The Tin Soldier, The Leper, and Me

by - August 08, 2011

The Tin Soldier

Recently, I had a conversation with a man in his late 60's about his inability to believe in "this whole God thing." We were in a meeting together, a meeting I made myself go to, and when it was over he followed me to the parking lot to continue the discussion... (a well-lit parking lot with others standing around for the people in my life who would question my wisdom to not punch him and run.) He told me he thinks when we die we are just's over. We are just over. Poof. He said he would like to have "faith in God," but he has surmised that it is an individual's ability to just create faith in anything that affects who they are. That it could be "faith in a rock," but somehow if they decide to believe in that rock and determine on their own what their faith in that rock means, then their lives will be changed. Unfortunately, that does happen. Some people fashion gods out of clay and worship them. For a time in my life, I tried to put my faith in my ability to have enough faith. Like somehow my own attitude toward life would create the life I envisioned. My faith ultimately was in my ability to think positively. People's "rocks" of faith maybe something different, but I've heard others talk about the power of positive thinking like it is some sort of enlightenment. A movie I saw recently put it this way: "Putting good thoughts out into the universe." What? I am not really very good at it that, I'm a little too sarcastic to enjoy denial.

A brief aside about positive thinking, or “faith in faith” as Parking Lot Thomas eluded: Positive thinking, or mustering faith in our own potential, may be a motivator to start a business, succeed in sales, exercise, read a classic, etc. We may see some results from our positive thinking and get pumped up. It’s a good practice, because the alternative to that is pretty miserable; but it isn't faith. Faith is believing in things unseen. Believing in something more than what I can put my hands on and control, especially when there is so much so often that I can't control. Positive thinking doesn't cure cancer. Sitting and thinking good thoughts in the direction of the universe will not bring the rain to Somalia. Positive thinking doesn't stop tragedy or get us through it. Positive thinking doesn't outwardly show love and cause change; it only works to control my inward interpretation of life. Sometimes it even deceives me. Positive thinking doesn't give me true hope or guidance for the road ahead. It just simply says I'm going to smile through whatever. I need a little more than that. Sometimes I am not going to smile. I don't want to positively think I'm going to be ok whatever lies ahead...I want to be ok. I don't want to positively think myself into detaching from the reality of circumstances. I want to face reality and have faith in my Lord who carries me to and through them. God has allowed me the liberty to try both. I stand as a witness to the consistency, calm, excitement and joy of faith in God, over thinking positively even really, really hard, eyes shut, fists clenched, bated breath.

But back to Parking Lot Thomas...he told me he was waiting for God to give him faith; to answer his questions; to show him He’s real. (but if he doesn’t think He is real, how can he expect Him to answer?) Then he went on to detail for me evidence of God in changed lives around him. He has witnessed the peace and joy in Grace believing Christians, (sadly he’s also witnessed the hypocrisy and judgment of those who claim grace but show little of it). His children are missionaries. He humors them, but still hasn't taken faith personally; but he keeps seeking just in case. If there is a Hell, he doesn't want to go there. And if God is real, he wants to know him. This is the moment I realized why I was at the meeting that night. To share with him how God had answered my question recently. To maybe help him see what he hasn't been seeing. To give him an example of how God might be answering him, so he could watch for it...

The Leper

Since my time in Ethiopia there are images that are forever in my mind. One of the sights seared in my memory happened as Jessica and I were being driven to the orphanage. I glanced outside the van window at a man with no legs on the side of the road, shuffling himself along with leprosy deformed arms. I immediately looked away, but could draw you a picture of his face to this day. So then how can I reconcile that image with a loving God? (Parking Lot Thomas has had this same struggle) For several weeks I had thought about that man as he would pop to mind, and I would have to try and shake him out of there as I sit comfortably here in Texas.

