Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Two Wolves

Philippians 4:8 “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

In the last few days of 2008, media of all types and all ideologies spent time looking back over the year. Everybody had their top ten lists and the re-hashing of both the presidential campaigns and the economic meltdown. After watching one such recitation I heard one news pundit say to another, “Personally, I have never seen a year filled with such huge yet equal amounts of both hope and fear. It’s like they’re battling and we don’t know which one will win.”

When I heard that, it reminded me of an old story, usually attributed to Native American sources, about two wolves. You may well have heard it before. The general story goes that a tribal elder is speaking to a young boy. “My son, there are two wolves who are fighting within every person’s heart: love and hate. You can hear them snarling if you lie very still and when one isn’t looking the other will pounce. It is a great and terrible battle and the outcome will determine who you become.” The young boy’s eyes grow wide as he asks, “But which wolf will win?” The old man answers, “The one you feed.”

I doubt that story ever actually happened, but it is a “true” story nonetheless. And the same truth is reflected in Paul’s letter to the Philippians as he reminds a church facing persecution to focus on the positive—to feed the good wolf, if you will. Remember that Paul is writing this letter from prison, facing execution. The circumstances for both Paul and the church in Philippi are dire. The bad wolves are circling in both cases. But, even so, Paul encourages the church to think on the good, in order to give life to what is honorable, just, and pure even in the midst of great turmoil and evil.

I think the news pundit was exactly right about our contemporary situation. Hope and fear circle each other like two wolves seeking dominance. Right now they are of equal strength and stamina. It will be up to us to decide which wolf to feed and that, in turn, will decide the battle. I think Paul would tell us to feed the hope. The hope wolf may still sustain some wounds in the fight, but if hope goes in better fed and cared for, it will win in the long run.

What Paul advocates is not easy, especially when you are in dire circumstances, but I think Paul gained his strength from exactly that sort of practice. Remember this was the guy that early on in his ministry was found singing hymns in his dungeon cell. He learned to feed the good wolf and it became strong enough to guard against despair, even when starting his own execution in the face.

Welcome to 2009. Hope and fear are on the prowl, looking for food to sustain them in battle. Which one will you feed?

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