Reverend Jayber Crow?!

My sons have long sung the praises of novelist Wendell Berry. So about a year ago I bought Berry’s most famous fictional work, Jayber Crow, and began listening to it last week on our return trip to Maine from Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Jayber Crow, the main character in the novel by his name, grew up as an orphan. In this book he relates the story of his struggle with loneliness and love and meaning. He settled in Port Williams, Kentucky, and eventually went on to serve for over 30 years as that town’s barber. But earlier in his life, for a short time, he thought that he might have experienced a call to ministry. So he enrolled in seminary.

At some point, however, he began asking lots of questions about life, truth, the reliability and relevance of the Bible, and various other matters of faith.

Jayber Crow approached a number of his professors with these questions, but he says that they all only told him to have more faith, to pray, and to give up his questioning — which was “a sign of weakness.” 

Finally he arranged an interview with perhaps the most greatly respected seminary professor of all — a scholar by the name of Dr. Ardmire.

He went in and said, “I’ve got a lot of questions” — and began listing them: “If Jesus told us to love our enemies, how can it be right to kill them in war? If Jesus told us not to pray in public, why do we do it anyway? If Jesus prayed, ‘Thy will be done,’ then why shouldn’t we also? But what’s the point of praying for God’s will to be done if God’s will is going to be done anyway?”

Dr. Ardmire asked Jayber Crow if he had any answers to the questions he was raising. Crow said, “No.” So the professor said, “You have been given questions to which you cannot be given answers. You will have to live them out — perhaps a little at a time.” Jayber asked, “And how long is that going to take?”  Dr. Ardmire said, “I don’t know. As long as you live, perhaps.”

So Jayber Crow walked out of that room, dropped out of seminary, lost his confidence in much of Scripture, and ostensibly renounced a great deal of the faith that he had previously professed.

I have not yet finished the book, but as I listened to even just this part of the story, I thought, “Oh, the answers to all of those questions are fairly easy. What a shame that there was no one at the seminary, or in his life, who could have pointed him to intellectually accurate and credible answers.” 

This is yet one more illustration of the critical need for effective Christian apologetics!

The story of Jayber Crow’s life would have almost certainly taken a different trajectory if he had been given guidance when he needed it. Instead of becoming a barber (as honorable as that profession may be), he may well have gone on to serve a church. But even more importantly, if the claims of Christ are true — as I believe them to be, and as there is much evidence for them being — Mr. Crow and the lives of all he influenced would most likely have been far better prepared to meet their Maker on the day when God will judge every human in Christ Jesus (Romans 2:16).

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