“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall.” (Psalm 46:4-5a)
A friend posted a comment and question on Facebook the other day, seemingly out of frustration with the recent violence and terrorism in our nation that has resulted in bloodshed and loss of lives. Her question was, “When will it ever stop?” It’s a question I’ve pondered off and on for so many years; and quite frankly, don’t see it happening any time soon.
My question is: What if it doesn’t stop? What if it never gets really better in a way I think she means e.g. peoples’ lives, property and aspirations are uniformly valued, there is an absence in the broader society of an us vs. them mentality, and concerns and differences are addressed civilly and in an environment of mutual respect. To what extent has this ever been the case anywhere in the world on a sustained basis? Aside from Antarctica, I don’t think there’s a continent on the Earth that can make that claim. I believe even a cursory study of history bears this out.
We live (and have lived) in a world in which people and nations operate according to a paradigm of scarcity. In this paradigm, there are not enough resources for everyone, and there isn’t enough freedom for everyone. A few have to be on top; they have rights that are enforced, and they get the bulk of the privileges. This means that some have to be on the bottom; they have few rights (that are routinely and systematically enforced), and have even fewer privileges. Then there are the remainders who are somewhere in the middle, often aspiring to get closer to the top, and so grateful they aren’t on the bottom (as far as they can tell). There’s a reason someone came up with the phrase, “It sucks to be you!” which is how a lot of people in the middle feel and treat those on the bottom. Those on the top may not give those in the middle or on the bottom much attention at all unless they do things that become irritating, like complaining about justice, economic inequity, and equal protection under the law, to name a few.
Sometimes those who perceive the presence of inequity are really voicing fear of a loss of privilege and favor e.g. “there isn’t enough to go around for all of us; and you’re not getting mine (or ours).” Belief in this kind of scarcity produces tension that, from time-to-time in history, has erupted into physical violence. There can also be the psychological violence that is added on by those who are dismissive and who refuse to consider root causes, particularly if it is not in their interest to do so. This is not new stuff. It’s been a reality in virtually every human society.
I don’t consider myself a cynic or a fatalist. I don’t think everyone’s sole motive in life is self-interest. I just think most people are nice people whose social engagement has a limited range. Beyond the social issues that hit their personal radars as being important or where they believe they have influence which they should exercise, they are generally disengaged. For instance, how many adults in an entire local community might have concerns about their local public school system? Measure that against the number of people from that same community who regularly attend school board meetings. I’m neither seeking to discourage others nor to profit or otherwise gain advantage from the circumstances I describe. That would be cynical! And I do have hope for the future…but as a follower of Christ rather than as an optimist in a humanistic sense.
It would be nice if we could, finally, meaningfully address these issues…but what if we don’t get there? What if the answer to Rodney King’s question, “Can’t we all get along?” is too enigmatic for us to be able to respond affirmatively with certainty. What then? The history of humanity isn’t all that encouraging, despite those modernists who continue to insist that education, and particularly science and technology, is the key to a brighter future for all. For all of the strengths with this path (and there are many), there are still too many exceptions in the way that smart has been used that prevent this from being a reliable rule on which to place the weight of one’s faith.
Thinking about these issues brought me back to Psalm 46, something I’ve read and meditated on often. Aside from its immediate context concerning the ultimate security of Jerusalem, it more broadly reminds us that those who are in GOD’s hands have no reason to fear, regardless of how the externals appear. The psalmist uses powerful, dramatic imagery to make the point:
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging…
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. (vv. 1-3; 7)
When will it ever stop? I believe it will one day…possibly in this world, but most certainly in the next. And when it does, it will bring with it a new paradigm, one of abundance for all who abide. Then no one will denied because of fear or greed or for any other reason.
© Byron L. Hannon, 2019. All rights reserved to original text content.