Steadfast Love of God

The fall harvest is upon us. The grapes are being harvested in the vineyards of Northern California. The feast of Sukkot will commence at the end of this month. All of this reminds me of the steadfast love and faithfulness of God. The God of growth the God of fruitfulness.

The steadfast love of God is the beginning of all life. He is life-creating. He holds all things in being. The steadfast love of God bears the fruit of life abundant in the life of His faithful who trust in Him. We give thanks to Him for He is the provider and provision.

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Psalm 52.8-9
I am like a green olive tree
in the house of God.
I trust in the steadfast love of God
forever and ever.
I will thank you forever,
because of what you have done.
In the presence of the faithful
I will proclaim your name, for it is good.

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It is the presence of God that, without cessation, draws the whole creation from the abyss of its own nothingness above which his omnipotence holds it suspended, lest of its own weight it should fall back therein; and serves as the mortar and bond of connection which holds it together in order that all that it has of its creator should not waste and flow away like water that is not kept in its channel.

God in the heavens is more my heaven than the heavens themselves; in the sun he is more my light than the sun; in the air he is more my air than the air that I breathe sensibly. He works in me all that I am, all that I see, all that I do or can do, as most intimate, most present, and most immanent in me.
Louis Chardon (1595-1651 French Dominican mystic and theologian), taken from The Time of the Spirit: Readings Through the Christian Year

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Whose Mercy Is Boundless And Love for Us Is Ineffable

One of the things i love about the “Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom” and Eastern Orthodoxy is that it does not present God as a wrathful judge Who demands satisfaction and appeasement. No matter where I have made contact with the Divine Liturgy in the context of Orthodoxy, this has been my experience. For that experience, I give great thanks.

Some might say that is not what they encountered or are encountering in Eastern Orthodoxy. I do not doubt that is true. Orthodoxy has its share of brokenness for it too is inhabited by sinners. But then, perhaps, just perhaps, sometimes we find what we expect to find and encounter what we expect to encounter.

The message offered, and which I have consistently encountered “again and again,” that shines forth and touches me, in spite of its brokenness, is the love and mercy of God. Christ Jesus’ sacrificial death is a life-sharing, life-creating, life-giving death not a life-ending death. The death of Christ Jesus is the death bears the fruit of life. That is the meaning of sacrifice, not appeasement or satisfaction.

And here is an important aspect of all of this. The irony. The treasure in earthen vessels – cracked pots. The need and the provision of mercy where judgment, a demand for satisfaction, would normally be the choice. Blessed are the merciful.

As we hear in the Divine Liturgy: “Lord, our God, whose power is beyond compare, and glory is beyond understanding; whose mercy is boundless, and love for us is ineffable; look upon us and upon this holy house in Your compassion. Grant to us and to those who pray with us Your abundant mercy.”

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6 Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: 7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. Isaiah 55.6-7)

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10 Therefore, O thou son of man, speak unto the house of Israel; Thus ye speak, saying, If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live? 11 Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel? (Ezekiel 33.10-11)

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4 Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness. 5 For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. (Psalm 30.4-5)

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8 The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. 9 He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger forever. 10 He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. 11 For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. 12 As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103. 8-12)

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“Though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).

