Dust and Ashes

Where is Abraham
who knew God better than God knew himself
who reminded God
how it would diminish him not to save
the countless guilty
for the sake of argument and perhaps
of the innocent?

Here forlorn is that God who needs someone
to tell him his mind
who goes down to see with his own eyes what
in the world he made
reminds him so damningly of something
else about himself
that nothing but hellfire can make it right.

About the Poem

The New York Times reports that recently “it became evident to U.S. officials that Israeli leaders believed mass civilian casualties were an acceptable price in the military campaign” in Gaza. The immense toll on civilians in Gaza, as well as the horrors inflicted on civilians in Israel, compels me to think of what is to me one of the most instructive parts of the bible: God tells Abraham that he is going to Sodom to see whether things are as bad there as he has heard, and Abraham, sensing that God will obliterate Sodom unless he is convinced not to, engages him in moral argument, as ludicrous as it is for a human being (mere “dust and ashes,” Abraham says) to do so. Abraham argues by appealing to God’s better nature: surely the very font of justice itself will not commit such a grave injustice as to slaughter the innocent with the guilty, no matter how small the proportion of the innocent may be.

About the Author

Matthew King used to teach philosophy at York University in Toronto, Canada. He now lives in what Al Purdy called “the country north of Belleville”, where he tries to grow things, counts birds, takes pictures of flowers with bugs on them, and walks a rope bridge between the neighbouring mountaintops of philosophy and poetry. His photos and links to his published poems can be found at birdsandbeesandblooms.com.

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