Mark Twain’s Signature and the Christian Life

person standing and holding lamp inside cave
Photo by Jeremy Bishop on

Our first church was in Tuscola, Michigan. Ken preached, I wrote, and our kids flourished in the small-town security.

At that time I was mostly writing for Back to the Bible’s teen department and the spring Jeff was in first grade and Kelli in second, the editors asked me to come out to Nebraska to meet with them. I don’t remember why. I think to map out some future projects.

So, we decided to do a road trip. Not having much money or much time, our route would take us across miles and miles of look-alike prairie without a lot of stops along the way. We wanted to think of things we could do that would entertain the kids.

That’s why we thought about Tom Sawyer. We knew we would travel through Hannibal, Missouri, so why not read a few chapters of the book each night in the motel room and then visit the places we read about? The kids liked the story and when we got to Hannibal they liked pretending they were whitewashing the fence and meeting Becky Thatcher and …

They especially liked the cave.

And just this year … all these years after Mark Twain actually lived in Hannibal, researchers found his signature on the cave wall. “Clemens” is written in pencil with a faint “Sam” near by. Two Twain enthusiasts who have been looking for a signature for a quarter of a century unexpectedly found it one day. They didn’t announce their find right away, but instead waited until handwriting experts could prove it’s authenticity.

Jeff saw the news’ article and sent it to me … remembering his visit to the cave as a six-year-old.

Twain researchers are excited. The signature gives authenticity and credibility to this being the cave mentioned in Twain’s books.

As I was reading the different articles about the discovery, I took the signature thought a little further. We know that Samuel Clemens was in that cave because people have authenticated his signature. Signature comes from the Latin, to sign or seal.

Then I thought of us.



And a verse that Paul wrote to the Corinthians that I have always loved.

And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Corinthians 2:3)

We are God’s signature. He has sealed us.

In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 1:13)

Scan 2
Not a great picture, but here are the adorable Kelli and Jeff standing by Becky Thatcher’s fence.

But wait – it’s not that simple.

When the two researchers found the signature, they didn’t immediately assume that it was the real thing. They did months of research. They brought in experts. They studied the forms of the letters. Only after much investigation did they declare it truly the signature of Samuel Clemens.

We can look “real” on the outside.  We can say the right words. We can go to church, give money to missions, talk the right talk , but if someone studied us, they would quickly see we aren’t authentic.

And in a kid’s world? I’ve met many kids who parrot the words their parents have said or they’ve heard at church – but ask them the meaning and what those words mean to their own lives? THAT doesn’t compute. They know how they’re supposed to act, but they don’t really act that way – not really and not often. (Like the boy who was quoting a verse to me about loving one another while he was elbowing the kid next to him.)

When the researchers checked out Samuel Clemens’s signature on the cave wall, they knew it was authentic.

Let’s teach our kids (and let’s remember ourselves) to be an authentic so others can see the “signature” of God when they look at us.





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