Movement and Action, Growth and Change
“Become merciful (it says in the Greek) even as your Father is merciful.”
There is movement and action. The word become implies change and growth and development.
God is merciful and loving and he never changes. We are the ones who are changeable. The scary thing is that we have the same potential to become unmerciful as we have to become merciful.
We are Orthodox Christians. I am very comfortable with that statement. I am also comfortable with the statement that we are all becoming Orthodox Christians. The truthfulness of the last statement depends on the condition of our heart. Here is another place in scripture where we are commanded to become like God. Not in his essence, only God is God. We are called to participate in his energies. The image is a sword in a fire. The sword becomes red hot, the essence of what it is (a sword) does not change, but it will burn just as fire burns. We are created. God is uncreated. That reality will not change. Never the less we are in invited by God to participate in His Life. In order to have His life we cannot hold on to our so called life.
There are some who would say just being close to the fire is enough. There are some who would say being in the fire for an hour or so on Sunday is enough. My opinion is that as long as there is movement towards a complete and constant immersion in the fire then we are on the right path. When we choose to turn our backs on God, when we choose sin instead of righteousness we choose to deny who we are.
We see this fact in the Fall. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they separated themselves from him. They were no longer in God. Outside of God, Adam and Eve separated from each other. They started accusing each other and blaming each other. This is the world’s solution to all of our problems. Separated from God, Adam and Eve gave birth to Cain and Abel, a murderer and a murdered person, which is the very opposite of God’s being, the very opposite of goodness, mercy, compassion, and love. This is how our world began .This in not how it ends.
Everything has changed. Even though we were born into a world of disobedience and darkness, we do not have to stay in that world. We still have to deal with the consequences of the fall. But the image of God in us cannot be destroyed. If it could be, we would no longer exist.
We have not only fallen from God but also from our own nature. We are not what we are supposed to be: like God. We have missed the mark we are sinners. That means that we exist in a state that is against our nature. We are in conflict with ourselves. We are fragmented, cut off even from ourselves. Because we exist and live in this unnatural condition, we are prone to all kinds of sicknesses and diseases of the body and soul.
This is the world that we live in. It is a world that we have created. And, it is the world that our Lord Jesus Christ is calling us to come out of.
The Church has transformed this time we live in into an Exodus out of this world of darkness and into the Kingdom of Light. Our exodus is not just something we imagine. There are very concrete steps. We cannot buy an airline ticket and find a seat in the back and then get off the plane when we reach our destination. The picture is more of a caravan traveling through the desert. It’s hard work.
“Let whoever would be my disciple deny himself,” and “let him take up his cross, and follow Me.”
“Become merciful as your Father is merciful.” Our work must begin at the point of our will where we make our choices. This is the work of denying ourselves, as the Lord commands. But, what an impossible task. With men this would be impossible but with God all things are possible. Denying our self is just the first step. This opens our soul to the presence of God. We experience this “inner stillness.”
To do the work of becoming merciful requires us to deny the spirit of disobedience that is active in us (Romans 7) and to obey the commandments of Christ. It is through obedience to Christ, and his Church, that we will become merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful. We don’t fast for the sake of fasting; we don’t pray for the sake of praying; we don’t give alms for the sake of giving alms. We do these ascetic disciplines of the Church for one purpose: to unite ourselves to Christ and to become merciful as He is merciful.
We must enter into the training of our souls of our own free will. Our Lord asks us to deny ourselves, to follow Him. The Church provides the context for this way of living and the priest is to shepherd God’s flock to a place that has clean water and good grazing, in order to feed them. He also has a responsibility to protect them from wolves. The most vicious wolves in the woods are the ways we think about God, ourselves, and the world.
The fact is we cannot fix ourselves. Only God has the power to bring us back to our original design. But we must cooperate with God. This is where the work of becoming merciful must begin. Our work continues in the fear of God. “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner!” “Lord, I cry out to You, hear me!” Help me to say yes to you. The attractions of the world lose their allurement because we see the darkness that fills them. We begin to long for stillness. We want to retreat, into our heart in the presence of the living God. In this way we begin to love inner stillness because it is so cleansing, so sobering, so healing. Building stillness in our soul becomes the next stage of this work of becoming merciful. In this inner stillness, we continue to cultivate inner attention, watching all our thoughts, the movements of our will, and observing how arrows come at us from without and from within to draw us away from God. We become more and more aware of how much we desire the world’s attractions, how much we follow the old man in us. This stage of the work of becoming merciful is very hard because we are fighting against ourselves; and, we see how easily and quickly we forget God.
So, we must want to do this work. It cannot be done for us. But it must be done in the context of the Church. If we want to do this work, and if we choose to take it on then we have immediately given God permission to come and help us.
We take up this work of our own free will, we unite ourselves to Christ in the likeness of His death. When we do that, we enter into Christ himself; and He receives us, as He promised, not just into His Resurrection but into Himself to make us His children, and partakers of His own divine nature. As we carry about the dying of the LORD in our flesh and spirit, we are renewed in the inner man; we are freed from the law of sin and death and in the joy of Christ’s Holy Resurrection we become merciful even as our heavenly Father is merciful.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Image courtesy of Geraint Rowland.