By Robin G. Jordan
I posted a number of stories yesterday. The first story was related to the speculation that the close proximity of the moon had caused the earthquakes and tsunami that have devastated Japan, killed thousands of people, and left thousands of people without shelter, food, or water. The second described how the earthquakes had speed up the rotation of the Earth. No one was unaffected by the earthquakes. The third related to the discovery of the remains of an ancient city in Spain that was destroyed by a tsunami and that one group of scientists is claiming might be the fabled Atlantis of Plato’s Critias. This honor had previously been accorded to the Minoan settlement at Akrotiri on the island of Thera in the southern Aegean Sea—the site of a massive volcanic eruption in ancient times.
These stories attracted my attention for a number of reasons. The “super-moon” theory was like the myths that the human race has developed to explain natural phenomena. The changes in the Earth’s climate and shifts in its crust have in the past taken its toll in human lives as in the present and have not only impacted more than one community but also devastated entire regions. Their effects have been felt by those outside the immediate area affected. They have brought about the gradual or sudden demise of entire civilizations. I have a fascination with humanity’s past and take an interest in the latest archeological findings. I also live in the vicinity of the New Madrid fault. I have experienced at least one minor tremor since moving to western Kentucky. I had previously lived in southeast Louisiana, an area that is subject to hurricanes and flooding.
The Japan’s earthquakes and tsunami were not isolated phenomena, confined to one part of the world. Wherever we live, there is a risk of natural disaster. In my area this risk includes flash floods, high winds, ice storms, and tornadoes as well as earthquakes. Paducah is the site of a gaseous effusion plant that recycles spent nuclear fuel. Natural disasters like the one in Japan should give us pause to think, as Kelly Boggs writes in his article, “Japan’s earthquake: How should we respond?” Rather than contemplating our burdens, we do well to count our blessings. We can become so absorbed in negativity that it colors our perceptions of life. While others are walking in the sunshine, we are walking under a rain cloud.
We fall into the mental habit of focusing on the negatives of a situation to the point that we overlook the positives. We come to a situation with the expectation that we will find bad things and we find them. We may exaggerate the significance of the negatives and quickly jump to conclusions based on a few questionable facts and only a small part of the larger picture. In doing so, we increasingly add to our negative perceptions of reality. We essentially have a negative view of life and our cognitive processes are tuned to reinforce that view of life.
There is a very real danger of falling victim to self-fulfilling prophecy. We anticipate that things will go wrong in a particular case and they do. We console ourselves with thoughts of how right we were and how people have shown themselves what we have always believed them to be. However, if we examine our decisions more closely, we may discover that things went wrong because we repeatedly used poor judgment and made one bad decision after another. We set up ourselves to fail. Undertaking a particular course of action was not a wise decision in the first place. We may have even recognized this but ignored our better judgment and went ahead anyway.
We can also become the victims of our own idealism. We may acquire a set of ideals that are both noble and visionary. At the same time we may also develop an accompanying set of unrealistic expectations. Consequently we are frustrated and disappointed when other people fail to conform to these ideals. But ideals are ideals. They answer one’s highest conception and they exist in idea. They are things toward which we strive. They are standards that we desire to see met. They are not things that we should expect off the bat to find in other people.
All human beings have one thing in common, including ourselves: they are fallible. Even the Pope in Rome, whatever the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church may teach, is fallible. They are capable of being deceived and of making mistakes. They are going to fall short of our ideals.
It is a part of the human experience that as our minds mature we come to distinguish between facts and what we had desired to be the facts, and we find ourselves disillusioned and saddened by the supposed loss that we have undergone. Each of us handles that loss differently. We may replace our earlier ideals with a new set of ideals—the things that we desire to be the facts. We may recognize our ideals for what they are—ideals—things that we would like see the facts but which not necessarily are, things that we can work toward making the facts.
When we recognize our ideals as being ideals, we spare ourselves a lot of frustration, disappointment, disillusionment, and sadness. We stop expecting people to do things the way that we would like them to do things and feeling angry and exasperated when they do not live up to our ideals or meet our expectations. We learn to accept people for what they are—fallible human beings.
We also need to consider two other factors to which the Thirty-Nine Articles point. The first factor is the human inclination toward evil. Even the regenerate show this inclination (Article IX). Those who have been born again must struggle with a sinful human nature that wars against the Holy Spirit. The longing in the human mind for certainty is so intense, we are tempted to create for ourselves a living and visible authority with whom we endow the quality of infallibility. Roman Catholics have vested the Bishop of Rome with this quality. In North America we see Anglicans doing the same thing with their bishops when they should know better.
However, one of the reasons that human beings are fallible is our proclivity toward evil, which is present in Popes and prelates as in everyone else. The Homily concerning the coming down of the Holy Ghost for Whitsunday draws this fact to our attention. When we realize that our church leaders, like ourselves, possess this proclivity and are far from infallible, we are apt to react in one of two ways. We can become very cynical—skeptical or sneering at any goodness in other people and given to tearing off the veil from human weaknesses. We can fall into the trap of thinking evil in our hearts against them, a thing that Lord hates (Zechariah 8:17). Or we can view them realistically as human beings with foibles like ourselves and be charitable in our estimation of them.
Too often people react a third way. They vest someone else with the quality of infallibility. They confuse authority with infallibility, and whoever has authority in their minds must be infallible. For them an authority figure does not have weaknesses like the rest of us.
The second factor is that “all be not governed with the Spirit and Word of God” (Article XXI). This applicable to all human beings, not just those gathered in General Councils. It is related to the first factor. God works in the regenerate both to will and to do for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13) but we cannot presume that the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures guides everything that we say and do. We do and have erred. No one, not even the Pope, as the Homily concerning the coming down of the Holy Ghost for Whitsunday is emphatic in declaring, has a special gift of the Holy Spirit that keeps them from erring. As the old proverb tells us, humanum est errare, it is human to err.
When I look in the bathroom mirror every morning, I am reminded that the face staring back at me belongs to my worst enemy—myself. It is a sobering thought. I am a weak person who suffers from the frailty that I share with all my fellow human beings—the liability to err and to yield to temptation. It is a daily reminder that I need the grace of the Holy Spirit. I cannot have a mind and will do anything pleasing and acceptable to God unless God gives me that will and ability. My relationship with God must be my first priority above everything else.
I would be lying if I said that it was not a struggle for me. Some days I do not practice what I preach. When I was a boy, God gave me a prayer for such moments. It is from a hymn written by Percy Dearmer and partly based on a hymn of J. M. Neale.
Jesus, good above all other,
Gentle child of gentle mother,
In a stable born our brother,
Give us grace to persevere.