When I was in university back in the dark ages I used to read the poetry of A.E. Housman a lot. His poems fed a kind of melancholy in my heart, something I found I could further nourish by exercising my right elbow. I would often dwell on one of Housman’s lines: “I a stranger and afraid in a world I never made.” I had a friend back then who knew I liked Housman, and one day he gave me a book of Housman’s poetry. I still have that book, which contains a poem I’ve long since known by heart.
Stars, I have seen them fall,
But when they drop and die
No star is lost at all
From all the star-sown sky.
The toil of all that be
Helps not the primal fault;
It rains into the sea,
And still the sea is salt.
This sad but perceptive theme runs through all of Housman’s poetry—the meaninglessness of life, the futility of it all. I think Housman and King Solomon of old, along with myself back then… the three of us would have enjoyed each other’s company, nodding sadly together and consoling ourselves with mournful reflections. “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, all is vanity,” mourned Solomon. That is to say, all is futile, meaningless, a striving after wind. There is a primal fault in this world, and the toil of all that be never deals with that primal fault. All that man has ever done, all he is still doing, all his achievements in all the fields of human endeavour—it is all just rain into an unchanged sea of salt.
There is wisdom in this understanding, important wisdom, and I wish more people realized this—though it will leave those who probe it very troubled about life, as it did Housman, and Solomon—and myself. There was an inward emptiness in me that could not be filled with the things I sought to fill it with. Though I tried hard enough. Was it I that Housman had in mind when he wrote the following poem?
Could man be drunk for ever
With liquor, love, or fights,
Lief should I rouse at morning
And lief lie down of nights.
But men at whiles are sober
And think by fits and starts,
And if they think, they fasten
Their hands upon their hearts.
Lief: it’s an archaic word meaning willing, glad. If you could live this kind of dissolute life forever—eating and drinking and making merry—you’d be glad to get up in the morning to pursue it all again, and glad to lie down at night. But you can’t be drunk forever. There are times when you are sober. That was my problem—those thinking times. And my hand would go to my heart. You mean you live your little moment of life and then you die? And that’s all there is? You are here but for a fleeting moment and then “man goeth to his long home,” as Solomon called the grave? How is there any meaning in a world like this?
It’s very sad that Solomon, perceptive as he was as to the real state of things “under the sun” apparently never saw the hope for which God had made Israel the custodians of His oracles. Perhaps there is a reason for this; the story of Solomon is one of the most tragic in the Bible. He has the reputation for being the man God endowed with profound wisdom. He himself in later life thought otherwise. It was no doubt himself he had in mind when he spoke of “an old and foolish king who will no more be admonished” (Eccles. 4.13).
A.E. Housman blamed God bitterly all his life for the world He had made. And he too went to his grave apparently never discovering that the God who subjected His universe to futility when Adam sinned back there in the Garden also did something else in His universe.
And I? Lord Jesus Christ… how is it that a very lost young man finally got down on his knees and came to benefit from that eternal moment at Calvary when the God who had subjected His universe to futility rectified the primal fault?
This year—2012—marks the fortieth year since that lost young man became a Christian, and a different kind of stranger in a world he never made. And as the years go by… in fact in the last five years or so the realization of this truth has hit home to me like never before… and I am not going to be able to adequately express the way I feel about this… but I am often… I am struggling for words here… I am transfixed by this… as I dwell on this and its ultimate implications… I am so thankful, but thankful is not a large enough word… I am more and more… utterly undone with gratitude… with the realization, the awareness, that the Lord Jesus Christ at Calvary DEALT WITH THE PRIMAL FAULT.
My fellow Christian, whatever your problems and troubles, do not despair. Know this and REJOICE… and my fellow man as well, whoever you are, wherever you may be in this troubled world of ours—do not despair. Believe, and REJOICE. When the Lord Jesus Christ hung bleeding on that Cross at Calvary and died, He dealt with the primal fault—sin in the heart of man—in your heart, and mine. He dealt with the primal fault. He died to sin. He put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
…I am so grateful, Lord Jesus. Whatever my troubles and problems and afflictions… Lord, I believe. It is well with my soul: You took the stripe at Calvary that healed the deep wound of sin in the heart of man… and in my own heart.
O happy day! O happy day! When Jesus washed my sins away…!
Next: The Primal Fault– A Law https://amendingfeast.org/2012/01/04/the-primal-fault-a-law