Oh, the boundless mercy of God! In His greatest wrath upon the faithless and ungrateful people, upon the peopleladen with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters (Isaiah 1:4), as princes of Sodom (Isaiah 1:10), and upon the people who have become as the people of Gomorrah (Isaiah 1:10): in such wrath, the Lord does not abandon mercy but rather calls them to repentance–just as, after terrible lightning, a gentle rain falls. Such is the Lord–long-suffering and full of mercy: neither will He keep His anger forever (Psalm 103:9). Only if sinners cease to commit evil, and learn to do good, and turn to God with humility and repentance, will they become white as snow.The Lord is mighty and willing. No one but Him is able to cleanse the sinful soul of man from sin, and by cleansing to whiten it. No matter how often linen is washed in water with ashes and soap–no matter how often it is washed and rewashed–it cannot achieve whiteness until it is spread under the light of the sun. Thus, our soul cannot become white, no matter how often we cleanse it by our own effort and labor, even with the help of all the means of the Law–until we, at last, bring it to the feet of God, spread out and opened wide, so that the light of God may illumine and whiten it. The Lord condones and even commends all of our labor and effort. He wants us to bathe our soul in tears, to wring it out by repentance, to press it by the pangs of the conscience, and to clothe it with good deeds. After all of this, He calls us to Him: Come now, says the Lord, and let us reason together (Isaiah 1:18). That is, “I will look at you, and I will see if there is Me in you; and you will look upon Me, as in a mirror, and you will see what kind of person you are.”

O Lord, slow to anger, have mercy on us before the final wrath of that Dreadful Day.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
Source: The Prologue, August 5th

Hell and the Goodness of God

The question of “hell” is really, in other words, the question, “Is God good?” and what is the nature of His goodness. It is the question that strikes at the very heart of God’s motivation and need in His saving work — the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. In two of my recent posts I have offered reflections on this question. Here is another by Thomas Merton.

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Hell was where no one has anything in common with anyone else except the fact that they all hate one other and cannot get away from each other and from themselves.

They are all thrown together in their fire and each one tries to thrust the others away from him with a huge impotent hatred. And the reason why they want to be free of one another is not so much that they hate what they see in others, as that they know others hate what they see in them: and all recognize in one another what they detest in themselves, selfishness and impotence, agony, terror, and despair…

Our God also is a consuming fire. and if we, by love, become transformed into Him and burn as He burns, His fire will be our everlasting joy. But if we refuse His love and remain in the coldness of sin and opposition to Him and to other men then will His fire (by our own choice rather than His) become our everlasting enemy, and Love, instead of being our joy, will become our torment and our destruction.

When we love God’s will we find Him and own His joy in all things. But when we are against God, that is, when we love ourselves more than Him, all things become our enemies. New Seeds of Contemplation, pg. 123-124, by Thomas Merton

It seems to me that the great tragedy that makes hell hell, is that those who inhabit that “place” are convinced that they are infinitely distant from the presence of God. That, in fact, they have been “transported” (“bused” to use C.S. Lewis’ word) away from God when, in fact, they are, and shall always be, in the presence of God and His love and shall never know (how could they) that that is the case. They are obsessed with the delusional conviction that God hates them and distances Himself from them which could not be “farther/further” from the truth.

Is God Good?

In my last post I offered the reflections of Dr. Alexandre Kalmiros on the question, “Is God good?”

Let me continue on that thought.

As a child, one of the first prayers I learned was this one.

God is Great, God is good;
Let us thank Him for our food.
By His hands we all are fed,
Give us Lord our daily bread. Amen.

It is my personal conviction that the biggest “faith question” a human being faces in his or her life is not “Does God exist?” The biggest question is, “Is God good?”

Personally, I have to confess, somewhere along the way and at several points in time, I began to articulate a paradigm of salvation that did not, when critiqued, actually proclaim salvation as the work of the “good God.” I used the word “love” and meant it. But, I came to realize, by fits and starts that my message was deeply inconsistent at times although the inconsistency was subtle.

Thus, my off and on circuitous journey to embrace the message of the salvation offered by the truly good God began.

C.S. Lewis struggled profoundly with despair after the death of his wife, Helen Joy, in 1960. They had only been married for three years. He invites us into his struggle in his work, A Grief Observed. An excerpt that addresses the inevitable question, “Is God good?,” that the death of a loved one provokes can be found here.

All of us, as Christians, need to let the Holy Spirit put our paradigm of the meaning and functionality of Christianity to the test with this question. Only then will we be able to believe and mean that the gospel is really “Good News.”

