Tuesday, 2 November 2010


Dad was always one for the occasional flutter with the horses. What better time than that year, never to be forgotten, when he had every reason to flutter -when he became the father of us twins -Isidore and me.

Happy chance or a sign from heaven that there was a horse running in the Epsom Derby named "April the Fifth"...the very date of our birth! With twins to cope with he sure needed a win, a consolation prize -and win he got.

And while I'm on the subject of chancy enterprises I must tell you about a friend of mine who used to fill in her Football Pools while enthroned in a private room. One blessed day her random crosses on the grid yielded her a 'big win!' I have to tell you she was a person of exceptional piety.

My appetite is for something more spiced with a challenge -those games that are a battle of wits in which you need to weigh up your opponent -his strengths and weakness. To all this add a tincture of good fortune...that he'll have a momentary lapse in concentration and make a foolish mistake. Then exploit the slightest advantage to the full.

With such frisson of excitement I target all my craftiness against Isidore when we square up for a game of chess! I try to thwart him by setting traps, calling his bluff and by making seemingly careless moves that turn out to be match-winning sacrifices. "Fooled you this time, Isidore! Check-mate!" Wily fellow that he is, he is quite capable of out-maneuvering and surpassing me in cunning and foresight.

How can I not mention the time my student master challenged me to a game of chess? Here was a logician of world renown with a razor-sharp, quick-silver mind. For pedestrian mortals like me the only effective winning strategy was to take time in brooding over my next move, so as to get him frustrated with impatience. And then I would shift a piece in a way that seemed utterly illogical...foolhardy. His logic couldn't cope with my nonsense!

Eagerly, with an incisive killer instinct, he swooped down to make dull-headed me pay for my stupidity. Unhappy the impetuous mouse that espies the cheese but is blind to the trap to which it is pegged!

Now to more serious business...the nitty-gritty of life. At best I can only make an informed guess as to what the future holds for me; and then make sensible provision that will enable me to cope. I'm far from being in control. I'm just not able to bring about what I most desire and prevent what I most fear.

In this life of uncertainty the only thing is 'contingency planning.' For me, a one-time smart Boy-Scout, this would require I go to camp with band-aids and antiseptic ointments in case I cut myself. It would never cross my mind to carry a surgical collar on the off-chance that I might strain my neck!

Second guessing Isidore at chess and shielding myself against the normal hazards of camping have never been a big deal. However, no way would I presume to second-guess God. I shall never be able to spring any surprises on God, nor call His bluff. Never, never, will I or anyone else, be able to out-wit Yahweh-God and gleefully exclaim, "Check-mate!"

Not even the death of the fledgling sparrow, falling from its nest, escapes his notice, nor does the solitary hair that strives to break the surface of my bald pate. Never will I be able to force His hand, nor limit His options as to how He should act.

And yet I scream with all my humanity that I am a free person. God, my creator, has made me so. I have the freedom to choose what is good behaviour and to reject what is evil. Or I can decide to do exactly the opposite.

I'm in a quandary. How can I balance what I believe about myself as being a free agent with what I believe about God, Who is the sovereign Lord of me and of all creation?

I align myself with the bewildered, subdued, reflective Job:
"Job replied to Yahweh, 'My words have been frivolous: what can I reply? I had better lay my hand over my mouth. I have spoken once, I shall not speak again; I have spoken twice, I have nothing more to say," (Job 40. 3).

This is no 'cop-out.' It's mywaygodsway for me to relate to God. When He and I face each other across the chess-board of life...I am transparent to God and He is inscrutable to me! I like it that way. I don't think I ever want to check-mate God! The consequences don't bear thinking about.

Peter O.P.
Next week Peter will make a seasonal reflection on 'Fantastic Optimism.'

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