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Thought for the weekend: Hindsight is a wonderful word

Our youngest son has just started reading history at university and the bug has caught me, too, prompting me to do some more reading in the same field.

Among the books I've revisited is a favourite called 'What If?' It's a collection of essays by military historians in which they try to imagine what might have been if certain factors, large or small, human or non-human, intentional or accidental had happened. The academic word for this is the 'counterfactual' but 'what if' captures the thrust of the idea in a more down-to-earth manner.

Consider, for instance, the sudden fog on the East River that allowed George Washington and his badly beaten army to escape to Manhattan after the Battle of Long Island in the summer of 1776. Without that fog, Washington might have been trapped on Brooklyn Heights and forced to surrender. Would there have been a United States if that had happened? Or what if the Germans had beaten back the D-Day landings? What if the storm that raged over Europe on June 5, 1944 - the day before the Normandy invasion was scheduled - had not unexpectedly let up?

Of course, one person's interpretation of an event as accidental or anomalous is another person's providence but given that hindsight is, as they say, 'the most accurate of the sciences' and that most people can be wise after the event, it still strikes me as worth more than a moment's reflection at just how much can often hang on what may seem so little.

That tiny word 'if' is, in grammatical terms, both a conjunctive and a subjunctive, a joining word that acts as a rhetorical hinge in the making of history.

Tomorrow at our Remembrance Sunday service I'll be preaching on two texts, Psalm 124 and 1 Corinthians 15. Both use the word 'if' as the hinge on which their affirmations of God's work of salvation turns, speaking of pivotal events in the life of Israel and the mission of Christ.

What if that good news were given a free rein in our lives on something like the same scale as the selfless sacrifice of so many we solemnly and gratefully remember tomorrow?

Belfast Telegraph


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