L.B.: A Thief in the Night

L.B.: A Thief in the Night October 22, 2003

Jimmy Breslin, God bless him, isn't just a great newspaperman, he's a pretty good theologian too.

Breslin writes of a tragedy — an infant strangled in the night in a fall from a bunk bed. Part of the reason that Breslin has been so good for so long is that he writes with an expansive compassion — a love for New York and all the people who live there. He provides a moving portrait of a struggling family barely coping with work, death, violence and the American Dream ("The clothes is what costs … we need the best for the children"). While capturing the particulars of this family and this neighborhood, he finds something universal in the sad, cruel mystery of this "death in a poor neighborhood for which police were unneeded."

It was the kind of accident that has people everywhere up and looking at sleeping children through all the hours of all the nights. While knowing all the time that the checking still leaves all vulnerable to the mysteries that kill at night.

Breslin's piece is titled "Death a Thief in the Night." The allusion there is to Jesus' apocalyptic discourse in Matthew 24, in which Christ compares the coming of "the end" to, among other things, a thief in the night:

No one knows about that day or hour … Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. …

Whether Breslin himself or some Newsday copy editor wrote that headline, the allusion is apt. The end is sudden, mysterious, imminent and inevitable, yet always a surprise. Suddenly, we are out of time.

More than anything else, this is what pisses me off about the shallow, death-denying, false hope of the false gospel preached by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins in their Left Behind series. They would pervert every piece of biblical wisdom about our mortality into a fairy tale of "Jesus coming back to get us before we die." This weird and desperate mythology denies L&J's followers of the comfort, hope, wisdom and solace needed in the face of the death of Daivon Nicolas Richardson, 18 months, or of anyone and everyone else.

A theology that denies the reality, mystery and meaning of death is ultimately irrelevant for us mere mortals.

That's why Jimmy Breslin is not only a better theologian than LaHaye and Jenkins, he's also a better pastor.

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