Oh, God, Give Me Wisdom
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
— Reinhold Niebuhr
My main fault, main among all of the others, is that I am too passive. There might be something to argue about, because I have a lot of faults that are trying to claw their way to the top, but right now passivity is what is on my mind.
Passivity can be confused with patience, and vice versa. One can look as if one is enduring patiently while one is simply letting the world flow over them. In some sense, it looks like I’ve got the first line of the “Serenity Prayer” nailed. The second two lines give me something to work on.
This is a prayer that is embedded in a belief there is such a thing as reality, a way things are. It also assumes there is a way things could be better than they are, and that we as human beings have an agency that we may choose to change things to get a better deal.
Abraham and Jacob
I am thinking now of Abraham and Jacob..
Abraham had dealt with God, God who is being itself. He talked to him as one might a merchant at a fair in Asuncion. Would you spare Sodom for the sake of 50 righteous? 45? 30? 20? 10?
He pushed the boundary as far as he could in an attempt to get the best he could in the face of absolute reality.
Jacob was flawed — and maybe that’s why he’s my favorite — but he too pushed against to the very edges of objective reality to get the best that he could. He wrestled with God himself, and though he walked away limping, he walked away with the blessing he had asked for.
There is a piece of the Jacob story that bears repeated study. Jacob’s daughter Dinah is raped by Shechem, but Jacob does nothing. Jacob’s sons then, by virtue of trickery to which I cannot do justice in this space, killed Shechem and all of his male relatives.
A reading of the whole Jacob story would lead us to reasonably believe (I split that infinitive and did it on purpose!) that Jacob wasn’t being patient, but was simply trying to deal prudently with the reality he was given. However, it this case his prudence was counterbalanced (counter-acted?) by the recklessness of his sons.
A Similar Story With David
Having brought this up, I must bring up a parallel passage from the David story. One of David’s sons (Amnon) rapes one of his half sisters (Tamar). David does nothing. Absalom, another son of David, waits two years, then murders Amnon, and flees. David does nothing to him, and ultimately Absalom attempts to overthrow his father.
This was all caused by David’s passivity, his hope that everything would just work out.
In weighing the story about Jacob’s sons and daughter along with David’s sons and daughter, is there a lesson that you must at least appear to be seeking justice? Even the appearance of passivity is dangerous?
Do we dare take a cue from the great poet Toby Keith:
Grandpappy told my pappy, back in my day, son
A man had to answer for the wicked that he done
Take all the rope in Texas find a tall oak tree
Round up all them bad boys hang them high in the street
For all the people to see.
It appears that of the three requests in the Serenity prayer, the most important one is the wisdom for discernment.