Social Media Follies


A fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart. (Proverbs 18:2)

That sounds like a description of many political pundits and social media commentators. The Internet and social media have given platforms to every fool to broadcast their lack of insight so that those with similar inclinations can unite in a like-minded community (referred to as homophily by those in the know).


Folly is considered a sin in Christian tradition because it is not just a ‘mistake’ but involves intentional behavior. Fr. Patrick Reardon in his book CHRIST IN THE PSALMS (p 25) writes:

“Folly, in the Bible, is a thing deliberately chosen.  What is wrong with the biblical ‘fool’ is always a matter of heart.  He is the man obdurate in evil.  If the fool does not understand, it is because he is intentionally blind; his is hard of heart.”

Bloggers and political opinionators don’t need to know anything; they don’t have to have any wisdom, all they must have is a willingness to express their opinion and a way to connect with people who think like they do.


Great Lent is a time to overcome folly in one’s life and thoughts. It may require great effort to overcome one’s inclination to read or listen to that newsfeed which is aiming to distract you and then seduce you. However, the way to fulfill Christ’s command to love one another, will not be found through paying attention to political pundits or social media. It will only happen when you turn the foolishness off and decide to choose to love those around you. Keep Christ in your heart, before your eyes, on your mind. As hard as it might be for you, completely shut down those who distract you from Christ and the Gospel life.


That means of course not paying attention to all the talk which is so alluring to you and which social media exploits so well to keep you captive. Probably the only way to do that is to quit all those media feeds that constantly seduce you to pay attention to them – they are feeding your addiction and through adds are getting paid to do so at your expense and to keep you enslaved.


Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)

For the Sake of Ten

This for a variety of reasons is one of my favorite Old Testament texts:


So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the LORD. Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.” Abraham answered, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” Again he spoke to him, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” He said, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” And the LORD went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham; and Abraham returned to his place. (Genesis 18:22-33)

6849440946_4d7241d970_wI do like the text because it does show the power of one human as an intercessor before God. It also portrays God as being open to human input, thus, creating a synergy between God and humans. There is an Orthodox prayer which in one translation says: “Despise not the work Your hands have done, remember, Lord, Your mercy is eternal.” Reminding God to remember that His mercy is eternal seems to me much in the spirit of Abraham’s own reminders to God in the above dialogue. Abraham is cornering God by reminding God of His justice and mercy and that it is neither merciful nor just to send broad punishment upon a people when they sin since not all or sin to the same degree. Abraham wants God to be merciful even if it is only a tiny minority of people who deserve mercy. God agrees with him.

That Scripture lesson also points out that God’s punishment is not so surgically precise as to be able to destroy the wicked without also hurting the righteous. There is tremendous collateral damage when God visits a judgment upon a people. Abraham’s appeal to God is “please don’t destroy the entire city because of the wicked in Sodom because then the righteous will be destroyed with them.” The opposite corollary is also true: God spares the wicked for the sake of the righteous. Just having some righteous present can be goodness and mercy for the wicked. And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.”  God vows to spare even all the wicked if he can find 50 righteous people there – or for that matter, as the Scripture lesson unfolds, if He can find even ten righteous.


The imprecision of God’s wrath is on display in the story of the Great Flood in which every single person on earth, except the eight people in the ark are drowned – children, infants, invalids, the mentally challenged, all were condemned to death, swept away in the flood. We can also ask – before the Exodus, were all Egyptians evil and all Jews holy? Not according to Exodus 2:13-14. Moses tries to stop one Jew from wronging another and that one turns against Moses (see also Acts 7:24-28). So, there were Jewish sinners and disbelievers, yet they are all saved by God in the Exodus. God’s judgment/plagues fall on all Egyptians and all the Jews are rescued, regardless of their beliefs or personal sinfulness. All the first-born male children of the Egyptians die, yet the children and infants surely did not sin against the Jews. That biblical story is more about an improbable and miraculous rescue of some slaves than it is about each person being treated fairly. Just another reason why I find the biblical account of Abraham as intercessor so powerful. Every society, every social group is made up of individuals who are sometimes good and sometimes bad, or who do good things for bad reasons and bad things for good reasons. God has to deal with this intermixture of people all the time.


