A Lesson From Tomorrow
In 1972, actor Robert Duvall portrayed the character Jackson Fentry in the screen version of the William Faulkner short story, Tomorrow. Fentry is an impoverished and illiterate cotton farmer who has been called to juror duty in a murder trial.
Although the trial seems like a clear case of self-defense, Jackson Fentry refuses to acquit the accused. And no one on the jury can figure out why. The defendant, H. T. Bookwright, shot a rowdy young man named Buck Thorpe, who was trying to steal his daughter to marry her. Yet, since Buck Thorpe was armed and had a terrible reputation, every other member of the jury sides with the father and votes to acquit him. But Jackson Fentry stubbornly refuses to side with them. As a result, the judge declares a mistrial.
However, no one is more frustrated and bewildered with Jackson Fentry than the defense attorney, Lawyer Douglas. It was his first trial and he lost it. Anger and curiosity drive him to investigate. And what he discovers constitutes the bulk of the movie.
Twenty years earlier, Jackson Fentry took a winter job guarding the machinery at a saw mill. While caring for the mill, a pregnant woman, Sarah Eubanks, stumbles onto the property. Too frail and hungry to stand on her feet, Fentry takes her into his home and cares for her. He learns that Sarah has been abandoned by her husband and disowned by her own family. His pity for her soon turns to love. Within a few months she gives birth to a boy, whom they name Jackson Longstreet. But the labor and delivery prove too much for her health. Before she dies she asks Jackson to care for her son, which he solemnly promises to do.
For the next five to seven years Jackson Fentry and his elderly father raise Jackson Longstreet as their own. Jackson and his adopted son become deeply attached.
But one day strangers appear at the Fentry farm. They are Sarah Eubanks’ brothers and they have a court order to take custody of the boy. Though Jackson Fentry puts up a furious fight, the four strangers overpower him and take away little Jackson.
Sarah’s family moves the boy to a new county and changes his name from Jackson Longstreet Fentry to Buck Thorpe. Yes, he is the same Buck Thorpe who became the rowdy and wild youth who was killed by a father defending his daughter. And against all the protests of his fellow jurors, who insisted that Buck Thorpe was a rogue who deserved his fate, all Jackson Fentry could remember was the little boy he loved.
What mother hasn’t felt the same about her wayward children who go on to wound and disgrace her? The brokenhearted mom still remembers the little, loving child they once were. She still sees them as the tenderhearted and delightful children they used to be. She cannot see them any other way.
Is our heavenly Father any less loving? Doesn’t He fondly remember the days of our innocence – before the cancer of sin twisted our souls and turned us to savages? Of course He does. Jesus told us to have infinitely greater expectations of our heavenly Father than any earthly parent (Matthew 7:9-11).
But don’t you realize the added advantage we have in our relationship with our heavenly Father? For while God loves and cherishes the innocence of our childhood, God also vividly sees what we will become. Our heavenly Father loves and cherishes the glorious saint He is transforming us into through a million fiery trials and Christ’s redemption.
This means that no matter how ruined and ugly we become during God’s renovation of our lives – and renovation tends to get worse before it gets better – God is ever mindful of how good and glorious we will become. No matter how wretched we appear now, God cannot help but see how glorious we’ll become.
Jesus expressed this joyful and positive foresight when He prayed for the disciples in John 17:6-26, just before His crucifixion. Despite all the incompetence, unbelief, and failures which characterized the disciples’ behavior in the Gospels, Jesus only describes them in glowing terms to the Father. Jesus tells His Father, “they have kept Your word” (v.6). “They have received and understood Your word and believed in Me” (vv.7-8). “I have been glorified in them” (v.10). “They are not of the world even as I am not of the world” (vv.14, 16). Jesus anticipates the disciples’ success rather than their failure (vv.20-21) and longs for them to be with Him in eternity (vv.24). Though Jesus’ report on their behavior does seem to correspond with the present reality, it perfectly reflects their future reality.
Therefore, we must never despair in those moments when it seems that instead of progressing, we’ve regressed. We mustn’t become discouraged at our lack of spiritual growth or fear that God has lost patience with us. God’s patience and love know no limits. He is not the least bit threatened by our sins or failures. God’s got a vivid image of what He will make us and infinite power to bring us to that glorious goal. We must focus our faith on Christ who is able to keep us from falling and present us before His glorious presence blameless, glorified, and joyful (Jude 24).
PRAYER: Dear Father in heaven, into Your infinite power, love, and wisdom I entrust my soul and eternal destiny. I trust Your holy Son’s blood to cleanse me, His righteousness to clothe me, and His resurrection power to transform me into His image. Whatever it take, O God, perform Your work of salvation and sanctification in me, through Jesus Christ, Amen.