The Weight of This Sad Time

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,


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8 thoughts on “The Weight of This Sad Time

  1. jim, you write an especially clear and bracing word of grace that challenges us to live into the full glory of our humanity… thx

  2. Great post, Jim. I would also add that Lear is also a play about people dispossessed by political injustice. The commons has disappeared as early capitalism allows for the seizure of publicly shared property, and the play is full of “beggars”–crowds of displaced people who only want shelter and are eager to work. It is a heartbreakingly relevant play.

    1. Andrew: So good to hear from you. Thanks for your insight. Hope you are well.

  3. As usual, well stated, Jim. The attack in Paris has driven home to me the need for repentance and humility. Two of the things that have radicalize young Muslims are Abu Ghrai and Guantanomo. Both of these war crimes were done in my name and with my tax dollars. Have mercy on us all, Lord.

  4. As usual, I largely agree with you. My concern is that I do not believe “careful screening” exists. There is no reliable source with which to fact check. Our two 30-something -years old housekeepers were Christian Croatian refugees. They spent many months in rufugee camps. They said most refugees were frightened but more than just a few were simply opportunistic . They said “most everyone lies about everything – their names, where they are from, their health, their vocations, their education, their experiences -and there is no way to check the facts. These two got to the US because they had relatives willing to take them in. We want to be compassionate but we have to be deliberative and figure out how to do this safely. We are sorely lacking in leadership.

  5. Jim, as usual your thoughts are genuine, balanced and useful. Our theology can bring us perspective, as you indicate. The greater issue, beyond “turn the other cheek” is how does one reconcile the call for hospitality when the other is so psychologically damaged as to believe deeply that no one should live that does not espouse their cause? There is no meeting ground for negotiation, no competency for collaboration or cooperation, and a foreboding vision that everyone is satanic and must be destroyed, the reward being a place in heaven. There is nothing as challenging theologically as a psychotic with a Kalishnakov.

  6. I agree with this governor who welcomes Syrian refugees. Now is a good time to reread the Good Samaritan story too as well as the parable of the sheep and the goats..

  7. The “buts” seem to dominate Christian conversations these days. It’s easier, like you said, to retreat to fear. But in his own perilous times, Jesus said “love your enemies” and repeatedly allied himself with the most disposed and disparaged people. In this case, as is so often the case, the answer to “what would Jesus do?” The HARD thing!

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