Yeah, THAT old saying! A quote from Virgil’s Aeneid says “the descent to hell is easy.” And no one ever expects their good intentions to turn out bad. That’s the “law of unintended consequences.” It seems we humans are better at coming up with witty quotes better than we are at avoiding the mistakes of our “good intentions” gone bad.
But why is that? Nobody ever thinks their intentions are actually harmful. Most of us think (and, truth be told, we actually do) we act with a sincere heart most of the time. We don’t sit around wondering how to manipulate our surroundings and the people around us with the intentions of destroying our own lives and the lives of those around us. That is, unless we’re dealing with a sociopath! We really don’t want to be unhappy. We really don’t want to end up broken and being our own worst enemy, and yet all our good intentions have a way of never quite playing out like we imagined in our heads! Where’s the disconnect? Where is the faulty thinking or action that ends up spoiling our good intentions?
Are you ready? I’m not sure you’re going to like this! It’s as simple as this: We don’t pay attention to First Things! Everytime my life gets caught up in a spiral of difficulty and challenge; every time I catch myself going the wrong way in my life, I can trace the fault back to a spot where I simply wasn’t paying attention, and poof, good intentions gone bad!
Just look at our Gospel Lesson this morning. St. Peter is convinced he needs to act and say what he does and says because he loves Jesus. He’s convinced he is doing the right thing, the noble thing, the good thing, and he is so completely wrong about his good intentions that jesus calls him “Satan!” Whoa! “Satan,” really? Talk about good intentions paving the road to hell!
Read this: At that time, Jesus charged his disciples to tell no one that he is the Christ. And he began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter, and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men.” And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Mark 8:30-34
Our Lord is telling His disciples that things aren’t going to end up in a pleasant way for Him very soon. He tells His disciples the truth about what is going to happen to Him during what we will eventually call “Holy Week” and St. Peter doesn’t take this well at all. He (I love this image) “took” Jesus. Can you see Peter grabbing the Lord’s arm and pulling Him off to the side to “rebuke” Him? Imagine Peter’s surprise when the Lord reacts as He does! “Get behind me, Satan!” I’m sure Peter is absolutely shocked at how wrong his good intentions turned out to be, so completely wrong that they were actually the enemy of the Lord’s purpose and mission. Peter simply and fatally failed to pay attention AND he also failed to trust the Lord knew what He was doing! And all that always goes to a weakness in love.
Yep, a weakness in love. It is love for God that keeps me awake to His gentle wisdom for my life. It is love for God that keeps me humble about my own plans and my own ideas. It is love for God that sets me free to trust that current circumstances are all under His care! It is love for God that allows me to actually pay attention to His words and not superimpose my own desires and hopes and dreams on His will for my life. Love keeps me awake to His wisdom. Love helps me pay attention to the details of His plans. Love allows me to trust Him and His purpose for my life. And love is what I must nurture in my everyday life if I am going to avoid paving my own road to hell with my good intentions. Love, ultimately, is discovered not to be a feeling or an emotion, but a willful choice to embrace an honest intimacy with God. No wonder our Orthodox faith and the disciplines of our faith are the way they are: All of Orthodoxy is about fostering love and intimacy with God in my life. All the prayers, all the incense, all the liturgies, all the fasting disciplines, and the feasting joys, all the lives of the saints, and especially the Mystery of confession; all of this has ONE AIM! And it is shaping my life in such a way that I can love God FIRST and my neighbor as myself. Orthodoxy is the “science” of spiritual labor that produces love for God!
Today, how are your good intentions working out for you? Do you catch yourself suffering from the unintended consequences of your actions and wondering “how did I get here?” We approach Bethlehem, dearest. We see God humbling Himself (after all no one else is powerful enough to humble Him, so He had to do it Himself) to come and rescue you and me. He comes helpless to heal my helplessness. He comes weak to strengthen me. He comes to me for me and His unconditional love draws me to Him, He Who is my only source of true help. And He invites me on a life-long journey of learning to love with all the tools I will ever need right at my feet in His Church. Today, let’s abandon our “paving project” of our “good” intentions for the wakeful humility of learning to love God through the wisdom of His Church. Let’s be Orthodox on Purpose and avoid the road to hell altogether!