Friday, April 5, 2013

Robert E. Lee on History and Hope

Here is another intriguing quote from Robert E. Lee that I picked up in my readings (I believe, again, from Charles Reagan Wilson):

My experience of men has neither disposed me to think worse of them; nor indisposed me to serve them; nor in spite of failures, which I lament, or errors, which I now see and acknowledge, or of the present state of affairs, do I despair of the future. The march of Providence is so slow, and our desires so impatient, the work of progress so immense, and our means of aiding it so feeble, the life of humanity is so long, and that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave, and are thus discouraged. It is history that teaches us to hope.

I agree with Lee up until he invokes history. History has taught me everything except to hope in our feeble means of aiding progress. What discourages me is not the photograph of existence that I will experience before I wither like grass in a field, although it certainly would be enough. It is my understanding of history, of seeing how far we have advanced in the art we have made of sin, that makes me despair of progress. Though not of the future; on that Lee and I agree. But my confidence in the future is not based on history or progress but on the providence that Lee so emptily evokes. It is because I can mimic the words of another southern preacher quoted in Wilson: "His ends embrace the universe; His purposes are co-extensive with Time." I do not give myself over to despair precisely because, unlike Lee, I abandon any belief that man is a causal agent in progress or in attaining the object of our collective hope. My hope is in the Lord.

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