At the encouragement of a good friend, I recently began the Rabbit series by John Updike. In the first novel, Rabbit, Run, there is an exchange between two pastors in the town where Harry (the main character) resides. One of these pastors, Jack Eccles, is a milquetoast, soft-spined waste of a man who probably isn’t even a follower of Jesus. After making a bad situation worse by counseling Harry, quite apart from anything in the Bible, he runs into a buzz-saw of a pastor who has been standing firm for the Kingdom in their community for 27 years.
This interchange, and Fritz's impassioned exhortation, is worth the price of the book.
[Fritz's] thick forefinger, wooly between the knuckles, has begun to tap emphasis on the back of a leather chair.
“If God wants to end misery He’ll declare the Kingdom now,” said Kruppenbach.
Jack feels a blush begin to burn his face.
“How big do you think your little friends look among the billions that God sees? In Bombay now they die in the streets every minute. You say role. I say you don’t know what your role is or you’d be home locked in prayer. There is your role: to make yourself an exemplar of faith. There is where comfort comes from: faith, not what little finagling a body can do here and there, stirring the bucket. In running back and forth you run from the duty given you by God, to make your faith powerful, so when the call comes you can go out and tell them, ‘Yes, He is gone, but He is coming back again. Yes, you suffer, but you must love your pain, because it is Christ’s pain.’
When on Sunday morning then, when we go before their faces, we must walk up not worn out with misery but full of Christ, hot,” — he clenches his hairy fists — “with Christ, on fire: burn them with the force of our belief. That is why they come; why else would they pay us? Anything else we can do or say anyone can do or say. They have doctors and lawyers for that. It’s all in the Book — a thief with faith is worth all the Pharisees. Make no mistake. Now I’m serious. Make no mistake. There is nothing but Christ for us. All the rest, all this decency and busyness, is nothing. It is the Devil’s work.”
“Fritz,” Mrs. Kruppenbach’s voice calls carefully up the stairs. “Supper.”
The red man in his undershirt looks down at Eccles and asks, “Will you kneel a moment with me and pray for Christ to come into this room?”
“No. No I won’t. I’m too angry. It would be hypocritical.”
The refusal, unthinkable from a layman, makes Kruppenbach, not softer, but stiller. “Hypocrisy,” he says mildly. “You have no seriousness. Don’t you believe in damnation? Didn’t you know when you put that collar on, what you risked?”