Already an overused buzzword, unprecedented is a convenient adjective that we might use to describe some action or event that we think has never occurred. By its use, we admit our lack of knowledge about X or Y – or the individuals responsible for X or Y. “How could I have known about X or Y,” we might ask. “This hasn’t ever happened.”
Hold on, though. Most of us have likely lived through countless, memorable incidents or turmoil in our personal and societal history. Because we’re part of God’s precedent-setting role in history, we’ve been here before!
That’s why I’m not willing to yield to the temptation that what’s wrong—about current political machinations, societal trends or technological idolatry—has no basis in the past. Sure, I might not be experiencing today an exact duplicate of some previous attitude, action, thought process or groundswell. But I know that what’s happening now probably echoes what’s happened in the past. Down-deep, I recognize these recurring phenomena.
Beyond my flabbergasted hand-wringing, there’s a bit of precedent staring out at me from my history as one of God’s people. Scripture is consistent: Evil people and evil deeds have troubled the world for eons. Selfishness, greed and vengeance have always guided the decisions of some people. See Ecclesiastes 1:9 (CEV) again: “Everything that happens has happened before; nothing is new, nothing under the sun.” And yes, self-sacrifice, generosity and forgiveness have also remained sturdy evidence of God’s presence in my life!
I can’t use imagined ignorance—unprecedentedness (?)—as an excuse for my inaction, or as absolution for my personal inattention. I have a place in God’s history, and I’m called to recall how God’s fiercely loving presence continues.
As precedent for what comes next….
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