By S M Chen, posted Nov 25, 2015



“The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love.  And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire.”  – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin


Mark Twain, celebrated humorist and writer, opined, “The difference between almost the right word and the right one is the difference between a lightning bug and lightning.”

I actually find lightning bugs (or fireflies) to be rather fascinating little creatures/beetles, with their highly efficient cold bioluminescence (biologist Sara Lewis explains their light production thusly:  luciferase + luciferin + oxygen = light).  The root word, Lucifer, or light bearer, is familiar to readers.

However, I’m absolutely awed by lightning, so I understand what Mark Twain was getting at.

Just as we choose our words, whether spoken or written, we choose thoughts, which often become our actions.  And actions determine our destiny.

I would like to posit that it is not unreasonable to substitute ‘action’ for ‘word’ in Twain’s assessment.

Holy Writ is replete with tales of men and women who made the right choice, did the right thing.  And those who didn’t.  Sometimes people made the wrong choice, but then changed.  And vice-versa.

Eve was beguiled by a serpent.  A talking one, no less.  No wonder Eve was fascinated.  At some point she reasoned that what the serpent said made sense.  And she partook of the fruit.  Lightning bug.

Adam, on the other hand, was not beguiled.  He realized what Eve had done.  But because he loved her (and one was the loneliest number), he decided that her fate should be theirs.  Another lightning bug.

Abel chose lightning.  And was struck down, not by it but by his brother Cain, who chose the lightning bug.  Adam and Eve now saw with awful clarity the vast gulf between good and evil.

Noah opted for lightning, and his ark was likely subjected to it, as well as thunder and torrential rain, during the Deluge.  Those who watched him build the ark – indeed, the entirety of humankind aside from those aboard the ark – did not so choose, and their lights were snuffed out.

Abraham, from whom sprang the three great monotheistic religions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam), had his moments of lightning bug – claiming Sarah was his sister rather than his wife, not once but twice; having a child by Hagar – but his life was largely one of lightning.

Moses was largely lightning.  But sometimes more the bug, as when he killed an Egyptian and struck a rock to supply water in the wilderness when he’d been instructed to speak to it.

Samson.  What a mixture.  He could have been lightning.  And was, at times.  But at others, it was the lure of the lightning bug (and Delilah) that drew him.

Largely lightning, David started off with great promise but was vulnerable to the bug, which led to breaking two seminal commandments of the Decalogue.  Yet God called him a man after His own heart, more lightning than lightning bug.

Solomon had an auspicious beginning, one of lightning.  But he got bitten by the bug with regard to 1000 wives and concubines (no, don’t do the math), who led him astray.

Islam allows a man to have up to four wives.  When I lived in a Moslem country, one of the servants, with Solomonic wisdom, opined, “More than one wife drives a man crazy.”

Nebuchadnezzar’s story is fascinating. Despite an epiphany which allowed him to recognize Christ in the fiery furnace with the three Hebrew worthies, and having a dream of premonition, he was, like many of us, headstrong, and it wasn’t until he lost his sanity for seven years (eating grass like oxen, hair and nails long and unkempt) that he finally regained it and the throne.  Fire becomes firefly becomes fire.

Mary Magdalene started off decidedly lightning bug, but, after falling multiple times, she glimpsed and grasped the power of lightning.

Particularly poignant is the rich young ruler’s rejecting Christ’s invitation to join Him on the road of service and to Life.  And of King Agrippa telling the apostle Paul, ‘Almost thou persuadest me.’  Lightning bugs, both.

In examining the lives of those who went before us, in some instances we might be tempted to conclude, ‘He or she knew right from wrong, or should have.’

But life is not always black and white.  Sometimes it’s shades of gray.  Many actions probably seemed right at the time to those who chose lightning bug over lightning.

Holy Writ recognizes the dilemma many face. ‘There is a way which seemeth right unto a man; but the end thereof are the ways of death.’  – Prov. 14:12.

Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard put it this way:  “One of the difficulties of life is that it is only properly understood in retrospect, but it must be lived in prospect.”

What seems most crucial is life’s terminus.  The penitent thief on the cross to Christ’s right is a classic example.  Along with the thief to Christ’s left, he started out ridiculing Jesus on Golgotha.  It was not until later that day that he had a change of heart and defended Christ to the other thief.  Lightning bug becomes lightning.

One can only hope that, with grace, the scales will fall from our eyes, our ears might hear, and our hearts will be transformed from ones of stone to flesh, and we will discern the right path from the almost right path, and choose lightning over lightning bug, fire over firefly.