The Death of a Clerk

Ivan Yakov sat in the second row of an auditorium watching an opera. His face puckered up, his eyes disappeared, and his breathing stopped. He took off the opera glasses and sneezed. Yakov was not in the least concerned about what he did as he wiped his face with his handkerchief. Then worry overcame him as an old gentleman sitting in front of him wiped his baldhead and his neck with his glove and muttered something to himself. He leaned over and noticed the old gentleman, as Brizzhalov, a civilian General serving in the Department of Transport. Although Brizzhalov was not his boss, Yakov thought, “I must apologize.”

Yakov gave a cough, bent forward, and whispered in the General’s ear. “Pardon, your Excellency, I spattered you.”

“Never mind, never mind,” the General said.

“For goodness’ sake excuse me, I did not mean to.”

“Oh, please, sit down! Let me listen!”

Yakov’s embarrassment troubled him with uneasiness. During the intermission, Yakov found Brizzhalov, and mumbled again, “I spattered you, your Excellency, forgive me.”

“Oh, that’s enough. I’d forgotten it!” said the General.

“Has he forgotten? But there is a fiendish look in his eye,” thought Yakov. “I ought to explain to him again, that I didn’t intend to spit on him. He doesn’t think so now, but he will think so later!”

The next day Yakov put on a new uniform, had his hair cut and went to Brizzhalov’s to explain.  Going into the General’s reception room, the General raised his eyes and looked at Yakov.

“Yesterday at the auditorium, I sneezed and spattered spit on you.”

“What nonsense is this?” The General chided and waved him off.

Yakov blanched. “That means he is angry.  I must explain to him.”  Yakov took a step towards him and pleaded, “Your Excellency! I feel like I must explain my regret! It was not intentional, if you will believe me.”

The General looked grieved and waved him off again.

Angered Yakov walked home and pondered what had transpired. “If that is how he will respond, I will not apologize anymore!” But Yakov’s discomfort continued throughout the night and into the next day.

Yakov ventured again to the General’s reception room. “I disturbed you yesterday,” he muttered, when the General lifted his eyes from his reading.  “What I am saying is not nonsense.  I was apologizing for having spattered you in sneezing. I did not dream of wasting your time. If I dare to waste your time, there would be no respect for your position…”

“Be off!” yelled the General, turning purple and shaking all over.

“What?” Yakov whispered, turning numb with horror.

“Be off!” repeated the General, stamping.

Something seemed to give way in Yakov’s stomach. Seeing nothing and hearing nothing more, he staggered to the door, went out into the street, and walked home. Without taking off his uniform, he lay down on the sofa and died. (Adapted from Anton Chekov’s, The Death of a Clerk)

How many of you within the last few weeks have sneezed and worried about more than a simple nasal irritant?  If you’re raising your hand, don’t worry, so am I.  Corvid-19 has everyone looking at our friends, neighbors, and even our loved ones with suspicion. Half of us relax and go about our business, the rest of us are under our desks sealed in bubble wrap.  It’s hard to understand how a microscopic germ can wreak so much havoc in our lives.

In his sermon, “The End of Anxiety,” Dr. R. C. Sproul said, “If there is such a thing as a worry wort, then that best describes me, and that is a judgment on my confidence and faith in God. Jesus says, ‘Fear not, for I am with you.’ How could you be afraid of anything?”

Worry is the best way to see what’s in your heart. It gauges your faith, and shows you where your priorities lie. Worry can either kill you, like it did to Yakov, or it will thrust you forward to find answers.

So, what do we do now?

We put into practice our knowledge of God.

Psalm 16:7-9 says, “I bless the Lord who gives me counsel in the night also my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me, because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure.” (ESV)

Below are five ways to practice the knowledge of God and help you through the times of worry:

First, God will counsel you through His Word. Unlike many Deists who believe that God made us and left us alone, the Bible is a living tool, meant to interact with us and provide answers during our times of doubt. 

  • Be proactive. Start reading your Bible in the book of John, if you’d like to know more about Christ, or read the Psalms if you want comfort during trials.  
  • Rehearse the verses you have committed to memory whenever worry unsettles you. If you can’t remember the verses, look them up on Google. Type the phrase you remember, and Google will retrieve it for you.
  • Write all you know about God. What are His attributes, and how do those characteristics apply to your worry now? 

Two, practice thanksgiving.

  • Write out a list of things God has done for you. If you think God has not blessed you, then fall on the most basic elements of life: breath, life, intellect, love, and basic provisions (car, home clothes, food, water, etc.). Then bounce off from there.
  • Keep your list handy, and when worry pokes its head up, tap it down with the knowledge of what God has already done for you.  How can we worry if God has already shown Himself faithful?

Three, live only for today.

  • Most worry stems from future thinking. “How will I make my bills next month? What if I test positive with the virus this week? Who will care for my family if I’m ill?” All those questions are valid. But it’s not your place to wonder about today. As I’ve said in a past blog, “Don’t Borrow Sorrow from Tomorrow,” God hasn’t given you tomorrow to live. He’s given you today. God’s grace suffices to meet your needs in the present.

Four: pray. Pastor Paul Washer once said, “We may be the most devoted students of the Word of God, but we can be the worst warriors in prayer.” (paraphrased) 

  • Honestly pour out your heart to God.  He already knows what’s in your heart, and what you’re thinking, so be truthful. Tell God about your doubts, your weak faith, your lack of knowledge, and your fears.  He will provide you the comfort you need.

Five, follow your spiritual heroes. The men and woman who lived in the past, or are alive today, have learned to overcome, and are examples of living for God during the worst times of their life. Mimic them. I can guarantee you soon your thoughts will change, and you will find peace.

Finally, remember that God is sovereign and in control of life. Nothing happens that does not pass through God’s hands first. He has a purpose and a plan for all things.