Thought for the Day - Rt Rev Lord Harries of Pentregarth

Good morning.
Apparently 4 million people in the UK play golf once a year.. And a good many will be following the Masters at Augusta on TV in the next few days. Although the field is wide open now that Tiger Woods has lost his aura, following his traumatic fall from grace and loss of form, he himself has not given up on himself. As he said “I believe in myself. There’s nothing wrong with believing in yourself”. It’s a remark that has haunted me for the last two days. Should we believe in ourselves? It is of course a quintessentially American attitude, expressing one of their great strengths as a “Can do” society; an approach to life which has its roots in the Pilgrim Fathers who asked only for freedom to shape their own lives in their own way, especially their own understanding of Christianity.

And there is something wonderfully positive about this desire to succeed- in believing that we have some gift or talent, however humble, that we want to express and develop to the full. It is particularly courageous in those who have known failure. But then I start to have major misgivings. All through the 19th century Western Europe passionately believed in itself. It thought that as a result of the industrial revolution and more enlightened attitudes progress was inevitable. Then that hope was smashed to smithereens in the trenches of the First World War. Few today looking at the world as a whole can share that 19th century optimism. I strongly believe there can be real gains in making life more humane and better for all, and we must work for them. But every scientific and social gain carries within it the capacity for its own catastrophe, of which the advent of nuclear power is only the most dramatic example.

Its not surprising therefore that the Bible continually reminds us of the tragic dimension to human life. We are taught precisely not to believe in ourselves, but to be constantly alert to our frailty, folly and capacity for deliberate wrong doing. Especially it warns us against hubris. That’s why in the Lord’s prayer we are taught to pray “Lead us not into temptation”, or as the original Greek is more accurately translated, “Do not bring us to the time of trial”, or “Do not test us to the limit.” The plain fact is that we are not moral heroes. In that sense I do not believe in myself. To keep on the fair way of living and stay the human course we need all the help we can get, from wherever it can be found.

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