In 2009, Oxford University Press published Stephen E. Lahey’s book, “John Wyclif” (1320-1384) as part of its Great Medieval Thinkers series. Through Wycliffe’s (“Wycliffe” is the more typical spelling) understanding of Scripture – and his translation of it into English (1384) – Wycliffe served as the Morning Star of the English Reformation. Wycliffe Bible Translators, the stellar organization that has translated portions of the Bible into the “heart jargon” of 3,223 languages (as of 2016), took its name from him.
Nov. 20, 2014, Florida
But back to Lahey’s book. Jason Derfuss had just checked “John Wyclif” out FSU’s Strozier’s Library and put it in his backpack. Moments later, Myron May, 31, a deeply troubled man, started shooting. Jason heard the shots. Among the hundreds of students there, three were injured -- one a 21-year-old was paralyzed from the waist down. Police reacted quickly. Giving May warning, he refused to cooperate and was killed.
When Derfuss got home, he opened his knapsack. “I pulled out the books and saw that they were all ripped apart.” Unknown to Derfuss, his backpack had been hit. The bullet had ripped through several books. The one that stopped the bullet on the back page was the book about Wycliffe. “Those books saved me, and God saved me.”
Nearly 102 years earlier -- Oct. 14, 1912, Milwaukee
Just after 8 p.m., candidate for president, Theodore Roosevelt entered his car -- on his way to give a speech to thousands at the Auditorium. He stood up in the convertible -- waving his hat to the crowd. A flash from a Colt revolver 5-feet away lit up the night. Another paranoid gunman, 36-year-old John Schrank, an unemployed New York City saloonkeeper, had stalked his prey around the country for weeks. Finally, he got close to Roosevelt and shot (details come from History.com).
The former president reached inside his heavy overcoat and felt a dime-sized bullet hole on the right side of his chest. He coughed into his hand three times. Not seeing any telltale blood, he determined that the bullet hadn’t penetrated his lungs. A doctor told the driver to go to the hospital. But tough old Teddy ordered: “You get me to that speech.”
What had happened? X-rays later showed the bullet lodged against Roosevelt’s fourth right rib. Thank God, the projectile had been slowed by his dense overcoat, his steel-reinforced eyeglass case and a hefty 50-page folded speech with two holes in each page!
But, back to the speech -- arriving, he declared: “Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I have just been shot.” He unbuttoned his vest to reveal his bloodstained shirt. “It takes more than that to kill a bull moose…The bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech, but I will try my best.” He spoke for nearly an hour! Then he went to the hospital.
Whether the projectiles are bullets or the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” (Hamlet) we pause to wonder what will cause us “to shuffle off this mortal coil” (Hamlet, again). Before that day comes, we do more than depend upon the “dumb luck.” Scripture calls us to trust the providence of our Sovereign God.
And more: “Take up the shield of shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” The kind of shield Paul describes is not a small mobile one -- but one that was nearly as large as a small door – four feet high and two feet wide. After an arduous battle, one soldier of old had 200 arrows in such a shield.
Naturally, we wonder: “What can ‘extinguish’ ALL the flaming arrows of the evil one?”
What is this faith?
The faith declares we face a great enemy -- evil personified -- the power behind the shedding of innocent blood -- the source of cruel injustice. His “flaming arrows” intend not only to wound, but to burn and kill.
The faith shows us our unshielded vulnerability and our own personal wickedness. At one point in our story, the flaming arrows inflicted colossal harm. Genesis 6:5 -- “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.”
The faith shows God punishes sin. God told Noah he would wash the earth with a great flood – while sparing Noah and his family.
Sally Lloyd-Jones in “The Jesus Storybook Bible,” tells us what the faith teaches us next. “The first thing God did was make another promise. 'I won’t ever destroy the world again.' And like a warrior who puts away his bow and arrow at the end of a great battle, God said, 'See, I have hung up my bow in the clouds.' And there, in the clouds — just where the storm meets the sun — was a beautiful bow made of light. It was a new beginning in God’s world.”
“It wasn’t long before everything went wrong again, but God wasn’t surprised, he knew this would happen. That’s why, before the beginning of time, he had another plan — a better plan. A plan not to destroy the world, but to rescue it — a plan to one day send his own Son, the Rescuer. God’s strong anger against hate and sadness and death would come down once more — but not on his people, or his world. No, God’s war bow was not pointing down at his people. It was pointing up, into the heart of heaven.”
As a result, Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) humbly boasted: “My faith rests not in what I am or shall be or feel or know, but in who Christ is, in what he has done and in what he is now doing for me.” Christian and those ready to follow Christ, the faith tells us Jesus is the one by whom we are shielded.