And he gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul. (Psalm 106:15)
The phrase “leanness into their soul” stood out to me because it seems an appropriate description of the society I see around me. In America, we have more prosperity and less leisure time with which to enjoy it. We have more channels with less worth watching. We have more methods of communication and seemingly less to say.
We have more medications, faster cars, more information than we can process, better climate control, large houses with perfectly manicured lawns and options for endless activity (think weekends revolving around sports travel teams). But with all this, there is often a sense that something is missing.
Near the end of his life British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge had this to say:
We look back upon history and what do we see?
Empires rising and falling, revolutions and counterrevolutions, wealth accumulating and and then disbursed, one nation dominant and then another. Shakespeare speaks of the “rise and fall of great ones that ebb and flow with the moon.”
In one lifetime I have seen my own countrymen ruling over a quarter of the world, the great majority of them convinced, in the words of what is still a favorite song, that “God who’s made them mighty would make them mightier yet.”
I’ve heard a crazed, cracked Austrian proclaim to the world the establishment of a German Reich that would last for a thousand years; an Italian clown announce he would restart the calendar to begin with his own assumption of power; a murderous Georgian brigand in the Kremlin acclaimed by the intellectual elite of the western world as wiser than Solomon, more enlightened than Asoka, more humane than Marcus Aurelius.
I’ve seen America wealthier and in terms of military weaponry more powerful than all the rest of the world put together, so that Americans, had they so wished, could have outdone an Alexander or a Julius Caesar in the range and scale of their conquests.
All in one little lifetime. All gone with the wind.
England now part of an island off the coast of Europe and threatened with dismemberment and even bankruptcy.
Hitler and Mussolini dead and remembered only in infamy.
Stalin a forbidden name in the regime he helped to found and dominate for some three decades.
America haunted by fears of running out of the precious fluid that keeps the motorways roaring and the smog settling, with troubled memories of a disastrous campaign in Vietnam and of the great victories of the Don Quixotes of the media when they charged the windmills of Watergate. All in one lifetime, all in one lifetime, all gone. Gone with the wind.
You might be tempted to dismiss Muggeridge’s comments as the negativity of a curmudgeon, but I think that deep down people feel the truth of these statements. We have experienced leanness of soul.
God allows us to experience prosperity so that when we find that it does not satisfy, we can then seek Him. Like the prodigal, when we come to an end of ourselves and what we can accomplish, then perhaps we will find God waiting at the crossroad for us to return.
There is a cure for this leanness. It involves a cross. Jesus experienced crucifixion so that we can be established in relationship with God. Jesus also tells us that we have our own cross which must be daily taken up. Our cross brings an end to self-actualization and self-fulfillment.
It is when we come to the end of self, that we begin to discover purpose and fulfillment in life, the opposite of leanness.
This is my hope, I have no other.