In Praise of Powerlessness

My situation in life can be described in the words of the old children’s hymn written by Susan B. Werner and published in 1868: “Jesus bids us shine with a clear, pure light, like a little candle burning in the night; in this world of darkness, we must shine, you in your small corner, and I in mine.” That is, I live in my small little corner of the world, as you do in yours.

While in my little corner, however, I have access to the internet. That means that I can look far afield and find out what is happening in other little corners.  And I can learn a great deal about what is happening elsewhere as a result. All of this learning can give me the impression that I now know “The Big Picture,” that I am in fact the fountain and source of all wisdom, that I can have an opinion about pretty much everything and pontificate about how everyone can fix their problems.

But in reality, the impression that I have “The Big Picture” would be erroneous, since I am like the blind man in the story of the elephant. You probably recall the parable: there were several blind men, each standing beside an elephant. One blind man felt the elephant’s leg and concluded that an elephant was like a tree. Another blind man felt the elephant’s tail and concluded that an elephant was like a snake. You get the idea—because each blind man could only experience one part of the elephant, his conclusion was flawed because his experience was partial. His experience was true as far as it went, but needed to be supplemented by the different experiences of other blind men before it could be of any use. My internet research gives me access to facts and opinions, but these are only partial. To be of any real use, they would need to be supplemented by all the other facts and opinions of all of the other people involved. My research on the internet, interesting as they are, cannot in fact supply me with “The Big Picture.”

This is means, sad to relate, that I in fact am not in a position to pontificate or fix everyone’s problems. This does not mean that I cannot do anything. As the child’s hymn reminds me, I can still “shine with a clear, pure light.”  And part of this shining involves praying for all the problems I read about on the internet.  Of course this is not as much fun as blogging and pontificating and wading into internet forums to offer my tremendously valuable wisdom. But given the partial nature of my wisdom, it is likely to be the more valuable contribution.

In short, part of my “shining with a clear pure light” involves accepting my own powerlessness. I cannot really fix great problems by my words because I lack the wisdom to do so. I can add my voice and make my little contribution to ongoing debates which concern me (assuming that they really do concern me), but I must do so realizing that I lack “The Big Picture.” At the end of the day, I remain confined to my small corner, as you do to yours. But that is okay, and the realization of it can be liberating. For on the Last Day, the Lord will not demand of me why I did not weigh in on every single debate and fix His world, but rather on how clearly I shone, and how fervently I prayed.