Strange but true

Jack and I are in Florida again, hoping to shorten the winter with a couple weeks of warmth and sunshine. Our daughter-in-law Willene, daughter Jessica and their sons Daniel and Romario joined us for a few precious days. They filled the house with energy, activity and laughter. It was a particular pleasure to watch our two grandsons together – cousins by birth, best buddies by choice. 

Daniel, age eight, was in his glory chasing geckos and scouting every little lake and waterway for alligators. He is a wealth of information about all things creepy-crawly (or better yet, dinosaurish). 

“Poppa,” he said, “Did you know that a gecko can lose its tail and grow a new one back?”

Jack looked to Willene, eyebrows raised. She nodded her head. “Apparently it’s their defence against predators,” she said. “So if a bird catches them by the tail it just breaks off.” Daniel produced his book on reptiles and proudly showed Jack the irrefutable proof.

Yesterday he informed us that in the old days, frogs were used to keep milk fresh. (Honestly, I thought I wasn’t hearing correctly.) Doubtful once again, Jack checked it out on his smart phone and sure enough – before refrigeration people would put a frog in the milk bucket to keep it fresh. I’d rather go lactose free.

Weird and wonderful facts abound. Sometimes it’s hard to know truth from fiction. That being said, some people seem all too willing to believe just about anything.

Consider the strange case of the International Peace Mission Movement, an American cult founded by one Reverend Major Jealous Divine (aka “Father Divine”) in the 1930s. It made news again last week when Father Divine’s widow, Mother Divine, died at the age of 91. She had run the cult for more than 30 years after her husband’s death. Father Divine preached an odd mix of economic prosperity, social equity, abstinence and non-reproduction. And oh, by the way – he claimed to be God incarnate. He married his 21-year-old stenographer, formerly known as “Sweet Angel,” in 1946, telling followers that she was in fact the embodiment of his first (deceased) wife, Sister Penny. He was 70. Of course, it was strictly a symbolic marriage, because God is not actually married. 

Created to believe
In his heyday, Father Divine used the most modern media available (radio) to spread his bizarre message far and wide. He accumulated an international following, many of whom were willing to give over their worldly goods to support him. As of 2015, there were only 19 members left, including Mother Divine, who claimed that her husband never really died. It was just a “physical event.” 

Some consider Father Divine to be the original prosperity preacher. The problem, of course, was that his claim to be God incarnate was backed only by his own word. It’s mind-boggling that he convinced so many people to follow him. But then again, we are created to believe in something, or someone, bigger than ourselves. And those who do not know the truth are prone to fall for lies, even outrageous lies.

As Christians, we also follow someone claiming to be God incarnate. His word is substantiated by God the Father and the Holy Spirit, verified by widely attested miracles and backed by the very word of God. His life, death and resurrection are well documented. Either it’s the biggest hoax in all of human history, or this Christ was in fact the Son of God, crucified and risen from the dead. As C.S. Lewis famously pointed out, Jesus Christ is either liar, lunatic or Lord.

The cross of Christ is the focal point of our faith – the intersection of justice fulfilled and divine mercy poured out. As the season of Lent culminates in the horror of Good Friday and then the victory of Resurrection Sunday, we would do well to remember what actually happened here. The Son of God was willingly sacrificed, once for all time, to bring helpless, miserable sinners reconciliation with our Heavenly Father.

That may well be the strangest truth in the entire universe. And it’s the one truth to hang onto for all eternity. Look it up.

Christ the Lord is risen today. Alleluia! 

  • Heidi VanderSlikke lives on a farm in Mapleton Township with her husband Jack. They share their home with a gigantic Golden Retriever named Norton, who thinks he's a lap dog. Heidi and Jack have three happily married children and seven delightful grandkids.

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