This Sad Time
The horrendous images of the slaughter in the Bataclan Concert Hall reminded me of the final scene in Shakespeare’s “King Lear.” A recent article in “The New York Review of Books” described it as “the most devastating scene in all of theater.”
The stage is littered with bodies when Lear enters with his dead daughter Cordelia, the one consistently good and loving person in his dysfunctional family, in his arms. His cries, “Howl, howl, howl, howl!” come from a place too deep for words (Romans 8:26) and echo in the cries of our broken hearts at images of Paris, Beirut and Baghdad and a Russians airliner in the Egyptian desert. They are compounded by the pictures of thousands of refugees fleeing the same injustice and suffering in their homelands.
Reading the headlines, we are tempted to agree with Shakespeare who has Kent say, “All’s cheerless, dark and deadly.”
Back to the play, the “Review” said, “No one, it seems, is willing…to present even the pretense that order has been restored.” There’s no pretense that order will easily be restored in our world, in spite of the bombastic calls for revenge by some of our political leaders.
All of which brings us to the final lines in Shakespeare’s darkest tragedy: “The weight of this sad time we must obey,/ Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.”
Speak What We Feel
The first thing we feel is sadness, sorrow, and pain. We hear the groaning that is too deep for words of a world that longs for God’s redemption. (Romans 8:22-23) Our hearts are broken with the things that break the heart of God.
And then, with good reason, we instinctively feel fear. It’s a normal, healthy human emotion. But it’s also a dangerous one. Fear can awaken us to real and present danger. But fear can also ignite flames within us that, if not balanced by with wisdom and compassion, feed the destructive fires of xenophobia, racism, prejudice, injustice and violence.
As we are seeing right now, reasonable fear can be manipulated by self-aggrandizing politicians to generate irrational fear that can be used to accomplish their own agenda, often resulting in more injustice that feeds more fear and continues a spiral of hostility and scapegoating.
Fear vs Love
Biblically, the opposite of and only antidote for fear is love.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love. “(I John 4:18)
Don’t expect a violence-addicted world to understand that. It’s as absurd as Jesus command (it’s not a suggestion) that we love our enemy. Paul called it the “wisdom of God” that looks like “foolishness to the world.”
“The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed. But it is the power of God for those of us who are being saved…This is because the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (I Corinthians 1:18-25)
What Love Looks Like
So, what does the love that drives out fear look like in this sad time?
For one thing, it looks like hospitality to refugees. “Relevent” magazine shared What the Bible Says About How to Treat Refugees. Their texts did not include the clear instruction to “show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)
Christian leaders including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Association of Evangelicals have called for our leaders to continue, with careful screening, to welcome refugees who are fleeing from the same violence we are trying to defeat. Sadly, but not unexpectedly, our governor has joined the irrational reaction to a rational fear by refusing to welcome Syrian refugees to Florida.
Followers of Christ don’t have all the answers to how to deal with ISIS — I certainly don’t. But “the love of Christ leaves us no choice” on this one.
For if we are out of our minds, it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, since we have concluded this, that Christ died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised. (2 Corinthians 5:13-15)
For followers of Jesus, the real “weight of this sad time” is the weight of love, which is nothing less than the weight (and foolishness) of the cross.
Grace and peace,