The first sentence in Dr. M. Scott Peck's book, The Road Less Traveled, is "Life is difficult." That idea is easy to accept in the abstract but in our everyday world, "difficult", is not included in our model of what life should be like when it is like it ought to be, and so we keep thinking there will come a time in which we will have our lives in manageable units and there will be no pain or difficulty. Human dreams of utopia are as old as recorded history, but utopia is, and always will be, a myth. Utopia and Camelot are mistaken models of what real life is like. How many of you are expecting all the wrinkles to be smoothed out of your blanket when you retire? Don't get your hopes up. I have been retired almost fourteen years, and I am still waiting.
In his book, "Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart," Psychiatrist, Gordon Livingston, reminds us that "It is hard to let go of a comforting illusion, but harder still to construct a happy life out of perceptions and beliefs that do not correspond to the world around us".(Pg.60) Additionally, he opines "Childhood is a series of disillusionments in which we progress from innocent belief to harsher reality. One by one we leave behind our conceptions of Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, the perfection of our parents, and our own immortality. As we relinquish the comfort and certainty of these childish ideas, they are replaced with a sense that life is a struggle, full of pain and loss, ending badly." (Pg.76) While it is an unhappy truth that some people remain childish, in some ways, all of their lives, we are constantly being nudged by the realities of life give up childish ways. Speaking of the normal progression toward maturity the Apostle Paul wrote, "When I was a child, I spoke like a child, thought like a child, reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways". (1 Corinthians 13:11)
Realism may creep up on us and slowly erode our mythologies, but there are times when reality delivers a devastating blow to our illusions. Near the end of his life, theologian, Paul Tillich, recalled a powerful, life changing, heart-wrenching experience that happened when he was twenty-four years old. He was at the time a Chaplain in the Imperial German Army during World War 1. He said that he was at the Battle of Champagne, late one night, under the garish fires of the battlefield, walking between the stacks of the dead and the rows of the mangled bodies of the dying when "I lost my idealism and became a tragic realist".
To some, and in some things, realism will come upon us, sooner or later, one way or another. It may be so gentle that we will simply grumble "life is difficult", or it may sting enough to make us cry out "life is not fair!", or it may come to us as it did to Tillich, in such a painful and emotionally wrenching experience that it will be indelibly burned into our very being. If you live long enough you will have the smell of death in your nostrils, and you will be up to your armpits in suffering and hurt. You will see life rip open at the seams, and you will grapple with painful reality that is like a bad dream from which you cannot wake up. Perhaps you have already been there. And if you suffered and wept and agonized, these are signs that you are alive, not dead. The dead among us -- the walking, living dead -- are those who are so lost in fantasy and misplaced idealism that they are untouched by stark realism. The fight of our lives is the battle to strip life of kindergarten myths and fantasies which blind us to reality. Myths and fantasies held too long can make us both fools and victims, and take us into unwitting complicity with unspeakable evil.
No where in the annals of history is there a more classic example of the fact that life is not fair than in the life and death of Jesus. He saw the betrayal, pain, and death coming, but his friends and followers were blind to it. They said it just couldn't happen that way. They were blinded by long held myths and fantasies, and by a naive misunderstanding of the power and motivation of evil. They could not believe that the religious establishment would stoop so low or that the occupying forces of Rome would be complicit in evil cloaked in religion. They argued with Jesus up until the day before he was crucified, but he clearly saw it coming. Jesus was not naive, but his disciples and followers were.
There is nothing in the teachings of Jesus that should lead us to believe that he wants us to be naive or blind to the reality of evil. In the great prayer he taught his disciples there is a prominent line that reads,"deliver us from evil". We must not misread blindness as virtue, or mistake fantasy for faith, or think realism is irreverent. If we are serious about taking Jesus' understanding of reality as a model for living, then we will exert the discipline necessary to be as open-eyed and knowledgeable as our human frailty will allow. We will not be bitter because life is not fair, but neither will we be blind to prejudice, cruelty, greed, or aggression.
I do not want to tire you with this idea, but give me one more week. Stay tuned.