That Which is, Has Been

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you…

Rudyard Kipling, “If”

Does it seem like the world is going crazy?

In 1895 Rudyard Kipling penned one of his most famous pieces, “If”. Every line of that poem is gold. But the opening two lines struck me this evening and I began to wonder what the world was like when he expressed those thoughts.

Here is a snapshot of the world in 1895:

Political and Celebrity Scandals January 5 – French officer Alfred Dreyfus is stripped of his army rank, and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island.

International and Civil Wars
– January 13 – First Italo-Ethiopian War – Battle of Coatit: Italian forces defeat the Ethiopians.
– February 25 – The first rebellions take place, marking the start of the Cuban War of Independence.
– March 4 – Japanese troops capture Liaoyang, and land in Taiwan.
– June 11 – Britain annexes Tongaland, between Zululand and Mozambique.
– July 31: Sabino Arana founds the Basque Nationalist Party
– December Ottoman troops burn 3,000 Armenians alive in Urfa

Climate Change/Renewable Energy
– February 11 – The lowest ever UK temperature of −27.2 °C (−17.0 °F) is recorded at Braemar, in Aberdeenshire. This record is equalled in 1982, and again in 1995.
– December 11 – Svante Arrhenius becomes the first scientist to deliver quantified data about the sensitivity of global climate to atmospheric carbon dioxide (the “Greenhouse effect”)
– The Duck Reach Power Station opens in Tasmania (the first publicly owned hydroelectric plant in the Southern Hemisphere).

Economic Uncertainty
February 20 – The gold reserve of the U.S. Treasury is saved, when J. P. Morgan and the Rothschilds loan $65 million worth of gold to the United States government.

Conspiracy Theories/Aliens/Area 51
March 15 – Bridget Cleary is killed and her body burned in County Tipperary, Ireland, by her husband, Michael; he is subsequently convicted and imprisoned for manslaughter, his defense being a belief that he had killed a changeling left in his wife’s place after she had been abducted by fairies.

Scientific Advancements/Travel
– March 30 – Rudolf Diesel patents the Diesel engine in Germany.
– November 8 – Wilhelm Röntgen discovers a type of radiation (X-rays).
Konstantin Tsiolkovsky proposes a space elevator.

Natural/National Disasters
– April 14 – A major earthquake severely damages Ljubljana, the capital of Carniola.
– October 22 – Montparnasse derailment: A train runs through the exterior wall of the Gare Montparnasse terminus, in Paris.

Civil Unrest
– May 2 – Gongche Shangshu movement: Thousands of Beijing scholars and citizens protest against the Treaty of Shimonoseki.

Equality Firsts
– Grace Chisholm Young becomes the first woman awarded a doctorate
– W. E. B. Du Bois becomes the first African American to receive a Ph.D.

Sound familiar? Each of these categories could have multiple events, and when surrounding years are included, the picture becomes even more striking.

The world then seems very much like the world today.

I can imagine Kipling taking in the world around him and sitting down to write those words, ” If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…”

We may feel like the world is spinning out of control like never before, but then a few minutes glancing at history makes things seem not so unusual.

The Preacher in Ecclesiastes put it this way:

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. 10 Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.

Ecclesiastes 1:9-10

The world around us may well seem to be losing their heads, and blaming us. But by God’s grace, we can keep ours, but I believe we can only do so by keeping our eyes on God and the eternal things.

When we focus on the here and now we get caught up in the fears and excitements of wars, civil unrest, natural disasters, manmade catastrophes, scientific advancements, climate extremes, and so on.

When we focus on those things, not all of which are inherently wrong, we take our eyes off the goal – glorifying God and sharing the Gospel.

The right perspective on current events, history, and the course in which history is moving is vital to the believer.

The right perspective,

  1. Keeps our eyes on God and His work in the world
  2. Gives us the courage we need to live with principle and integrity
  3. Prevents the fear of uncertainty and or being out of control
  4. Provides confidence that there is a purpose in the world and our place in it
  5. Enables us to live deliberately, not reactively
  6. Let’s us keep our heads when all around are losing their’s

With the Preacher in Ecclesiastes, may we conclude that,

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.

Ecclesiastes 12:13

And here is the remainder of Kipling’s poem, I encourage you to give it some thought:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

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