In one of the parables which the Lord Jesus tells, the master does not want his servants going out into the fields and pulling up all of the noxious weeds because in so doing they would also destroy a certain portion of the good crop.  “’No; lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn‘” (Matthew 13:29-30). Everything will be perfectly sorted out only in the eschaton. Until then we all have to live in a world in which both good and evil co-exist. There comes a time when the good and evil can be precisely separated, but meanwhile, the two factions must be allowed to grow together.


And if we think the story of Sodom reveals the worst possible kind of sin and sinners, we might also remember Christ’s words in Matthew 11:24 – “But I tell you that it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.” Sodom is judged and punished for its sins, but that punishment had no eternal implications. They were judged within history, but there are some whose faults are worse than those of the Sodomites and will be more harshly judged on Judgment Day than those wicked people of Sodom. All the more reason why we need to pray, “Lord, have mercy!

A Little Contentment 


Better is a little with righteousness, than vast revenues without justice. (Proverbs 16:8)

50080969141_f0820b610f_wProverbs offers us wisdom for daily living – how to live a spiritual life pleasing to God in this world of the Fall. However, these aphorisms can seem “unAmerican” to some. For example, the proverb quoted above favors a spartan lifestyle over wealth and prosperity if the simpler lifestyle is lived righteously. If wealth is gained with no concern for justice, then it is not blessed by God (for example wealth gained by enslaving others or because of slave labor or child abuse, by cheating laborers of their wages, or wealth obtained by criminal activity). Sometimes it seems to me in America today that wealth is treated as the highest good, and as long as people are able to accumulate wealth, one shouldn’t be too concerned about justice or righteousness.  Trickle down economic theories seem to embrace this idea – as long as the people at the top of the pyramid are getting richer, no matter how they do it, everyone benefits in some way. Then the wealthy become society’s ‘holy heroes’ who everyone else wants to imitate (or elect to public office). In America today, too frequently it seems that most of the heroes people want to emulate are those who are rich, no matter how they got their money. In the world of the Fall in America wealth often determines and defines success and morality, becoming the way evaluate any human being’s ‘worth’.  Get rich quick schemes and promises abound.


Christian morality, however, is based in ideas of a simpler lifestyle and on mutual care for one another.  Our Lord Jesus taught us to pray: “Give us this day our daily bread…” (Matthew 6:11; Luke 11: 3).  He didn’t tell us to ask God to give us a daily banquet or daily gourmet meals – rather, we are to seek just enough to live on.  We are not supposed to be greedily grabbing as much as we can to meet our gourmandizing or gluttonous appetites. Constant consumerism (“Get all the gusto you can out of life.’) is not what Jesus envisioned for Christians. Great Lent gives Orthodox a chance to live the Gospel lifestyle through its food fasting, if they don’t turn it into a search for the best gourmet Lenten meal. As the Proverb said, “Better is a little with righteousness“.  Perhaps, rather than focus on what you eat, just eat less, or eat simply, or if you are more calculating, figure out your caloric need and eat that but no more. Find out what those with limited food budgets can eat, and imitate their food choices. Then donate the rest of your food budget to an organization that helps feed the poor, or volunteer to help serve food to those in need.


There is great gain in godliness with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs. But as for you, man of God, shun all this; aim at righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. (1 Timothy 6:6-11)


Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never fail you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

Using cookbooks to generate gourmet Lenten meals goes against the spirituality of Proverbs and the New Testament. What we should be doing is learning to live with less things which satisfy us and with more righteousness/holiness. If God blesses us with more, this should lead to our thankfulness and increased charity towards others. That would be a more spiritual fast.

God Almighty! 


Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. … “To whom then will you liken Me, or to whom shall I be equal?” says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high, and see Who has created these things, Who brings out their host by number; He calls them all by name, by the greatness of His might and the strength of His power; not one is missing. (Isaiah 40:21-22…25-26)


God makes clear that there is no power or person in the universe who is God’s equal. God is the creator of all things. Satan is not an eternal being but a created being. Satan rebels against God, but Satan can never be anything more than a rebel who opposes God, but the devil has no omniscience or omnipotence. Satan is a creature like us, and we are like Satan in that we too can choose to oppose God. Orthodox theologian Christos Yannaras states emphatically:

