In April 2022 France was in the middle of an election campaign, and if one of the topics was at the heart of the discussions, it was also possible enrich it with a more theological reflection. That is what Richard Bennahmias proposed with his commentary on the concepts of justice, prosperity and well-being.
the future of an ancient illusion
(Ps 72 and Eph 3:1-6)
Justice, prosperity, well-being for all: in the middle of the last century, these values were embodied in what is known by the crypto-theological term « Welfare State ». Since then, our governments of all stripes have more or less tried to convince us that entrusting the State with the mission of ensuring the well-being of the people was a noxious illusion. Of this illusion Psalm 72 offers nearly the perfect paradigm.
The ideal vocation of the Prince and his power
Like other psalms, Psalm 72 associates justice, prosperity and the common good with the exercise of power. It is attributed to King David and King Solomon, whose figures, beyond historical reality, symbolise the vocation of politics and of those who have the power to act within it.
Like other psalms, it places cosmic harmony, whose maintenance God guarantees, in close coherence with respect for justice and law and with the achievement of prosperity and general well-being. This reign, in which « God’s wisdom and eternal plan » are made manifest, is above all the object of the psalmist’s wonder, but it is also an appeal addressed to power to strive for it in practice.
As in the prophetic tradition, the psalmist makes the durability of the harmony God has planned for the political and social spheres depend on the fate of « those who are nothing ». It is only a short step from wonder to criticism: « You can do it and you don’t, when you don’t do the opposite!”
The patient subversion of God’s power
We find the same coherence between cosmic harmony and the exercise of power when Paul tries to drive home that Jesus is the one in whom God, the Creator and Saviour, fulfils his wisdom and his eternal plan. There is nothing mysterious about the « mystery » of which he speaks: in his personal history as in ours, in that of our humanity and of the universe, Easter is the point in space-time when God’s creative dynamism definitively reverses our world’s tendency towards collapse and decline.
A decisive moment in the Paschal drama, the Cross is the initial act from which everything is ordered and developed. There, the common myth of the hero who commits himself to the point of exhaustion in order to open a breach in destiny is fulfilled, realised and embodied.
On the cross, God’s wisdom and eternal plan are not fulfilled by an ultimate outburst of violence, but by the patient absorption of violence. The reign of God, with its promises of justice, prosperity and well-being, does not replace by force a world that is still falling and ending, but coexists with it. In a patient and discreet subversion, it gradually develops its creative, saving dynamism.
What the ancient illusion has produced, produces and will produce in the future
Science has taught us that the universe is a machine indifferent to our desires for justice, prosperity and well-being. It may even be that its advances are leading us to catastrophe. In these conditions, is the drama of the Passion, the Cross and the Resurrection no more than an old wives’ tale to be buried in the cemetery of lost illusions?
And yet, subject only to the forces of entropy, decay, wear and tear or ageing, the universe should have returned to chaos or nothingness long ago. It would not even have had the opportunity to escape.
What prevents our world from collapsing, sustains it and presides over its evolution, is an initial surge of generosity that is constantly renewed, always breaking through the limits of exhaustion to bring about the good, the beautiful and the just. The ancient illusion has never ceased to operate through those women and men who persevere in embodying it in politics and concern themselves with the fate of « those who are nothing ». From the outset and forever it lies ahead.
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