I Cannot Find Rest Because I Am Powerless To Amend A Broken World

This three line fragment of a poem appears in at least two of the novels by Guy Gavriel Kay:

…I cannot find rest
Because I am powerless
To amend a broken world.

The first time this poem appears it is part of the reflections of a T’ang era poet on the brokenness of his own time at the beginnings of the An Lushan revolt, which ended up killing tens of millions of Chinese and leading to the sack of China’s two largest cities in northern China at this time.  In the second novel the poem appears, it is remembered by someone who has survived the catastrophe that led to the destruction of the Northern Song dynasty in the face of the Jurchen invasion.  In both cases massive catastrophe on a civilizational level was involved in the invocation of these lines.  Should we wonder that we do not have the power to amend a broken world?  We do not have the power to amend our own broken selves, so how could we fancy that we have the power to fix the world around us that is so broken?  Why would we even think that we would have such power?

Who are the people who are not rest because they cannot fix a broken world?  Such people are not hard to see around us.  Most of them are young and blind to their own brokenness and of the belief that with youthful energy they will be able to solve the problems that have bedeviled humanity from time immemorial.  If we are unlucky, such people will create more evil and brokenness in the world in their energetic progressiveness.  In seeking to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth they will turn the earth into hell.  Such types were the passionate revolutionaries of 1789 France, of 1917’s Russian Revolutions, of 1979 Tehran overthrow of the Shah, of 2011’s Arab Spring, and so on and so forth.  Those who think that only reactionary forces are standing in the way between foolish idealists and the salvation of the world or some corner of it will not hesitate to consign many millions and tens of millions of people to death and imprisonment to achieve their aims, and will turn on each other when the sacrifice of blood demanded from their false gods ends up leading somewhere other than the millennial paradise they promised to themselves and others.  Indeed, those who wish to fix the broken world the most only end up breaking the world even more through their error and folly.

And so it is for most of us.  How is it that the world came to be broken in the first place?  It was broken through the blunders and errors of people in the absence of correct information, in the rejection of correct information that was provided in favor of the delusions of one’s imaginations and hopes (and fears).  The world has been broken through careless words and deeds, casual hatred and prejudice, the objectification of people for the gratification of our own lusts and desires, as if others did not matter except for our amusement or satisfaction.  It has been broken as a result of the consequences of our own sins and those of others.  It has been broken by the sins of our fathers and mothers, by the sins of our children, of the sins of our husbands and wives and boyfriends and girlfriends and by our own sins, as well as the sins of more distant relatives and friends and acquaintances and coworkers and bosses and subordinates and strangers and enemies.

When we are faced with the brokenness of the world within us and without us, we are faced with various choices.  Do we seek to fix the brokenness within us first?  If we try this, we will find that it quickly overwhelms our efforts, and requires divine aid to make even the smallest lasting changes to our nature.  If we seek to fix the brokenness in the outside world, we will quickly find ourselves dealing with the enmity that results from a resistance to change coerced from outside that can be found burning in the heart of every human being that has ever been or ever will be.  To fix the outside world and those in it requires the sort of coercive power that makes a hell on earth and that leads to yet more brokenness than existed in the first place.  And whether we are killed by angry mobs or the despair over being unable to fix this broken world that we have inherited and that we have broken still further through our error and folly, we will find that we are unable to leave the world behind us a substantially less broken world than the one we picked up in our unworthy hands from those who came before us.

What then is our task?  What can we do to arrest the progressive breaking down of the world around us if it is not within our power to repair and fix what has been broken?  We can tend our gardens, be a good example of the right way to be for those who see us, so that others may be encouraged and inspired to follow our example if they share such a desire.  We can gently teach through word and deed, raise up godly and decent children, make good friendships with decent and honorable people, have loving and happy marriages, do the best job we can with the times and situations that we are faced with, and hope for a positive verdict in the memory of loved ones who will live on after us and, if we are conspicuous enough in how we have lived, in the verdict of history, and whether we are great or small, in the verdict of God.  Perhaps this is not as glamorous as we would like.  At best we can be the unworthy bearers of God’s grace to a broken world whose example can be seen and imitated by only a small and obscure corner of a great big world.  But that is what we can do, and God willing, if enough people are able to do this necessary task well, it will be enough.  To do more requires the establishment of God’s kingdom on this earth, and for that we fervently pray.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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