King Solomon said it all when he observed that everything mortals do is in vain. Like Saul, who became Paul, we kick against the pricks but that is in vain. We build towers to try and reach Heaven – in vain. We accumulate great wealth, build mighty empires, leave pyramids behind to evoke awe in succeeding generations – in vain.
The English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley told the story of a great ruler who had a monument built to celebrate his majesty. The inscription on it read:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.”
In the famous poem, Shelley observed:
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
So many of the things we hold important are artificial concerns. I think we sometimes invent crises to keep us from dying of ennui. In “Tales of the South Pacific,” James Michener tells of a tribe that had life so easy they couldn’t bear it. So, to make things interesting, they came up with a religion that required raising a boar so that its tusks pierced its skull without touching its brain. Severe penalties were incurred if the pig died.
Sometimes I think we are like that tribe. We invent problems and “challenges” just to pass the time.
Why should I toss and turn in my bed because some wretched sociopaths seem to have won political and economic supremacy in America?
I cannot save Americans from themselves. As Euripedes said, those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.
Why do images of Somali children and Arabs blown to smithereens haunt my dreams?
I cannot save them.
Why do I torment myself with nightmare visions of a despoiled earth, parched by drought and swamped by floods, disfigured by strip mining, the air thick with smoke and fumes, the oceans lifeless, the rivers toxic?
Why do I rail against pervasive injustice and rage against the greedy pigs who would ravage society to root among its ruins?
The tiny contributions I can make to avert disaster are no more effective than a mouse scratching against the walls of its cage.
As long as I get my daily bread and forgiveness for my sins, what else is there to worry about?
Except – of course – the happiness and safety of my loved ones?
And the best I an do for them is to pray.
Thy will be done, oh Lord.