A Timeless Story
We live in confusing and mysterious times.
Yet the churning chaos of this still-young century is being molded by historical patterns that track across five thousand years of civilizations and similar experiences that are apparent and predictable within families.
The pattern is this. Several generations build up a society, a clan, or a family to prosperity. Most often, great sacrifices are required to accomplish that progress. Wants must be deferred to the demands of essential needs. Saving for a rainy day becomes second nature as tomorrow’s problems are unknown, only feared. A certain grit takes hold that requires deference and gratitude.
Intellectual energy is absorbed in things that ease, enhance, encourage, or explain the regimen of life. Since they enlighten the important, the eye of imagination tends toward the great Story, beautiful and hopeful. It attempts to capture a thread of the natural grandeur of the world. A great love and pride for the essential objective — the security of a culture or a home, a people or kin — builds strong character like hard work builds strong muscles.
Finally, when prosperity and satisfaction become a reality, what produced that prosperity begins its migrations, trickling away from the streams of knowledge that fed them, and soon the streams become dry ruts, faint memories outlined in the dirt — left to taunt the thirsty.
In the Shadow of Comfort Provided by Others
New generations have come to prominence. They did not build nor suffer for that prosperity. They only live under its shadow of comfort.
The new generations, never having built, created, or sustained substantial things, busy themselves with seeking pleasure and fame. The intellectual heft becomes a flighty jumble busy with numbers, profits, and leisure. Sacrifice, duty, fidelity, and work become orphans to modified nouns that can never quite define the reality of the life they are born into. So much of what is essential is set aside for that which is fleeting. Secondary and frivolous things and ideas parade like they have built what they only inherited.
The eye of imagination turns from beauty to cold utility. Grandeur is left for sterile aloofness in glass and steel. Art trends to the meaningless, replacing certainty. The senses are arrested.
Prosperity Becomes the Trap of Despair
Soon enough, the Sun changes position, and the shadow of comfort no longer offers protection. What was now corrodes, sours, and falls apart under the blazing light. The new generations find it difficult to focus with the certainty their predecessors did. They mistake the markers laid out for thousands of years — the Ancient Wisdom and its guideposts — as irrelevant or perhaps even an incantation or deception.
The Old Words tell the story of a vain son who took his father’s hard-earned wealth and traveled far away to live another life filled with self-satisfaction and pleasures that he believed would make life complete and satisfying. He couldn’t imagine the hard duty his father attended to — the callous hands, cold nights, and hot days away from the comforts of his home. Finally, the self-satisfaction and pleasures of life consumed the son and all he had — since they had no importance beyond the moment, they could only take from him, not add to him.
The Timeless Story of Humanity
The son’s travail is the timeless story of humanity and its stolen promise.
Without the foundation of wisdom and the guidance of its elders, prosperity becomes the trap of despair. Seeking affirmation for their existence, they find instead rebuke. Seeking wisdom without Truth, they find cold asylum in the Lie. Life’s reality turns into an addiction, a soft whisper of resignation, or a raging, murdering violence demanding total fealty of mind and body.
Long ago, the Ancient Wisdom rebuked a people who turned away. “I cared for you in the desert, in the land of burning heat. When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me. So I will come upon them like a lion, like a leopard I will lurk by the path.”
Every Generation Chooses the Truth or the Lie
Every generation, in its turn, chooses the Truth or the Lie. That our generation does it at the speed of an electron only matters to time. America and the West have lived in the shadow of comfort that others provided. The Proverbs explain when a country is rebellious, it has many rulers, but men of understanding and knowledge maintain order. They neither oppress the poor — like a driving rain that leaves no crops — nor forsake the law and praise wickedness. Instead, they uphold and extol justice. They pursue virtue. They call out the Lie in the public square and say its name boldly.
People of understanding and knowledge, themselves broken pottery, recognize the Ancient Wisdom, and regardless of the confusing and mysterious times, and at any cost, remind the rest of us that there is a way of Great Love that still seeks us if only we’d turn an attentive ear.
Michael Giere writes award-winning commentary and essays on the intersection of politics, culture and faith. He is a critically acclaimed novelist (The White River Series) and short-story writer.