For most Christians, today falls in the midst of Holy Week, commemorating the last days of Jesus. It is of course not a happy story, though Easter redeems all. It is a tale of jealousy and greed and fear, of short-sightedness and betrayal, of judicial perversion and, at the end of the week, death.
For Jews, this evening marks the start of Passover. It is not a happy story either, at least at first; for it too is a tale of jealousy and greed and fear, of short-sightedness and broken promises and misused power and not a little death. Yes, the good guys make it through the Red Sea, almost despite themselves; and yes, they make it to the Promised Land, though very much in spite of themselves.
So both stories have happy endings. God sees to that.
You’d think that all that jealousy, greed, fear, etc. etc. might have vanished in favor of all that is good and worthy and true and noble—and Godly. But have you read or watched the news lately?
Consider the business news. Economists avow that bull markets thrive on greed, bear markets result from fear. We’ve had plenty of both—witness Bernie Madoff on one side, and any of the thousands (millions?) who fear losing their job, their home, or both, on the other. Short-sightedness? How about Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac or the auto execs private-jetting into DC? Betrayal: Madoff again, for starters.
Or think of the front page. Judicial perversion: How about those juvenile court judges in Pennsylvania getting kickbacks from operators of detention facilities for sentencing kids their way? Misused power: The Taliban’s dictatorship closing schools especially for girls (and worse), or the Sudanese government supporting genocide in Darfur…or the Justice Department going after a sitting Democratic governor or a sitting Republican senator on questionable evidence. Or death—in Iraq or Afghanistan, or Binghamton, Radford, or The Homestead.
I could go on, but you get the idea.
From that view, it’s a pretty sad state humanity is in. It’s enough to make one give up newspapers—which may explain why circulation is falling. But ignorance is no answer.
Nor are this week’s religious observances. But they do cast some light on the condition of our world.
First, they recognize the reality of the situation. The world isn’t perfect. We cope with deep and profound flaws that have been present almost (but not quite) forever. Wrote a medieval mystic, “From the very beginning human nature has stupidly glided away from those good things bestowed on it by God.”
Second, things haven’t changed that much. What we know from news reports sounds strangely similar to what we read in the Bible. So one could despair. But one could also realize that, whatever we’re going through, we’re not the first. The wisdom of the ages and the lessons of history can give us some guidance.
For, third, Holy Week and Passover assure us that God is in the thick of our messes, striving sometimes subtly, sometimes magnificently to glide us back toward those good things the Almighty had and has in mind for us all along. To free the Hebrew people from slavery marks a tremendous intervention in human history. To send a Son, as Christians believe, marks another intervention, and for that Son to endure all the ills of the world manifests a God willing to go to the very depths of human nature in order to redeem it.
So, finally, there is hope…but that is a topic for another week.
– Column by David Cox