Lucretius, in ancient plangent lines, described the nature of pagan gods. In part he wrote that pagan gods might be described as "far withdrawn from all concerns of ours: free from our pains, free from our perils, strong in resources of their own, needing nothing from us, no favor wins them, no anger moves them."
The pagan gods thus explained are far worse than mere atheism. Atheism can be settled by one or two leading questions, the kind of exploratory jabs a boxer renders in early payment to his opponent in order to ferret out his position, thence to retire to separate corners at the bell, one full of grace, the other filled with gore. The pagan gods of classical mythology and the paganized gods of our day proclaim the total detachment of God from man and of man from God.
The Christian Realist, on the contrary, must contend with a present, active God. The Christian Realist cannot hide behind a facade of randomness. God is not a fan dancer, teasing with one hand to attract attention what He/She suddenly hides, then, with a swift gesture of the other hand, all accompanied by a coy smile. No, if God is God of the good times, God must be God of the Haitian earthquake, the sagging world economy and the California mudslides.
If philosophy starts without God, it continues without mercy. If philosophy stops at God, man is never asked to think, or grow. Apparently, then, the position of the Christian Realist ought to be this; God and man proceed together, as companions, one directing, the other discerning, through the physical tragedies and the philosophical puzzles of life.
Which takes us to the contemplative reality of any and all damaged entities; Haiti, Baghdad, California, you, me, New Orleans. When is enough enough, already?
There is never enough when it is your child under the rubble. You will dig until your fingers bleed.
So, we are not talking about the limits of our purse but, rather, the limits of familial love.
The atheist can argue for humane action but he cannot define it. He simply argues we have to try because something in us demands we try. He hopes that, in the trying, we will find meaning, or, at least fill the hours of our days with trying. He can appeal to enlightened self-interest, or to romance, but he cannot finally appeal to an eternal source of objective truth and good.
The pagan cannot arouse god, nor hope to join god. He must hope that god will somehow see an advantage to mercy but any possible clemency from the pagan gods comes incidentally, periodically and usually at some expense.
The Christian Realist proceeds by faith, through grace, and he is usually not very good at it. He serves because he is converted but he is not quite comfortable yet with his conversion. He falters as often as he strides purposefully. He continues to proceed with his God because grace is lavished on him. He comes to believe his God is just better than him, and so humility must order his days.
The Christian Realist is encumbered with an active, present God, who claims to care. In addition, the Christian Realist carries about expectations of Messiah, who rules with power but whose powerful rule is imaginative, for it combines real justice with active mercy. In so ruling, Messiah demonstrates the purpose of history is more than a natural, random series of events in the same way that history, as conflict, is other than the triumph of our side over their side. Messianic history demonstrates this; the meaningful conflict in human history is the triumph of good over evil. Evil must be opposed and good must be championed.
So, the Christian Realist believes he must go on with God, wherever God goes, working hard to discern how God directs history. He cannot afford intellectual laziness or moral dispassion. He cannot take a side. He dare not let someone else think for him. He is stuck with an active, present, living God with high expectations.
The One, True God is present and active. God is a builder and a rebuilder. However, God is not satisfied just with putting things back. Apparently, God is not intent on putting things back as they were or in settling on limits about how things are. God rebuilds, puts back and when He/She rebuilds, the object of reconstruction is not a slavish imitation of what once we know. God is going somewhere. God builds well and rebuilds even better.
So, the Christian Realist proclaims the advantage of empathy. Empathy, some would say, is emotional literacy. An empathetic person is a person grounded in his/her own feelings and so able to understand the emotional needs of others. The empath acts out of security and is more likely to be serene than neurotic. God is the Ultimate Empath, so naturally His/Her people will act altruistically. We will rebuild Haiti and California and New Orleans and you and me. We will put them back in better shape than we found them. We ought to build wisely, constructing communities that are sustainable, ecologically sound, energy producing havens. We do not have to make the same old mistakes. We do have to love.
The Next Decade in America will test our ability to maintain domestic tranquility and international leadership. We will be a decade digging out of the economic mess of the last two years and there is no real guarantee we can accomplish this feat. The burden will fall on the American middle class, which may virtually disappear in the next decade. The lax economic regulation of the last decade, combined with the unthinking egalitarianism of its predecessor, may doom us to perpetual decline if we are not as wise as we are kind. We cannot regulate many more people out of their homes and livelihoods. The only thing left is Debtor's Prison and it is on the way. The Christian Realist does not wish to walk down that road. We need to find a less cliched, better constructed path to restoration.
Opinions expressed here are my own, not those of the church I serve or any othe person.