Thursday, October 12, 2006

Sword of Damocles

Thursday, October 12, 2006 Observation:

I have a friend whose e-mail name is "Sword of Damocles".  He has studied classical literature and was in a Ph.D. program studying philosophy at Columbia University in New York City for several years.  When I first saw his e-mail name I was intrigued by it, but at the time did not know of its significance.  However, in doing a little research I found out the following regarding the "Sword of Damocles".

Damocles, in classical Greek mythology, was a courtier at the court of Dionysius I. He so persistently praised the power and happiness of Dionysius that the tyrant, in order to show the precariousness of rank and power, gave a banquet and had a sword suspended above the head of Damocles by a single horse hair. Therefore, because of this ancient Greek myth, over the centuries the expression, "the sword of Damocles" has come to mean "an ever-present peril".

I don't think my friend is paranoid necessarily, but why would he choose the "Sword of Damocles" as an e-mail moniker? I must ask him some time.  As I have thought about it though, I believe it is his way of stating a fundamental truth regarding his mortality.  In a sense, we all have the Sword of Damocles dangling over our heads.  My expression for the Sword of Damocles -- "an ever-present peril" -- is "living on the edge".  I have been especially sensitive to the "Sword of Damocles" philosophy while living on life support for 17 years.  I have had numerous brushes with death, all of them convincing me that I indeed am living in "an ever-present peril".  You may think this is a very negative way of looking at life, but I don't think so.  Realizing that I am "living on the edge" and under the dangling "Sword of Damocles" helps me to appreciate and value each good day I am given.  It motivates me to make the best of every day of life I am granted. 

You may not want to believe it, but we are all "living on the edge" and directly under the dangling "Sword of Damocles".  I personally believe it is a healthy thing to realize how fragile life is, but I don't think the Lord wants us to face the present or the future with fear and trembling.  To feel at peace and secure each day of our lives is what living the Gospel should do for us isn't it?

A while back I was speaking on the phone to my good friend, Jim Carter, who lives in Ogden, Utah.  Jim has some health issues at this time in his life, and as we were sharing our medical histories with one another -- a sure sign of old-age -- I said to him, "Jim, when do we get to start living happily ever after?" He laughed and said that sounded like a question for one of my observations.  Well, I suspect that the Lord did not place us on this earth to really ever live "happily ever after".

Elder Boyd K. Packer put it beautifully in comparing the plan of salvation to a three act play.  “There are three parts to the plan. You are in the second or the middle part, the one in which you will be tested by temptation, by trials, perhaps by tragedy … Remember this! The line ‘And they all lived happily ever after’ is never written into the second act [of a play]. That line belongs in the third act, when the mysteries are solved and everything is put right...Until you have a broad perspective of the eternal nature of [the plan], you won’t make much sense out of the inequities in life...When you know the plan and the purpose of it all, even these things will manifest a loving Father in Heaven”. (The Play and the Plan [satellite broadcast, 7 May 1995], 1–2)

And so, really only in fairy tales do princes and princesses live happily ever after.  That is not to say that life is not to be filled with peace, joy, and fulfillment, but that peace, joy, and fulfillment -- fruits of the Spirit -- will come from righteous living, exercising faith in Christ, and being strengthened by Him to deal with the vicissitudes of mortality.

I think we must be careful not to give our children a false impression regarding life.  They need to understand at some point in time that seemingly bad things can come into the lives of everyone.  A careful reading of the parable of the house built on a rock, as opposed to the house built upon the sand, will reveal that the full fury of the storm came to both houses.  Just because one house, or life, was built upon the rock (Christ) did not protect it from the full blast of the wind and rain.  However, because it was built upon Christ, it did not fall! 

The storm sooner or later will come to all of us.  It is not a matter of if, but of when.  However, if our lives are built upon the sure foundation of Christ, "... when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall."  [Helaman 5:12]

Whether we want to believe it or not, living under the dangling "Sword of Damocles" or "On the Edge" is a reality for each one of us.  I think we will have to wait a while, at least until we enter the spirit world, to begin "living happily ever after!"


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