Hannah Arendt is among the most influential thinkers of the last century (and whose thoughts continue to speak into current world events/politics), yet you may have never heard of her. You may, however, be familiar with a phrase she coined that entered our popular lexicon: “the banality of evil.” This phrase was among her concluding remarks on the famous trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1963 and became the title of her book on the trial.
Among Arendt’s most influential works is a book called The Human Condition.
The book was published in 1958, and Arendt opens with the following words, “In 1957, an earth-born object made by man was launched into the universe …”. She notes that this event “second in importance to no other” was not met with joy, but relief. Relief about the first “step towards escape from men’s imprisonment to the earth”. She is, of course, speaking about the launch of Sputnik 1 on 4th October 1957, by the USSR from Kazakhstan.
The Human Condition
She notes the launch of Sputnik 1 not because her focus is the space race but because, to Arendt, this escape from the earth’s orbit indicates a deep desire of the human race to “escape the human condition”, a wish she suspects also “underlies the hope to extend man’s life-span far beyond the hundred-year limit” (When Arendt wrote this life expectancy in the UK for a man was 66 and a woman 71).
I’m not smart enough to summarise what Arendt means by the human condition in a pithy sentence, but she comments, in contrast to the desire to “escape the earth”, that “the earth is the very quintessence of the human condition”!
On the Money
Sixty-five years after she wrote these words, the activities of Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson to get to Mars, and the millions spent by, among others, Dave Asprey and Peter Thiel, to reverse the ageing process in a bid to live to 180 or even 200 years old, suggest Arendt was onto something.
What’s the link?
So, what does this have to do with the story of Naomi, found in the book of Ruth, which we will look at this Sunday? That’s a good question.
Arendt’s comments about the human desire to escape the earth or live to well over 100 speaks of a desire to break through, or surmount, our earthly human limits.
The flooding of Hampden Park (21 June), the flooding in Zaragoza (Spain), Punjab, and elsewhere, forest fires in Canada, and record-breaking temperatures in Texas and elsewhere, are stark reminders of what happens when we exceed limits.
Pete Scazzero, known for his thinking, writing, and teaching about emotionally healthy spirituality, often speaks about recognising our Godly limits and not exceeding these.
Grief & Loss
Our introduction to Naomi’s story in Chapter 1 of Ruth is dominated by grief and loss. Her husband and two sons have died, leaving her and her two daughters-in-law destitute. She has suffered grief and loss on a hard-to-imagine scale.
Scazzero notes the following about grief and loss:
Loss and grief cannot be separated from the issues of our limits as human beings. Limits are behind all loss. We cannot do or be anything we want. God has placed enormous limits around even the most gifted of us. Why? To keep us grounded, to keep us humble. In fact, the very meaning of the word humility has its root in the Latin humus, meaning ‘of the earth’.
Facing up to our limits
To reflect on Naomi’s life is to face up to our own limits and inescapably the losses and grief we have all experienced. Yet, there is more to Naomi’s story than loss and grief …her story ends with an unexpected and surprising “gift”.
There is more to our stories than loss and grief!
With this in mind, it is my prayer that as we in think about Naomi, which may stir emotions and thoughts about our own losses and grief, so we will also, like Naomi find hope and recognise unexpected and surprising gifts from God which give new life and enlarge our soul.
In the podcast conversation this week, Richard asked an intriguing question about biblical names, their meanings, and why, if the name Jacob means ‘supplanter’, ‘overreacher’, ‘trickster’, ‘deceiver’, would Rebekah call her child that!
It is a great question.
However, if there was such a thing as biblical top trumps, then the names of Naomi’s two sons, Mahlon and Kilion, in my humble opinion, outscore/trump Jacob for terribleness.
Mahlon means “critically ill”, and Kilion means “terminally ill”!
I’ll probably say more about the meaning of these names on Sunday.
See you then.