Has anyone out there read “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy? I grabbed it for something to read on a recent flight. Don’t ever fly via Chicago if you can help it. The immigration line is monstrous. I was standing in it for an hour and a quarter, but I had my book and I read most of it as I and hundreds of others in transit shuffled our way slowly between the ropes.
It was an appropriate context. Immigration facilities are always bleak and drab and the whole exercise feels dreary and tedious …although of course, that stamp in your passport is all-important for entry into the country.
The book breaks in on a journey which has been going on for an unspecified time. A father and son, we gradually understand, are journeying on foot to the East coast of America. But this is not a fun father/son trip for further bonding: this is a weary trudge through unrelenting desolation. We infer that there has been, years before, some catastrophic event which has resulted in the entire landscape being ravaged by fire, but a sort of fire which has been final in its effects: perhaps a nuclear disaster.
There are no leaves on the charred and blackened trees, no grass sprouting up from the sooty dust. Old cars and trucks lie rusty and derelict in the roads. Cities are ruined and empty, railways twisted and buckled in the aftermath of a holocaust of heat. Mummified victims lie where they fell; tarmac roads have melted and re-solidified in uneven lumps.
Occasionally there is evidence of other human survivors, living by scavenging, skulking and hunting like animals. The father and son from time to time stumble upon a cache of tinned goods that someone hoarded for just such a time but did not live to use. They trudge wearily, fearfully, doggedly to the coast, presumably in the hope of finding a means of escape: perhaps a boat to another country? But the sea when they eventually find it, is no longer sparkling blue but grey, leaden, lifeless. There is no escape! The lights are going out. No hope. Life is being extinguished in all its forms.
It is a sobering read, horrible, but gripping. In such an extremity is there any morality? Indeed, any need for morality? Or kindness? Compassion? Generosity? The father is acutely conscious that to share any food they have or blankets or clothes, with the few unfortunates they meet, is to seriously jeopardise their own chances of survival. So he instructs his son to turn way from, be hostile to, anyone they meet. But the boy is like a metaphor for his conscience: he wants to display some humanity. He has an innate feeling that it is right to do so. Some moral sense is still present.
It made me think. This is what life is like for those who have no hope, no expectation, no future glory to anticipate. What is the point? Who are we? Where are we going? The answers are nothing, no-one, and nowhere. I have been a Christian for so long that I have forgotten what it must be like to have no future and no hope.
We have a message! We are going somewhere, we have hope. “The path of the righteous grows brighter and brighter until the perfect day” Proverbs 4:18. The older we get, the further on in our journey, the nearer we are to the perfect light. Instead of vanishing into darkness, our path becomes ever more illuminated. The dawn is coming, the sun is rising, full daylight is ahead! Yes, the Earth will be destroyed and thrown away as an old garment, but the new is coming. “Faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see, “ (Hebrews11:1) “Eye has not seen or ear heard neither has the heart conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”. (1 Cor 2:9) .We are a people of hope.