Obviously, if that event had not actually occurred, I would never have the wit to create it. I think it is amusing, touching and so intensely personal as to be faintly embarrassing. It also reveals a wonderful sense of the absurd. What could be more ridiculous than a chest hair — and named — Fred? I cannot get that phrase out of my head. Thus I have devoted some heavy theological reflection to Fred’s situation.
I understand that a great deal of the experience of God’s grace and the human condition is not gender specific. On the other hand, I accept that some experiences are both particular and peculiar to one or the other sex, a fact which I trace to the One who created us male and female. All my life I have experienced God’s grace and the human condition as a male person. I have no idea what, if anything, is comparable in feminine social and physical and intellectual development to the masculine discovery of a chest hair. And even if I were told, I would understand only the words and not the experience. However, in the dear, dim, distant past I was a boy myself, and I think I can speak with some assurance when I state that a chest hair makes no real difference to anything.
Now everyone knows that history (which I just happen to teach) is the most interesting of all areas of study because it includes everything. Perhaps some are not aware of the fascinating adiaphoristic controversy of the 16th century which dealt with indifferent things. There was general agreement that some things are good, true and commanded; some things are bad, fale and forbidden.
The question was, are there things which are really neutral — neither good nor bad nor tru nor false, not commanded nor forbidden, but merely indifferent? The first item on the docket was chest hair and by a two-thirds majority vote the subject was declared adiapahora. Abstaining, of course, were the hairy Krishnas.
A chest hair comes very near to perfect non-significance. I produces neither warmth nor beauty and yet our attention and a great deal of it is often directed toward things that scarcely matter at all — except that they matter to us! I am borrowing the phrase, “A Chest Hair Named Fred,” for my entry in the cosmic sweepstakes contest for human absurdity (Men’s Division). We can all appreciate and empathize with a young male who, focusing on himself, wonders in a small way about the ultimate relation of appearance and reality.
John Calvin insisted that not one drop of rain falls except on God’s sure and certain command (Institutes I.16.5). I find that assertion extremely difficult to understand but absolutely impossible to deny. On the days when I can believe it, I find it of immense comfort.
Now, with deepest regret and profound sorrow, I am compelled to report that a few days later during a shower Fred disappeared. We think Fred went “down the drain.’ At the dinner table, our family spent some time in lamentation and the loss of Fred was greatly, if wryly, mourned by all and especially by the young man to whom Fred was most closely attached. I do not imagine that in the vast scheme of things Fred’s demise has much in the way of cosmic significance. Still, it happened and it concerned a few people who are important to me, and trivial things like that concern a lot of people and I believe they concern the great God.
Among the great thinkers of antiquity: Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus — each in his own way — denied God’s providence for us. In an amazing breakthrough, the Stoics championed a doctrine of God’s providence in the big things, but it was the Christians who taught God’s providence in things great and small. Each raindrop falls on God’s command.
We are told that the hairs of our heads are numbered (Matthew 10:30). This divine hair tabulation must be rather easier for some of us who have fewer of them than for others of your who have entirely too many. Still, it is a marvelous doctrine. As a kid living on the buckle of the Bible Belt and wearing my hair somewhat longer than now, I can remember looking at my comb and hoping that the recount now made necessary would not strain the divine omniscience to the extent that some rather more important event might be neglected.
The classical Greeks with their four elements (fire, air, water, earth) believed that thinking was a fiery activity — at least for men. Thus the blaze of every profound thought singed a root causing a hair to fall out never to grow again. I am myself often forced to recite this poem:
Our God is good;
Our God is fair;
Some men have thoughts;
Other men have hair.
These words were kept locked in the Attic Greek until translated by Professor Yul Brunner.
In any case, Christians believe that God numbers the hairs of our heads (and presumably chests), whether few or many. Therefore, if even poor, dear Fred was counted by God, we must really count for something.