Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Ecclesiastes and air travel

Flying to a distant city is an experience that affirms the observations of the Preacher in the book of Ecclesiastes. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.

This person here is a millionaire; he owns more and makes more than 98% of Americans, which means more than 99.9% of human beings. But look, from way up here you can barely see his house. In fact, if that house were bulldozed into dust, together with all his possessions, you couldn't detect a change in the landscape at all. The dust would barely reach the end of his street. He is part of a barely perceptible layer adherent to the great sphere of the earth, a film that could be scraped off with a fingernail. From here in the sky, not even very high up, I can look over the habitats of literally millions of his fellow creatures, his great cities merely a sort of excrescence, a scab upon the curve of the earth below. The smallness of his life, of his influence, is appalling. Truly man is dust, he is of yesterday and knows nothing.

I land in San Francisco. I make no difference whatsoever. Not one person in the city cares where I am from, who I am, what I do. I could be murdered in the Tenderloin and the city would grind on without a twitch, without a thought for my demise, because, truly, I mean nothing to it, I am completely inconsequential. I am not even visible from passing airplanes.

Considered from a viewpoint of a cruising 757, "under the sun", between the heavens and the earth, we are individually nothing, and even collectively, one senses that we could all die from plague and the earth would go on, the mountains would remain covered with snow, the desert foxes would hunt their prey, we would not be missed by this planet that is so huge, upon which we are such an insignificant smear. Yet our God knows each of us. It is a measure of the smallness of our minds that we work it backwards; we appreciate how small we are by contemplation of the size of the earth and its population. We do not think, because we cannot comprehend, how large God is to know, utterly, each one of those billions of souls as if she alone existed, to know each one better than I know my wife and children. What is man that thou considerest him? A smear on the earth, thinner than the the smear of mold on a tomato, yet each one a real person in God's eyes, known by Him. Let us enjoy our work under the sun, for that is God's gift to man. Let us not think it is particularly important in the grand scheme of things, or that we understand our place and the meaning of our lives. We do not. Yet that knowledge is not required of us; all that is required is that we remember God, that we attend to the relationship that makes us human and makes us significant apart from our miniscule effect upon the planet. We are known by the only knower that matters.

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