Thomas Sunday: Thinking Outside the Box

Sermon Notes for St. Thomas Sunday 2017:  Thinking outside the box

  • Humans often think themselves into a corner, or into a box, from which they can see no way out. Sometimes we do that to ourselves, sometimes others force us into that box.
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  • At the incarnation, God put Himself into such a box. He willfully limited His omnipotence in becoming fully human.   God accepted all the limitations having a body and living in creation puts on any of us, including death.  God ended up not only as a human on earth, but as a corpse buried in a tomb.  That tomb was sealed by a heavy stone.  God thought Himself into such a “box” even finding His way to Hades, the place of the dead from which no one ever escaped.
  • Except God was not limited by any of these boxes – not the earth, not His body, not the tomb, not Hades.
  • 16481116539_a5b0081344_nToday’s Epistle concludes with the Apostles also in a box – The Sadducees have them arrested and put in a prison. This is the case of others putting us in a box of their choosing.  And yet that box, the prison, was not able to contain the Apostles – God helped them think outside the box!

 

Epistle: Acts 5:12-20

In those days, through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch. Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly. And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them. Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed. Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with indignation, and laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison. But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, “Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.”

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  • Before the Apostles were put in that prison, they had put themselves in another box, but this was their own choice. The Apostles were terrified after the crucifixion of Jesus.  Terrified that they too might be killed, so they went into hiding.  They closed themselves in a room and locked the doors.  They thought themselves into this box and could see no way out.

 

Gospel: John 20:19-31

Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

  • We Christians can think ourselves into such boxes. We think the society is against us and we can choose to hide in our churches or in our homes or in our hearts.  Each – church, home, heart – can become a box.  We might go into that box, like the Apostles into the upper room – for safety because we fear the society around us.
  • But there is another reality which the Scriptures teach us. ANY box which we find ourselves in – whether it is one we chose to go into for safety, one we thought our way into and can’t see a way out of, one that is imposed on us by those who against us – still is part of this creation and so still is within God’s realm.   “God is not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’” (Acts 17:27-28).  Whatever “box” we find ourselves in – God is still not far from us, and we are still in God.  All “boxes” humans experience – all limitations whether self-imposed or imposed on us by others – are still within God’s grace and power.   They cannot separate us from God.
  • And as the Apostles discovered – even if in a box – Christ can still find His way into that box and be with us. So not only are our “boxes” always still in God with God close by, but Christ is able to enter into our boxes and be with us.
  • 32797394455_e14a68fe9f_nThe Apostles discovered that Christ does not prevent them from boxing themselves in, nor does He promise them that there is nothing to fear out in the world, but He enters their box and tells them to go into the world anyway even if that world is terrifying.
  • We humans find ourselves in boxes of many kinds and we often think there is no way out of the box, or maybe even there is nothing outside the box! God is there.  We might think our way into a box out of fear, depression, loneliness, overwhelmed by problems, or because others are imposing that box on us for their own (even nefarious) reasons.  People these days think their way into political boxes as well, and this is often a self-imposed box.  We allow ourselves only to read or think about ideas we agree with and we become afraid of everything and everyone outside our boxes and hate them as threats to our thinking.  Political boxes also exist within God’s world and don’t contain it.  And just as Christ came to His Apostles in their locked room, he challenged them to live the Gospel.  He challenges us to do the same and not retreat into the imagined safety of our boxes.
  • We can remember Thomas and the Apostles and how Christ came into their presence – Christ entered into that upper room where they were hiding and was them with them in their box, in their fear, in their depression as they hid for their own safety and He helped them out of that box.   He didn’t bless them to stay hidden or afraid.   Neither did He  tell them “there is nothing to fear” because He after all was crucified by this world.
  • The truth remains: no box humans create is ever outside of God.  Every box and every prison is a human construct.  When we are in them, we still are within God’s creation and are still living and moving and having  our being in God.   Even those who are in a tomb or in Hades are not outside of God, and Christ comes to them in their boxes and saves them.

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O Give Thanks to the Lord

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“… we are led to give thanks to our Benefactor through the good things of this world, by which I mean

                                                     health,

                                                prosperity,

                                            strength,

                                        rest,

                                    joy,

                                light,

                            spiritual knowledge,

                        riches,

                    progress in all things,

                a peaceful life,

            the enjoyment of honors,

        authority,

   abundance and

all the other supposed blessings of this life.

