House Church Talk - Life Here & There

jim sutton goodword at
Thu Jun 17 09:47:36 EDT 2004

Ruined Souls

They often call it being creative.  If you share by writing, speaking, 
building, or shaping things with your hands, you're creative.  If you work 
with colors, introduce a useful perspective, or generally help to make the 
world a better place in some small way, you're creative.  

I'm convinced that every human soul has the potential for great creativity. 
 God gave us this quality to increase our joy in life.

The skill, and the willingness to devote many hours, days, even years to 
developing that skill, comes from God, from His gracious Spirit who delights 
to give good gifts to all people.  We see this in Exodus, where the Lord 
brought certain people together to create something very special, almost 
heavenly in the tabernacle.

In all places there are people who take steps to make the world a little 
better.  And there's plenty of need.  People everywhere need to be encouraged, 
prompted, provoked, even directed from time to time.  I think all of us need 
to be reminded of the truth now and then.  God uses good things to stimulate 
the heart, to activate the brain, to lift up the spirit.  The earth is filled 
with good things: green grass, amber shifting sands, blue skies, great clouds, 
swaying trees, the sounds of wind and rain, the call of a bird.

But not all people want to share good things.  There are people who only take, 
but never give.  There are ruined souls that never offer to say or do anything 

Some of these ruined souls actually attack the good that others do.  They wait 
in the shadows for someone -- anyone at all -- to do or say someing 
worthwhile.  And then they attack it, trying to spoil it, wanting to ruin it 
in some way, or maybe just to leave their soiled mark on it.

If you've ever set out to do some good or beautiful thing, then you've 
probably been attacked by an empty, ruined soul.  They cannot abide a decent 
word or deed.  They must try to bring it down.  

Something very wrong has happened to these poor creatures, I suppose.  And 
rather than recover, they simply try to bring the whole world down into the 
ruin.  They choose to remain in the darkness.  They prefer evil to good.  They 
hate anything strong and wise and beautiful.

Unable to produce anything good, they exist to denounce and pervert what 
others do.  They live to destroy.

Can they be helped?  Of course they can.  Anyone and everyone can be saved 
from darkness and despair. But they must choose to let go of the dark evil 
that fills their twisted hearts.  

Only when we're willing to set down the darkness, the hatred, the wrongness of 
heart, can we make room inside for the good gift of God.  God's perfect light 
in Jesus Christ waits to fill us all with newness of life.  A new spirit.  A 
new heart.  Genuine laughter that springs from joy instead of a shrieking glee 
that rejoices in only evil and more ruin.

Thinking of these things, I wrote a tiny story.  Maybe it'll help you to 
better see what I mean.  Here it is:

Old Snuff

I met a strange man while on the way into town the other day.  I'd taken the 
path through the hills, as I like to be able to see the rolling landscape from 
the hilltops.  As I came near the woods, I saw him.

Dressed in drab gray clothing, he seemed out of place on such a bright summer 
morning.  He shuffled along, hanging close to the shadows, slipping behind a 
tree whenever he saw anyone approaching.  He saw me and tried to hide, but I 
stopped and waited.  When he remained hidden, I called to him.

"I've already seem you," I said,  "so you may as well come out.  Why are you 
sneaking around on a morning like this?  Who are you?"

He finally peeked from behind the tree, and then he edged out a little, 
reluctant to leave the protection of the large sycamore and be fully in the 
open.  He may have been tall, but he appeared bent, somehow, and looked very 
frail.  I stepped closer, to get a better look at his face.  

It was the strangest thing, but even in the direct sunlight, his face looked 
to be in shadow, and the features were indistinct.  The eyes and nose and 
mouth kept shifting or changing, blurring from shape to shape.  I began to 
think my eyesight was failing.

I told him my name and waited, but he made no reply. 

"Who are you?" I finally asked again.

"Snuff," he said.  But it was a rasping whisper and I wasn't sure I'd heard 
anything at all.  So I asked him again and he repeated his name in a frail and 
quiet voice.  "Snuff."

His face and hands were smeared with black.  The smell of smoke was all around 
him, and as I looked closer at his clothing, I could see that it was not a 
solid color but many smudges of various shades of gray and dark brown and 
black.  It was like billowing smoke might look if it suddenly froze.  I 
guessed that he must be stained from some fire.  I asked him if he'd been in a 

"Several," he said, his eyes darting back and forth along the path.  And then 
after a long pause, he added, "Many. Many fires."  The words seemed to choke 
out of him, as though his throat was thoroughly parched or scarred.  I offered 
him some water from the skin I carried.  He looked longingly at it but then 
declined to drink.

"Where are you going?" I asked.  "Do you live in a village nearby?"   I 
couldn't remember seeing him before, but since he was so secretive, I may have 
simply not noticed.

"Away," he said. "Always away."  And he looked back down the path behind him 
again, as though he thought someone might be after him.  Apparently being 
satisfied that he was safe for the moment, he almost smiled and said, "Going 
west this time."

"Oh really?  Do you have family in the west?" I asked.  But he shook his head.

"Nothing for me there.  Just away" he managed to rasp.  And then he looked 
both ways along the pathway again.

And so the conversation went.  I would use several pointed questions to pry 
out some tiny bit of information, and he would whisper his terse answers while 
always looking along the path to see if anyone approached.  

But his appearance and behavior were not the oddest things about Snuff.  No, 
the strangest thing was his occupation.  I asked him if he was a tradesman, 
perhaps a builder.  He shook his head, indicating that he built nothing.  I 
asked if he were a craftsman, maybe a shoemaker.  But he said no.  So finally 
I had to ask him very directly again what he did, what his life was devoted 

"Burn," he said, his throat cracking at the word.  Bringing his hands suddenly 
together, he hissed, "Snuff burns things." 

I couldn't imagine how anyone could make a living burning things, so I asked 
him to explain what he meant.  Did he manage the fires for some large city, to 
get rid of trash?

"No, not like that," he said.  "Burn good things."  And his eyes took on a 
wild look, an expression like a mixture of terror and uncontrolled delight.  I 
was already baffled by Snuff's strange appearance and behavior.  But now I was 
even more astonished.

"But why?" I asked.  "Why would anyone want to burn good things?"  I was so 
taken by the utter strangeness of this fellow that I almost missed his 
response when it came.

Glancing quickly this way and then that, along the path, Snuff came a little 
closer, seeming eager to share his strange secret with someone.  The harsh 
odor of old and new smoke surrounded me, almost choking me.  I think I may 
have taken a step backward.

For the first time, Snuff looked directly at me, his eyes searching my face 
for understanding.  He said, "Snuff cannot build.  Cannot make things good. 
 Cannot improve what others do well."  He paused while glancing again back 
along the way he had come, and then forward up the path.  

Then he said, "So I burns things.  I make fire.  The others build good things 
and make good things.  And then I come and burn what I find.  I take what 
others make with their hands and I make fire and smoke.  I burns things."

I just stared at him, trying to comprehend what he was saying, trying to make 
sense of the words and the awful ideas.  He stood there for a while, looking 
into my face, and then he turned away.  He must have seen my confusion, my 
dismay, my disgust.  He turned and went back to shuffling on his way.

I was still staring, still not believing what I had heard, when his whispered 
words drifted back to me on the morning breeze.  His back was to me as he 
resumed his journey along the path.  But his faint whisper caught my ears as 
he repeated to himself, again and again, "I burns things.  That's what I do."

Jim Sutton

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