There is no second uncaused causal principle, parallel to God, no principle of the existential fact that is evil by nature, nor a second pole of evil antagonistic to the goodness of God.  (THE ENIGMA OF EVIL, p 72)


In other words, Satan is highly overrated. Orthodox hymns celebrate Satan’s defeat and powerlessness in the face of Christ, the incarnate God. Christ defeats Satan by becoming part of creation – entering creation through the incarnation. It is in Christ’s self-emptying of His divinity and uniting Himself to humanity that Satan is defeated. In other words, God uses the created order to defeat Satan. God humbles Himself and becomes human to triumph over Satan. Mary, the Virgin Theotokos, helps make this, our salvation, possible. Satan, a creature, is defeated when God and the rest of creation cooperate (synergy). Humans, with God’s help, are able to defeat Satan because Satan is just not that powerful. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). St John Chrysostom says:

For when the devil sees the law of God written in the soul, and the heart become tablets to write it on, he will not approach anymore.  (THE WAY OF CHRIST, p 26)


One of the great difficulties any monotheist faces is to give an account for why not only is there evil in the world, but why does evil often seem to succeed?  If God is all-powerful and all-wise, why do God’s enemies seem to thrive at times? The conclusion to which some are drawn is that those opposed to God must be empowered by Satan, must be empowered by some great evil force (in this thinking, Satan is conceived of as God’s equal and opposite). This thinking is quite dualistic as it poses two equal and opposite forces God (good) and Satan (evil). The Bible, however, is clear that God has no equal and opposite (as we see God claiming in the above verse from Isaiah). Even Satan turns out to be just another creature, a bodiless one, God called into existence. [Since Satan is a bodiless power, he cannot be defeated by any army or with weapons of mass destruction as Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill seems to think.] Satan is not eternal, not all powerful (in the baptism exorcism, we taunt Satan reminding him he doesn’t even have power over swine). Evil exists and succeeds because people embrace it and perpetuate it. They don’t need empowerment form Satan because they have free wills and can choose to reject God and follow their own path or any other path. God shows us, however, that Satan is defeated. Salvation and victory ultimately belong to God, whom we are able to work with.


A Wise Word 


He who is slow to wrath has great understanding, but he who is impulsive exalts folly. . . .  A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise uses knowledge rightly, but the mouth of fools pours forth foolishness. (Proverbs 14:29… 15:1-2) 

A story from the desert fathers to illustrate the above aphorisms: 

They used to say of Abba Macarius the Egyptian that he was once going up from Scete to the Mountain of Nitria and when he drew near to the place he said to his disciple: ‘Go on ahead a little.’ As he went ahead he encountered a priest of the pagans. The brother called out to him shouting: ‘Hey, hey demon, where are you running to? [The other] turned round and dealt him a few blows, leaving him half dead, then took his club and ran on. A little further on Abba Macarius encountered him running and said to him: ‘I hope you are well, I hope you are well, you who toil.’ Amazed, [the Pagan] 51636291703_16b1d18681_wcame to him and said: ‘What good did you see in me that you saluted me?’ The elder said to him: ‘It is just that I saw you toiling and you do not know you are toiling to no avail.’ The other said to him: ‘I was pricked in my conscience by your greeting and I learned that you were on God’s side. Another monk, a bad one, met me and reviled me so I gave him a few blows [and put him] to death.’ The elder perceived that it was his disciple. The priest grasped his feet saying: ‘I will not let you go unless you make me a monk.’ Coming to where the [disciple-] monk was they picked him up and brought him into the church of the Mountain. [The brothers] were astounded when they saw the priest with [Abba Macarius] and they made [the priest] a monk; many pagans became Christians through him. Abba Macarius used to say: ‘A harsh word makes the good bad but a good [word] benefits everybody.’  (GIVE ME A WORD, pp 191-192) 

The Possessed and the Mentally Ill 


When Jesus saw that the people came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it: “Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!” Then the spirit cried out, convulsed him greatly, and came out of him. And he became as one dead, so that many said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. (Mark 9:25-27) 

Orthodox theologian Jean-Claude Larchet comments on the notion of the possessed, linking them with those who suffer from mental illness: 


The possessed and insane individual remains a brother who has even a greater need not to be held in contempt or rejected, but on the contrary to be loved and helped since he finds himself in a condition of great suffering. As St John Cassian teaches: 

We shall not only never despise them but we shall even pray ceaselessly for them as for our own members and suffer along with them from the depths of our being and with all our hearts (for when ‘one member suffers all members suffer‘ [1 Corinthians 11:26]). 


