Many years ago there was once a fine athlete who delighted and excelled in sprinting and mountain climbing. The athlete soon distinguished himself as the fastest sprinter in his country and was chosen to represent his country at the Olympics. Much hope was placed on the athlete to win the gold medal. A few days before the Olympics the athlete and a friend took to the mountains for a couple of days to do some climbing. The weather was a beauty, the rocks clean, the night stars alluring. The two friends were climbing a pitch (that was not particularly difficult) and, suddenly, the athlete took a fall. The tumble to the ground was not critical, but both legs were broken. Needless to say, the athlete, friends and country were disappointed (the athlete was angry). A week before the Olympics war was declared by the state the athlete was to represent, and many of his friends joined the military to fight for their country. Obviously, the athlete could not go to war because of his broken legs. The war did not go well for the young athlete’s country, and many of his friends were injured or killed. The athlete recovered from his broken legs by war’s end, and, in time, he became the leading anti-war activist in his country, winning the Nobel Prize for his work.
Deus Ex Machina: Sic et Non
Many moon cycles ago there lived scattered communities of sages that met annually to discuss important and perennial themes. The leading point of discussion for one of the annual gatherings was the relationship between God’s immanence in history and the ability of humans to adequately interpret God’s intervention in time. There were three positions taken by the sages at the annual meeting, and positions taken did divide the wise elders that came from different parts of the world.
There was the ‘triumphalist tribe’ that argued that if humanity heeded God’s law and responded well and wisely to the teachings of the Divine, good and plenty would occur. Those who chose to ignore the insights revealed by God would live with dire consequences. This do good, good will follow, do bad, bad will follow was the formula that was held in an unshakeable way by the ‘triumphalist tribe’---there were nuances in their understanding of how this worked out, but the conclusions reached were similar. There would be struggles on the all too human journey, but those who were faithful would reap a plentiful harvest. Some might call this, at a more popular level, the Walt Disney formula, but such an approach has a much older history.
There was the ‘realist tribe’ that differed with the ‘triumphalist tribe’. The ‘realist tribe’ took the position that, in reality, mediocre and evil often prospered and good people often suffered at a variety of levels.
The hard facts of human history did not confirm, in any absolute sense, that God would rescue the good from tragic and sad experiences. Many of the wisest and finest of prophets, who were one with God at the deepest level, were martyrs or died young of natural causes. God did not seem to intervene to rescue or save them from a painful end. The ‘realist tribe’ took the position that faithfulness to the Good was the alpha and omega of the human journey and there were no promises of fairy tale like happy endings or, as J. R. R. Tolkien suggested, a ‘eucatastrophe’. In short, there was no predictable guarantee that God would intervene in history to protect those who were the most faithful to the Divine Presence. The motto of the ‘realist tribe’ was “Be present to the Presencing of that which is Present—faithfulness not fruit”.
There was also the clan that embodied the skeptical position. The ‘cynics tribe’ took the position that God did, in all probability exist, but it was simply silly to think humans could, in any meaningful sense, understand the actions of God in history. It was humans who made history for good or ill, and it was naïve to think God rewarded those who did good with plenty or honoured those who waited upon the Divine. The very facts of human suffering, tragedy, war, starvation and multiple illnesses made it abundantly clear that God did not intervene in human affairs. Humanity had to, in humility and charity, work out its own salvation in fear and trembling.
Such were the positions taken by the sages at their annual gathering many moon cycles ago, and such are the positions taken by many honest sages today. The realists and cynics seem to have more in common than both do with the triumphalists (which have had many followers then and now). All the proceeding from the conference were published and remain a landmark scroll in the history of sage lore.