not say God is just. Justice has not been evident in God’s dealings
with you.” —Isaac of Syria
habits I’ve lately tried living without are reading online comment
boxes (Good Letters being an exception) and making predictions. I
bypass comments because I encounter enough wrath, ridicule, and
unreason without wallowing in still more online. As for prophecy, my
ability to predict the future isn’t what it used to be.
routinely ask me, a pediatrician, what’s in store for their
children. I offer probabilities and guesses. Harder still to predict
“the fate of the nation.” I don’t know where the United States,
with an armada of oncoming problems and a conspicuous dearth of
creative proposals in response, is heading.
just a passing foul mood, a temporary crisis of confidence, but
decline—perhaps precipitous—in America’s global economic and
political influence seems likely. Who knows what shape that may take?
I leave it to
academics, technocrats and politicians to identify causes, propose
solutions, and assign blame, respectively. I’m more interested in
how Americans, particularly those calling themselves Christian, might
respond to involuntary limits, diminished expectations, and smaller
fear—however delighted I’d be if proven wrong.
The church is
a mess, to be sure, obsessively straining at gnats while swallowing
camels. Christians produce slogans, manifestos, and mission
statements enough to inspire a dozen worlds with messages running the
gamut from spineless sentimentality to brutal moralism. If verbiage
is the one needful thing, we’re set.
traditional Christian formation includes schooling in certain
practices—prayer, fasting, almsgiving, hospitality, and so
forth—not for the goods they bring, but because they are good in
themselves, forming and reforming us by doing them over and again.
was always a minority who assumed these challenges, but I fear the
mass of American Christians now lead lives of loud consumption. When
formative habits and the rich practical wisdom accompanying them are
lost, how are they recovered? If consumer goods suddenly grow scarce,
for example, how will once-rich Christians relearn the practice of
what of mercy, that unseemly virtue whose name appears more
conspicuously in the New Testament than sexual morality and freedom,
thereby eliciting jeers from the right, or justice and the poor,
prompting catcalls from the left? In an era that celebrates snark,
and online rage, what will school a forgetful people in mercy’s
covenantal empathy, identifying with fellow suffering not by
acknowledging “There but for the grace of God go I,” but rather,
“There by the grace of God go I”?
Just who is
that fellow sufferer? The illegal immigrant or the border vigilante?
The pregnant teen or the clinic protestor? On which side of my
burning social concerns will I recognize human pain? Who merits
mercy? Who is lost? What shape will mercy take?