ELISHA AND THE MAGIC MEDICINE

I’d been reading the rhetoric from the first day of the COP 26 Conference, including that of Greta Thunberg, and recognised that all presupposed that the conference ought to come up with definitive solutions to the vast range of problems lumped together under the title “global warming.” There are problems as well as benefits with this focus, because it tries to limit the maximum level of global temperature increase, while ignoring the many destructive habits, attitudes and practices which may not contribute directly to that increase, but damage the earth and its creatures.

Be that as it may, my main worry about the rhetoric of “one minute to midnight” “we should have started yesterday” and so on, is that only a comprehensive, magically effective solution will be deemed sufficient. Anything else will not measure up to the expectation created by the COP 26 hype. After all, why is the conference seeking what we should do? We already know what we have to do, both positively and negatively. We know we have to reduce drastically our dependence on fossil fuels, for example. We have to get rid of the internal combustion engine as a means of transport. Soon. We are presently not doing so because of the power of the petrochemical industry and the huge numbers of car owners who don’t want to change. No magic decision of COP 26 can alter this. People who want their grandchildren to have decent lives must insist on this change. The facts about global warming and how to ameliorate it are clear and available. And there is no magic will spare us the simple tasks that will cure it.

Look at the wonderfully wise Bible story below. It is of course legendary, coming from the 9th century BCE.

“Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy.[a] 2 Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”[b] 4 So Naaman[c] went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. 5 And the king of Aram said, “Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.”

He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. 6 He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.”[d] 7 When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy?[e] Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.”

8 But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.” 9 So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” 11 But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy![f] 12 Are not Abana[g] and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage. 13 But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 14 So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.”

Notice how the impetus for the action comes from an Israeli slave girl who has no hatred for her captors and great trust in the wisdom of the Prophet. Then the King of Aram makes the health of his favourite a matter of international diplomacy by commanding his vassal king of Israel to produce the magic cure. The embassy to Israel is made with the greatest amount of fuss and prestige.

For his part the Israeli King is clueless, seeing only an excuse for the forces of Aram to attack him. But Elisha sees an opportunity to heal the man while demonstrating the wisdom God has given him. He relies on facts, understanding the disease and knowing the cure, which he recommends to Naaman, who so much expects a supernatural miracle, tailored just for him, that he rejects Elisha’s prescription out of hand.

He is a powerful, important person and only a powerful, important cure with appropriate pageantry will do. But again, ordinary people, in this case his attendants intervene. They say in effect, well, maybe he knows that this river water does the job. You can’t lose by checking it out. They are common sense people who see that Elisha has offered a common sense scientific solution. At last the man is cured, but he still wants to believe in a magic cure provided just for himself.

It’s a story that exposes the arrogant ineptitude of the great when faced with a basic human problem. We should not be surprised if some of this ineptitude is evident in COP 26. There are no magic cures. The biblical message suggests that ordinary people can respond to God’s prophets, the climate scientists, by doing the simple but demanding tasks they recommend.

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