Dodge: Rage Amidst Plenty
We seem to be in a very strange time in our nation’s history. On the one hand, we have never had it so good. The stock market and national wealth are at all-time highs. Life expectancy is getting longer. Survival rates from cancer, diabetes and heart disease are all improving.
Yet, daily, we read about the rage of Americans protesting a whole manner of perceived ills. We’re told that workforce participation is stubbornly low and that income inequality is disturbingly high. We hear from a recent Johns Hopkins study that middle class people are committing suicide at rates 40 percent higher when compared to the turn of the century. Youth at elite colleges around the country have risen to denounce their offense at others’ free speech rights. This is odd behavior for a nation experiencing unprecedented prosperity.
Of course, this is the not the first time something like this has happened. The Bible records incidents of bewilderment amidst plenty. The best example of this was when “the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion … then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy (Ps 126.1-2).
This is likely a reference to the restoration after Judah’s exile in Babylon. Few would have guessed that the great Kings of the Ancient Near East would have shown mercy to the Jews. But, in a remarkable reversal of fortunes, a remnant of captives was permitted to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and their way of life.
But, as surprising as the return to Jerusalem was, it certainly didn’t live up to the expectations the prophets had built for it. Consider what God said through Jeremiah, “Do not be afraid, Jacob, my servant … I will save you from afar, and your offspring form the land of their captivity. Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease, and none shall make him afraid … I will make a full end of all the nations among whom I scattered you (Jer 30.10-11).
Sounds great, but the exiles returned and were still surrounded by enemies. They did backbreaking work to restore the temple. Worst of all, only about ten percent of the people exiled to Babylon bothered to return. If this was a restoration, it hardly seemed like it.
As we begin a new liturgical year, we should remember that Advent looks back to what Jesus did in the past at his first coming in the Incarnation. But it also looks forward with hope to what Jesus will do at his second coming when he returns for judgment against the ungodly.
The Advent season also recognizes that, at present, our lives are still mired in darkness, sin and cynicism. This is why the same Psalmist cries out (using present tense): “Restore our fortunes, O Lord!” (Ps 126.4) right in the middle of a poem celebrating Israel’s restoration.
Prosperity doesn’t bring wholeness. Only Christ can. This is why we wait with expectation for Jesus’ return because only he can truly satisfy the longings of our hearts.