Recent conflict and protests in America, about statues and monuments recalling troubling events in the past, seem to be dividing a country that clearly needs uniting. Those who focus on division rather than unity seem to think that all things are possible—that the sky is the limit for the future, and all they have to do is imagine it, protest for the sake of it, made a lot of noise about it, and it will come about.
Protesters are focusing on the American past, but ironically their view of the past is shortsighted, if not altogether ignorant. The past is not just a few isolated events from the collective memory about which people who otherwise know little about history can gather and make noise.
The philosophy of presentism—living for the moment without a deep appreciation of the past or an anticipation of the future based on the past—is how problems of division, conflict, manipulation of others, acquisition of power, and the creation of totalitarian states, occur. If all a person can do is consider how the present moment, one after another, might make him/her feel good because of a brief moment of feeling significant, powerful, and important, then such a person is ripe for the exploitation of demagogues, who typically promise that such feelings, such power, such a narcissistic trip, will continue—as long as you believe in the opposition to what is steady, orderly, traditional—the establishment.
Protest for the sake of protest is wrongheaded. It upsets order, creates chaos, but fulfills a momentary urge to feel significant.
Look, I have many of the same suspicions of the power elite that protesters have. But I am not marching through the streets carrying placards screaming at the top of my lungs. Why?
Because, for one thing, I have a historical perspective. Emergencies—what appears to be something that has to be done, NOW—are rarely emergencies—they just seem that way in the moment. I truly believe the philosophy recorded in Ecclesiastes, that there is “a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; . . . a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to be silent and a time to speak”—overall, “time and chance happens to them all.”
Yes, time and chance happens to us all. We need to know patience, to accept what has happened, what will happen.
All things are possible. But remember the caveat to this phrase, as found in the Gospel of Matthew? “All things are possible”—with God. The disciples were upset because Jesus had told them that it is more difficult for a rich man to go to heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. How, then, can anyone be saved? “With God, all things are possible,” Jesus said. The point is, that humans try to do so much, but our individual and collective weakness prevents us from doing what we want: we cannot, in short, make all things that can possibly occur actually occur. And to try to is to court disappointment because our time rarely conforms to God’s time.
Contentment, in short, is based on waiting. A person can act, a person can dream, a person can try their hardest. But in the sum of all things, according to the vast stretch of time of which you and I are just a very small part, the future is unknown, and what is about to happen is unknown: all we can do is wait–for humans can do very little, but with God, all things are possible.