Friday, July 25, 2008

The Psalms of David - Psalm 35

"The transgressor, that he may sin, saith to himself, that there is no fear of God before his eyes. For he hath wrought craftiness before Him, lest he should find his iniquity and hate it. The words of his mouth are iniquity and deceit, he hath not willed to understand how to do good. Iniquity hath he devised upon his bed, he hath set himself in every way that is not good, and evil hath he not abhorred."
and then...

"O Lord, Thy mercy is in heaven, and Thy truth reacheth unto the clouds. Thy righteousness is as the mountains of God, Thy judgements are a great abyss."

Fr. Patrick points out that St. Paul, when he quotes this psalm in Romans 3:18, states "that human sinfulness is more profoundly rooted in the substance of our moral composition" than we are comfortable with admitting. Indeed, Fr. Patrick continues, "we are all rebels against God. The contrast in Romans 3 is not between human evil and human goodness, but between human evil and divine mercy."

It's been said in quite a few Orthodox pamphlets, books, and websites (and is becoming something of a "pop Orthodoxy" cliche) that (to paraphrase), "Our God is not an angry, vengeful God who takes out his bloodthirst on His Son and, thus satiated, can tolerate us just enough to let us into heaven. Rather, ours is a God who is always love, and our experience of eternity is contingent upon our experience of that love, which comes from His presence." This is true, though this is not strictly (or, in many cases, at all) an accurate depiction when dealing with all the different western Christian confessions to which we Orthodox seem obsessed with comparing ourselves (instead of, say, simply declaring what we are and what we ourselves believe, regardless of other confessions' stances...but I digress). More importantly, said charicature is in danger of streamlining and watering down our own view of God.

In the psalm we find that man's depravity is laid out starkly and as inexcusably guilty of rebellion against God due to our own race's being bound up in mortality and the frantic, futile struggle to stave off the same. Thus, it is the gospel that must and does intervene, for we see that He comes from heaven, the clouds, the mountain, to speak and to lift. Our God is one who comes to seek and save the lost...yet he will also come to seek and destroy the wicked.
One aspect of our Orthodox soteriology that is often downplayed or (even more often) left out completely is that the divine parousia of our Lord will be the moment where His divine presence will separate the wheat from the tares in a sort of, "Ready-or-not-here-I-come" moment which will (God knows) be torment for many in this world. The iniquity, deceit, evil, and craftiness of all will be laid bare without warning, and God will reveal Himself to us, knowing full well that said unveiling will be unbearable to most.

It is for this reason that we have the four gospels. We have the lives of transfigured saints. The Christian life is one which holds out in one hand the reality of God's soon-impending judgement, His presence which will bring either everlasting destruction or times of refreshing in a sort of Narnian relativism that separates all of mankind. Yet in the other hand we see that this God who is not safe is yet most definitely good and loves mankind; we thus have this life to repent, to read the gospel, to embody His commandments and incarnate them, that we can, at the end, meet the Ruler of All not only as terrifying, unyielding, holy righteousness, but also as serene, steadfast, holy goodness. His hand is raised in blessing towards us, yet His gospel call is never separate from Him.

He will bring us to the Father. We have this life to determine whether we will sing like stones would because of this, or beg that the same fall on us.

1 comment:

Ian said...

Good to see these return; wonderful reflections, thank you.

[And agree with the obsessive comparing.]