This is not written for those of you who feel on top of the world spiritually, confident of your relationship with God and full of assurance that he will always be there for you. Rather, this is for you doubters who live life day-to-day hoping for the best but fearing the worst. You reach out to God but sometimes aren’t sure that he hears you or even cares.
In 1851, the prominent British author Matthew Arnold was on his honeymoon at a uniquely beautiful resort spot at Dover, on the English Channel. As he watched the ebb and flow of the tide on a quiet evening, he expressed his thoughts in one of his most profound poems, entitled Dover Beach. The entire poem is wonderfully crafted and expressive of human feelings in a complex and challenging world. I encourage you to read it here and to listen to a visual/musical setting here.
I want to focus on these words in the third of four stanzas:
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.*
Maybe you are someone who has memories of a time in your life when the Sea of Faith was full but, sadly, now you are aware of its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar. My Friend, please don’t give up! As you’ll see in the rest of the poem, Matthew Arnold did give up. He said to his partner,
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain.
If you search elsewhere, you’ll find, as Arnold did, that we live in a land of dreams, where nothing truly satisfies the way it promises to. And the final chapter of such a life is described in Arnold’s sad conclusion:
We are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
Friend, please give faith another chance. Tides ebb and flow, and the Lord of Dover Beach may be ready to surprise you with a fresh expression of himself, bringing renewed meaning, hope, and fulfillment into your life.
Don’t miss the next high tide!
— Pastor George Van Alstine
* Shingles is a term used in England for a beach that is covered with coarse pebbles or gravel, rather than fine sand. See the image above.