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Sunday, March 30, 2014

All Things Dull and Ugly: Monty Python and the Millennium

In 1848, a song with the title All Things Bright and Beautiful appeared for the first time in Mrs. Cecil Alexander’s Hymns for Little Children. It subsequently became a Christian standard, and you are probably familiar with at least some of the lyrics (and almost surely the general concept), so I won’t include them here.

Also, they are considerably less amusing than the lyrics to the parody version written by British comedian Eric Idle for Monty Python’s Contractual Obligation Album in 1980. I include a couple of verses to give you the general idea:

       “All things dull and ugly
        All creatures short and squat
        All things rude and nasty
        The Lord God made the lot

        Each nasty little hornet
        Each beastly little squid
        Who made the spiky urchin?
        Who made the sharks? He did”

It goes on in much the same vein for four or five stanzas, but you get the picture. You can read the whole thing here if you care to, or if you don’t recall it (it has been nearly 35 years). As a teenager, I thought it was hilarious … until I didn’t.

My point is actually not to bang out a few paragraphs about how the members of Monty Python are (or were) horrible, irreverent human beings on their way to hell. They did, in fact, take more than a few shots at religion, but many of their targets made themselves more than fair game.

No, my interest in this particular ball of snark hurled at the cultural wall is its uncanny accuracy.

You see, they really do a nice job of making Scripture’s point for it, at least on this topic.

When I first heard the song as a teenager, I was genuinely troubled by the unpleasant truth it rather snidely dredged up, because, yeah, God actually DID make urchins, sharks and all the horrible, devouring creatures found in nature. It seemed to me to take a perfectly predictable and eminently logical whack at the Christian worldview as I understood it.

I remember thinking at the time, that kind of needs an explanation, doesn’t it?

Frankly, it would be a very insubstantial system of theology — or in our case, a rather incomplete revelation — that did not provide some response to the question Mr. Idle raises, however frivolous his tone. Perhaps we should not answer a fool according to his folly, but let’s be generous and assume that behind the potshot at established religion is a genuine desire to have an answer. And if Monty Python failed to ask the question as humble seekers, perhaps one or two who, like me, heard the song as impressionable teenagers, may be genuinely troubled that there just might be some actual substance to Eric Idle’s observation.

Fortunately, we actually have a rather robust revelation. Not three chapters of Scripture pass before this precise question is addressed. In Genesis 3:17, we read that God told Adam, “cursed is the ground because of you”.

The serpent’s sin had consequences for the serpent. The woman’s sin had consequences for all women. Adam’s sin had consequences for the entire planet.

This is affirmed by the apostle Paul, who gives considerably more detail:
“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” (Romans 8:19-22)
Eric Idle’s “nasty little hornet”, his “beastly little squid”, his sharks, his urchins, his snakes, ulcers, scabs and pox — every single one of them — are damaged goods. They are not the design of God, nor are they anything like the original creation, which God looked upon and testified that it was “good”. Far from being evidence against the truth of Scripture and the goodness of God, his examples are confirmation of both.

In fact, it now seems to me near-miraculous, after close to seven thousand years of the reign of Satan over this planet — at bare minimum — and the relentless exercise of self-will by fallen man to this day, that there is so much good to be said about nature. It is a testament to the brilliance of its creator that there is still so very much to delight us and to remind us of God about the natural world, when every effort is being made to destroy it.

Further evidence that the present condition of nature is neither the design nor desire of God is found in the book of Isaiah, where we read that one day, perhaps not too far down the road:
“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:6-9)
How will this be accomplished? It is entirely the result of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, called several times in Isaiah the “root of Jesse”. His death and resurrection are not just the potential salvation of mankind, but that of the entire corrupted planet.

So, yeah, right now we have sharks devouring, tigers clawing, preying mantises chomping on their mates and who-knows-what else. But one day we will see creation the way it was designed to be from the very beginning.

I suspect that “bright and beautiful” will not begin to do it justice.

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