The piece I wrote earlier in the week about Ben Stein and the economic meltdown has weighed on my mind lately. It isn't a newsflash, but today's headlines abundantly suggest that we live in an era of unprecedented economic uncertainty, and global unrest.
Rioters in London burned their own homes in protest of UK budget cuts.
Earlier in the week, naysayers warned of a Post-American planet, drearily musing whether we had already spent ourselves into oblivion.
Meanwhile, others have taken a fancy to questioning the value of higher education, as if society would be helped by the masses remaining uneducated, helpfully observing that most Americans are wasting money on anything more than a high school diploma (special reference made to law students).
In fact, people have become so fed up with bad news that nearly 200,000 people cancelled their cable TV subscriptions in the last quarter alone.
Not even President Obama gets a break. The latest poll numbers, bless his heart, show Generic Republican besting President Obama 47% to 42%. And just a couple of days ago his vacation home on Martha's Vineyard burned down (not really, but it did catch fire).
Make of the above what you will, but it seems fair to say that times are tough.
As the adage goes, desperate times call for desperate measures, so it seemed only appropriate to draw some words of wisdom from the Bible - just in case. Serendipitously, the writings of an old friend from high school (published on Facebook, no less), turned my weary eye to the fifth chapter of St. Paul's letter to the Romans.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
I won't say the winds instantly calmed when I read the verse above. But something like that happened. I looked outside of the kitchen window, and saw our cactus sitting on the porch, warming in the sun, its tiny pricks of yellow gingerly reaching toward skies of blue. It occurred to me, that the world economy could crash this afternoon, and my cactus couldn't care any less. So long as my wife provides it the occasional drink of water, it will thrive regardless of the calamities besetting the kingdoms of men.
I can't help but think the cactus has it right. The little prick. At risk of being over broad, the verse above strikes me as the simplest statement of Christianity ever written. At its core, the message is a compact one of assurance, written to all those twisting in the winds of the stock market, written to all those questioning whether their education is worth the price, and written to all those forced to watch Netflix Streaming because they cancelled their Cable TV package.
The message is that faith in Christ yields peace with God. Nothing more. Nothing less.
The other stirring aspect of the short verse is that it is without qualification. It does not assure peace only to stockbrokers. It does not assure peace if only we make the appropriate spending cuts accompanied by corresponding 'revenue increases.' The point is plain. Those justified by faith have peace with God. Period.
Now, Stein's article questions the premise of our calamitous world entirely. "Meltdown? What meltdown?" he would say. While it's fair to question the origins of the situation, it's also disingenuous to deny the phenomenon altogether. As my wife and I wait for student loans to come in, the reality of hard times is clear to us. We see similar concern among our circle of friends - mostly young professionals, and students, or some combination of the two.
By contrast, Paul more or less takes the same approach to reality as my cactus Paul says, embrace reality. Sometimes life sucks, but come what may, those justified by faith have peace with God. It will be ok.
And if that conclusion is good enough for my cactus, well, it's good enough for me.
PS: I realize the many jokes I could have made when I titled this post 'little pricks.' Most lawyers, Tiger Woods, and Ron Paul all come to mind. But gentle readers, I can only hope that my effort at more reflective commentary will compensate for lone cheap laugh I tried to get.
UPDATE: Ben Stein adds some more thoughts in today's (8/12/2011) essay on the 'meltdown,' and reaches somewhat similar conclusions to those I reached yesterday:
6. The speculators do not have all power. There is only One who has all power and I live by His rules, not by the rules of fear and panic peddled by some cable TV systems.
So, I can keep some perspective and go on with my life after all.
And I can look out on this magnificent mountain lake and think how it must laugh at stock markets and the affairs of men.
Stein's lake laughs at the affairs of men, much like my little cactus laughed when I picked it up.