What’s the best way to improve society? Change the person or change the society? There was a day in America when the common understanding was to change the person and society would improve, but nowadays it seems that many think that fighting to change society means addressing society’s faults rather than the faults in the persons in that society.
In fact, character development USE to be one of the primary goals and purposes for both parenting AND public education. To create a moral society, you had to develop moral people and to do that you had to teach people how to battle their own faults so that society could improve. But that common knowledge was abandoned when it didn’t produce change fast enough for some, and the whole idea of “revolution” became popular as the way to change society for the better. So, how’s that working out for us?
Look at our lesson today in Proverbs 8:32-9:11:
And now, my sons, listen to me: happy are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. Happy is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors. For he who finds me finds life and obtains favor from the LORD; but he who misses me injures himself; all who hate me love death.” Wisdom has built her house, she has set up her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her beasts, she has mixed her wine, she has also set her table. She has sent out her maids to call from the highest places in the town, “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” To him who is without sense she says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave simpleness, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” He who corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man and he will increase in learning. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. For by me your days will be multiplied, and years will be added to your life.
The hard work of “seeing my own faults” and not judging my brother requires a commitment to wisdom that flies in the face of our modern attitudes that if we simply deal with external actions then, like magic, society will improve. The longer this delusion persists the more empty it is proving to be.
So, how do we avoid the pitfalls of our modern delusion of avoiding responsibility for our own internal labors? We embrace wisdom, and here’s 3 ways to get there!
- First, Humility. If I am going to be wise in the way I live, I am going to have to first abandon the false notion that it’s my outward circumstances that are the primary problem. To be sure, my environment affects me in profound ways. But my first line of maturity is to look FIRST at my inner faults before I try to change my surroundings. I have to begin with the humble confession that I am a person in need of redemption!
- Second, Courage. My willingness to first admit my faults is itself an act of courage. It doesn’t take courage to look around you and notice all the faults of others, or society, or this or that political position. But to become wise and actually deal with society’s problems by first dealing with my own faults takes a courage and conviction of character that far outshines any simplistic attack on whatever outrage happens to be currently popular.
- Finally, Fear. Yes, fear. But not the fear of being afraid or cowering in the face of power. No, this fear that leads to wisdom is akin to an all too forgotten virtue in our day of respect and admiration. Too many think that to fear God means to be afraid of Him, when it’s the opposite that is true. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom precisely because it invites you to get closer to God, not further away. To see God as He is, not as some cosmic Tyrant. No, this fear of the Lord means the hard work of comparing myself ONLY to Him and to no other!
Today, are you willing to take the path of wisdom? You’ll have to begin with yourself first, and then you’ll be on your way to being Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. “Taming the Passions” is the Theme of our Lenten retreat at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Baltimore, Maryland this weekend. I hope to see you there!