Indeed, it is the underlying conviction that God is good that governs the wording of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. We proclaim the goodness of God over and over throughout the Liturgy,

“For You are a good and loving God, and to You we give glory, to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen…

We have seen the True Light! We have received the Heavenly Spirit! We have found the True Faith! Worshiping the Undivided Trinity, Who has saved us…

Let our mouths be filled with Thy praise O Lord, that we may sing of Thy glory; for Thou hast made us worthy to partake of Thy Holy, Divine, Immortal and Life-creating Mysteries. Keep us in Thy holiness, that all the day we may meditate upon Thy righteousness. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

May He Who rose from the dead, Christ our true God, a good, loving, and merciful God, have mercy upon us and save us…”

The Love of God is Fire

The Love of God – Heaven AND Hell. Now there is a paradigm challenge ! !

The following is an excerpt from an article written by Dr. Alexandre Kalomiros in reply to the questions (1) Is God really good? (2) Did God create hell? The complete article can be found here.

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Saint Isaac the Syrian says that “Paradise is the love of God, in which the bliss of all the beatitudes is contained,” and that “the tree of life is the love of God”.

“Do not deceive yourself,” says Saint Symeon the New Theologian, “God is fire and when He came into the world, and became man, He sent fire on the earth, as He Himself says; this fire turns about searching to find material – that is a disposition and an intention that is good – to fall into and to kindle; and for those in whom this fire will ignite, it becomes a great flame, which reaches Heaven…. this flame at first purifies us from the pollution of passions and then it becomes in us food and drink and light and joy, and renders us light ourselves because we participate in His light”.

God is a loving fire, and He is a loving fire for all: good or bad. There is, however, a great difference in the way people receive this loving fire of God. Saint Basil says that “the sword of fire was placed at the gate of paradise to guard the approach to the tree of life; it was terrible and burning toward infidels, but kindly accessible toward the faithful, bringing to them the light of day.” The same loving fire brings the day to those who respond to love with love, and burns those who respond to love with hatred.

Paradise and hell are one and the same River of God, a loving fire which embraces and covers all with the same beneficial will, without any difference or discrimination. The same vivifying water is life eternal for the faithful and death eternal for the infidels; for the first it is their element of life, for the second it is the instrument of their eternal suffocation; paradise for the one is hell for the other.Do not consider this strange. The son who loves his father will feel happy in his father’s arms, but if he does not love him, his father’s loving embrace will be a torment to him. This also is why when we love the man who hates us, it is likened to pouring lighted coals and hot embers on his head.

“I say,” writes Saint Isaac the Syrian, “that those who are suffering in hell, are suffering in being scourged by love…. It is totally false to think that the sinners in hell are deprived of God’s love. Love is a child of the knowledge of truth, and is unquestionably given commonly to all. But love’s power acts in two ways: it torments sinners, while at the same time it delights those who have lived in accord with it”.

God is love. If we really believe this truth, we know that God never hates, never punishes, never takes vengeance. As Abba Ammonas says, “Love never hates anyone, never reproves anyone, never condemns anyone, never grieves anyone, never abhors anyone, neither faithful nor infidel nor stranger nor sinner nor fornicator, nor anyone impure, but instead it is precisely sinners, and weak and negligent souls that it loves more, and feels pain for them and grieves and laments, and it feels sympathy for the wicked and sinners, more than for the good, imitating Christ Who called sinners, and ate and drank with them. For this reason, showing what real love is, He taught saying, ‘Become good and merciful like your Father in Heaven,’ and as He rains on bad and good and makes the sun to rise on just and unjust alike, so also is the one who has real love, and has compassion, and prays for all.”

