How to handle being eclipsed

Rev David Clarke.
Rev David Clarke.

A great darkness swept across a swathe of the United States last week, as the first coast-to-coast total eclipse since 1918 took place.

For 2 minutes and 40 seconds darkness covered the face of the land, and small American towns welcomed vast hordes of eclipse chasers. The excitement generated by this remarkable occurrence also swept Bonnie Tyler’s 1983 hit, ‘Total Eclipse of the heart’ - which provided an unofficial soundtrack to the event - to the Number One spot on iTunes. Warnings not to look directly at the sun were issued, and appropriate eclipse glasses were provided.

Handling other occasions of eclipse are not so easy. Many become resentful when forced into the shadows by a more brilliant rival. When that happens, some become resentful and cantankerous, as Edward Heath did when displaced as Tory leader by Margaret Thatcher. His conduct confirmed the thrust of the rhetorical question in the Book of Proverbs; ‘Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy’(27:4).

Oscar Wilde illustrated that truth in a short story about a hermit in the Egyptian desert. Minor fiends assaulted the holy man with the predictable battery of sensual sins, only to find the holy man impervious. The Devil himself then took a hand. Drawing near, he whispered in the hermit ear, ‘Have you heard the news? Your brother has been made Bishop of Alexandria?’ Wilde noted that ‘a scowl of malignant jealousy clouded the serene face of the holy man.’

From earliest Christian times, envy has been regarded as an unattractive human feature. A cluster of New Testament references show the prevalence of envy, and the harm it does.

How can one obey the New Testament command not to live ‘in dissension and jealousy ?(Romans 13:13). F.B. Meyer a popular devotional preacher of a century ago knew the secret. For years he had attracted huge crowds to America’s annual Northfield Convention. But in time his appeal diminished, and the crowds flocked to hear Dr. Campbell Morgan instead. Meyer confessed that while he found himself liable to bouts of jealousy, he had found a cure for the green-eyed monster. ‘The only way I can conquer my feeling’, he said, ‘is to pray for him daily which I do.’ He knew how to handle being eclipsed.

A prayerful life and an envious heart are mutually exclusive.