How (not) To Change A Corrupt World

The Prophet Samuel was one of the holiest prophets of the Old Testament.  But what I find most interesting is that Samuel grew to be a holy prophet while living in the midst of a very corrupt religious and political context.  Samuel’s holy mother, Hannah, was barren.  But God heard her prayer after many years and much humiliation.  God gave her a son,  and at the age of three, Hannah gave her son to God.  She brought him to the priest of the Tabernacle in Shiloh.  This was before there was a Temple, and the Ark of God’s Presence was kept in a tent (Tabernacle) that moved from place to place depending on the tribal warfare of the day.  

However, the priest, Eli, and his sons were very corrupt.  And here I find several interesting things to ponder.  First, despite the corruption and poor parenting of the priest Eli, and the outrageously sinful and even predatory behaviour of his sons, God still spoke through Eli.  And Hannah and her husband, Elkanah, still prayed at the Tabernacle and offered their sacrificial gifts there, despite the obvious corruption of the priest and his family.

I must confess that this is a profound mystery to me: not only that God allows very sinful people to function in positions of hierarchy to which very holy people submit; but what is even more mysterious to me is that God’s Grace still functions through these very broken people in positions of spiritual authority, not, I think, because of their position, but because of the holiness and purity of heart of those who come to them.  While Hannah was praying at the Tabernacle for a child with anguish of soul, all that the priest Eli could think looking at her was that she was drunk.  When she protested that she was not drunk but was in anguish of soul and praying, Eli says dismissively, “may God grant your prayer.”  And God does!  God hears and answers righteous Hannah’s prayer through the sinful priest.

This is a deep mystery, but it is a mystery that gives me hope.  It gives me hope that even as I am a sinful and broken priest, God may still use me to help those who earnestly seek God.  It also gives me hope that even if my bishop or confessor were sinful or deficient in one way or another, God would still look at the anguish of my heart and hear my prayer.  But there is a mystery here that is even more profound than these, a mystery that may show us the way to grow in Christ in the “crooked and perverse generation” that we find ourselves living in today.  

With complete faith in God and a heart full of thanksgiving, Hannah gives her one child, the gift of God to her, back to God.  However, the only way for her to do this is to bring little Samuel to the corrupt priest Eli to be raised at the Tabernacle along with Eli’s corrupt and predatory sons.  Now if you ask anyone—If you ask me!—this is not good parenting.  And yet, doesn’t God do something very similar with most of His children, with you and me?

Look at the world we find ourselves in.  We are mentored by media that exploits and seduces us for its own profit, political leaders whom we know are lying, businesses that we know are cheating us and an educational system piloted by women, men and “others” who want to obliterate basic human nature.  It seems we find ourselves, like young prophet Samuel, being raised in a corrupt and predatory culture.  Yet nevertheless, like the prophet Samuel, we too can grow into very holy people, people who can learn to listen for God even as we are surrounded by innumerable sins and evil influences.  

How did Samuel do it?  Or rather, how did God save Samuel in such an evil and wicked context?  And how can we too be saved in such a broken world?  St. Paul gives some advice to the Philippians on this very thing.  He says, “Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.”

Keep in mind that the ancient pagan world of the Philippians was very corrupt, even by today’s corrupt standards.  Most of the people, the very people St. Paul is writing to, were slaves.  They couldn’t just change their world, they couldn’t just flee to the wilderness or find some less wicked place to live.  They were stuck where they were and had to become holy there, “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.”

Actually, many of us today find ourselves in situations that are somewhat similar.  We have to work for a living and we have little choice about the policies that are imposed on us or who we work with or how the companies we work for may be exploiting us or destroying the world.  Sure, we could quit, but quit and do what?  If we could afford to buy a farm, we could run off to the country, but farming is very technical work and if you don’t know what you are doing you can fail miserably at it.  Also, and this is something that we have to think deeply about, no matter where we go, there we are.  My inner struggles, perhaps exacerbated in the city, are still with me in the country.  I still have to struggle.

The advice St. Paul gives the Philippians, however, is not to run away (in fact he actually tells slaves not to run away).  Rather, he advises them to do all things without complaining and disputing.  Now by “all things”, he does not mean that we are to knowingly or intentionally sin.  Rather, he is saying that when we do our jobs, when we do whatever it is we do, we are to do it without complaining and disputing.  And if we don’t complain and dispute, at work, at home, at church and on the internet, then, St. Paul tells us, we will become blameless and harmless.  Thus we will be children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.  

We really have to let that sink in.  “In the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.”  He does not say, “you will shine like lights standing outside of the crooked and perverse generation.”  Like the Prophet Samuel, it is in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation or culture or context or company or family or even a corrupt church that we “shine as lights in the world.”  

This is indeed a hard word for us to hear.  

