Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Let Them Eat Cake

An Arkie's Faith column from the August 3, 2016, issue of The Mena Star

Recently my wife celebrated her birthday. A friend of hers baked her a cake and decorated it beautifully in my wife’s favorite color. There was quite a bit of the cake left over after the birthday meal celebration. My wife and I have been trying to limit our sugar intake, but this cake and the frosting were so good that I wasn’t able to resist. I did limit myself to a small piece of cake each evening until I had finished all of the leftover cake.

As I was eating cake, an old proverb came to mind that I’m sure you have heard, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” The use of this proverb goes back hundreds of years. A 1546 collection of proverbs by John Heywood has the entry, “Would ye both eat your cake, and have your cake?” In his Yale Book of Quotations, Fred Shapiro included a John Davies quote from 1611: “A man cannot eat his cake and have it still.”

“Let them eat cake” is another well known saying that came to my mind while I was enjoying the cake. Even if you know very little about French history, you have probably heard that when the peasants of France were starving from lack of bread, Queen Marie Antoinette proclaimed, "let them eat cake."

Actually, Marie Antoinette never said it. She was an intelligent woman who donated generously to charitable causes and, even though she led a lavish lifestyle, displayed sensitivity towards the poor population of France. There are records of her taking care of a peasant who'd been gored by a wild animal as well as taking in an orphaned boy.

The “Let them eat cake” story had been around for years before Marie Antoinette became Queen of France. The story was first told in a slightly different form about Marie-Thérèse, the Spanish princess who married King Louis XIV in 1660. Over the next century, several other 18th-century royals were also said to have made the remark. The philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau included the story in his book, Confessions, that was first published when Marie Antoinette was ten years old under her mother's care in Austria.

The expression isn't as harsh as it sounds. What Rousseau wrote is "qu'ils mangent de la brioche," which doesn't mean "let them eat cake," it means "let them eat egg based bread." Brioche, egg-based bread, was a more expensive bread than the typical flour and water bread of the French peasants. A French law required bakers to sell their brioche at the same price as their inexpensive bread if they ran out. What has been translated as "let them eat cake" actually meant, "if they have no inexpensive bread, let them eat the more expensive brioche.

In the late 18th century, much of the French population was living in desperate poverty, while the upper classes were living a life of decadence. As a result, dissatisfaction quickly spread throughout the city of Paris. Why should people go hungry when the King and Queen had enough to feed everyone? Why should people live in abject poverty, when those inside the palace had more than they could consume in a thousand lifetimes? The contrasts between the palace and the streets were so strong that it led to widespread anger. The people knew from experience that the current government was not a solution to their problems.

The person who drew the most criticism was Marie Antoinette. Her foreign birth and extravagant lifestyle made her an easy target for public anger. It was easy to fabricate stories about her extravagances. Very likely, someone attributed the words to her, and the story seemed true enough.

Here in the 21st century we still see these same feelings.  Frustrated people through the centuries have felt there has got to be better government. Is there any hope for something better, or do we just have to learn to live with unjust human government? Maybe if we just had new leadership things would be better. There is a longing for a system we can trust.

The good news is that there is something better.  There is a kingdom coming that is entirely free from corruption. We can't expect honest human government, but God gives us this promise in the Bible, “In the days when these kings of iron and clay reign, the God of heaven will set up another kingdom, a kingdom that can never be destroyed, a kingdom that will never be ruled by others. It will crush all the other kingdoms and bring them to an end. This kingdom will last forever.” Daniel 2:44 (VOICE)

Jesus said in John 18:36 (CEV), “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” Hebrews 12:28 (NCV) says, “let us be thankful, because we have a kingdom that cannot be shaken.”

Gentle Reader, I'm ready for a change in government. I'm ready for a kingdom that can't be shaken. The Bible ends with these words, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.” Revelation 22:20,21 (NIV) I am looking forward to the return of Jesus and His kingdom. Are you?

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