A few weeks later in a book I'm reading, the story of Mephibosheth came up. Not one that comes up often. Mephibosheth is introduced in 2 Samuel 4:4: “Jonathan son of Saul had a son who was lame in both feet. He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel. His nurse picked him up and fled, but as she hurried to leave, he fell and became disabled. His name was Mephibosheth.” His story of redemption is told in 2 Samuel 9. Click here to read about Mephibosheth's Redemption I cried at the image of that man at the King's table (it was the man in Ethiopia’s face I could see), and I cried knowing that God is so personal and loving that he would guide me to rest in Him over my concern for His plan for that man's life. He's not mad I have questions. He's not mad Parking Lot Thomas has questions. It's where we choose to seek our answers that matters.

I don't know the details of the how and why for that man in Ethiopia; but I know it has everything to do with Jesus Christ. He has opportunity to one day sit at the King's table, transformed (Phil. 3:21). Nothing that breaks my heart has escaped God. He prepares for that man, whose existence I cannot fathom even after seeing him, a place in His kingdom. His life is not going to just one day "poof," and not have had purpose except as a sight to behold for others to learn some lesson regarding our own lack of gratitude. There is justice for him through Jesus Christ. There is life after this. If we aren't desperate for justice the way that man's life is, it can be hard to see our need. We are him though; crippled in different ways. The worst disability is having so much more than that man, that we are never desperate enough to seek God. What do I do with that? Get on a mountain and start yelling? Hunker down and pray for daylight? Learn to speak Hebrew? Quit wearing make-up? Live off only goat’s milk and figs? God tells me to humble myself (know that He is God and I am not) and pray for both of these men. Pray for their circumstances. Join God in His will that they will come to know Him and the grace that awaits. Share with them the gospel by which I am saved both from hell and from a life with no hope for justice. And then watch and listen for God's still small voice. I’ve come to trust that voice, and will go wherever it leads…even if it leads me to stay right where I am, and even though that may cause me to fidget. I only do today what He has given me to do today, so he will credit that to me as faithfulness and lead me on in His purposes. That is how the image of The Leper on the side of the road in Ethiopia has found peace in my thoughts. No less heartbreak. No less love. But peace in being still and knowing...

Colossians 4:6. So I had opportunity to share a word with Parking Lot Thomas who was confronting me with his questions: Don't explain it away when God answers you. Give him credit when he answers you, as evidenced by the changed lives this man had described and the "coincidences" he shared with me. Credit Him and He will continue to guide us to a deeper understanding of Himself…a growing faith. Quit saying “God show me you are real,” but then when He responds say “that couldn’t have been God.” However, we are at liberty to choose.


I asked God my question. He answered me. I can't let those images turn to bitterness over what I don't understand. I had to watch for God's response, and trust it. I could have reasoned it away, and not put two and two together...1) my uncertainty over the crippled man's reality, and 2) the story of Mephibosheth showing up in my quiet time. Instead I credit God for leading me there. I have a choice: Either it's God, or it's not. They both require me to have faith either in his existence, or his non-existence. I confess belief, and have come alive to God’s existence in my life personally. My faith isn't contingent on my circumstances, or someone else's. My faith carries me through all circumstances. My faith isn’t in my own ability to have faith; it is in the existence of God and the truth of the Bible.

After we talked for a bit more Parking Lot Thomas shook my hand, thanked me for sharing and got into his luxury car and drove away. He told me he had worked hard for everything in his life. And in short he could credit himself with everything good that had happened. Yet, here he was still uncomfortable; and there God was still answering, standing at the door knocking...even allowing me to join Him at work in this man's life for that moment increasing my faith in His Presence and guidance even more. God desires him to see and believe. Right now that Tin Soldier isn't really looking for God; he is looking at everything else in an effort to disprove God. He’s trying to get comfortable on this “issue” where comfort isn't going to be possible, because it is God who calls us unto Himself. My heartbreak for him is different but equal to the man in Ethiopia.

Both destitute. One knows it. One doesn't.

"The real Son of God is at your side. He is beginning to turn you into the same kind of thing as Himself. He is beginning, so to speak, to "inject' His kind of life and thought...into you; beginning to turn the tin soldier into a live man. The part of you that does not like it is the part that is still tin." C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

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