It was famously John Maynard Keynes who uttered the phrase,
“In the long run, we are all dead”.
Since I returned recently from meeting refugees in Jordan, his axiom has been wedged in my mind.
On face value, Keynes’ pronouncement could be understood as a theological, even existential statement. And a pessimistic one at that: if we’re all heading in one direction, what’s the point in trying to change anything?
Sitting on the floor of a run-down apartment in a run-down suburb of Amman, listening to the story of the family of Syrian refugees who lived there, it was hard not to become pessimistic. We had gone there as representatives of Bible Society, taking a package of food and essential items at the request of the family themselves and on the recommendation of mutual friends. Yusuf, Aisha* and their two young daughters used to live in a suburb of Damascus, one in which they and other Sunni Muslims lived peaceably with Shia Muslims, Christians and Alawites. Theirs had been a normal, lovely family life. In Damascus, Yusuf had his own business, making and selling shoes.
But one day in 2013, life was rudely interrupted when the civil war brought death to their neighbourhood, in the shape of the Syrian army and Hezbollah fighters.
Through a veil of tears, Yusuf told me how these brutal soldiers behaved like animals, beheading two of his Christian neighbours. Yusuf escaped with his life, although not before he witnessed a massacre and was himself shot in the leg. He and his family fled to another part of Syria, eventually making it to Jordan and to the squalor, unemployment and despair in which they now find themselves.
As I write these words, the facts take on a strange unreality. I have to remind myself that these events really did happen. Looking Yusuf in the eye was enough to confirm it.
In the long run, we are all dead.
The truth is Keynes, the Economist, was making an optimistic case for taking action when the economy was failing and people were suffering unemployment and hardship. His was an injunction to do something, to take action, to believe in a better alternative, to not submit to despair and powerlessness. It was a statement of faith and of hopefulness.
Yet there is another, deeper, place of faith, and of hope, compared to which the hope of Economics is a mere shadow. It’s the reason why we were sitting in that apartment in a slum in Amman with a family who had been though more horror and hardship in a few months than I expect to have in an entire lifetime.
As he thanked us for the food parcel, Yusuf asked me why we had come. I was able to tell him of a Great Commandment, of an injunction to love God and to love our neighbour as ourselves, of a view of the world in which we really are our brother’s keeper, whoever and wherever in the world he is.
And I was able to offer a message of hope to him and his family;
The Lord bless you, and keep you. The Lord cause his face to shine upon you, and be gracious towards you. The Lord turn his face towards you, and grant you peace.
In the long run, we’re all dead. So in the short run, let’s learn how to love.
*Names have been changed to protect the identities of those mentioned in the story.