Photo credits

The Embalse de Riano in northern Spain. The picture was taken by .... me!

Friday, July 6

Laying down History

In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m still quiet at work and hence busy on the blog.

I’m actually a bit more upset about my colleague passing away than I thought I would be. I guess I expected it during one of his crises a few weeks ago, and since he survived that I thought he was going to pull through. So the expected became unexpected.

I have been thinking a lot recently about how history comprises things happening. I know that’s obvious, but its getting into my consciousness via the ‘philosophy’ channel at present.

Before things happen, we have no knowledge of them. No certainty of knowledge, at least – we might foresee or plan, but until it does happen we can’t guarantee it. Some we foresee for years, others not even for seconds. They just happen, and then the world changes. We go from one situation, one normality, to a new situation, which immediately becomes the new normality.

Take for example, Glasgow - a city which has always had two football teams, reflecting a cultural and religious division across the city. And then one year, one football club runs into financial trouble and closes. Its phoenix successor is cold-shouldered out of the league. And all of a sudden everything had changed.

Then there is the Scottish food company which takes 75% of all pigs produced in Scotland. It’s going down, and will take all of those farms with it. A new reality, a new normality, is dumped on us.

It was the same when Woolworths - my wife’s favourite – closed (we used to tease her for any visit to any town being incomplete without going into the Woollies there)

Each of these things is a shock. It takes the wind away from us. We gasp, and wonder how life can continue when normality is shaken.

But of course all these are ‘first world problems’. It’s worse if you were a Haitian who woke to find your capital city flattened by an earthquake, and then devastated further by crime and disease. A new normality.

So History comes at us as this series of events, and is laid down unchangeably forever.

Is it like dealing cards from a pack? You never know what the next one will be, but as soon as it is laid you see it and it cannot be changed. And then almost as fast as you recover from that a new equally unexpected card is laid on top. Almost like archaeological or geological layers, that let us see and analyse history but not change it.

Has God shuffled the cards, or has he fixed them in advance? And for all those random dice rolls, did he roll the dice once only before time began to fix the outcome of each and every game of bones?

I get a related feeling sometimes when I am driving, particularly along a winding road. The three dimensional landscape in front of me seems to become a flat disc; the scenery appears at the middle and rushes to the edge. (Imagine a video of a bath tub vortex being played in reverse; it would give a similar effect.) I know the road ahead, yet it still remains invisible until it appears at the centre and expands.

It’s the same with the lead in my pencil. Each layer of graphite is already there, but I know nothing of it until I scrape it onto my paper.

My son plays ‘minecraft’ on the computer. The contents of the earth are fixed by the terrain generator, but then your little man goes and digs, not knowing what he will find, and unearths the various materials that he needs if his search is successful.

I guess, thinking aloud, that the unforeseen future that we face, that shocks and surprises us every day, is already known to God. He has already seen it, and prepared us for it. I believe he has already written it. He put the lead in my pencil. He was the programmer that made the minecraft-like universe for us to explore. He made the road that unravels itself into my visual disc. He made the card deck, and arranged its order. He determined when companies rise and companies fall on the stock market. He can already see the parts of the gold price chart that have not been revealed to us yet. He knows what the outcome of the Scottish independence referendum will be. He knows the day I will die and what will kill me. He wrote that day.

This sounds perhaps too determistically Calvinist – I see ‘the plan’ not so much as a single line as a branched tree in which decision is possible but the outcome of each choice is pre-determined and within the overall plan, and there is foreknowledge as to which twig you will end on.

So, though I remain as shocked as anyone else by the daily news, yet I remain confident in his sovereignty. “For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jer 29:11

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