And Honesty for All

There are “bogus” Scriptures out there – special “revelations” to various characters (generally self-described as “prophets” and such). They have as a hallmark, a kind of self-promotion and a carefully crafted message to “solve” various religious problems. I’ll not name names lest I wind up on someone’s hit list. I’ll let the reader fill-in the blanks. However, there is something quite striking about the writings of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. Both of them are filled with “damaging” information about their authors and their “heroes.”

The gospels are excellent examples:

  • There is confusion within the family circle of Jesus, and this information is not withheld.
  • The leading disciple denies even knowing Jesus when a moment of danger arises.
  • Another disciple famously speaks of his doubt.
  • We are told over and over that the disciples are clueless and do not understand. Indeed, all of this damaging information is treated as though it were necessary.

We know a great deal about the life of St. Paul, particularly that he was once an enemy of the faith and sought to have Christians arrested and killed. The pages of the Old Testament are even more strikingly filled with details regarding the bad faith of its heroes. King David committed adultery and arranged for the death of the woman’s husband. There is no “sanitized” religion in the true Scriptures. They are honest – brutally so.

The Church continues this honesty. In the services that lead up to Christmas, there is this small hymn placed on the lips of Joseph the Betrothed:

Joseph said to the virgin:
What has happened to you, O Mary?
I am troubled; what can I say to you?
Doubt clouds my mind; depart from me!
What has happened to you, O Mary?
Instead of honor, you bring me shame.
Instead of joy, you fill me with grief.
Men who praised me will blame me.
I cannot bear condemnation from every side.
I received you, a pure virgin, in the sight of the Lord.///
What is this that I now see?

From time to time, I have serious questions posted on the blog. A very common example is the so-called “problem of evil” – “Why does God let stuff like this happen?” It is of interest to me, that though such questions are difficult, even impossible to answer, the question is not a stranger to the Scriptures. The book of Job, thought to be one of the oldest writings in the Old Testament, explores the problem with poetic genius. And it does not give a very satisfying answer.

This aspect of the Scriptures points towards their truth and their reliability. They are not given to us as forms of propaganda. If there is a question to be asked, it is likely that the Scriptures will have posed it already. The clay feet of its heroes, their foibles and their failures mirror the lives of every reader. It is not an ideal book. It is an honest book.

In that honesty, it is possible to find yourself, and certainly possible to find God. And when you do, then you’ll discover that you have entered into a messy world where the answers are often unsatisfying. But it is into our messiness that God Himself has entered. He is willing to tell us the truth, and to hold the mirror of His word up for us to see ourselves as we are – not as we imagine ourselves to be – much less how we imagine Him to be.

God is with us.

12 comments:

  1. Yes, Father Stephen,
    the Bible does not sugar-coat its contents. This reminds me of the little Bible promise verses. You pick out a card a day out of the box. Of course, the promises are always positive, meant to uplift. Yet they most certainly do not have sayings such as, “If they hated me they will hate you,” or
    “sell what you have and give to the poor.”
    These are too honest, too in your face. I often cringe at what our Lord says because I so frequently fall far short of His words, commands, admonitions. In the face of such words, knowing my own sins and foibles, I can only respond with, “Lord have mercy!”

    Father, Merry Christmas to you and your family! We are a very blessed people.

  2. Fr. Stephen,
    another spot on article. I went through a phase when I couldn’t face reading the Scriptures, especially the New Testament. Too disturbing and revealing of the truth of myself. God shatters delusions. I drank a lot of tea. 🙂

  3. Fr. Stephen,
    I’m not sure this is relevant but I find this quote from C. S. Lewis from The Problem of Pain clarifying;
    “For you will certainly carry out God’s purpose, however you act, but it makes a difference to you whether you serve like Judas or like John. “

  4. In many cases, when we place things into the “bad things” category, it might be good to remind ourselves that if that “bad thing” drives us to God, drives us to repentance, then it is in fact a good thing. Perhaps we need to not classify anything as good or bad. They can be painful or frustrating or comforting or pleasurable – but not good nor bad. Good or bad depends on if they move us toward God in repentance or away from Him in self-absorption.

    Further, asking why God allows something is (in most cases) a simple answer. In our fallen-ness, it is what we want. These things happen because we are fallen. God’s only desire for us is reconciliation with us, but at the same time, He cannot compel us to reconcile or to love. We exercise our free will to be independent of Him. Without free will, there cannot be love.

    Thank you for the thought provoking article (as always)!

  5. Very truthful and insightful and honest commentary as usual Fr. Stephen. I relish your remarks. We need more honesty and insight in our chaotic and lie filled world.

  6. Merry Christmas, father.

    I appreciate the wisdom in this. Many conversations have come my way with a Protestant friend this year. He is never content by answers I give to his endless questions. I suspect it’s because of the ‘mess’ in Orthodoxy. Which, it would seem self evident but perhaps not, yields to the realness of the tradition.

    Perhaps the idea of Sola scriptura developed in part to ‘clean up the mess’ and make it presentable to the modern world. Get rid of those icky and embarrassing parts. Bleach it, package it and ship it out.

    That is an empty product box. There is no Life there because there is no Christ. No saints. No Theotokos. No Eucharist. No sacraments.

    Even one of the only times Christ speaks plainly and not in parable; Matt 26: 26-28. What He is saying is too messy. So mental gymnastics ensues to shoehorn the passage into symbol though there is nothing symbolic there. The words are plain. Messy. But plain. In that mess is Life. We are brought into order and conformity from our own chaos and into God.

    A lot to think on

    God bless you and your church.

    Kevin zalac.

  7. Personally, I do not see how anyone maintains faith without the Sacraments. Sacraments that are known to be genuine. I know I would not be able to do so–not really. I also do not understand, given the directness of Jesus in Mathew 26 how people take them figuratively.

  8. Thank you, Father. Another excellent and thoughtful piece. Blessed Nativity to you and yours.

  9. He is willing to tell us the truth, and to hold the mirror of His word up for us to see ourselves as we are – not as we imagine ourselves to be – much less how we imagine Him to be.

    Indeed, such honesty might be difficult to bear, unless we also understand how our well-being is borne upon our sincere humility. May God grant that we perceive Him rightly.

    We must bow are head and bowing our mind even lower, let us say, ‘Lord I sin against Thee, even as I call upon Thy name. Do Thou teach me Thy humility! Do Thou, O Lord, give me a perceptive mind that I might worthily call upon Thy Holy Name!’ Then we begin to sense that the more we humble our spirit before the Lord, the greater the power of prayer that is given us from on High. thus the hour of prayer becomes an exercise in how to enter the Lord’s presence, how to stand before Him, and we learn that our abiding with Him should strong, active, and luminous

    Fr Zacharias, “The Hidden Man of the Heart”

    Thank you for your ministry, dear Father, and for this helpful article.

    Indeed God is with us.

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