The Rains Came Down and the Floods Came Up


by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

Some of my most vivid memories from childhood include children’s church sessions that began with songs. Who could forget the words to “Jesus Loves the Little Children” or the dizzying motions to “Father Abraham”? One of my favorites in those days was the song about the wise man building his house on the rock. If I remember correctly, I particularly enjoyed the end of the song, which somewhat graphically described what happened to the wise man’s foil --the foolish man--who built his house on the sand.

The song went like this:

The wise man built his house upon the rock
The wise man built his house upon the rock
The wise man built his house upon the rock
And the rain came a-tumbling down

Oh, the rain came down
And the floods came up
The rain came down
And the floods came up
The rain came down
And the floods came up
And the house on the rock stood firm.

The foolish man built his house upon the sand
The foolish man built his house upon the sand
The foolish man built his house upon the sand
And the rain came tumbling down

Oh, the rain came down
And the floods came up
The rain came down
And the floods came up
The rain came down
And the floods came up
And the house on the sand went SPLAT!

We used to do motions for the rain falling down and the floods coming up, but nothing was as satisfying as dramatically clapping our hands together at the end of the song to simulate the total destruction of the foolish man’s house.

Good times.

Growing up in the conservative evangelical subculture, I continued to hear about the wise man and the foolish man’s respective real estate decisions for many years. I remember attending an apologetics camp in which I was reminded of the importance of building my house on the solid rock of a biblical worldview…or else the surging floods of the “wisdom of the age” would wash my faith away. Much emphasis was placed on the importance of building a strong foundation, which usually involved employing materials like the “concrete” of absolute truth, the “joists” of biblical inerrancy, and the “bearing walls” of Christian doctrine.

So it wasn’t until I was reading through the Gospel of Matthew the other day that I realized how often I had misinterpreted this oft-quoted story.

As he concludes his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus strongly urges those listening to follow his teachings—to love their enemies, to withhold judgment, to give generously and avoid hypocrisy. He says that his followers will be set apart by the fruit in their lives, and warns that simply espousing the name of Jesus is not enough to participate in the Kingdom of God. One must follow his teachings to enjoy the peace and joy that they bring.

He concludes his sermon with this:

 “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who builds his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

This is an especially sobering passage to stumble upon after one has read the Sermon on the Mount. I’ve never been able to get through it without feeling both uplifted by its simplicity and convicted by my failure to follow through. Imagine if those of us who claim to follow Jesus Christ actually loved our neighbors as we loved ourselves. Imagine if we consistently showed mercy, if we were known throughout the world as peacemakers.

But instead, studies show that when Americans think of Christians, these are the words that come to their minds—hypocritical, judgmental, political, anti-gay. (See the last post about our book club selection, unChristian, by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons )  And yet these are the very attitudes Jesus warned against.

I actually think that part of the problem is that Christians have missed the point of the story about the wise man and his house. Rather than making kindness and compassion the foundation of our faith, Christians have re-framed Christianity as intellectual ascent to a set of propositional statements. Hence, an emphasis on right doctrine and aggressive apologetics has replaced an emphasis on consistently following the teachings of our Lord. In fact, to suggest that good works are of central importance to the Christian faith is often considered heretical in the world of conservative evangelicalism, where advocating any form of “works-based salvation” is looked upon with suspicion. (I write about this in more detial in another post entitled "Support for a Healthy Dose of Works-Based Salvation.)

If I’ve learned anything over the past few years it’s been that when the rains come down and the floods come up, when doubt and frustration whip like wind against my faith, all the apologetics in the world can’t ground me like the simple, yet profoundly challenging teachings of Jesus Christ.

This is not to say that we have no need for apologetics and doctrine. We just have to be wary of building castles out of sand, because you know what can happen to those…

-- SMACK!

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