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Beyond Novembers and Siberian dilemmas

A great pro-life friend of mine, former Care Net president Guy Condon, once told me his mom almost aborted him. His greatest fear was nonexistence. In November 2000 he died at age 46 when a van broadsided him as he drove home from speaking at a pregnancy resource center fundraiser. I believe he still exists. I hope to hug him some day. 

In November 2009 WORLD ran a Q&A I did with columnist and North Carolina professor Mike Adams, whom leftists had beat up on for years. My last question was about defeats. He answered, “We lose when we don’t fight. I remind students: You’ll be scared for a while, you’ll get beat up for a while, but there is greater glory waiting on the other side.” Mike shot and killed himself last month. 

In November 1972 I spent a week in Siberia, with its gigantic glaciers and fields of caribou-tracked snow that seemed to stretch forever. I wouldn’t want to freeze and die there as millions of political prisoners did, but since I could hop back onto a warm Trans-­Siberian Railway car it was great. 

Christians aren’t helpless now, even in the face of America’s troubling polarization.

Last November brought publication of Martin Cruz Smith’s The Siberian Dilemma (2019), named after the classic problem involving a fisherman, a frozen lake, and a winter air temperature as low as 70 degrees below zero. The ice breaks. He falls in. Pulling himself out of the water onto the ice is no solution: He’ll freeze to death within a minute. But staying in the water means death by hypothermia in five minutes. 

Smith’s detective hero Arkady Renko says we should pull ourselves out: “Better to take action than be passive. Better to fight than to surrender, even if you know you’re going to die.” Later in the novel, a character falls in, pulls himself out—and dies.

That brings me to Nov. 3, 2020. Some WORLD readers continue to praise Donald Trump. Others will grudgingly vote for him. Some may vote Democratic, dancing to the music of Joe and the Radicals. Others, anticipating a Biden victory, will concentrate their efforts on maintaining a GOP majority in the Senate. Many may see the November presidential choice as a Siberian Dilemma and feel helpless. 

We’re not. Yes, we’ll be on thin ice whether Trump or Biden wins. But we face this fall not a Siberian Dilemma but a Massachusetts Dilemma. Where I grew up near Boston a frigid day is zero, not 70 degrees below. After I returned from the Soviet Union, I went back to work on The Boston Globe. My first story was about two children who walked on the thin ice of the Charles River. They fell through. They drowned. Interviewing their parents was miserable. The children could have survived if someone had pulled them out and warmed them up.

Christians aren’t helpless now, even in the face of America’s troubling polarization. On a political level, we can help warring factions make progress on some issues. I wish that were the case with abortion: With that tragedy our “common ground” is tiny. But it’s encouraging to see the Alliance Defending Freedom, the biggest Christian public interest law firm, working alongside leftist groups like the ACLU and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund to reform rules of “qualified immunity” that have allowed a few rogue police officers to get away with murder, literally.

Our ultimate need, though, is to not make politics ultimate. Three Novembers ago at the McDonald Observatory in West Texas, I peered through an enormous telescope at galaxies millions of light years away. Viewing this Biggest Sky Country, I hummed, “When I soar to worlds unknown, / See Thee on Thy judgment throne, / Rock of Ages, cleft for me, / Let me hide myself in Thee.”

If we remember how awesome God is, we won’t wake up depressed on Nov. 4, no matter who wins. This issue includes a back-to-school section: Christians are always in school. There’s so much to learn whenever we look around. We are blessed to be alive right now, with the opportunity to pull some people out of icy water.


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    Posted: Thu, 08/13/2020 03:26 pm


  • Web Editor
    Posted: Thu, 08/13/2020 06:15 pm

    Thank you for pointing out the missing byline. We have added it.

  • Wayne52
    Posted: Sat, 08/15/2020 07:46 pm

    Rather incredible how in just a very short time the world can change so dramatically, starting the year with the virus outbreak, resulting in vast canage to the economy, then the protests and roiting triggered by the tragic death of George Floyd, all coming during a very contentious election year, leading all these compounding events to feed into uncertainty and fear ruling the day. Those trusting their hopes to this world are watching that dissolve into sheer emptiness.  The frailty and unpredictability of life has sudden come with a harsh reminder.  People are desperately looking for something secure to grab hold of in a future that looks increasingly unsteady.

    As Christ followers we know where our hope is.  That is an incredible message that can bring peace to the internal chaos that many are feeling.  As we know, God can bring good out of bad situations, and if all the madness in the world right now opens a great opportunity (as I believe it is and will continue to do) to share the gospel, that is way good. I think the question for non-believers and non-well-grounded believers is:  Where is your confidence placed?

    Trusting God. The only true hope. (Jn 16:33, Isa 41:10, Heb 4:16)

  • David Russell
    Posted: Tue, 08/18/2020 12:43 pm

    Thanks, Marvin!  As usual, great perspective.

    I suggest our nation needs to repent, heal, and regroup on common values.  America has a future, but it depends on whether we choose fear, self gratification, and materialism;  or courageous good character, true equal opportunity for all, and accept our responsibility to work for the common good.

    Every day is a new day.  I'm so thankful the Lord has a plan, and it is good.

    Blessings to you, your family, your team, and the World Magazine community!


  •  Deb O's picture
    Deb O
    Posted: Tue, 08/18/2020 02:00 pm

    That Mike Smith shot and killed himself last month struck me breathless ... that he concluded he no longer had the strength or will to fight. Oh the pain he must have been in. I pray God saw fit to bring him into the greater glory we long for.

  • GP
    Posted: Mon, 08/24/2020 11:38 am

    I suppose we only have two choices in November. One vote will support children being kiilled in the womb. One vote will oppose children being killed in the womb. One vote will move us toward government control and socialism. One vote will move us toward freedom and capitalism. I suppose I don't see the quandary. 

  • SamIamHis
    Posted: Tue, 09/08/2020 03:54 pm

    I choose life.  That is where I will make my choice.  Still I know that I do not hold the future no matter how much I hope my vote may shape it.  I have watched the supposedly conservative Chief Justice John Roberts vote with the liberals creating crushing defeats for conservatives. We may make every effort to create circumstances that should make a difference in the world around us but we do not know the heart of any man. I trust that the word of the Lord is true and rely on Proverbs 21:1, "The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.  I will vote, serve where I live, and watch the winding of the Lord's river.