The Wise Are Like God

Tuesday, March 20 (O.S., March 7), 2018: Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent; the Holy Forty Martyrs of Sebaste († c.320): Cyrion, Candidus, Domnus, Hesychius, Iraclius, Smaragdus, Eunoicus, Valentus, Vivian, Claudius, Priskus, Theodulus, Eutichius, John, Xanthus, Ilian, Sisinius, Angius, Aetius, Flavius, Dometian, Gaius, Leontius, Athanasius, Cyrill, Sakerdonus, Nicholas, Valerius, Philoctimon, Seberian, Chudionus, Aglaius, and Meliton; Hieromartyrs Basil, Ephraim, Eugene, Elpidius, Agathodorus, Aetherius, and Kapiton of Cherson (4th C); New Hieromartyr Priest Nicholas († 1930); New Venerable Martyrs Nilus, Matrona, Mary, Eudocia, Catherine, Antonina, Nadezhda, Xenia and Anna († 1938); Venerable Paul the Simple (4th C); Holy Hierarchs Nestor and Arcadius, Bishops of Tremethus in Cyprus; Venerable Emilian, in the world Victorinus, of Italy; St. Paul the Confessor the Bishop of Plusias (9th C).

Sixth Hour: Isaiah 40:18-31
Vespers: Genesis 15:1-15
Vespers: Proverbs 15:7-19

The reading from Isaiah begins with a challenge. God asks humanity “To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with Him?” God answers His own question by calling humanity to account for our idolatry: “The idol! a workman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold, and casts for it silver chains.”

God quickly points out the inherent weakness of the idol. Some are covered with gold and held in place with “silver chains.” Others are made of “wood that will not rot” by skilled craftsman who carefully places the idol in its niche so that it “will not move.”

The irony here is clear. It is human ingenuity and skill that protects from damage and rot the idol crafted to protect the worshipper.

Unlike the idol, “the work of human hands” (see Psalm 115:4 and 135:15), the Lord doesn’t need my protect. God creates the earth and rules over it as its absolute Lord.

It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nought, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

God has no equal and His will “is unsearchable.” While even the young grow “faint and … weary” God is mighty and “strong in power.” What strength we have, we have as God’s gift.

It is this God Who makes a covenant with Abram, promising that he will be a great nation.

In the ancient near east, when a covenant was made, both parties would walk between the split animals calling on themselves a curse if they failed to live up to their side of the bargain. When the covenant is made between only God and Abram, only passes between the animals (Genesis 15:7). God takes on Himself the whole penalty for any violation of His agreement with Abram.

The Creator of Heaven and Earth doesn’t just make a covenant with us. In Jesus Christ, He willingly bears the cost of our violation of the agreement.

God’s willingness to suffer a curse that I bring on myself by my own folly and sin is central to the Gospel. Understanding this helps us see a depth of meaning in Solomon’s extended praise of wisdom in Proverbs.

The wisdom of the wise isn’t passive but dynamic. God the Creator of the “all things visible and invisible” (Creed) takes on Himself the sins of the world and so brings about reconciliation. In imitation of God, the wise man by his wisdom brings peace not only to himself but to others.

Beginning with himself, the wise man reconciles humanity to God. This is why the wise man “pursues righteousness” and, unlike the fool, loves reproof. In stark contrast to both God and the wise man, the fool is “hot-tempered” and “stirs up strife.”

As we’ve seen throughout our reflections of Proverbs, wisdom doesn’t just bring peace; it also brings prosperity. In part, as we read today, this happens because the wise man is content with however much or little he has. “Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble with it. Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fatted ox and hatred with it.”

For Solomon, however, detachment from wealth and power is very different from rejecting or disparaging wealth and power. Wisdom is found, as the reading from Isaiah suggests, in understand what wealth and power can and can’t do.

The paradox is this: I become like God the more I realize I am not like Him.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Not the God I Choose but the God Who Chooses Me

Tuesday, March 13 (O.S., February 28), 2018: Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent; Venerable Basil the Confessor, companion of the Venerable Procopius of Decapolis († c. 750); Hieromartyr Proterius the Patriarch of Alexandria († 457); Hieromartyr Nestor, Bishop of Magydos in Pamphylia († 250); Venerable women: Marina, Cyra, and Domnina of Syria († c. 450); Apostles of the 70: Nymphas and Euboulus; New Martyr Kyr-Anna; Blessed Nicholas Salos of Pskov the Fool-For-Christ († 1576); Hieromartyr Arsenius, Metropolitan of Rostov († 1772).

Sixth Hour: Isaiah 25:1-9
Vespers: Genesis 9:8-17chose
Vespers: Proverbs 12:8-22

For many people, the darker aspects of the Old Testament are unsettling. For example, look at today’s reading from Isaiah.

The reading begins and ends with the Prophet praising God. In between, however, we learn that the “wonderful things” at least some of what God does sound terrible.

God reduces “the city to a heap,” obliterates “the palace of aliens,” so that it can “never be rebuilt.” He Who is “a stronghold of the poor, … the needy” and “a shade” for those suffering from the heat is at the same time is the One Who subdues “the noise of the aliens.”

The God we meet in Isaiah is forgiving and merciful to the poor, the destitute and repentant. At the same time, He is ruthless and destructive to those who exploit the poor, ignore the destitute and are unrepentant of their sins.

Turning to the reading from Genesis, we hear how God establishes a covenant with Noah and his sons, their descendants “and with every living creature …, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth …, as many as came out of the ark.”

And what is God’s promise? That “never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

Even now, in this promise, God’s anger hovers in the background. God promises never to destroy the world by a flood. But as Isaiah makes clear, God remains willing to use others means to punish the unrepentant.

The temptation we face is this: to prefer one aspect of God to the other.

Again for many Christians and even non-Christians, the gentle face of God is preferred. To these individuals, the harsh words of Isaiah are an embarrassment and even a justification for the sin of atheism.

Just as frequently, however, there are those who cannot will not, accept the gentle voice of God. For these individuals, God’s justice outweighs His mercy–at least in the lives of other people.

In either case, my struggle is really not with God but with my own, heart. By turns, I am kind then cruel, forgiving then vengeful, gentle then harsh. I go back and forth from one extreme to the other. Sometimes the change is so rapid as to induce emotional vertigo in my heart and yours.

And so we see the need for wisdom.

Solomon says that “the mercy of the wicked is cruel.” Yes, I can be kind, forgiving and gentle. But I do these things to win the praise of others than mine is “a false witness” that “utters deceit.” All too easily, my virtue is merely an affection, the fruit of “lying lips” rather than of a faithful heart.

Fidelity to God means that I must take seriously the example of God. I must not artificially limit God’s revelation of His character and will to only those aspects I find pleasing. I must not, in other words, worship a god of my own making. This is especially the case when I make this god by cannibalizing the Scriptures.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory