There are human debts we all pay. We read about the crass nature of human life, inevitably, about how all humans feed, fight, flee and (this is a family friendly site) reproduce. We read and hear about these four F’s as if they are the sum total of human existence. One might think all of human existence can be explained by recourse either to the reptilian brain, developed by our ancestors as answer to the warm blooded weaknesses that mark our species.
I suppose it it natural to want Someone to explain life to us. If not life, then God or History or Philosophy or, most lately, Science, can take an accurate picture of us, inside and out and show it to us so we may clearly understand ourselves, if not our course. Sadly, this “picture” is often developed to show a double negative image. Altruism is actually selfishness. Good deeds are those we do for ourselves, to make us feel we are “good people” and so live above the rest of the pack of humans.
We know, of course, as certainly as we can know anything, that altruism is necessary for the survival of the species. For every Hitler there must be at least one Churchill, for every Napoleon at least a Wellington and a Pitt, be he the Younger or the Older.
My rabbi friend Jeffrey L. says the Messiah is a role, not a person. He believes there are many, many Messiahs in every generation and they are indispensable to human survival. He also believes there are many more Satan’s (Enemies of Mankind) in the world in each generation. A person may act as a Satan in one phase of his compartmentalized existence, and then emerge to be a Messiah, showing complete conversion. His human debts, owing to conversion, include guilt and fear. He must pay them to leave his larval stage, to metamorphose into someone good and decent, a Savior of sorts. The more refined Messiahs, perfected by obedience, are able to love, serve, find their center in others and utterly give of themselves to persons above and below the Messiah’s own social standing. A refined Messiah is like Jesus, the Messiah, who could heal a leper in the morning and dine with Pharisee that evening.
So, a Messiah, an agent for change and good may be a slaver and then a servant. The fellow who wrote “Amazing Grace” comes to mind. He was a slaver as a young boy but rebelled against his work with the Satans as a Satan and evangelized himself to become a tireless penitent.
I am less imaginative than my rabbi friend. I see one Messiah, Jesus the Christian Christ, whom I worship exclusively.
I also cannot imagine hundreds of Satans, only hundreds or thousands of his misguided converts. So I have one Messiah and One Satan and a lot of humanity trying to make up its mind. In this durable conflict between Good and Evil, there are human debts we all owe. The quality of our existence is, perhaps (I qualify all things now, not for nuancing only but to allow for grace and so, conversion) will be determined by our ready payment of the common human debts; Pain, Love, Joy and Death, here arranged in a little battalion of four must be buttressed with a fifth, Courage. I think Courage is equal parts faith and imagination. We do not benefit just because we know what is Good, we must assimilate Good and act upon it. The knowledge of Good is faith, while the action to do Good is Courage.
Grace, an active agent (The Active Agent of Divine Redemption?) needs Faith, mixed with an equal dose of Courage to be salvific. Courage to assimilate and act on grace by faith is required for a prophetic word to be uttered. We see less of the prophet today than ever, I think, not because there is less of God available but because we lack Courage. Courage is the coin of the realm, able to assuage all the other human debts. But we lack Courage. We scarcely remember what it looks like when we see it now.