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The Death of Injun Joe: Reflections on God’s Providence and God’s Mercy: Lessons from Tom Sawyer

In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Tom and his crush, Becky Thatcher, get lost for several days in a cave. Out of candles, hungry, and desperate Tom and Becky spend those days in the cave fearful and almost feeling as if death is inevitable. Miraculously Tom finds a way out and the two escape. The townspeople are joyously relieved as they had been anxiously searching for them. Judge Thatcher, Becky’s father, makes sure no other children will get lost in the cave by having a big door put on the entrance. At this news Tom turns white as a sheet because while in the cave he discovered that “Injun Joe” was also there using it as a hideout. Earlier in the book Tom and his friend Huckleberry Finn witness Injun Joe murdering someone in the graveyard. Tom later testifies to this at a trial. Injun Joe escapes and Tom remains in fear of him. Tom says, “Oh judge, Injun Joe’s in the cave!” When they reach the cave the sorrowful sight of Injun Joe’s dead body awaits them. He was lying stretched upon the ground with his face close to a crack in the door, as if to look longingly upon the light of day until the last minute. Tom is moved because he knows first hand “how this wretch has suffered.” They notice clues around the cave as to how he has been living. He had been trying to hack through the door with his bowie knife, a fruitless endeavor. He had been eating bits of candle left in crevices by visitors to the cave. He had also caught and eaten a few bats. It had not been enough to sustain him and he had starved to death.

Injun Joe also left evidence of how he was trying to keep alive by drinking what water was available. Twain says this: “In one place near at hand, a stalagmite had been slowly growing up from the ground for ages, builded by the water-drip from a stalactite overhead. The captive had broken off the stalagmite, and upon the stump had placed a stone, wherin he had scooped a shallow hollow to catch the precious drop that fell once in every three minutes with the dreary regularity of a clock tick- a dessert-spoonful once in four and twenty hours. That drop was falling when the Pyramids were new, when Troy fell; when the foundations of Rome were laid; when Christ was crucified; when the Conqueror created the British Empire; when Columbus sailed; when the massacre at Lexington was “news.” It is falling now; it will still be falling when all these things shall have sunk down the afternoon of history and the twilight of tradition had been swallowed up in the thick night of oblivion. Has everything a purpose and a mission? Did this drop fall patiently during five thousand years to be ready for this flitting human insect’s need? And has it another important object to accomplish ten thousand years to come? No matter.” It is here on this point I want to reflect. In reading Twain it amazes me that though Twain does not personally come to terms with his maker in his life, God still uses Twain’s incredible gifts to bring Himself glory nonetheless. In this statement Twain is pondering, just for a brief moment, both the providence and mercy of God. Theologian R.C. Sproul once defined God’s providence as “God’s seeing something before hand.” but he also said that the Doctrine of Providence “includes more than simple foresight with respect to a deity. Providence involves far more than just seeing what is taking place. God has the authority and power to change what he sees and to bring about whatever he desires to bring to pass.” Sproul challenges that “the broad question of providence is one of the most fascinating, important and difficult doctrines in the Christian faith because it deals with the difficult questions.” Twain just for a minute contemplates if God in his providence would have formed this stalagmite over all those thousands of centuries because in His mercy He knew it would provide some water to a dying murderer. Wow. What a question to contemplate. Most people feel that if there is a God he surely has abandoned His world or is merely a spectator of events here. Even if we feel that God might be involved, we think that his providence is only contained to what happens in this lifetime. Twain pushes us farther. Though he doesn’t put it in these terms he in essence says “what if God’s providence was unfolding for you millions of years before you were born?” I am particularly moved and also in awe of the thought that God could know, was thinking about and forming over millions of years a drink for a dying evil man who didn’t deserve it. That is just one man, just one situation, just one drink, in one moment in time. Can you contemplate just for one second how complex God’s interweaving of Providence is in his world? His providence doesn’t just involve people, he has all his creation at his disposal to bring about “all that he desires to pass.”

Church CrossPeople in our day don’t feel that God is involved in His world. Yet there are examples of his involvement screaming out to them all the time. Let me give you a recent example. In October 2010 sixty-four year old real estate broker Ed Rosenthal was hiking in an isolated canyon deep in Joshua Tree National Park when he lost his way. He survived six harrowing days in the remote scorched canyons. The one thing he was in particularly short supply of was water. He had left two huge bottles back at his hotel. He said simply “Your mouth turns to sand.” In desperation he tried drinking his urine, but he could not stomach it. Not being particularly devout Rosenthal prayed for rain. Ten seconds later it rained. In his words he “lay down in amazement as the drops wet his parched tongue.” A drink for a dying man from God’s creation. Twain already predicted it. He just asked us to think about how long that rain had already been formulating. When I think of God’s providence and mercy in these terms I am in awe. It’s more than I can imagine. I can only hold it in my mind a second and then it’s too much to entertain. It’s not that God is not involved in His world. It’s just that we fail to perceive and attribute His providential work to Him. We attribute it to luck or chance or worse yet we think nothing at all. God wants us to know him. He speaks all the time. In order for Mr. Rosenthal to hear him God arranged in His providence to meet him in the desert. A desert is a good place to get people’s attention. It’s the most barren, desolate place on earth. It’s harsh, unforgiving, merciless. In this sun scorched setting at the point of Rosenthal’s greatest desperation and need, God spoke. God spoke and drops of tender, merciful rain came down. Rosenthal said “There was definitely a miracle. I am much more religious now than I was. Seriously. I prayed for rain and it rained”, he marveled. “My conclusion is that God is real. Really. I have to tell you. God is real.” There it is. God finally getting the man’s attention. In the man’s own words he acknowledges that he now knows there is a God. He marvels. Yes, he marvels. That’s what men do when they meet God. These kinds of events which showcase the providence of God happen all the time, we just do not marvel at them or attribute to God the praise, awe and adoration he deserves for them.

All of us are born into this world dying men. From day one we are in the same desperate condition as Mr. Rosenthal. Sin has separated us from God and a relationship with him. Yet God in his Providence for all humanity sent Christ to be the sacrifice to pay for our sins so that we might be restored to Him. In a sense all events in history are either a providential lead up to Christ’s coming, or a providential play down to His return. It’s not just that the whole story of the Bible is about him. It’s that everything for all time and in every way is about Him. He is, as He says, the alpha and the omega. Today, right now, God is speaking to you. Do you recognize yourself as a dying man in need of a drink? Have you accepted his beautiful cup of water? Christ. Our only hope.

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