The Christian should feel bound up with their destiny, believing that his own spiritual destiny is linked to theirs, as each member of the body is linked to every other member. 

We cannot possibly attain to perfection without these members of ours, just as we read that our forebears were unable to arrive at the fullness of the promise without us. As the Apostle says concerning them: All these who were approved by the testimony of faith did not receive the promises, since God had provided something better for us so that they would not be perfected without us‘  [Hebrews 11:39-40]. 


Thus, far from being excluded from the fraternal community, the possessed person, while submitting to his trials, finds himself integrated with the community through the helping attention that his particular situation of suffering and distress deserve.  (MENTAL DISORDERS AND SPIRITUAL HEALING, pp 60-61) 


Christ came to seek and save the sick and the lost which includes people with mental illnesses. Parishes might consider how they can minister to such folk. 

Annunciation (2023) 


Today we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation to the Theotokos, an event reported by the Evangelist Luke: 

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was.


Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. (1:26-35)


St Photios the Great praises the Theotokos: 

Oh, what a miracle! Whom the entire creation cannot contain, the Virgin’s belly bears without being straitened. Whom the Cherubim do not dare to behold, the Virgin carries in her arms of clay. From the barren and fruitless womb comes forth the holy mountain, from which has been cut without hands (Daniel 2:45) a precious cornerstone (Isaiah 28:16; 1 Peter 2:6; Ephesians 2:20), Christ our God, who has crushed the temples of the demons and the palaces of hell together with their domination. The living and heavenly oven is being forged on earth, wherein the Creator of our clay, having baked the first-fruits with a divine fire and burnt up the crop of tares, makes unto Himself a bread of wholly pure flour (cf Romans 11:16; Numbers 15:19-21). (THE HOMILIES OF PHOTIUS, PATRIARCH OF CONSTANTINOPLE, p 175) 


There are many hymns in the Church which ponder the great miracle of the Theotokos by finding in the Old Testament texts which prophecy and prefigure the incarnation in the Virgin: 

In the Red Sea of old, a type of the unwedded bride was prefigured: there, Moses was the divider of the waters; here, Gabriel was the minister of the miracle. Then, Israel crossed the sea without getting wet; now, the Virgin, without seed, has given birth to Christ. The sea after Israel’s passage remained impassable; the Spotless One, after the birth of Immanuel, remained undefiled. O God who is, Who was from everlasting, and who has revealed Yourself as a human, have mercy on us! (Resurrectional Theotokia Tone 5 Dogmatic) 


The above hymn views Moses leading the people of God across the Red Sea as a prefiguring of the incarnation. Again, we note that more important than the historical event is the fact that the crossing of the Red Sea serves as prefiguring of the Virgin birth of the Messiah. The Church in its long history constantly was looking for the relationship of each Old Testament event to the Christ. The Old Testament is more significant as a spiritual text prefiguring the New Testament then it is a text about history. 

In another hymn, we see this same careful consideration of each word of Scripture. 

When Gabriel announced to you, ‘Rejoice,’ O Virgin, with that word the Master of all became Incarnate in you, the Holy Ark… (Resurrectional Dismissal Theotokia Tone 1). 


The one word, “Rejoice”, is what it took for God to become incarnate in the Virgin. Joy is central to God’s union with humanity. We should never forget that as Christians for we should be a people filled with joy because God unites Himself to us and so that God can be united to each of us. If we want God to come and abide in us then we need to… 

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. (Philippians 4:4) 

Signs of the Kingdom


In that day the deaf shall hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity and out of darkness. The humble also shall increase their joy in the Lord, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. (Isaiah 29:18-19) 

Isaiah had prophesied that the day would come when the deaf could hear and the blind could see. This is a sign of God’s coming Kingdom.  Jesus points this out to the disciples of St John the Forerunner who came to ask Him if He was the Christ or not: 


And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. (Luke 7:22) 

Jesus is telling John’s disciples to consider carefully what they have witnessed and to decide for themselves whether or not He is the promised Messiah. This is a very different scenario than when those hostile to Jesus wanted to attack Him: 

The Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of these do you stone me?” The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we stone you but for blasphemy; because you, being a man, make yourself God.” (John 10:31-33) 


Jesus again wants his antagonists to consider the works/signs He is doing and to evaluate them. His opponents ignore His works and rely on an ad hominin attack. Christ wanted people to see His miracles as a sign that God was working in and through Him so they would come to faith. 

