In Which I Read The Pilgrim’s Progress Section lll

MY NEW DOLL CAME IN! YAY! Please welcome to my collection my very first ever non-brown eyed doll (I didn’t do it on purpose, but 6 dolls in and all brown eyes? Come on!)

Anyway, I’m supposed to be working on my essay. It’s supposed to be 300 words and I only have *checks* 227. Well, at least it’s been 100 words since I last checked. Hey, writing an essay in your 2nd language is not easy. (It’s even worse when it’s your third.)

So, The Pilgrim’s Progress, section… well to be honest I lost track. I’ll go look it up…. later.

Disclaimer: I am not trying to bash this book, I really am not. I just see a lot of issues as I read this in my new adult brain, and, well, I call ’em as I see ’em. Even when I talk about all the problems, I truly do believe this is a really awesome book. Having that out of the way, let’s begin:

Picking up where we left off, Christian does not yet see Yonder Wicket Gate (Yonder Wicket Gate. Yonder Wicket Gate. I wish they would have more wicket gates in this book just so I can keep reading that phrase.) But he does see “yonder shining light.”  (Which, by the way, is not as cool a phrase as “Yonder Wicket Gate.”) Dimly. But as he looks at it more and more, the better he’ll be able to see it. I like this little bit of allegory because it fits neatly into our story and is completely true: the more you behold Christ, the clearer to you he appears. Or, so says everyone else, anyway. I have yet to experience this for myself. Christian is told he must knock on “Yonder Wicket Gate” and he will be told what to do.

So Christian starts running. He runs past his house, and his wife and children cry out after him. And this is the part that bothers me: but he stuck his fingers in his ears and ran on, shouting, “Life! Life! Eternal life!” So he didn’t look behind but ran on to the middle of the plain.

Christian (yes, his name is Christian now.) will later stop to listen when Pliable and Obstinate beg him to return (we are getting to that in a few paragraphs.) But he ignores his own wife and children? Furthermore, Christian knows that the city of Destruction is doomed to, well, destruction. Why isn’t he stopping, going back and begging his wife and children to come with him? Yes the text says he has tried to convince them before, however, this does not stop some people. Many friends and relatives, though they warned their loved ones about Katrina, and knew that they knew, literally begged their loved ones to get the heck out of NOLA before the destruction came upon them. These people did not give up until it was absolutely too late. Also, is it not the first impulse of the redeemed heart to go and tell others? Should not Christian, then, be trying to witness to his own family?  Why is he not turning around, begging and pleading with his family to come with him, at least to the wicket gate? Why is he not trying just one more time?

Furthermore, it’s in the text that Christian’s “insanity” is known all over town. Theoretically Obstinate and Pliable know all about it, yet Christian tries to witness to them. But his own wife and children, he immediately forgets, and, unless my children’s version edited out a lot more than I thought, they aren’t mentioned again, except in passing when Christian meets Mr. Worldly Wise Man. (Unless you’re counting the sequel, which I’m not, because Christian wasn’t in it.)

I know that “whoever loves his family more than me is not worthy of me” but come on, really?

Everyone in town sees Christian run away, but only two people, Pliable and Obstinate, are determined enough to fetch him back.

You could almost say that these men cared the most about Christian. I mean, think about it: from their point of view, he’s insane, chasing dreams. The way they see it, they’re trying to save him from himself. They’re supposed to be thought of as evil, and it’s true they should believe the bible, but I do believe that their hearts are in the right place. I believe Obstinate and Pliable are sort of like… non Christian people who are still decent people. (Yes, those really exist.)

That doesn’t mean I agree with their actions. Just that… I like these men, and I don’t think Christian understands the value of their friendship.

They catch up, and the man says, “why have you come?”
Pliable/obstinate: to persuade you to come back with us.”
Christian: that can’t be, for you dwell in the City of Destruction, where I was born. I can see what will happen, and if you die there you will sink down lower than the grave into hell. Be sensible, good neighbors, and come with me.

Except from the neighbors’ point of view, this is not sensible. Christian has had… we’re not sure how much time, days at least, probably weeks, to read the bible, evaluate it, and make a decision. These two are hearing it for the first time, and Christian is wanting them to make a snap decision. I don’t blame Pliable and Obstinate for being… well, Pliable and Obstinate.

But I also don’t blame Christian for acting this way. Yes it is not the most effective form of evangelism, but Christian is a new convert, and sometimes this is what new converts do: they see the danger others are in, so they seek to warn them in the most clear way possible, regardless of tact, expecting them to make a snap decision to convert. These people think that all that is necessary to convert people is to tell them.  I used to be like this myself. When I rediscovered God at the age of 14… I was one of Those People.  They were in danger, I had to warn them! I only had another 5 years or less before the end of the world!