Love Your Enemies

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Ma. 5.43-48)

19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Ro. 12.19-21)

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“We should not desire the death of a sinner, but his repentance. Nothing so grieves the Lord, Who suffered on the Cross for sinners, than when we pray to Him for the death of a sinner, thereby to remove the sinner from our path. It happened that the Apostle Carpus lost his patience and began to pray that God would send down death upon two sinful men: one a pagan and the other an apostate from the Faith. Then the Lord Christ Himself appeared to Carpus and said: “Strike me; I am prepared to be crucified again for the salvation of mankind.” St. Carpus related this event to St. Dionysius the Areopagite, who wrote it down as a lesson to all in the Church that prayers are needed for sinners to be saved and not for them to be destroyed, for the Lord is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).”
–The Prologue, May 26th

God

God belongs to all free beings. He is the life of all, the salvation of all—faithful and unfaithful, just and unjust, pious and impious, passionate and dispassionate, monks and seculars, wise and simple, healthy and sick, young and old—just as the diffusion of light, the sight of the sun, and the changes of the weather are for all alike; ‘for there is no respect of persons with God.”
–The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 1.3, by St. John Climacus

The Love of God is Shed Abroad

“The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given to us.” (Romans 5:5)

“Love is joy, and love anoints the heart of man with joy. Brethren, love is power, and love anoints the heart of man with power. Love is peace, and love anoints the heart of man with peace. And from joy, power and peace, courage is born, and love anoints the heart of man with courage.

The love of God, like a fragrant oil, is poured out upon our hearts in no other way than by the Holy Spirit, the All-gentle and All-powerful Spirit. Though we are completely undeserving of it, the Spirit of God is poured out upon us: the love of God is shed in our hearts in the Mystery [Sacrament] of Chrismation. However, in time we neglect this love and by sin we alienate ourselves from God and fall into the disease of spiritual paralysis. And the Holy Spirit, unwilling to abide in an impure vessel, distances Himself from our heart. When the Holy Spirit distances Himself from us, then joy, power, peace and courage likewise depart from us immediately. We become sorrowful, weakened, disturbed and fearful. But the All-good Spirit of God only distances Himself from us; He does not abandon us completely. He does not abandon us, but rather offers us, as sick men, remedies through the Mystery of Repentance and the Mystery of Holy Communion. When we again cleanse ourselves through the Mysteries [Sacraments] of Repentance and Communion, then He, the Holy Spirit of God, again abides in us, and the love of God is poured out upon our hearts. We fall, we rise, we fall, and we rise! When we fall, the Spirit of God stands by us and raises us, if we desire to be raised. And when we are raised, the Spirit of God stands within us all until, through our sinfulness and foolishness, we fall again. Thus, in this life we interchangeably become a fertile field and a wilderness, sons of repentance and prodigal sons, fullness and emptiness, light and darkness.

O All-good Holy Spirit of God, do not depart from us, neither when we want You nor when we do not want You. Be with us all the time, until our death.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.”
–The Prologue, May 24th

The Revelation and Availability of Crucified Love

Contemplate the Lord Jesus crucified on the cross:

1. How His compassionate love for mankind did not diminish because of His sufferings;

2. How, with love, He offered comfort to His mother, commending John to her as a son in place of Himself;

3. How, with love, He prayed to the Father for mankind:  Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (St. Luke 23:24).

Now, inhabit and rest not only in the revelation of Our Lord’s love for you but IN the present availability of His love here and now.

Source: The Prologue for March 23rd

Seek Wisdom and Pursue It

Fasting is only one of the Lenten disciplines. The Holy Tradition counsels us to regularize and intensify our discipline of reading and reflecting on Scripture and the lives and writings of the saints. In so doing, we are seeking to acquire not, primarily, more information but the very mind of Christ Jesus.

Jesus was very serious not just about repentance but also about illumination – knowing, understanding.

So, we seek not only to repent, but also to realize that the repenting is really also a “coming to know.” And, in accordance with the desire of our Lord, to live out the wisdom He shares with us.

