“Whoever, then, hears these commandments of mine and carries them out, is like a wise man who built his house upon rock; and the rain fell and the floods came and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall; it was founded upon rock. But whoever hears these commandments of mine and does not carry them out is like a fool, who built his house upon sand; and the rain fell and the floods came and the winds blew and beat upon that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it.” -Matthew 7: 24-27
This passage, I think, encapsulates a perpetual struggle in the mind of man.
To explain, let me dive into those images a bit more. What sand? Sand is something that shifts and moves constantly. It can form shapes for a time, as in sand-dunes, but these only stand for a while until the wind or water moves it. A sand dune slowly marches across the desert. A sand castle is obliterated by the tide.
Which brings me to the best known use of sand; an hour-glass. Sand is a substance essentially linked to time, because it is always shifting and changing. “The shifting sands of time.”
Meanwhile, what is rock? A rock is something steady, stable, and hard. It is heavy; so heavy that great effort is required to move even a relatively small rock. A rock the size of an armchair would require a truck to move it. It is hard; time has little effect on it. Oh, yes; rocks can be eroded down by the wind or water, but that takes so long that, from a human perspective, rocks are essentially ageless. The same rock seen by people a hundred years ago can still be seen today. The same enormous outcropping of rock that Christ stood under when He gave Peter the keys to Heaven and Earth still stands much as it was on that day two thousand years ago.
One final aspect of rock is that it is ageless. No one ever thinks of how a rock was made. The very idea of making a rock is odd and foreign to the human mind. You can make something from a rock, but you can’t make a rock itself. Rocks seem to simply come into being and remain so until it crumbles aeons later.
The rock is the image of what is ancient, immovable, and strong. “The rock of ages.”
To build your house on sand means to build it on time. That is, the popular fashions, ideas, and structures of your own age. Today that means sexual license, relativism, and vague ideas of privilege and oppression derived from a half-remembered Marxism. These things seem overwhelming to us now, much as an enormous sand dune might seem. But that sand dune wasn’t there only a few years ago, and in a few more years it will be gone once more. Those of us who build our houses on the sands of this age will look as ridiculous as the Victorian Imperialists or the Eugenicists of the nineteen-thirties look to us now. However powerful they seemed at the time, these things always collapse into ruin because they are built on the sands of their own age, and it is in the nature of sand to shift.
To build you house on rock means to build it on eternal truth. This ultimately means on Christ, but in a more immediate sense it means on such timeless things as honesty, reason, virtue, and beauty. These things are what lead us to continue to admire characters and works from centuries before and worlds we can scarcely imagine: people like Cicero or Scipio or Thomas More or George Washington. Things like the works of Homer or Shakespeare or Jane Austen. These things last because they are built on rock; on the things that endure.
The fact is, human nature doesn’t change. Tastes change, social structures change, technology changes, but human nature has remained essentially the same ever since Adam left the garden. These eternal things; truth, beauty, and virtue, are thus essentially the same as they always have been. Those who strive to adhere to them remain admirable in all times and all places. Those who abandon them for what seems new or exciting or ‘progressive’ usually end up being laughed at. As the English author William Ralph Inge said, “Whoever marreis the spirit of the age will find himself a widower in the next.”
We must, of course, get along in our own particular time and place. But we must not be deceived by it. It’s all sand. However powerful or brilliant or overwhelming it appears, it’ll be blown away soon enough. What will remain is whatever has been built on rock, that is; Truth, Virtue, and Beauty. These things are eternal, and so last from age to age.
Let me conclude with Mr. Percy Bryce Shelley on the subject of things built on sand:
‘I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”’