‘Plantin’ and readin’, plantin’ and readin’. Fill a man full of lead and stick him in the ground and then read words at him. Why, when you killed a man, why try to read the Lord in as a partner on the job?’
Simms Reeves (Hank Worden)
‘Get a shovel and my Bible. I’ll read over him’, says John Wayne as Thomas Dunson in Red River the 1948 western directed by Howard Hawks, just one of my favorites in my favorite genre of films.The passage Dunson chooses to read over the recently deceased (We brought nothing into this world and it’s certain we carry nothing out…) comes from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and he turns to it on three occasions in the movie.
First there is the Mexican rider he shoots for being the bearer of bad news; that the land Dunson has just decided to settle already belongs to Don Diego by right and patent of the King of Spain. That’s a claim that annoys Groot (Walter Brennan as Dunson’s sidekick) so much that he says, on hearing that Diego’s home is 400 miles to the south, ‘That’s too much land for one man. It ain’t decent!’ and Dunson rationalizes the necessity to kill the Mexican, saying that Don Diego took the land from somebody else, probably the Indians. He sends the second Mexican rider back to his boss with another message, ‘Tell Diego that now I am taking it from him!’
The second service is for young Dan Latimer, killed when the herd stampedes, while the third and the one which inspired this post, is for the three quitters killed by Dunson with help from Garth (Montgomery Clift) and Groot (Walter Brennan). Mailer, Fernandez and one other argued with Dunson, wanting to quit when the stampede left rations short and Dunson, fearing that others might also desert, shoots them.
After the shootout Dunson tells Matthew Garth,
‘…there’s quitters to be buried. We’ll read over them in the morning,’ and that’s when Simms Reeves (Hank Worden) makes his insightful comment about “plantin’ and readin” which put me in mind of a verse from the Psalms. In Psalm 50 God accuses the wicked of hating discipline and ignoring his word, of being pleased with thieves and keeping company with adulterers, of giving their mouths free rein for evil, of framing deceit with their tongue, and speaking slander against their brothers. God says, ‘These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself.’
Perhaps the only thing more foolish than believing that there is no God is to believe that God is like us, to believe in a god made in our own image. But this is the dynamic at the heart of sin, the essence of Satan’s temptation in Eden when he tells Eve that if she eats the fruit that God has forbidden she will not die, that God only forbade it because when they do eat they will be like God. This attitude still infected Israel’s worship during the exodus from Egypt so that Moses had to remind the people before they settled in the land, ‘You shall not do according to all that we are doing here today, everyone doing whatever is right in his own eyes, for you have not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance that the Lord your God is giving you…’ Deuteronomy 12:8-9 ESV
Of course this attitude has never gone out of fashion. Whether we deny that God exists or believe in a god we have created in our own image, whose prejudices and appetites strangely match our own sinful ones, we are still responding to the echo of Satan’s words to Eve, ‘…you will be like God…’. They say that all the best lies contain an element of the truth and the truth is that God has created us in his own image, that Christ the perfect man is the perfect impression of the fullness of God and we will be like him. As John says in his epistle, ‘Beloved, we are God’s children now, and …we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.’ 1 John 3:2
So what should our attitude be while we wait to enter into the perfection of our rest in Christ? We have, by grace, through faith, already entered into eternal life. May we not be like God even now? Of course, as God’s children, filled with his Spirit, we may. But the attitude of Thomas Dunson who does whatever he pleases and then tries to ‘read the Lord in as a partner on the job’ can not be the attitude of a child of the true God.
Rather, as Paul wrote, in Christ now, we should,
5 Have this mind among (our)selves, which is (ours) in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. Philippians 2:5-7 ESV