Thought for the week: A dreaded reversal of fortune

I don’t imagine that Pep Guardiola and Lord Empey have ever met.

Yet last week both of them had the same thing on their minds. In January Guardiola, manager of Manchester City Football Club had allowed a player to move on loan to Bayern Munich in Germany.

As fate would have it, Guardiola’s team were drawn to play against the German team in a major European competition. Pundits wondered if the player involved might prove important in the coming contests. In short, would Guardiola’s decision come back to bite him.

The politician Lord Empey, a key negotiator in the 1998 ‘Good Friday Agreement’ referred to some changes which had been made later in the St. Andrews Agreement. The changes achieved by one party at that conference now placed them in an unenviable position. It was a case, said Lord Empey, of being ‘hoist by his own petard’.

Rev David ClarkeRev David Clarke
Rev David Clarke

The noble Lord was quoting a phrase from Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’. It refers to someone being injured by a device which he had intended to use to injure others, since ‘hoist ‘means lifted up, and ‘petard’ refers to a bomb.

One of the most striking examples of such a reversal of fortune is in the biblical book of Esther. It recalls a great deliverance which Jews celebrate annually at the Feast of Purim.

Aside from Esther, two figures feature prominently. One is her uncle Mordecai, and the other is the scheming courtier Haman, who harbours an intense dislike of Mordecai. Indeed, Haman had erected a gallows on which he hoped that Mordecai would one day be hanged. To cut a long story short, in a dramatic reversal of fortune Mordecai is honoured for a past favour, and Haman is condemned to perish on the gallows he had erected for Mordecai. Truly, hoist on his own petard.

While there are some untidy edges in life, the Bible contends that this is God’s world, and that ultimately it is good with the upright and ill with the wicked. The writer of Psalm 7 saw this truth played out; ‘He who digs a pit and scoops it out, falls into the pit he has made. The trouble he causes recoils on himself; his violence comes down on his own head’ (Psalm 7; vs 15,16).

That’s what can happen in God’s moral order.

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