Tuesday, March 14, 2006

"Beware the Ides of March" and dodging bullets

Tomorrow (March 15, 44 BC) is the ominous day when Julius Caesar was assassinated in the Senate by conspiratorial Senators which included his (supposed) friend, Brutus. In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, an unidentified soothsayer tells Caesar, who is on his way to the Senate (and his death), “Beware the ides of March.” Caesar replies, “He is a dreamer; let us leave him.”

This all brings back to me now (as I write) memories of Shakespeare classes in High School and a none too professional production of Julius Caesar! “Fatalism, boys!” my master yelled at us in class one day, his black academic robe flowing in the wind as he quickly paced up and down, “Fatalism! It will be the ruination of us all!”

Given the numbers that regularly read horoscopes (astrology) in daily newspapers (especially in Britain), belief that the events of tomorrow are “inevitably ordered” is the default position of the vast majority. Certain Christian writers (Augustine and Boethius among them) did not hesitate to employ the language of ‘fate’ in connection with providence (the view of that God orders all events). But this sounds far too impersonal for our modern ears. The Christian doctrine of providence is the view that a loving heavenly Father, who knows what’s best for us, orders the events of our lives in such a way that he makes us think that our choices are real choices. Fate, on the other hand, renders us powerless. It drains us of choice and resolve. We are mere automatons, at the mercy of some blind and impersonal force.

Two war-time examples will help us: First, Oliver Cromwell’s advice during the English civil war: “Trust in God and keep your (gun-)powder dry!” Second, in 1862, one of Stonewall Jackson's aides, Robert L. Dabney, preached a sermon on God's “special providence,” noting that in a recent battle “Every shot and shell and bullet was directed by the God of battles.” Some time later, Dabney found himself under fire and took cover behind a large gatepost. A nearby officer teased him: “If the God of battles directs every shot, why do you want to put a gatepost between you and a special providence?” Dabney replied, “Just here the gatepost is the special providence.”

All of which reminds me that I have a sermon to prepare for the men’s meeting at First Baptist today, and “it ain’t going to prepare itself.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's the 17th of March that many of us wait for....LOL