Yeaaaaah. It’s a good thing none of you knew me back then (Unless Jacq is reading this, which I doubt) because none of you would be friends with me now.

So, I can understand both sides of this.

And…this next paragraph I don’t get. I think Bunyan was operating on the principle that everyone in their hearts “knows” that Christianity is the right way to go. I make this assumption because, instead of thinking none of this is true, Obstinate’s reaction is to say, “What! and leave our friends and comforts behind us?”

Sigh. It is possible that Obstinate has had enough knowledge and opportunity to know that Jesus is the way and has rejected it. Maybe Christian preached enough (though I doubt it, since we really aren’t shown him preaching/trying to reach out to people) that stirred something in Obstinate’s heart. Maybe. But it’s a stretch, since I think that whatever Christian learned from reading the bible has been spread by word of mouth through family. This is evidenced by the fact that we don’t see him preaching. Even if Christian did reach out to his neighbors (which is not indicated) he comes across as insane.

Since Bunyan is no longer alive to ask, we can’t know. We can’t know if Obstinate is obstinate because he’s Obstinate, or if he’s obstinate because he’s never had exposure to the truth. But I do know it’s a popular Christian belief that people who know about christianity know in their hearts that Christianity is the truth.

Erm, no, they really don’t. I know that’s probably considered blasphemy, but, some people just honestly don’t feel that way. And that’s fine. Some people are convicted that this is the truth right away, and some need a little more convincing. It’s as the Holy Spirit leads. And, to be perfectly honest, I’ve only found that people who were raised that way “know in their heart” that it’s true. And frankly, not everyone who hears the word preached instinctively knows that it is the truth. There are a variety of reasons which I won’t get into here, but not everybody who rejects Christianity is rejecting what “they know in their hearts to be true, and they just don’t want to admit it.” This is especially true if they’ve had minimal exposure to Christianity in their lives.

So, I see what Bunyan is trying to do here, but I respectfully disagree. But for the sake of the plot, I can agree to disagree and move on.

And here, here finally, Christian gets his name. Before he was just called “the man,” and I don’t think he was given a name when written about (the book is written like a play.) Someone can correct me if I’m wrong, it is kinda late, but this is the place where the name “Graceless” is changed to “Christian.”

CHR. Yes, said Christian, for that was his name,

And yes, that’s how something so significant, the name change, is introduced into the book. Sigh. I wish Bunyan would show us more name changes. I wish he’d explored that a little bit more. But then I also wish my essay would write itself, so, moving on.

Christian: that which I leave behind doesn’t even compare a tiny bit to what I will be given there, and if you come with me, you’ll be given the same as me, for there’s plenty for everyone! Come and see for yourselves!

Interesting. Christian here is witnessing… and he’s not mentioning the love of God, or what God has done for him in his life (well, we can forgive the last one, as God has not had time to do anything in Christian’s life except promise to set him free, he hasn’t actually done so yet.) Instead Christian talks about all that God is going to give him. This sounds like prosperity gospel to me, but maybe it’s just because Christian is a new convert and has yet to experience how loving God is. (Actually, so do I, but moving on.)

Obstinate: What are these things you’re looking for, that you’ll give up the world to find?

Christian: I seek an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fades not away. And it is laid up in heaven, and safe there, to be bestowed at the time appointed, on them that diligently seek it. Read it so, if you will, in my book.

Interesting, I thought Christian was seeking to be released from his burden? How about how Jesus sets us free from our sins? (Or at least, he’s supposed to).

One of the things I LOVE about the Pilgrim’s Progress is that you can read it with your bible. As I’m typing this up, I’m editing out the references to make the story flow better. but you could like, read the bible with this book very easily. There’s almost a verse every sentence!

Obstinate: tush! away with your book! Are you coming back with us or not?

Christian: No, not I, because I have laid my hand to the plow.

No turning back, no turning back.

Obstinate: come then, neighbor Pliable, let us turn again, and go home without him; there is a company of these crazy headed coxcombs, that, when they take a fancy by the end, are wiser in their own eyes than seven men that can render a reason. (proverbs 26:16)

Interesting here that even “the heathens” quote from the bible. I think “Crazy headed coxcombs” just became my new favorite insult. Next time someone does something I don’t like, instead of calling them a B*!@# or an A!##$, I’m going to call them a “crazy headed coxcomb.” Hey, if Bunyan wrote it in his book, it must have been pretty tame, even for the time period. So it’s not even a swear word. There, problem solved. Not that there ever was one you crazy headed coxcomb.

