I prayed morning Psalms from Miles Coverdale’s translation, an historic and aesthetic blessing from the Anglican tradition.
There was a fatal shooting in our city yesterday, and there’s news of an armed takeover of a Federal building in another state, not to mention the global stuff. Oh, and we have a flood disaster in the middle of the country on the heels of lethal, out of season tornadoes. So Coverdale’s rendition of the Psalmist’s praise to God leaped from the page,
Who stilleth the raging of the sea, and the noise of his waves, and the madness of the peoples. (Psalm 65:7, Coverdale)
The mystery of why and when God declines to wield His “stilling” power won’t be answered by a puny blogger. The perennial questions are always there: Is God powerless? Do sin and death have equal power to arm wrestle with God over the cosmos? Does God inflict these horrors and punishments? Does God exist or is this all random stuff? If God exists, does He care?
Reacting to the madness we now call World War I (our claims to progress mocked by what the enumeration tells us), Yeats wrote,
…Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand…
We think our madness can bring about the end, just as we sometimes presume that our goodness, effort, insight or perceived progress will create a heaven on earth.
But the heaven of our making never arrives, nor does the end toward which our recurring madness seems to point.
When I was in the Army decades ago, many of my Sergeants were veterans of the Viet Nam
war “conflict.” One of them shared a darkly humorous aphorism about the first experience of combat,
When in danger, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout.
It strikes me that a big part of Christian witness should be to help the world to be still and wait. We are prone to jump on the let’s-build-heaven-on-earth bandwagon, as if we are the object of the Psalmist’s praise, to run in circles, scream and shout as if we have power to still the waves and madness (a belief which might well be defined as madness, but I digress).
The ancient prophecies tell us that the peace we seek will not come from a program of human design or exertion of human power, but, like the creation of the universe, be a word of God,
He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations far away; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken. (Micah 4:3-4 ESV)
The call to pause and wait finds lovely expression in one of the Christmas hymns (which at this writing we can keep singing until Wednesday!). May it call us back from running in circles, screaming and shouting,
Still through the cloven skies they come
with peaceful wings unfurled,
and still their heavenly music floats
o’er all the weary world;
above its sad and lowly plains,
they bend on hovering wing,
and ever o’er its Babel sounds
the blessed angels sing.
And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way
with painful steps and slow,
look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
and hear the angels sing!