this fork, we’re being told that we have to choose between truth and beauty, courage and love, proposition and picture. After enough of these forks (which can function as so many informal personality tests or cultural surveys that we then take to be determinative), we begin to believe that we really must choose one or the other, that there’s no mysterious middle path that might split the fork in two and begin meandering down a trail that’s narrow but free.
I think the reality is that almost all of us are on some version of the middle road. Every prophet has some poet, and every poet has some prophet. People just aren’t so simple that they either thunder truth or whisper breezes. Nor are those on the receiving end so simple that they only need the heavy hand of truth or the sweet medicine of beauty. A man doesn’t have to choose between missiles and rhymes, the bludgeon or the balm.
Many of us — almost all of us — want to think deeply and feel deeply, to live boldly and to live beautifully. It’s not just the bleeding heart artist who sees the beautiful, incarnational cleansing in a crystal raindrop falling from the pure clouds of heaven and sacrificing its perfect form to violently splash down on the gritty asphault of earth. And it’s not just the fire-breathing street-preacher who longs for the gift of self-forgetfulness and the courage to stand and deliver in the face of come-what-may. The human spirit has deeply rooted seeds of both tenderness and tenacity.
This is because, despite our bents and our leanings, despite our backgrounds and upbringings, despite our gifts and talents, we are not — none of us — one-dimensional.
We are all meant to be people of beauty and bravery, creativity and conviction. Which is why those who sever the life-giving chord between the two are not cutting themselves free but hacking away the harmony. So, yes, I meant chord.
The brawny athlete can ache to be with his children, and the quiet painter can have the heart of a lion, even if the first barely cries and the second rarely roars. Moses the self-conscious stutterer gave orders to the Egyptian pharaoh. Job rescued the orphan around the corner, then rebuked the philosophers of the east. David wrote poems in the green shepherd’s hills and then hacked off the Philistine’s head. Jesus played with children and pummeled hypocrites.
Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. Paul, the parental evangelist. David, the warrior-poet. Peter, the emotional rock. Don’t believe the lie that says the Christian pursuing academics must be mentally overweight and emotionally starved. Don’t buy into the distortion that presents the merciful mother as truthless and toothless. Yes, we may be off-balance. Yes, we have certain propensities. Yes, our God-given disposition is not entirely escapable, nor should it be. But before we are outspoken or reserved, bold or bashful, analytical or affectionate, we are human.
I don’t want my academic pursuits to muzzle my spiritual affections, and I don’t want my stirring feelings to undercut the steel of study. I want conviction, but I don’t want it to be cold. And I want affection, but not just rotting away in some self-conscious Moleskine. I want both — the prophet and the poet — in full measure.
But how do we get there, since becoming who we’re meant to be most certainly takes some getting there? After all, this desire to blend grace and truth is not simply some random product of human genetics. It’s the very identity of the God of Israel and of Jesus Himself (Deut 34:5-7; John 1:14), in whose steps we follow (John 1:16).
So how do we get there? We get there through the gospel. When we are wrapped up in our death, burial, and resurrection with Christ, we fear no one and nothing. And when we are implanted with the Spirit, we begin to blossom with the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. In Christ, our identity is stable, and our protection is sure. In the Spirit, our fruit is ripe, and our affections are sweet. Because of the atoning and resurrected Christ, and through the power of the heaven-sent Spirit, we are freed from fearing people and freed to love people. We become tough and we become tender, speaking like prophets and singing like poets, full of truth and full of grace. Just like Jesus.