I have come to believe that social myopia is one of the genetic diseases of humankind. We are eyeball deep in a lousy economy, but the price of gas has come down, so the SUVs are out of the garage and rumbling about the countryside with no memory that the issue was never about price, it was about need, environmental responsibility, and senseless conspicuous consumption. The nation went through two excruciating financial system breakdowns in the 80s and one in the 90s, and here we are again assuring ourselves that this time we’ve learned our lesson and will reform our ways. What on earth makes us think we have changed when we’ve proven ourselves time and again to be so short sighted?
This is not a problem for America only. I think it is a problem for all humans in every culture throughout all ages. For my primary example I give you the people of Israel. Throughout their forty years in the wilderness, the centuries of judges and then of kings, no sooner had God bailed them out of some disaster than they forgot all about it and went right back to the very behaviors that got them into trouble in the first place. Ezra, Nehemiah and Third Isaiah are each troubled by a people who have finally come back from years of exile in Babylon, rebuilt the temple and Jerusalem (sort of) and are now drifting off to their old ways. They made a great start but could not maintain it.
Good Lord, no wonder God hides his face from us. My guess is that it takes enormous and sustained social pressures for there to be anything like a fundamental change in direction. Those Second Temple Jews did eventually become the fertile ground of both Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity. Our own nation has been fundamentally changed by The Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Great Depression, World Wars, the Civil Rights Movement, and maybe now. Somehow all that hate and violence seems very wrong as ways to “force” social change, and there are alternatives. Remember Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man? He saw fundamental changes coming through the advent of new technologies such as the domestication of animals and grains, the invention of writing and such – a much more hopeful way of looking at things.
One thing I do know, in each stage of fundamental social change there were a few persons who acted as agents of God’s grace and love, and, like the small rudder of a great ship, were able to make small deflections in the rush of events to accomplish a bit more of the presence of the Kingdom here among us. There were not many of them. After all, we the people who claim the name of God tend to be a very complacent and myopic group as a whole. But there were enough of them. Moreover, in my tradition we give daily thanks to God for the redemption of the world through our Lord Jesus Christ. So for some reason I do not fully understand, I have both hope and faith, and maybe that’s enough. A little optimistic joy thrown in would be nice too.