Updated: May 23, 2020
In Greek mythology, Icarus was given wings of feathers and wax by his father Daedalus to escape from the island of Crete. Daedalus warned his son not to fly too close to the sun, but Icarus ignored him; sure enough, his wings melted, and he drowned in the sea. Like Daedalus mankind has abandoned the teachings and warnings of God and has pursued all kinds of false ideologies (Nazism, fascism, communism, individualism, relativism, Scientism), and has fallen as a result.
We are all Icarus fallen. Our wings burnt off unable to fly.
Author Walter Tevis in his brilliant Science Fiction novel from 1963 The Man who Fell to Earth gives us yet another glimpse through the parable of story of our fallen nature. An alien humanoid comes to earth to save his planet from drought but instead is drawn into the depravity and sin of our world. I saw the film by director Nicolas Roeg in 1976 and it introduced me to the book and to the painting by Brueghel.
C.S. Lewis made this observation in Weight of Glory, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Our sin and depravity are not personality quirks to over come through positive thinking and better diet or more exercise they are indwelling sins; our wills are broken. As Paul so accurately tells us of his own struggles in Romans 7:14-15, 19 “I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.… I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do”.
Brueghel’s Painting of Icarus Falling paired with W.H. Auden’s poem presents a visual snapshot of our world, indifferent to each other as sin, evil and suffering surrounds us, perpetuated by our selfish pride.
Musee des Beaux Arts  – W. H. Auden (1907-1973)
About suffering they were never wrong, The Old Masters: how well they understood Its human position; how it takes place While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along; How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting For the miraculous birth, there must always be Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating On a pond at the edge of the wood: They never forgot That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot Where dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Brueghel’s Icarus,for instance: how everything turns away Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may have heard the splash, the forsaken cry, But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky, Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
We live at this moment in a Western Culture within an immanent frame or buffered identity as explained by Philosopher Charles Taylor. The buffered identity or buffered self-lives in a disenchanted world where supernatural beings, forces and a trans-physical and transcendent life are impossible. We become buffered or separated from the ultimate reality through our cultural distractions and self-delusions. Everything that is important in life fits within the realm of scientism and naturalism. The individual is the measure of all things and must find his or her own destiny, their own path in life.
Atheists and Humanists like Sam Harris, Yuval Noah Harari and Steven Pinker see religion as a relic of the past and look to AI and science as the hope of the future. The ancient quest for utopia, fueled by sin and pride, a modern-day Tower of Babel, making a name for ourselves through technology and declared self-aggrandizement lives on. The tower always crumbles yet our indwelling sin nature, our innate ability to forget the presence and fear of God propels us forward into calamity.
Harari states in his book Homo Deus: “Given our past record and our current values, humanity’s next targets are likely to be immortality, happiness, and divinity. . . . We will now aim to upgrade humans into gods.” Humans have always wanted to be little gods!
Truth, Heaven, Heresy and Hell, God and Satan have become just another option or subject choice in life. Much of mankind has settled for the shallowness of entertainment, careers, sex and numerous other idols. Satan is not challenged by such behaviors; thus, we have made his work all the easier.
Recent and ongoing events precipitated by the Corona Virus in a globally connected world has revealed that not even the most advanced cultures and technologies can compete with the providential mechanisms of God in a world chronically broken. The facts are clear that even with the most sophisticated science disease can still devastate humanity. Like many things in our broken world the Corona virus like cancer for example is not good. We however or forget or deny as humans that God has providential control. Nature or naturalistic worldviews attribute all things to chance or evolution. God’s meticulous providence comprehensively must work through a multitude of circumstances and people over time to bring good out of human sin and tragedy.
Remember God sees all our sins, evil and depravity all at once just as he sees all of our good, empathy and compassion.
We will all die. Life is not risk free. The delusion that science of medicine can stop disease or prevent catastrophe is not based on historical fact or reality. The last 100 years have been the bloodiest in human history with estimates of more than 200 million deaths due to individual or collective violence. Here are some examples of deaths just in the United States.
