In speaking about the Japanese struggle with its nuclear reactors, Peter Goodspeed wrote “But the nuclear danger may also be a direct result of human hubris.” ( National Post, Mar. 15, 2011)
I suppose at least part of the reason I paid attention to this comment is because of other reading I was doing. The book is named This Time is Different (Reinhart/Rogoff). The book was named by a trader who said “more money was lost because of four words than at the point of a gun. Those words are ‘this time is different’.” It was another form of human arrogance. And as they reflect on the reality of financial crisis, they write, that over and over again people have thought that this time would be different. It usually isn’t.
Sadly, this human arrogance has significant consequences not just for the individuals making the decisions, but for countless other people. Nuclear fallout is not selective. The housing bubble lingers in the marketplace with thousands suffering the cost of foolish financial instruments and poor mortgage decisions. Everyone is touched in some way by the anxiety that is created. The excessive pride of some put lives of countless others at risk.
These are deeply spiritual issues. Pride is one of the deadly sins – a sin that undermines the godly and good life. We remember that “pride goes before the fall”. And as we are experiencing it also undermines healthy communities, good politics, and solid economic life. In other words, dealing with pride is good for us.
Life needs to be lived in humility. Our knowledge is limited. Our skills are not always up to the task. Our control over our own affairs is incomplete. Sooner or later we must come to the realization that we do not live by the powers we possess but in the word and care of our God. Equally important is our understanding of the radical nature of our sinfulness. Our heart can be quite devious and selfish. To protect self we can easily lie. To make things easier for ourselves we take shortcuts. We are very vulnerable to sin. Confession is a spiritual discipline that puts “rightness” back in our life. Generosity and love to others in our daily practice makes a difference in the way we care for others and our environment. It is part of living the image of God. This is practiced theology that reshapes the life of our communities.
We often celebrate the rich, the well-connected, the powerful. All who show success are elevated. Perhaps it is equally important to be guardians of their spiritual life. Pride goes before the fall. If hubris contributes to the evacuation of all people within 20kms and risk to the food supply of millions, if hubris contributes to a financial collapse, -(I suppose we should add war and family collapse)- then being a guardian of a person’s spiritual life is a critical task for the well being of community.
The old language is that elders are shepherds to the flock. It still applies. The spiritual life is not just an add-on or a recreational activity or a private matter. Its well being has profound consequences in the life of our communities. Be a shepherd of the flock. Attend the spiritual life of members. This is not a useless activity. It builds foundations for (w)holy communities of shalom.