The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Idolatry, chaos and hope

For in hope we were saved.
Now hope that is seen is not hope.
For who hopes for what is seen?
Romans 8:24
Elizabeth Scalia has a rather thought-provoking (not to mention disturbing) "On the Square" column at First Things titled "American Optimism is a Strange God". It is worth reading and thinking about.

I don't know whether she is right or not. I'm a probably a little more optimistic than she seems to be, but she raises some good and very serious questions. I have an uneasy feeling, however, that her view is not far from hitting the mark. Human discontent is nothing new, of course. Throughout the ages, humanity has sought the transcendent but has all too often been ensnared by and settled for far less--generating misery after misery. God, meanwhile, patiently awaits our return to our proper order and dignity as children of God.

Yet, there is no denying that this discontent is taking heretofore unseen forms and intensity--not just in the United States, but all over the world (particularly Europe and the Middle East). The world many of us have known for several generations is rapidly changing--crumbling, some would say. Where it is going, I cannot say, but the often painful truth is that sometimes we must fall to rise and regain our right minds. Sometimes things have to deconstruct before they can be rebuilt in stronger fashion. Sometimes, the idols have to be ripped from our clutches to leave us forlorn and empty-handed before we raise our gaze to behold and be held by the Creator of All Things.

I suspect that Christian believers--if not my generation, then those directly following--will soon be faced with some extremely difficult choices. We will be asked to "choose today whom you will serve" (Joshua 24:15) in ways that have untold consequences that we have not been accustomed to facing.

True discipleship has never been easy--but it is always fruitful. And, lest we forget, we are not alone. God is always with us (cf. Matthew 28:20, Psalm 91:15, Isaiah 43:2, Exodus 3:12). "Do not be afraid" or "do not fear" is probably the most oft-repeated phrase throughout Scripture. The One and Triune God who calls us also guides and comforts us. As St. Paul says, "we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair" (2Corinthians 4:8).

As I have thought about all this, two Scripture passages come immediately to mind: Matthew 24:3-14 and Philippians 2:6-11. I offer them up for your consideration as well as mine. As Jesus says, "the one who perseveres to the end will be saved" (Matthew 24:13).

Ms. Scalia's column has prompted a good number of comments by First Things' readers (click on the link above to read), many agreeing and many disagreeing. Below is a small sampling of a dissenter's opinion:
I don't think optimism is a god or idol. ... I think negativism can be just as much a strange a god as optimism can. As much bad as can be pointed to in our culture, there is just as much good. I know that is heretical to some, but I experience it every day. I'm always amazed at how kind and decent most people are. My wife works in a public school, and I've interacted with a lot of her co-workers and other teachers of my children. Over the years I've been impressed with the good hearts of many of these people, how hard they work, how much they care about the jobs they do. ... I love pop culture as much as the next American, and in spite of all the garbage, I find much that is admirable. Even heathens are made in the image of God, and even they partake of the common grace of God and know of the natural law they may in fact deny. We should not stop pointing out the bad, the lies and the ugly, but there is more good, truth and beauty than we sometimes admit.
                                                                                                                   -- Mike D'Virgilio
Mr. D'Virgilio also raises a number of good points. In the final analysis, joyful hope no matter the circumstances is always the proper Christian response. We strive to be realistic while remaining optimistic and working to be "abassadors for Christ." Ultimately, what really matters is what--or rather, Who--is the object of our optimism. 

God is our hope, and in him alone do we trust. In him, love and truth meet, justice and peace kiss.

Oremus pro invicem.

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