Heart disease: 647,457
Accidents (unintentional injuries): 169,936
Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 160,201
Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 146,383
Alzheimer’s disease: 121,404
Influenza and Pneumonia: 55,672
Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 50,633
Intentional self-harm (suicide): 47,173
(National Center for Health Statistics 2016)
The nihilistic view (all life is meaningless) permeates the world. Even now in our current worldwide crisis modern medicine strives with little success to keep people from dying. Philosopher Hans Jonas argues that in the pre-modern understanding of nature, life is natural, and death is the problem. In The Anticipatory Corpse, Jeffrey Bishop states that “Death is medicine’s transcendental,” meaning that medicine requires death for its very existence.
I have worked in healthcare for 10 years and death has always been 100% despite the most extreme measures.
We are living through a great paradigm shift in the created order. Nothing has ever happened to this extent (that we know of) in the past. Just as previous worldwide plagues and catastrophes have changed people and the world around them, so we also come to this unique moment. What will we do with it?
As we have seen much good has come out of this worldwide pandemic. Heroes are stepping forward as nurses, MD’s truck drivers, etc. and the list goes on minister to those in need. People have suddenly realized that their frantic pursuit of money is ultimately without merit or meaning. Will we go back into that mode or pull back?
God’s grace blankets our lives every day. We ignore it or ascribe it to coincidence or proper planning. God’s grace is any goodness that the Lord shows to us that we do not deserve. The Bible refers to God’s grace in two main ways. God’s special or saving grace: Ephesians 2:8–10 and Romans 9–11. Special or saving grace is the grace that brings about our salvation. God does not give it to everyone. The Lord gives special grace only to those of faith, and not because they are better than anyone else but simply because He has chosen to save His people.
Common grace refers to the goodness of God toward all people. It is common because everyone, good, bad, or indifferent benefits from it. God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45), and so the human race can grow food for itself etc. God also providentially controls the functioning of the cosmos and world so that the regular rhythms of nature, including the seasons and the physical laws of the universe, will continue as long as the earth remains (Gen. 8:22). Without God’s covenant with us science and technology would be impossible? There would be no scientific advancements or technological improvements if we could not count on the world to operate as it always has.
Even now God sustains us, at this moment he gives us energy and intelligence to solve problems and help others. Someday the thorns and thistles of life will return to some balanced sense of a new normal.
Ecclesiastes 1:9, reminds us that there is nothing new under the sun. Calamities come and go. We have poor collective memories and think this has never happened before. “There is no remembrance of earlier things” (Eccl. 1:11).
Ecclesiastes 2:16, 7:2 Many will die but Coved did not introduce death, it has been there all along. We each will die in God’s time.
Ecclesiastes 12:1, With respect of our mortality, we must remember our Creator, especially when we are young. God will bring every deed into judgment, even the secret sins, and the thoughts and intents of the heart. This pandemic will be used by God to renew our faith and call many people to salvation through faith in Christ.
We must fear God and keep his commandments” (Eccl. 12:13). To fear God means to recognize and understand who He is. God has not been caught off guard but is providentially working all things together for our good and His glory (Rom. 8:28).
Jesus was humanity as it was intended to be, the very image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). Jesus modeled for us what we were created to be and do by displaying God’s glory and make him known to those around us.
During a cholera outbreak in London Charles Spurgeon said this,
“Now is the time for all of you who love souls. You may see men more alarmed than they are already; and if they should be, mind that you avail yourselves of the opportunity of doing them good. You have the Balm of Gilead; when their wounds smart, pour it in. You know of Him who died to save; tell them of Him. Lift high the cross before their eyes. Tell them that God became man that man might be lifted to God. Tell them of Calvary, and its groans, and cries, and sweat of blood. Tell them of Jesus hanging on the cross to save sinners. Tell them that — “There is life for a look at the Crucified One.” Tell them that He is able to save to the uttermost all them that come unto God by Him. Tell them that He is able to save even at the eleventh hour, and to say to the dying thief, “today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.”
God has prepared us for days such as these.
Part 2 Icarus Fallen: Felix Culpa - The Fortunate Fall – coming soon.