David Cox | Advantageous adversity

Who wants adversity? I don’t. Fat times are much more fun than lean ones. But down years have certain advantages. They can recall basic values. They can reveal one’s shortcomings—no, that’s not an especially pleasant reality to face, but how can one move from weakness to strength without knowing where one’s weaknesses are? They can also remind us mortals that rarely can we get by on our own. We need each other—and more.

This is Easter Week: On Sunday, many Christians marked the resurrection of Jesus, and this weekend those of the Orthodox traditions will follow suit. It is also the final day of Passover, so that the most important moments of the year in Judeo-Christian traditions coincide. They usually do, which is really no coincidence since Passover and Easter are dated by first full moon of spring.

As I wrote last week, these two observances shed light on the state of humanity which, frankly, is never as strong as we think it might be. What the commemorated events also declare is God’s involvement in the world, bringing freedom out of slavery, life out of death.

Neither is something we mortals can attain on our own. The Hebrew people, enslaved under Pharaoh, needed a power far greater than themselves to set them free. And we mortals, by definition, can never grant ourselves immortality. Goodness knows we’ve tried, whether it be Vasco da Gama searching Florida for the fountain of youth, or Red Sox great Ted Williams getting his remains frozen through cryogenics. Even if they succeeded, da Gama would only have perpetuated life and Williams would somehow resuscitate it. Neither captures life after the grave, which is one of Easter’s promises.

Passover and Easter are alike in one other way: Both declare that God is active in the world he created. God acted in saving Israel, in raising Jesus, and even in our own days. But human nature seems so much more likely to pick up on God’s actions when times are tough than when mortals wallow around, fat, happy, and contented with their own life. “There are no atheists in foxholes,” they say with some experience.

Even the lessons of adversity sometimes abide about as long as time in the foxhole. Last summer when gas cost over $4 a gallon, people were so eager to lower mileage that you couldn’t buy a hybrid Prius anywhere. Now experts fear that lessened gas prices will lessen our newly-green behaviors. I hear you can get a Prius easier and cheaper than just six months ago.

Or consider the telling tale of a guy I heard about who was late for a wedding. “O Lord, please let me find a parking space. I’ll do anything. I’ll go to church every week. Just get me there on time. I’ll even tithe.” With that, he approached the church; wonderously, a car pulled out right by the front door. “Never mind, God,” he said, “a space just opened up.”

All of which is to say that I don’t have a lot of faith in human nature. Fortunately, we’re not alone, as Passover and Easter affirm; and this is a God who never gives up on us. Even when, by divine grace, times turn good.

I just hope that, when these tough days turn around, we learn the lessons of them.

Now that would be a change we can believe in.

 

– Column by David Cox


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