… Jesus saw his exorcisms as a demonstration that the end of the age was already present, that the final reign of God was already in operation. He is recalled, indeed, as making precisely that claim: that his exorcisms were evidence that the kingly rule which God would exercise in the new age was already in effective operation (Matthew 12:28/Luke 11:20).  (James Dunn, THE PARTINGS OF THE WAYS, p 236) 


The miracles of Christ are a sign that God’s Kingdom is breaking into this world, or perhaps more accurately, that this world is related to God’s Kingdom and needs only a reorientation to recognize this truth. In this thinking, miracles are not so much things that overturn the order of nature, as they are signs of what nature was originally meant to be. They are nature doing the things God had imbued it with in the beginning, but which were lost as the consequence of the Fall: 


 … heaven and earth do not simply prefigure the ‘new heaven and new earth‘; they are the actual substrate of that future transformation. The beginnings of this transformation can actually be glimpsed in the presence of holiness. The person conformed to Christ, whose love of God spills over to embrace all creatures, starts to realize around himself or herself the intended relationship between humans and the rest of creation. Stories of Saints enjoying the cooperation of dangerous animals and even of the elements continue up to our own day, and are seen as an important testimony to the intended relationship among all creatures. It is in this light that miracles in general are seen: they are not a matter of overpowering the laws of nature, but rather ‘exceptional anticipations of the eschatological state’, ‘revealing to nature a window that opens out onto its own most appropriate goal’. (Elizabeth Theokritoff, THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY, p 70) 


Human sin, a potential result of God’s gift of free will to humans, temporarily dislodges the Lordship of God in creation. Christ comes not to do miracles, but to use the miracles to reveal to us the world which God intended. They are meant to help us accept God as our Lord again – a re-creation to restore our relationship with our Creator. 

Not the Way to Go to Heaven


And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And the Lord said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. “Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city. Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth. (Genesis 11: 3 -9)


The scripture lesson of the tower of Babel is a very troubling one to me. God seems petty and hardly omnipotent – He is worried that the humans will build a tower to His heaven. If anyone should know this is impossible, it should be God. To prevent humans from cooperating with each other, God creates the cacophony of jumbled human languages so humans cannot talk with each other. The historical effect is an endless series of wars, oppression, hatred, terrorism and human separation and division. It almost makes me think that our petitions for peace in the Orthodox liturgies are actually prayers against God’s will. Or I can imagine children sassing their parents when they are told to play nicely together or to cooperate by reminding the parents of the Babel story – God doesn’t want us to be able to cooperate. Nevertheless, I will continue to pray for peace for the world and for God’s mercy on the entire world and all its peoples.


Additionally, if one reads Genesis 10 (the chapter before the Babel story), one sees there is a natural spread of peoples and languages after the Great Flood, as Noah’s sons and their descendants spread throughout the world. But then in Genesis 11, a new explanation is given for the multitude of languages – it is a punishment from God for people attempting something which is patently absurd – they think they can build a tower to heaven.

Below is one modern possible way to extract meaning from the story:


From civilization’s inception, humankind has had an insatiable hunger to reach the heavens, to pave the way to God. We build towers that stretch into the skies, whether in New York or Babel. You may remember the old story of Babel’s tower from Sunday school, or maybe you can hear the distant tunes of Bob Marley preaching about Babylon.

God’s people decided to build a sky-skraping tower (Genesis 11). Scripture says ‘the whole world had one language,’ and the people seemed quite impressed with their limitless power. So they began erecting an idol of human ingenuity to ‘make a name for themselves.’ They hoped to attain the beauty of the heavens only to find themselves growing farther and farther from the God who dwelt with them in the garden of Eden. During the project, God noted that ‘nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them‘ (Genesis 11:6). You can almost hear the echoes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki here.