The result, of the operation of both repentance and illumination, as I have said before, is the increase of love. The keeping of the greatest commandment. Jesus said that people would know we are His disciples by the love we have for one another (John 13.35). This lived love is the wise life – the illumined life.

So, the desire for knowing something and living it out are really inseparable. The knowing and the doing. The wise woman or man is one for whom this is recognizably true. Thy have been reduced to love. They have devoted themselves to the Apostles teaching, among other things, and the foolishness and delusion of the self-full life has been crucified. This journey of being crucified with Christ of their foolishness and delusion was powerful and courageous wisdom. What has been raised up and set free to live in this world, for the sake of this world, is the new woman or man in Christ Jesus.

These are the women and men who are sought out by those who desire authentic life, fullness of life. The life of the wise one speaks (Psalm 51.6, 10, 13). It is a witness of “being wisdom bearing the fruit of behaving wisely.”

This is the Christ-life by grace, the wise life is foolishness to the world. And, of course, this is the hard choice. Choose this day (and everyday), wisdom or folly. Die to folly; be born and grow up into and as wisdom.

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3 Do not let kindness and truth leave you;
Bind them around your neck,
Write them on the tablet of your heart.

4 So you will find favor and good repute
In the sight of God and man.

5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.

6 In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.

7 Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the LORD and turn away from evil.

8 It will be healing to your body
And refreshment to your bones. (Proverbs 3.3-8)

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2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1.2-7)

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Our hearts must constantly dwell on the thought of wisdom, our lips repeat its lessons. Let your tongue pronounce right judgements and the law of your God be in your heart. This is the way to understand that verse of Scripture: You shall speak of these things when you sit in your house and when you walk along the way, and when you rise. Let us, then, speak of the Lord Jesus, for Jesus is wisdom in person; he is the Word, the very word of God.

There is another text that says: Open your mouth and let it be filled with God’s word. To be filled with God’s word is to repeat Christ’s message and dwell continually upon his teaching. Christ should always be the theme of our conversation. Whenever we speak of wisdom, we are speaking of Christ. When we speak of virtue, it is of Christ we speak. When we discuss justice or peace, we are discussing Christ and when our talk is of truth and life and redemption, Christ is our subject, for he is a­ll these things.

Open your mouth, Scripture says, and let it be filled with God’s ­word. You must do the opening, but it is God who makes his voice heard. That is why David said: I will hear what the Lord says ­in my heart, and the invitation: Open your mouth and I will fill it is made by the Son of God himself. Not everyone can arrive at the perfection of wisdom that Solomon or Daniel attained, but upon all of us, according to our capacity, the Spirit of wisdom is ­poured out, provided we have faith. If you believe, you possess the Spirit of wisdom, and faith gives you the grace to speak out.

As you sit in your house, then, meditate unceasingly on the things of God and make them the subject of your discourse. By house we can understand either the Church or that secret place in our hearts where we commune with ourselves. Choose your words prudently for fear of sin and beware of falling through overmuch talk. Speak too when you are walking along the way, so as never to be idle; and as you walk speak now to yourself, now to ­Christ. How should you address him? Listen to what Scripture says: I ­desire that the men should pray in every place, lifting their hands in reverence, without anger or quarrelling.

Speak also, my friend, when you lie down, or the sleep of death may steal upon you. Be instructed once more by Scripture: I will not give sleep to my eyes nor allow my eyelids to slumber until I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. Overcome your natural inclinations and shorten the time you give to sleep, like David who kept the Lord in mind as he lay on his bed, waking early in order to hear Christ’s voice and perceive his light in the darkness. Do not wait for Christ to wake you; it is you who should rouse him by cherishing the thought of him even during sleep. If you do this, he himself will rouse you from slumber and wake you from the sleep of death. Speak of him then, when you rise, whether it is from your bed or from the grave, and so fulfil what the word of God commands. Source: St. Ambrose, In psalmis 36.65-66 (CSEL 64:123-125); from Word in Season II, 1st ed.