I think 500 years of Protestant influence on western culture has made St. Paul’s advice and the example of Prophet Samuel very offensive to us.  We don’t really believe that God saves in the midst of the furnace, as He saved the three Holy Children in Babylon.  We think that it is our job, our calling from God, to put out the fire, to stamp out evil, to make the world a better place.  We don’t believe that it is God’s will for our righteous souls to be tormented day and night by seeing and hearing of the wicked deeds of those who live around us—even though this is exactly what St. Peter commends about Righteous Lot and gives as an example in his second epistle.  We don’t believe that “the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment”  Rather, we think it’s our job to right wrong and to fix what is broken, or to escape from the sinful world.  

And so the counsel of the Scriptures and the Holy Fathers of the Church makes no sense to us.  It even offends us.  Consequently, we make no progress.  We fight and crusade against the evil around us, but we secretly indulge in our lusts and anger making no progress whatsoever in peace and stillness of soul.  We flee one sinful context and find that we bring our sinful passions to whatever new context we flee to.  We burn out (or become hypocrites) trying to heal others without healing ourselves.  It’s like we grind the gears of our soul trying to fight or escape the wickedness of others, but make no movement at all in acquiring peace in the transformation of our own souls.

We have to become like the child Samuel if we want to be saved.  The child Samuel saw the wickedness, but did not participate in it.  The child Samuel knew he could not change others, but he also knew the One for whom nothing is impossible.  The child Samuel prayed, obeyed, and waited.  And then one day, God spoke to him.  Then one day God changed his world: the wickedness of the wicked caught up with them and the fruit of their wicked lives came upon them.  Samuel remained pure.  Samuel remained quiet.  Samuel shone as a light in a corrupt and perverse generation.  

We too can shine as a light, St. Paul tells us, if we will do everything without complaining and disputing.  Or, we can do things the Protestant way: we can protest.  We can argue and fight and try to change others.  Instead of waiting for God to judge, we can demand what is right, now.  But then we will not be transformed by Grace, then we will not shine as lights.  I think the brightness of one little light will do more to bring salvation to the world than a thousand voices trying to fix it.

At least that’s what I think.

5 comments:

  1. Dear Fr. Michael,
    Thank you for a crucially important message. The polarization that characterizes contemporary politics has, unfortunately, often crept into the Church. Many people, including some clergy, have deeply felt personal opinions. While they typically try to keep these views private in order to avoid potential friction sometimes they “inadvertently” leak out. This then creates a serious relational dilemma for those who want to avoid reacting to them in order to maintain relational unity. But either approach, that is, keeping personal views private or avoiding reacting to them, represents an entirely defensive and ultimately divisive stance with regard to our Christian unity. Ultimately, of course, the danger that any corrupt or dangerous leader poses to us is to our present worldly way of life. The “worst” that any of them can to us either individually or to the Church as a whole is to provide the kind of persecution that may be precisely the means that God can then use for the sake of our purification and strengthening. It appears that this is what He did with both Hannah and Samuel. What a glorious thing if we, like Hannah and Samuel, could transform the current difficulties that surround us into a fresh opportunity to deepen our Christian unity. We could easily do this by choosing to make it an occasion for striving hard together to embrace the powerful spiritual wisdom you have provided in your reflection.

  2. I agree completely with you Father Michael. Complete trust in Christ and the peace that accompanies it are essential. Fervent prayer to God to act on our behalf against our enemies is also essential. To pray for our enemies is again essential. We pray daily for all world rulers and our President and all civil authorities to speak blessings in their hearts for the Church so that we may live a calm and peaceful life in godliness and dignity. Argumentation is useless but speaking the Truth in love is wiser. We in the United States have witnessed many needed revelations over the last few weeks. Much is at stake for us and our children. Sure we can thrive spiritually under corrupt leaders. And maybe we will have to. But maybe God will give us a time like when Josiah restored the rule of Divine law and did what was right in the sight of the Lord. Perhaps we will gain all 3 branches of our government and pass a Life at conception law. I have hope we will and also many other things to bring glory to God if even for a few years. God’s will be done. I don’t presume to know what His will is but I do know how He has worked in my life. He is so patient and kind and so eager to bless me. I want all Americans to come to a knowledge of the Truth and I will do everything I can with the love I have to accomplish that. St John Maximovitch advised that we can only take care of the square foot of earth that we stand on and I think you are saying the same thing. I hope Canada will have the same opportunity that we have at this moment in history in this country. Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered. I want you to know Father that you have been a big blessing to me over the last few years.

  3. Thank you for shining a light on this difficult topic.

    To believe that God can save us even in the midst of the furnace when we are being refined in the fire, and stay calm and quiet, waiting for God to act like Samuel did, that is something to aim for! Not to complain or argue, but trust in God.

    O Lord, grant me the strength to be silent and to endure the fatigue of this coming day without complaining.

  4. I thank you Father Michael, for your meditation and this common thread with the ancient prophets, passing through Saint Paul and for watching what we are living.
    This is very enlightening … and in particular your evocation of the deep mystery before what God allows, which often challenges our faculty of reasoning, to understand logically. We can run up against our own walls …
    There is always another “exit” from our comprehension processes, to receive another meaning, another truth, another light. How good it would be to integrate the patient !
    This is the true meaning of obedience … patient and silent … for it is in these conditions that the living embers of Faith do their work of purification in us …

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