Ernest Hemingway’s Pulitzer-winning novella, The Old Man and the Sea, is about a Cuban fisherman, a marlin, and sharks. Or it may have been about something entirely different.
In 1950 after a 10-year publishing drought, Hemingway released Across the River and into the Trees. Critics savaged the novel. Hemingway was devastated. In response, he published The Old Man and the Sea (1952). The protagonist is Santiago who, after a long period of not catching a fish, landed a prize marlin after a great struggle. He delighted in his good fortune until the sharks circled and destroyed his hard work.
The novella reads like an autobiographical metaphor. Hemingway is Santiago and “Across the River” is the fish. The critics, well, they’re the sharks who shredded what Hemingway thought was good work. If the critics caught on, it did not prevent them from celebrating what became a literary classic.
The story about an old man fighting sharks redeemed Hemingway’s reputation as a writer. One wonders if Hemingway would have won the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes but for those critics. He embraced the harsh criticism, wove it into a story, and good things followed.
I see a spiritual parallel. You have your own critics but only one matters. It is He who criticized Job’s complaints by thundering, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” Job could only respond, “I repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 38:4, 42:6). The divine critic says you have “sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). What have you done with that criticism?
Theologians say humans are “depraved.” Sounds harsh but compared to a holy God, not so much. “The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality,” writes Malcolm Muggeridge, “but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.” Look at today’s headlines to verify that reality. Or look within. You could resist and take offense. Or it could prompt your greatest honor. When you embrace the criticism and the good news of God’s grace, you start a new story. It’s a story lived by faith in the Lord Jesus, the Creator, Savior, and Shepherd of your soul.
Life’s greatest honor is to know the God who laid the earth’s foundation and to be accepted into His family. By His magnificent victory at the cross, the stain of your sin (depravity) is removed, and you stand blameless before a holy God. Hemingway’s story hints at a greater truth – out of the pain and embarrassment of failure rises the realization of a more glorious reality. For those who believe, that reality is a redeemed life in right standing with Almighty God.
“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7).