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Illustration by Krieg Barrie

Songs on the Titanic

Let's humble ourselves as Wall Street flounders

Issue: "Bleeding economy," Oct. 18, 2008

These are tough days for writers. Suddenly all the things you thought of writing about-health insurance reform, failing schools, the election, whether Ryan Howard or Brad Lidge should be the National League MVP-seem unimportant. The Top 40 radio hits sound like Wallace Hartley's orchestra playing "Alexander's Ragtime Band" the last hour of the Titanic's ride. The Old Testament prophets of doom seem the only sensible men.

When I was in the hospital getting my suspicious heart checked out, two doctors found a lump in my left breast and said I should look into it. (Could be a cyst, of course.) But it doesn't seem to matter as much as before what the diagnosis will be. Wall Street's panic has leveled the playing field. Healthy people are no better off than sick people, nor young people than old ones.

One of my guilty pleasures before September 11th (the one in 2001, not the new September 11th that is September 19, 2008) was reading Joel Stein in Time magazine. But he quietly disappeared after the towers fell and his brand of humor and self-absorption were suddenly embarrassing. I understand he resurfaced in California, and that's because people's attention span for their own doom is short, as Moses' Pharaoh comically proved.

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I read an old book recently. Old feels like anything before the subprime mortgage collapse. It's titled America's Last Call: On the Brink of a Financial Holocaust, and it's by David Wilkerson. Now if it were by George Soros you would pay attention. But all this guy Wilkerson has is a bunch of mad Old Testament prophets to back him up. (He also started Teen Challenge and saved a lot of people.)

"The saying among Wall Streeters, businesspeople, and politicians is, 'Give me a golden parachute!' In other words: 'Make a killing-and then head for the hills!' . . . They know America can no longer carry out its suicidal economic policies without crashing. . . . They may be partying, but they're also preparing" (Wilkerson, 1998).

Whether or not you care for end-times prophecy, it's true that God gave us prophecies-and isn't it so that we would examine them and take them to heart? In The World's Last Night and Other Essays, C.S. Lewis asked why "the modern Christian and even the modern theologian may hesitate to give to the doctrine of Christ's Second Coming that emphasis which was usually laid on it by our ancestors." His answer: "We keep on assuming that we know the play. We do not even know whether we are in Act I or Act V."

Jesus commands an Act V mentality: "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour" (Matthew 25:13).

"I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things" (Isaiah 45:7). Not much guesswork here. We start with the proposition that God has brought this economic disaster; we don't argue our way to it. Now the only question to settle is-why? To punish our wickedness? To test and perfect our righteousness? We live in a broken world, and this is part of the brokenness?

I don't think we should count too much on Sarah Palin to save us, though she is a good woman. Josiah was a good king, one of the few in Judah's history. He instituted reform in Israel. But it didn't run deep, and disaster was merely postponed.

Still, postponing is pretty good, and we have something to do with that happening. About a year ago Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue called for a day of prayer to beg God for rain. Folks showed up and I understand they got drenched soon thereafter. My church in Pennsylvania is one of many in the nation praying for Revival.

"If My people who are called by My name humble themselves, and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14).

The newspapers reporting the sinking of the Titanic said the very last song Wallace Hartley's orchestra played was "Nearer, My God, to Thee." That's the idea.

If you have a question or comment for Andrée Seu, send it to aseu@worldmag.com.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.

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