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Of cabbages and kings

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Psalm 97:1-6
The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad;
let the distant shores rejoice.
Clouds and thick darkness surround him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
Fire goes before him and consumes his foes on every side.
His lightning lights up the world; the earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,
before the Lord of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim his righteousness,
and all the peoples see his glory.

Peter Jackson might have read this as he conceived fog-shrouded, demon-inhabited Skull Island, home of undead dinosaurs and the mighty, emotional, awe-inspiring Kong. Darkness, lightning and fear go before him. And from atop the world, Kong surveys all the sea and sky, master of all he can see.

Not master, not really. When he surrenders his power and becomes vulnerable to something stronger - to beauty - then bad things happen, and he is eventually destroyed. Not by the beauty, but by others who do not surrender their power. Kong climbs as high as he can, even to the brim of the world, but then there is nowhere else to go. Fly, he can not.

As my son Marc reminded me, this was not an adventure story any more than it was a tragedy. Tragedy (Greek root words for "goat" and "sing") depicts inevitable destruction brought about by conflict between an individual out of control, with a higher power in control - the law, society, the gods, fate. The more powerful he is, the more ruin he can come to. The tragic "hero" falls from king to scapegoat, and in frantic ecstasy we heap all our own pain and sin on his head. Pushed out of the city gates, he must leave safety and civilization for danger and eventual death in the wilderness.

Classic tragic form calls its audience into catharsis - a healing, emotional cleansing - as we identify with the main character's powerlessness. Of course we blame him too, and heap our own indignities on him, but we ARE him at the same time. And thus we are broken along with him, and cast out with him.

Must we die with him? Psalm 97 challenges the tragic end: "The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice."

Oh, I am full of sin, yes, and I gaze with horror into the face of death. But ... "the Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice."

I am cast out and wander in the wilderness, eyes plucked by wild birds, lost without water or food. But ... "the Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice."

I am finally powerless and empty, my body without resource or reserve. But ... "the Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice."

Death shall have no dominion.

Lord, you give us glimpses of the world as You made it, even as we live in the one we have created. Satan is no longer ruler here. You have come. Praise the Lord.

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