Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Crooked Sticks

How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways (Romans 11:33).

The name Alexander Cruden may not mean much to you. I just finished reading a short article about him written by John Piper, and the story seems worth sharing.[1]

Cruden compiled one of the earliest concordances of the King James Bible. This is staggering when you consider the fact that he began his work in the mid 1720s. No computer programs of any kind aided his painstaking labor. Cruden took the King James Bible, all 777, 746 words of it, and documented where each word of the text occurred. This means that he meticulously tracked a word like “him” and noted that it appeared 6,667 times in the KJV. Can you imagine doing this?

Keep in mind that this was not Cruden’s full-time day job. He was not a pastor engaged in regular teaching of the bible. He was not a professor of Greek or Hebrew or theology in a school of divinity or a seminary. Cruden earned his living as a proofreader, or “corrector of the press.” After a day of keeping his nose to the prose, he would go home and sift through every little word of the bible. Along the way he generated more extensive explanatory essays, composing a 4000 word article on the word “synagogue.”

By now you’re thinking, “Someone would have to be crazy to do that kind of thing.” In Cruden’s case you’d not be far from wrong. Institutionalized four times in his life, Cruden was not a stable person. Today we would speak of him as one with mental illness. Among his bizarre behaviors was a tendency to propose marriage to women he didn’t know. Today we’d call him a stalker. This was a strange man indeed.

But here’s the thing: Cruden’s Concordance has never been out of print. It has been issued in hundreds of editions, and you can find it today if you’re so inclined. This means that over the years untold thousands of people have been helped as they seek to explore the scriptures in greater depth. Piper concluded his article this way:

What encourages me about this is to realize that God’s ways are strange. “How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways” (Romans 11:33). And in this strangeness sinful and sick and broken people fit into God’s designs . . . Beware of belittling God’s crooked sticks. With them he may write the message that makes a thousand people glad (Piper, “The Good, Insane Concordance Maker,” May 11, 2005).

One of the greatest obstacles to seriously engaging “my95” is the idea that God only uses particularly gifted and capable people who do particularly influential or significant work. The example of Alexander Cruden proves the error of both of those ideas. Cruden did a mundane, obscure and thankless work for many years. He himself was hardly the picture of health. No one looked to him as a role model or dreamed of becoming like him.

The point of Cruden’s story is simple and obvious. If God can and does use a man like Alexander Cruden, God can and will use you.

You’ve got issues? So what. Everyone has issues. Not doing something exciting or lucrative, not shaping young minds or saving lives? So what. The smallest task, when given to our creator, can have ramifications that we may never know about. That’s because our sovereign God’s ways are not our ways, his judgments unsearchable and beyond understanding.

We give you thanks, O God, that you are not limited by our imperfections and flaws. The future you have for us is not thwarted by the past we can’t change or get back. Your willingness to use us exceeds our own willingness to be used by you. We offer ourselves and our work to you today, thankful that you use the foolish things of this world to shame the wise. Use us just so today, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] Piper’s article summarized Timothy Larsen’s review of a biography of Cruden written by Julia Keay.

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