This has been an awful week, just awful. From this writers perspective heinous as the San Bernardino terror attacks were the extreme awfulness is not rooted in the attacks. My faith is apparently sufficient to allow me to find my source of hope after such dark events. It is the aftermath that has left me grasping for a handhold.
I am reminded of Jimmy Carter’s infamous “malaise speech.” There has been so much written about that speech, and so much debate over that speech, that I risk being laughed at here, but I am going to speak of my personal reactions, not establish a historical narrative. Carter opened that speech by deftly diagnosing the mood of the nation at the time. He had me for a while. But then he simply failed to rise to the occasion. While he never admitted that the crisis of confidence was really in his leadership, I think he understood it – he was simply unequipped to do anything different. So, by the end of the speech it was just more Jimmy. We sighed and we held on knowing the next election was not too far away.
But the crisis of 1979, fuel shortages and inflation, seem insignificant in comparison to religiously motivated individuals shooting up large gatherings of people, while knowing that squirreled away somewhere is a group of people trying to orchestrate and aim those individuals. But moreover, this president is not just unequipped, he is defiantly, almost blindly so. This president thrives on the crisis of confidence he has created in our government – that crisis is his political fuel. Not only is he unequipped to solve the problem, he appears to seek actively to exacerbate it.
And so I find “malaise” almost too tame a word to describe my mood after this week of terror and debate where there should be no debate. “Dejection,” even “despondency” spring to mind. The playing field that Obama has created is so toxic that the GOP primary is deeply tainted by it and I even find myself flirting with “depression.” But then I recall Paul’s first epistle to the church in Corinth.
In First Corinthians Paul writes to a church deep in the throes of a crisis. They are under persecution from without and battling divisions within. In the third chapter of that letter Paul addresses some of the internal division directly:
For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men?
What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one.
The divisions in the church in Corinth were in part divisions over what leader the church chose to follow. The parallels to today’s political climate should be obvious. Paul quickly points out that both leaders serve something greater. The leaders are not the point, but Who they serve is. Again, the parallels to today’s political climate should be obvious. Our political leaders are servants of the nation, its people and its constitution. In Corinth, devotion to the leaders threatened to get in the way of what the leaders served. The test of Paul’s leadership is that rather than choose to capitalize on that for his own political gain, he chooses instead to point the church back towards what both he and his political opponents serve. That should be a guide as we go through this primary season.
But on this Sunday morning, I find myself far more focused on how Paul ends that chapter than how he begins it:
Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, “He is THE ONE WHO CATCHES THE WISE IN THEIR CRAFTINESS”; and again, “THE LORD KNOWS THE REASONINGS of the wise, THAT THEY ARE USELESS.” So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.
The answer to the dejection that I find myself coping with after this terrible, terrible week is not ultimately in the politics or leadership. The answer to the deep despondency with which I struggle is not even in this nation, great nation though it is. The way through this depression I battle is the little baby whose birth, 2000 years ago, we are preparing to celebrate. That birth is a beacon of light that out shines the darkest of nights – a light that has lasted all of these 2000 years. Unquestionably those 2000 years have included times far darker than those which we inhabit now, and thus I am confident the light will last through these times as well.