I saw something rather interesting today. Driving my daughter to Guelph, we rode past a farmer’s field and there in the middle of a pasture, sat an enormous rock, courtesy of the last ice age when God plunked it down, put his hands oh his hips and smiled. It’s not the only one I have seen. In geographical terms, they are called “glacial erratics”. One of these in Okotoks Alberta is called “God’s Dice” by the locals. Makes me think of Proverbs 16:33 which roughly paraphrased, is “man throws the dice but God determines how they land.”
The thing that intrigued me about the rock, was that after all the sweat the farmer had gone through clearing the field of rocks and trees, he got to this enormous boulder, sized it up, and just said, “I’m just going to leave this one alone”. There is no logical reason for this – with a few horses or a stick of dynamite, even a boulder can be removed, but I think that the farmer left it on purpose as a salutary nod to a worthy adversary.
A worthy adversary is something everyone runs into eventually. In human terms, it’s your nemesis - the equal and opposite you come up against that is powerful enough to be your undoing. It garners your respect, and with it, a sense of proper limitations and humility.
Did you ever have a worthy adversary? History celebrates them. Every famous warrior had his match. Hitler had Churchill. Richard the Lion Heart had Saladin, Napoleon had Wellington, and so it goes. We celebrate the the epic struggles of such well-matched combatants. They hold each other in high esteem with courtly gestures instead of hurling imprecations. Each wants the other to submit like a gentleman in a well-choreographed and very old drama. Say Uncle my friend, you have met your match.
Though some may object, I think marriage is this way too. You have to find someone who can wrestle you to the ground in a fair fight. This is because human beings are stubborn and proud, and it is good that life places someone in your way to challenge you when you are wrong. The creation story tells us that God made everything and ‘saw that it was good’. Then he made Adam, scratched his head, and ruminated that he might need a bit of help, so he left Adam with a woman as a way to course-correct a lifetime of travel.
To have it too easy, is never a good thing. Life should give you a run for your money. It is a plot extender. I suspect that people who peak early and have nothing else to find out about their potential, could use a good adversary to spur them to their best. For those parents who wait hand and foot on your kids... perhaps the best thing you could give is a bit of necessity – not a sheltered life that will make them weak and inept. Why? Because necessity is inexorably the mother of invention. If you doubt that competition and need raises the boat for everyone, look at a communist country where everyone is supposedly equal and everything has fallen into a laissez-faire malaise. It is good to be challenged. It pushes you to your best.
This is true even on a theological level. To get everything you want, is to become spoiled and lazy like a child. I have heard it preached about the book of Job in the Bible, that for God to save you he must oppose you. In Job’s words, “God himself has compassed me in his net.” God knocks out the spider webs when life takes you to task. It will happen. Everyone gets their day.
The most odd thing about human beings is they seem to instinctively seek out adversity if none exists. It’s the proverbial mountain climber who climbs the mountain ‘because it is there’ all the way down to those who engage in high risk activities, the kind they warn you about on insurance policies. Adversity measures you, and mankind seeks to be measured.
As if in recognition of this, the farmer left the boulder in the field as an image of the puzzle we all stumble upon sooner or later, the worthy adversary which will block our path. To confront that spectre, is to meet our match. If we pause to take stock, left with a sense of proper humility, then all is as it should be.