F. W. Boreham
Is there, in all literature, a more sweet, a more winsome, a more pathetic
figure than little Naomi, the daughter of Israel Ben Oliel? She is, of course,
the heroine of Sir Hall Caine's Scapegoat. She is blind and deaf and dumb. She
is lonely too, terribly lonely. Her father was lonely enough, for he was a
stranger in a strange land -- a Jew in Morocco - and he felt that every man's
hand was against him. To make matters worse, his young wife died when little
Naomi was born, and then his loneliness was more acute than ever.
And, after awhile, he discovered that Naomi was lonely too. She could not tell
him so. But often, in the night, Israel would awake to find a little
white-robed figure standing beside his bed. Day and night were both alike to
her; the darkness was as the light. She could as easily find her way about the
great silent house at midnight as at noonday. And so she came to his side and
just stood there! 'What she wanted,' Sir Hall Caine says, 'Israel could never
know, for her deafness denied him the power to ask, and her dumbness deprived
her of the power to answer.
Was she sick or in pain? Or, in her sleep, had she seen a face from the
invisible world, and heard a voice that summoned her away? Or had her mother's
arms seemed to be about her once again only to be torn from her afresh?' No;
it was none of these things! It was just that she was lonely and wanted him
-wanted to feel that he was very near to her and that she was very near to him.
I have sometimes felt that Hall Caine's picture of Naomi seeking her father's
presence in the night is the most vivid illustration in our literature of
man's blind search after God.
Man cannot live without air-and food-and sleep-and God. No tribe has ever been
discovered that has not made some gesture in the darkness as little Naomi
made. In his Autobiography, Mark Rutherford insists that all the religions of
the heathen world are eloquent and pathetic evidences of man's insatiable
hunger for God. Religions and philosophies, he says, were not created by idle
people who sat down and said: 'Let us build up a system of beliefs upon the
universe! What shall we say about immortality? What shall we say about sin?'
And so on.
'Unless there had been antecedent necessity, 'he argues, 'there could have
been no religion.' He goes on to show that the faiths that men invented left
their hearts eased, yet still aching. Then Jesus came. He satisfied man's
inner hunger. For 'Christianity,' Mark Rutherford concludes, 'is essentially
the religion of the lonely!'
The religion of the lonely! The satisfaction of the lonely! The consolation of
the lonely! We seem to be back in Israel's silent room once more. Little Naomi
could only still the inner cry of her solitary soul by entering her father's
room in the darkness and feeling the warmth of his presence. Man could only
satisfy the deepest instincts of his complex being by groping blindly after
God. In the history of the world there have been three heroic moments, of
which this gesture of little Naomi reminds me.
1. There was the venture of Philosophy.
It was a brave enterprise. Nobody can read the history of philosophy without
being moved to the highest admiration. Good and great men -- the purest minds
of all time -- set themselves to think out the secrets of the universe -- to
think out God.
And we all know the result. Read any mythology -- Grecian, Roman, Egyptian;
what you will; - and see how these old thinkers conceived of gods and
goddesses galore. They crowded the heavens with their divinities. And what did
it all amount to? One can see at a glance that they had but magnified
themselves. They had done what the barbarians did at Brocken.
At Brocken, in Prussian-Saxony, the highest summit of the Harz Mountains, a
weird and awe-inspiring phenomenon is to be witnessed each day at sunset. If a
man stands on the summit when the sun is sinking over the plains below, a huge
and ghostly shadow of himself is flung athwart the banks of cloud in the
eastern sky. It is called the Specter of Brocken; and, years ago, simple
barbarians climbed to that summit in order that they might behold and adore
the gigantic figure in the heavens.
But one day there came disillusionment. They discovered that, in worshipping
the huge and ghostly form upon the clouds, they were merely reverencing the
many-times magnified shadow of themselves! That is exactly what the
philosophers had done. The gods and goddesses who sipped nectar around the
celestial tables of the philosophers fancies were but magnified mortals. How,
without some external illumination of the philosophers' minds, could their
conception of God be anything else?
2. There was the venture of Science!
Learned men, skilled to interpret the riddles of the universe, searched the
stars and the strata in quest of eternal truth. And they returned from that
noble quest to assure us that, everywhere, they had discovered the footprints
of God! It sounded well; but what did it amount to?
The footprints of God! It certainly proves that there is a God: but I want
more than that. Robinson Crusoe found a footprint on his island: yet how
little that footprint told him! Was it the footprint of a black man or a white
man; of a friend or of a foe; of a man or of a woman? He could not tell. I
want more than a footprint. The lover is not satisfied with the footprint of
his lady: he wants her! I am not satisfied with the footprint of God: I want
him! And science, failing to reveal him, failed to meet my soul's deep need.
3. And there was the venture of Judaism.
The Jew became possessed of oracles in which the Son of God - the express
image of the Most High - was actually described. All the details of his coming
were set down in black and white. It seemed like a scheme of revelation so
explicit that it could not possibly fail. And yet, when he came to whom all
those inspired oracles pointed, the people did not recognize him! He came unto
his own, and his own received him not.
So all three of these stately ventures collapsed or met with but a partial and
a transitory success. Yet, in reality, they were too good to fail, too brave
to perish. And, in the end, they were saved from such disaster
1. The climax of Philosophy was reached on Mars' Hill. Paul stood in Athens,
amid the schools of the philosophers.
'He told them the story of Jesus,
Wrote on their hearts every word,
Told them the story so precious,
Sweetest that ever was heard;
Told how the angels in chorus
Sang as they welcomed his birth
"Glory to God in highest
Peace and good tidings on earth!"'
That was the climax of Philosophy; its long, long quest had ended at the feet
2. The climax of Science was reached when the Magi -- the sages of the East
knelt at the manger, offering, in deepest love and adoration, their gold and
their frankincense and their myrrh to the Babe of Bethlehem!
3. And the climax of Judaism? The climax of Jewish history was reached when
three typical Jews - Peter and James and John -- ascended the slopes of a
Syrian mountain and saw the Son of Man transfigured. There appeared with him
Moses, the representative of the Law, and Elijah, the representative of the
Prophets. But the Law and the Prophets -- Moses and Elijah -- vanished. Theirs
was not the ultimate unfolding of the divine heart. And the three Jews saw, we
are told, no man, save Jesus only! Judaism, like Philosophy and Science, had
reached its climax by looking full into the face of Jesus. The summit of all
revelation is to be found there!
It is thus that human hearts, blindly feeling after the Father, joyously find
him. Naomi had never heard the word 'Father': she had no conception of such a
relationship; yet she knew what she wanted; and she found the dictates of her
Later on, as readers of Hall Caine's great story know, Naomi, seeing her
father's face, and hearing his voice, rejoiced every day in the dear delight
of his fond companionship. And they who, in some dark, dumb sense, have once
entered the Father's presence, invariably undergo a similar experience of
progressive illumination and deepening felicity.
Written by Rev. F. W. Boreham (1886-1959)