The Stranger in Smokeland

In his book Lessons from the Upper Room, Sinclair Ferguson provides an allegory he titles “The Stranger in Smokeland”—an allegory he says needs little interpretation. For that reason, I will provide it as-is, without commentary. I think you’ll enjoy it.

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The Stranger had lived all his life in the Highlands. Here streams of crystal-clear water run; the flowers and vegetation are luxuriant; the mountain air is pure; the atmosphere is unpolluted. No one who lives here has ever died.

But the Stranger’s father had told him of a distant land where the air is polluted, and the inhabitants die young. The pollution and death are caused by a plant the citizens roll into tube-shapes, light, and place in their mouths, and then they inhale its vapors—they do not realize they are poisonous. Instead, they find their highest pleasure in this; they believe it keeps them healthy and that it protects them and is essential to a good life.

The parliament of the country has never enacted a law to this effect, but it is universally regarded as unacceptable for a citizen not to smoke. Now they have become so addicted to the lighted plant that they can no longer smell the odor it leaves on their bodies, their hair, and their clothes. They think that its effect on their skin and eyes enhances their attractiveness.

The Stranger and his father feel pity for this land. They decide that the Stranger should visit it, instruct its people, offer to rid the land of its pollution, and make a treaty for them that will guarantee clean air, good health, and endless life.

And so, the Stranger comes to Smokeland.

The citizens see that the Stranger never smokes. This makes them feel uncomfortable. He begins to talk to them about a land where no one smokes, where the air is fresh, the rivers are crystal clear, and everyone is healthy. He tells them that in this kingdom no one has ever died. He also tells them that his father, who reigns over the land from which he has come, sent him to Smokeland to set its citizens free from smoking and to rid their land of its noxious atmosphere. The air, he promises, will become pure, their breath will become clean, their clothes will no longer be impregnated with the odor of the plant—they will feel like new people altogether!

But instead of admiring his obvious health and listening to his message, the citizens of Smokeland become angry. They refuse to believe the Stranger; they tell him his claims cannot be true. They deny that they are unhealthy; they enjoy the smell of their clothes; they reject his message.

Nevertheless, despite the mounting opposition to him the Stranger continues to speak. He pleads with them to listen. But this simply angers the people. Now they plan to silence him.

One day they surround him, exhaling their smoke, breathing it over him. “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke like us!” they chant.

He refuses, but they insist. And when he still will not smoke, they surround him in even greater numbers. They press in on him, jeering, blowing the smoke of the lighted plant onto his face and into his eyes. They try to push the lighted tubes of it into his mouth. But he refuses to inhale. They persist. His clothes are now reeking from their polluted smoke, his face is surrounded by their exhaling, and he is covered in their spittle. His eyes are watering, and his heart is longing for relief and for the fresh air of home. But he refuses to smoke.

At last, the Smokeland citizens’ anger flares up into mob-rage at the Stranger’s persistence. Some of them seize him and hold him while others begin to stab at his body with their lighted tubes of the noxious plant. Finally, one of them pours flammable liquid over the Stranger’s head. They take the small flares they use to light the plant, and set his clothes ablaze. He is burned to ashes before them… he has endured the intolerable smoke to the end without yielding to the Smokers. They do not realize that he will rise again, phoenix-like, from the ashes.

(You can purchase Lessons from the Upper Room at Ligonier Ministries or Amazon)