It seems that God has an aversion for limitless power. It’s not that they were a threat to God but that they were a threat to themselves. This type of grand collaboration wouldn’t be God’s solution to a world ‘full of violence’ (Genesis 6:11). Instead of letting them build a bridge to the heavens, God came ‘down’ from the lofty heights and scattered the people across the land, confusing their languages and bringing them back down to earth. They became babblers. God confused the language of the whole human family, and any hope for harmony, communication, and reconciliation now lay only in God’s hands.


This tale is less a tragedy of divine punishment and more an act of divine liberation of humankind from an imperial project that would lead to death. The land around the tower became known as Babylon, which will rise as the quintessential symbol of empire. The Bible ends with the depiction of counterfeit beauty personified by ‘the Great Prostitute‘ named Babylon (Revelation 17), with whom the kings of the earth, the merchants, and the nations commit a naughty romance. They are dazzled by her splendor, transfixed by all she has to offer. The whole world stands in awe of her beauty… Before she falls. It is no coincidence that what is written immediately after the scattering at Babel is the calling of Abram and Sarai (Genesis 12). Homeless, small, and powerless, they were the antithesis of the Babel project. God called them out of the babbling confusion to become a peculiar new people whom God entrusted to bless the world. God set them apart with a new law, a new culture, a new destiny that was nothing short of the redemption of the human race.


[I would note that Abraham and Sarah are called by God not to rid the world of evil but to become a particular people in the world – to be the salt of the earth or light to the world. It is what Christians are called by Christ to be as well (Matthew 5:13-14). We are to witness to God’s way in the world, not to rid the world of evil. Christians who want to rely on guns and armies to enforce Christianity on the world, completely miss the point of the Old and New Testaments.]


It is not only their story; It’s our story. It’s the history of our ancestors, the dysfunctional family of our father Abraham and mother Sarah. God created this family for the sake of redeeming the world. God told Abram, just before he was given the name Abraham, meaning ‘father of many nations‘ (Genesis 17:5), ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you’ (Genesis 12:1-3).  (Shane Claiborne, JESUS FOR PRESIDENT, pp 30-31)


[It also calls to my mind the statement from Galileo: “The Bible shows the way to go to heaven, not the way the heavens go.”]

See also my posts When Babbling Towered Over All, Building a Tower Into Heaven, and Babel: An Evil Peace?

The Bounty that Comes with Generous Giving 


There is one who scatters, yet increases more; and there is one who withholds more than is right, but it leads to poverty. The generous soul will be made rich, and he who waters will also be watered himself. The people will curse him who withholds grain, but blessing will be on the head of him who sells it. (Proverbs 11:24-26)


True Christian love taps into the ocean of God’s love and thus is not emptied or exhausted as it is freely given to others. There is always plenty more love where it came from – actually an infinite love. It is the person who withholds love who depletes his supply. Generosity is a Christian virtue which not only helps others but also results in much thanksgiving to God (2 Corinthians 9:10-15).


As children of the darkness that rules through fear, self-interest, greed, and power, our great motivators are survival and self-preservation. But as children of the light who know that perfect love casts out all fear, it becomes possible to give away all that we have for others. As children of the light, we prepare ourselves to become true martyrs: people who witness with their whole lives to the unlimited love of God. Giving all thus becomes gaining all. Jesus expresses this clearly as he says: “Anyone who loses his life for my sake…will save it.” Every time I take a step in the direction of generosity, I know that I am moving from fear to love. But these steps, certainly at first, are hard to take because there are so many emotions and feelings that hold me back from freely giving.


Why should I give energy, time, money, and yes, even attention to someone who has offended me? Why should I share my life with someone who has shown no respect for it? I might be willing to forgive, but to give on top of that!  Still…the truth is that, in a spiritual sense, the one who has offended me belongs to my “kin,” my “gen.” The word “generosity” includes the term “gen” which we also find in the words “gender,” “generation,” and “generativity.” This term, from the Latin genus and the Greek genos, refers to our being of one kind. Generosity is a giving that comes from the knowledge of that intimate bond. True generosity is acting on the truth – not on the feeling – that those I am asked to forgive are “kinfolk,” and belong to my family. And whenever I act this way, that truth will become more visible to me. Generosity creates the family it believes in.     (Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son, p 131)


The point is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:6-7)


Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)