Luke 21:34: “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap.”
The third principle of Kingian Nonviolence is to “attack forces of evil, not people doing evil.” I think its a tactic for loving enemies. People are not evil – every single one of us is created and beloved by the same God – but people sure DO a LOT of evil. Refusing to see anyone as beyond hope is essential in the way of non-violence. Everyone is a potential ally.
This is incredibly hard to put into practice, and, if I’m honest, I am not entirely sold on its efficacy, much less its value. Still, I am trying.
We have been forced into a situation where every one of us is making impossible decisions on a daily basis: Should I protect my kid and family from this novel and deadly virus or should I deprive my kindergartener of her first experience of school? Should I keep my elderly mother locked up in her nursing home for a full year or should I bring her over for a visit and risk exposing her to the thing that will lead to a painful death? Should we shut down our business and leave our employees in the lurch or should we contribute to community spread and have our neighbors’ deaths on our consciences? Should I make my family angry or keep them safe? Should I do my own grocery shopping to lessen the burden of the minimum-wage personal shoppers or should I stay out of the stores so that their exposure is that much lower? Should I leave town to care for my sick parents and expose myself to the virus that is sickening them or should I leave that burden to siblings who are closer? Should I go to the hospital and risk never seeing my loved ones again or should I suffer without medical assistance, at home?
These are just the decisions I’ve been party to; the list is so much longer and so much more complicated.
With that principle of Kingian non-violence in mind, I am trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to remember that the people forced into making these decisions are not evil. Even when we make the riskier decision, we are, at worst, DOING evil and not BEING evil. Most of us, down here at the bottom of the epidemiological food chain, are doing the best with the limited options we’ve been given. I would like to think. I am trying to think. My better angels encourage me to think.
There are larger forces at work that have put us in the position of making these impossible decisions: negligent government, callous leadership, a political system built around wealth and fame instead of corporate well-being, an economy that literally demands human sacrifice in order to function. We are here, on the horns of these dilemmas because our entire American culture is organized around individual rights instead of mutual aid. And the fact that those things have been put into such stark competition and that we Americans have chosen, over and over, again and again, to privilege the individual over the collective: that is evil. It is a powerful, slyly convincing, fatally flawed force of evil.
This passage from Luke is another apocalyptic text. Before the verse named as today’s prompt, Jesus says:
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Distress, fear, foreboding all around us, and Jesus says: stand up! Raise your heads! Another reality is coming close. Redemption is drawing near.
So, I guess, let’s not get weighed down in the temptation to rail and rage against the people doing evil. Let’s be on guard – not to catch the most recent atrocity (because we won’t be able to miss it), but so that we don’t miss the new world slipping in amidst the chaos. The forces of evil are being defeated, even now. There are glimmers of the shift all around us.
Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life…stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.