The Depths of the Sea

[Thoughts shared at an administrative retreat]

Micah 7:2-4; 6c

The faithful are gone from the earth, among men the upright are no more! They all lie in wait to shed blood; each one ensnares the other. Their hands succeed at evil; the prince makes demands, The judge is had for a price, the great man speaks as he pleases, the best of them is like a brier, the most upright like a thorn hedge…a man’s enemies are those of his household.

This gloomy passage of scripture is interesting in light of a couple of things. I think first of all of the entertainment industry and, when you stop to think about it, how closely this description fits a lot of the narratives we consume for entertainment.

How reflective is our entertainment world of the real world?

I never watch the Simpsons, but my wife and I were waiting for a contractor to come by the house and we had a few minutes to kill, so I was looking for the new reality TV show called “On the Lot” about people trying to break in as the newest great film director. And we landed on the Simpsons instead in an episode that featured, of all things, Reality TV. And in the episode, the Simpsons are chosen to be this family that tries to live in 19th Century America. When the show starts, the family is suffering from terrible withdrawals, going through unimaginable suffering as they give up all their contemporary conveniences. The shows ratings are fantastic. But then something unpredicted happens. The family discovers how to live in this world without all its artificial ingredients. They become self-reliant. Their problems iron out. They are at peace.

And the ratings plummet. People hate the show. What it needs, the producers decide, is conflict, betrayal, hatred, bickering and mortal danger. So they throw the house, while the family sleeps, into a raging white-water river. The ratings shoot up again. The Simpsons are then shipwrecked—or housewrecked—in a remote location where they stumble on the survivors of other failed reality television shows, left to rot on some back lot. The survivors and the Simpsons band together to overthrow the cameras and drive the evil voyeuristic producers over a nearby cliff.

Now you wouldn’t think something like the Simpsons would make me think of a quote from GK Chesterton, but it did in this case. Chesterton said that every thing we have in our lives today is something God saved from the devastating wreck of the fall.

And I guess I wonder where we come into this picture. We read the passage in Micah and I think we shudder because we have seen it with our eyes and heard it with our ears. It’s not just a part of Reality TV. We’ve seen the real thing, and I suppose we all want to do something about it.

And the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize something. The Micah 7 world is not actually reality—it’s more like a horror movie created by selfish and fallen people.

I was talking to Nicholas, my 11-year-old son, yesterday, having one of those profound father-son conversations that just succeeded in moving beyond “give me the remote, okay?” or “next time wait until we’re all seated before you start eating.” I was talking to him about stepping up and being a leader, showing responsibility, not hanging back and letting other people make your decisions for you. I told him that it was a lot better to be a part of making something happen than being the one that something happens to because someone else decided it was so.

He said to me, “Dad, what’s this really about?”

And I said, well, it’s really about not getting in trouble at violin camp.

As a dean this last year, a lot of decisions I made were attempts to either save things from a wreck or to avert a wreck entirely. And sometimes it was just an attempt not to get in trouble at dean camp. The thing that struck me most about this job is that it smells so utterly of people and their short or long-term problems. Some days it entails an issue from on high. Sometimes it involves a freshman or a custodian or a parent or a faculty member or, heaven forbid, the loss of a secretary.

And I guess I am most grateful that no matter how bad things seemed to get, it was never as bad as Micah 7. Because we don’t live in that world and we don’t follow those rules. And we don’t have to. I like to think that we acknowledge a different reality—the one God created for us, the one where he says he has prepared things for us to do and people and time for us to redeem. Down in verse 14 of the same chapter, things move from the harsh to the hopeful.

Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock of your inheritance, that dwells apart in a woodland, in the midst of Carmel. Let them feed in Bashan and Gilead, as in the days of old.

That contrasting picture is God’s reality—sometimes it’s hidden from view. But it’s there, foundational to our existence, and it’s our job to bring it to the fore.

My son called me around lunchtime yesterday to announce in trembling voice that he had been named concertmaster of the youth philharmonic. I tried to congratulate him, but he saw it as a minor disaster. He said, “If I do something wrong, everyone else is going to follow me.”

At first I thought how eerie it was that this had come so closely on the heels of our conversation earlier that day. But that was quickly replaced by the thought—boy do I sure know how he feels! Fortunately for us, though, God’s reality is based on grace, not on someone’s arbitrary whim. The last verses of this chapter say it best:

Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance…. You will cast into the depths of the sea all our sins.