Pliable: don’t mock him; if what good Christian says is true [I love how even the people outside Christian recognize the name change without it being explained to them.] the things he looks after are better than ours; my instinct is to go wtih him.

Obstinate: Go back and be wise! who knows whither such a brain sick fellow will lead you?

Again, let us remember that Obstinate might not have had the same knowledge and privilege as Christian. Some people are more quickly convinced than others, Obstinate just may need more convincing. From Obstinate’s point of view, he is protecting his friend.

Christian: No, come with me!

Pliable: ok!

Obstinate: I will be no companion of such misled, fantastical fellows.  *stomps off*

Christian and Pliable then spend page after page talking about heaven. It gets boring. We’re skipping this part.

They’re talking and walking and reading from the bible and talking and walking and walking and talking and whoop! Down they go, into the Slough of Despond. I’m not sure how to pronounce the word “slough,” and my modern version is translating it as “dip or despair.” I can not help but hear this and think it is a reference to an ice cream flavor (Hi, I’d like a dip of strawberry, a dip of chocolate, and a dip of despair, please.) But it’s basically a pit of mud, so I’ll call it, “the Mud Puddle of Despair.”  The burden on Christian’s back makes him sink.

Pliable: Where are you?
Christian: I don’t know!
Pliable began to be offended, and angrily said, “is this the happiness you’ve told me about? If we have such ill speed at our first setting out, what may we expect betwixt this and our journey’s end? Go on without me, if I get out alive!” And with that, he gave a desperate struggle or two, and got out of the mire on the side of the slough which was next to his own house: so away he went, and Christian saw him no more.

Christian struggles toward the side of the pit that is closest to “yonder wicket gate,” but he can’t get out.

Along comes Help, who, very unhelpfully, asked, “what are you doing there?”

“Oh nothing’s wrong, just having a little swim…. live up to your name and get me out  you crazy headed coxcomb!”

Ok, he doesn’t say that, but I would love for him to, because, I mean, hello, he’s drowning in a pit of mud. If I came up to someone struggling in the mud, and asked what they were doing there, they’d look at me like, wtf?

No, instead they waste time, as Christian tells Help about Evangelist, and Help very unhelpfully goes, “but why didn’t you look for the steps?”

There were steps there? Really? Evangelist did not mention this. We are given no indication that Christian knows this. Christian is apparently just supposed to know these things… and I don’t see how he can. Help is a bit of a jerk here, even though he pulls Christian out.

Christian: I was so frightened that I ran straight in here.

Huh? Frightened of what?Before you fell into this pit you were happy.

Help finally then lives up to his name and helps Christian out of the big mud puddle.

And… here I stopped reading for a long time, because I couldn’t figure it out. It was never mentioned in my children’s book, and now as an adult I began to wonder: What did all this mean? This whole book is supposed to be an allegory. There wouldn’t be just a random mud puddle in the way. What was it there for?

Then I felt foolish when, upon returning to the book 2 or 3 weeks later, I find that the author explains it:

Then I stepped to him that plucked him out, and said, Sir, wherefore, since over this place is the way from the City of Destruction to yonder gate, is it that this plat is not mended, that poor travellers might go thither with more security? And he said unto me, This miry slough is such a place as cannot be mended; it is the descent whither the scum and filth that attends conviction for sin doth continually run, and therefore it is called the Slough of Despond; for still, as the sinner is awakened about his lost condition, there ariseth in his soul many fears, and doubts, and discouraging apprehensions, which all of them get together, and settle in this place. And this is the reason of the badness of this ground.

The mud puddle of Despair is called such because the despair of the people, once they are awakened to their lost condition, pools here.

The king has tried to clear this ground, but to no avail. God doesn’t want this state of affairs to exist, but he can’t help it.

Despite the issues I  have with the allegory, I really do love this book. I think all of us have been in Mud Puddle of Despair at one point, or even several. Personally, I was in it not so very long ago, and even now, I guess. I’ve screamed and yelled horribly at God, and then things get better. Then I felt feel horribly guilty about screaming at God. I have been so bad, will he truly forgive me? I have done some awful things in the past. Some of those awful things I’ve found freedom from (Candyland, Ken, Issue #1*) and some things I have not. (Fred, BPD, #2). Sometimes all the guilt from the sins I commit just piles on top of me. I don’t love Jesus, I have a hard time reading the bible because of all the contradictions, I love my dolls and I love collecting them, I love the things of this world, etc.

Maybe if I stopped flailing around the Mud Puddle of Despair, and looked for the stepping stones, I would find them. But… I’m not sure exactly how the stepping stones translate to reality.

