It’s wednesday, and there are only four days until I leave for South Sudan again. I’ve moved out of my malaise, and am now excited about the trip. I have part of my things packed, and will take care of the rest tomorrow.
I’ve been reading C.S. Lewis this week, specifically The Screwtape Letters. There is such a tremendous amount of poignant observation of the human condition written in such a small text, and some of it is applicable to the common condition that links those in the west with those in South Sudan. That condition is how we see and respond to the past, present, and future.
I’m going to quote some of C.S. Lewis’s work, paraphrasing where needed so as to not have to explain the entire work to those who have not read it.
“The Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which God has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them. He would therefore have them continually concerned either with eternity (which means being concerned with Him), or with the Present- either meditating on their eternal union with, or separation from Himself, or else obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks in the present pleasure.”
“The human nature, however, makes all our passions point toward the Future, and inflames hope and fear. Also, thoughts of the future turn our minds to unrealities. In a word, the Future is, or all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most completely temporal part of time- for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays. Hence nearly all the schemes and vices of men are rooted in the Future, on the very core of temporality.”
So what does all this mean for us, and what am I talking about anyway? So I think about the future. So what?
I used to be in the financial services business, and one thing that I was taught that helped me understand why people do what they do is this: “People are primarily driven by fear and greed.” Now there may be different recipes for this two ingredient pie depending on your taste, but the effect is the same. People tend to make poor decisions based on those two things, either by the wanton lust to satisfy their temporal desires, or by the fear of what might happen tomorrow (or twenty years from now), if I don’t gather everything within arms reach, whether I’m entitled to it or not.
In America we work at a job we don’t want to do for an employer we don’t like for financial security and comfort in retirement, when our bodies are mostly used up, (ironically on the afore mentioned job). It’s what makes the CEO think he’s worth 380 times the salary of his average employee. Get what I can now, because tomorrow will certainly have more trouble.
If on the other hand, we lived more simply, had less financial fear, and did what we actually enjoyed, our lives would be much richer, and we’d be far happier. The old adage is “Work at what you really enjoy, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” We insist we don’t have the time or resources to do either the things we ought to do, or the things even that we want to do. We go to meetings for the sake of going to meetings, or to impress someone who in the lens of eternity we have no obligation or business trying to impress. We live our lives in desperation and fear, not because the present is bad, but because the future might be if we don’t continue the relentless schedule we’ve placed ourselves on.
In South Sudan it’s the same thing, only the flavor is different. They gather what they don’t need and steal their neighbor’s cattle not because they don’t have food today, but because they might not have it in the morning if they don’t steal those cattle.
Out of riches and abject poverty, the result is the same, and the human heart is the same. The ancient text of Proverbs 30 tells us that this is nothing new, and centers our attitude back to where it should be.
Two things I request of You
(Deprive me not before I die):
8 Remove falsehood and lies far from me;
Give me neither poverty nor riches—
Feed me with the food allotted to me;
9 Lest I be full and deny You,
And say, “Who is the Lord?”
Or lest I be poor and steal,
And profane the name of my God.
This is counter to human nature, and it is only by the Spirit of God that this conclusion moves past the academic and into the core of our own spirit.