When I was a kid and cartoons were set to Tschaikovsky and Rossini, and still had a discernable philosophical element, there was one about a wolf and sheepdog, those ancient nemeses, locked in conflict all day long, with no holds barred. Then suddenly, something like a factory whistle blew and the two arch rivals stopped dead in their tracks, punched in their time cards, took up their lunch pails, and matter-of-factly parted ways, mumbling, "See ya tomorrow, Sam." "Yeah, see ya tomorrow."
What a preschooler's vocabulary could not articulate, the mind could seminally grasp: Streams will always run into the sea, dogs will always chase cats, and the dance of life is full of weariness.
Have you felt the weariness yet? Of pundits fed up with the disgusting, immoral, reprehensible, indefensible behavior in Washington-and they mean Ken Starr? Of so-called civil liberties unions that pour their considerable resources into rolling back religious liberties? Of the abortion offensive now waged at the very portals of birth, at full-term viability?
Of government that denies city contracts for homeless and senior citizens programs to organizations that don't sanction homosexual marriages? Of no end in sight to the persecution in China, the Sudan, and Indonesia; and Nina Shea's Center for Religious Freedom never able to put itself out of business? Of a teacher in the Bronx fired for dispensing biblical comfort to grieving classmates of a deceased child? Of bumper stickers that care more about whales and trees than unborn children? Of specious lawyering that defends anything but law? Of those "who call evil good and good evil, who put light for darkness and darkness for light"?
So what else is new? The very first person on earth with an umbilical cord grew up to be a murderer who (let's have none of this "sibling rivalry" psychobabble) killed his brother "because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous" (1 John 3:12). The Amalekites who dogged the heels of a fledgling Israelite nation at Sinai (Exodus 17) reared their heads again 400 years later during Saul's reign (1 Samuel 15), and again 500 years later in Persia (Esther), dedicating themselves over centuries to snuffing out the people of God. Behold the many incarnations of the serpent that strikes at the heel. "C'est la guerre!"
Rules for analyzing the news-whether in 1999 B.C. or 1999 A.D.: (1) Everything is more profound than it seems. (2) Everything is simple enough for a child to understand.
And so it goes until kingdom come, in a world where "there is nothing new under the sun." Some have been "tortured and refused to be released ... some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and ... put to death by the sword" (Hebrews 11:35-37). Some hold up their little light against the darkness in government, in neighborhoods, in the PTA.
We optimistically cobble together our little essays, hone our little sermons-though we know it's often preaching to the choir; though we know it's just a dog's nature to chase cats, and that a leopard cannot change its spots.
We do it because of that other Incarnation, the one also spoken of in Genesis 3, the one that the gates of hell cannot prevail against, the one that keeps our striving from being like that of Sisyphus rolling his rock up the hill. We do it because here and there grace breaks into the mad cycle and wins some over to the Lord's side.
For the rest, "Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy" (Revelation 22:11). The unrighteous will always hate the righteous.
Martin Luther, who never saw an American impeachment hearing or attorney David Kendall manhandling Kenneth Starr, understood it better than most who have: "Cain will murder Abel, if he can, to the very end of the world."
Last year's State of the Union address is now ancient history. The year that followed was something new. And it was the same old story.