I wish I had the real life equivalent of Help. Sure He’s a bit of a jerk, but he’s a helpful jerk. I don’t even have anybody.

It is mostly the current things which hold me in this Mud Puddle, but some stuff from the past really bothers me still. Can God still take me back even though I used to live in Candyland? Does he still love me? Does he still love me even though I continue to do things (Fred, BPD, #2) that He has specifically told me not to do?

Time to find those stepping stones.

I like Pliable, so we’re going to talk about him this week instead of next. I do commend Pliable: He gave it a try. He might not have given it a good enough try, and it’s true his heart wasn’t really in it, but he went farther than Neighbor Obstinate. Pliable tried to come to Jesus, but he let his guilt and despair at his sinful condition get in the way.

I respectfully disagree with Bunyan (which sounds more like a sore on the foot than a name, but I digress) that Pliable turned around because he is pliable. You see, friends, Pliable didn’t actually start following God and then stop: he never was following God in the first place. Pliable wanted to come with Christian because of the good things promised. He had no real interest in God or a relationship with him, or even escaping the City of Destruction. He does not feel a burden of sin. Pliable’s heart wasn’t in the journey, as was Christian’s, and that’s why he was unable to complete it. Stepping stones? Poor Pliable didn’t even know about them. I don’t think Pliable should be blamed for being angry at that, because his real fault lies in not loving Jesus, but at this point, I don’t think Christian loves Jesus either.

On the other hand, I don’t really blame Pliable for his actions. Pliable was told that all was going to be easy in The Celestial City, and Christian did lead him to believe it would be an easy journey (all those bible verses, not one of them talked about sin… poor Pliable probably didn’t know about it.)

Herein I think the allegory is flawed. I love the idea of this allegory, however, I think that if you are going to make Deep Theological Points, make them go with the plot, not against it. If this sort of thing were to happen in real life, our sympathy would be with Pliable. However, it’s not, because of the allegory.

Christian did an ineffective job of witnessing to Pliable, so I can’t really blame him for turning back. What I can blame him for is not making the effort to get the information from Christian before making a decision. He was lured by the promise of riches, without being told of the hardship. Many people try to witness this way and… it doesn’t work. when I signed up for this, no one really told me it was going to be all hard work and sacrifice. By then, of course, I knew that the people who said, “come to Jesus and you can just relax and stop fighting” were full of Mud Puddle, but I still had absolutely no idea just how hard it would be. And I think that might be keeping me in the Mud Puddle of Despair more than anything else.

I’ve just decided mud puddle is going to be my replacement word for Sh*t. This is going to help me stop swearing. Thanks PP!

Anyway, what I really wanted to talk about. Pliable gets back home, and his neighbors come visit him. Some call him a wise man for coming back, some call him a fool for going in the first place, and some mock at his cowardliness, saying, “surely since you began the journey, you should not have given up for a few difficulties.”

Poor Pliable sat there humiliated. Then he got his confidence back, and they all began to mock Christian. So much for Pliable.

This is how the book officially closes the chapter on the story of Pliable.

So much for Pliable indeed. I wonder what he thought, while he was humiliated like that? I wonder if he thought about those who said he should not have stopped for a few difficulties, and considered what they were saying. I wonder if, after mocking Christian for a night, he considered these things for many years. I wonder if, later on, he crossed the Mud Puddle of Despair and changed his name to Steadfast.

And this time, his heart is in the journey.

I know this seems like a lot of thinking for a book character, but I think about this sort of thing a lot, especially when it comes to bible characters, and especially when I read Ellen White. (Truefax: for a long time when I was a kid before I read DOA, I thought there was a chance that Judas might have repented before he died. I mean, the bible never said, so we really had no way of knowing, unless, like SDAs, you believe in Ellen White, which I’m not sure if I do or don’t at this time.)

When reading about the rich young ruler, I often wonder what became of him. Did he ever decide, years after Jesus’ resurrection, to do what Jesus said? What about Pilate? Even if you read EGW, she doesn’t specifically say he’s damned… she does show him in the resurrection, but it is unclear which side of the Celestial Gates he’s on. I know he regretted what he did bitterly, but did he ever try to repent? If so, did God take him back? Or, in doing what he did, did he push the Holy Spirit away for the last time?

Doesn’t anybody besides me wonder about these things?

Well, that’s all. Sorry if this isn’t what any of you expected. I can stop if you don’t like it and post something more interesting….

well, if no one says anything, Tune in next week to read about Christian’s encounter with Mr. Worldly Wise Man!

Help Me

*If most of you ask me what issue #1 is, the likelihood that I will tell you is sky high. The likelihood of Ken is medium-high, However, do not ask about Candyland. No one’s clearance level is that high.)

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