The Gimlet-eyed People
Perhaps it was because of the recent 100th anniversary of the "Great War" or my re-reading of Barbara Tuchman's classic, The Guns of August, but as I sat on my back deck, on an absolutely wonderful day, a chill crept up my spine. The kind of feeling you get from free-floating anxiety bubbling up from your subconscious when the phone rings at 3 am.
Tuchman's opening chapters are a sort of halcyonic travelog around a self-satisfied Europe. A Europe at peace with itself: optimistic, enjoying a summer of blissful weather. Ah, but the reader knows better. The cracks were already widening into the iron maw of total industrialized warfare. One sees the dead men walking on the golden strands of Paris, London, Vienna, and Berlin, so unaware, so ripe for the slaughter to come. Nine million of them enjoying the last summer of peace and prosperity.
What was worse (if there is anything worse than 30 million overall dead) was the loss of the innocent assumption of progress and peace among the intellectuals and opinion makers. The extent of the slaughter and destruction turned an entire generation of artists and poets and philosophers against the ordered and optimistic world views of that glorious summer.
Back on the deck, I mused that never in my life had I seen so much anarchy descending so fast. The center truly is not holding. Every day one looks for yet another shoe to drop on the world scene. Our negative expectations are almost always exceeded by the rush of horrid event. 200 hundred school girls kidnapped? Here, add another 60. Tikrit falls? Throw in Mosul for the bargain. The bad news just keeps goose stepping across the screen.
I ask this question of the people of faith who might be reading this: why are you surprised? You, of all people? If you are surprised and ultimately despairing, the depth of your knowledge of Holy Writ must be questioned. For as that great agnostic and gadfly, George Bernard Shaw, said post World War I, "As far as I can tell, the only empirically verifiable theological doctrine may well be the Doctrine of Original Sin."
In this age of the individual-as-the-center-of-all-things, positive self-image as the ultimate end of education, Original Sin seems to be a quaint throwback to an earlier and unsophisticated time. Yet, Shaw's opinion rings true. The front page proves the worth of the Psalmist David's inspired observation in Psalm 51: "Behold. I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." And again in Psalm 14: "The Lord looks down from Heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God... (but) They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt..."
You see, when you are surprised, you are rattled to the point of inaction. It is a small step from shock to despair and from despair to unbelief. Didn't anyone ever tell you that so many times the only realist in the room is the person of catholic faith? We are the gimlet-eyed people. We are the people of ultimate hope and righteous action. Why? Because we know 1) who is ultimately in charge 2) what the end game really is...
Psalm 2 lays it out very clearly: "Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take counsel against the Lord and his annointed saying, 'Let us burst their bonds asunder and cast their cords from us.'" The cords and bonds would be the revealed Moral Law of God. The plotted course of the rulers and elite is the result of a concerted rejection of God's sovereignty. (Note: the "people" have a hand in this as well.)
And the next part should hearten all those in despair: "He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision." God, in His majesty essentially says, "Really?! You can't be serious. Have you forgotten the lesson of Hitler in his rat hole of a bunker or Mussolini hanging by his heels in the city square?"
And you, Christian, how dare you wear that long face! Did you miss the part of the Lord's Anointed wielding total power? Or Paul's gloriously positive words to the church at Rome, Chapter 8:28: "And we know (have a deep understanding) that for those who love God all things work together for the good, for those who are called according to His purpose...". And by the way, that positive outcome, glorification, is "predestined", locked in, assured, protected, unchangeable, even despite our best efforts to live up to our falseness.