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We are led to love Him and to do what good we can, because we feel we have a natural obligation to repay God for His gifts to us by performing good works. It is of course impossible to repay Him, for our debt always grows larger. On the other hand, through what are regarded as hardships we attain a state of patience, humility and hope of blessings in the age to be; and by these so-called hardships I mean such things as

illness,

discomfort,

       tribulation,

               weakness,  

          unsought distress,  

                             darkness,

                                 ignorance,

                                           poverty,

                               general misfortune,

                                            the fear of loss,

                                                           dishonor,

                                                                  affliction,

                                                                       indigence,

and so on. Indeed, not only in the age to be, but even in this present age these things are a source of great blessing to us.”  (St Peter of Damaskos, THE PHILOKALIA ,   Kindle Loc. 28948-67)

In the quote above, St. Peter of Damascus (whose Namesday it is today, February 9) gives us a long list of blessings which lead us to God.  These are blessings in this world and in this life – blessings even monastics, who are not supposed to live for this world alone, recognize and appreciate.  Even hardships (of which he also makes a long list, and monastics and non-monastics alike can agree they are things we want to avoid) become a blessing because they can increase certain virtues in us as we deal with them in faith, hope and love.

All of the above  was simply an introduction to the good news I can share about my own health.  First, let me thank all of your for your continued prayers as indeed the last 4 years have been difficult with 4 major surgeries plus chemotherapy for cancer.  This week I had both an oncology appointment and a 3-month post operative appointment with my neurosurgeon.    The good news in oncology is no news – labs continue to show no change (I continue to be anemic but that seems expected due to the surgeries and the on-going chemo).  I will have my next CT scan in about a month as they keep vigilant watch for any new tumors.  There have been none since the lung resection surgery in May of 2015.

The neurosurgeon is totally happy with the spinal fusion which seems to be holding in place.  I can walk without a cane and have none of the crippling back pain that led me to accept surgery.  I will have to live with a number of physical limits, but I no longer need the back brace (pictured above, in case you can’t recognize what it is).  That back brace first hugged me on November 8  and embraced me like a python 23.5/7 ever since.   My cane (pictured here) – I was able to lay aside immediately after surgery.   It now stands in a corner awaiting a new walking partner.  The good news is for the time being I need neither of those devices, though I have a handful of other tools and devices which help me pick up things, reach things, get my socks and shoes on and the like.   My back will never be what it was years ago, and will never be “normal” (though it is now a “new normal”) but I am able to continue to function, for which I am grateful daily.

I have learned to rejoice in the blessings of life and to see blessings in the hardships as well.   I have learned to admire those who cope with and even overcome disabilities.  I am ever thankful for those who have invented the medical devices that made my surgeries possible as well as those who improved them through engineering.  I am grateful for all of those who have learned to use technology in the medical sciences – doctors, nurses and technicians.

I give thanks to God that God has entrusted such wisdom in the sciences to help us all.  God has made it possible for us humans to remove all obstacles to our being healed by God.  Medical science removes the physical obstacles to our healing, and repentance removes the spiritual obstacles to our becoming whole and human.  Medicine and confession are thus both gifts from God which make healing possible.  Both require human help and intervention.

I have accepted that in this life there are trials and illness.  A few have asked me as to why instead of healing us, God doesn’t just prevent disease and injuries in the first place.  I can only speak about reality – in this world, we have sickness, sorrow and suffering.  Perhaps in some other world it doesn’t exist, but in our world it does, and it can serve a purpose, even be beneficial to us, though it doesn’t always seem so.    I can ask why is grass green instead of being orange or purple?  Maybe in some other world it is, but in this world, the only reality I know, it is green and must be so of necessity.  Photosynthesis requires it, we and animals depend on it for food and oxygen.  I also am reminded of a quote from St. John Cassian:

“Do not pray for the fulfillment of your wishes, for they may not accord with the will of God. But pray as you have been taught, saying: Thy will be done in me (cf. Luke 22:42). Always entreat Him in this way – that His will be done. For He desires what is good and profitable for you, whereas you do not always ask for this.”  ( THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 1326-29)

How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever?

O LORD, do not rebuke me in Your anger,
Nor chasten me in Your hot displeasure.
Have mercy on me, O LORD, for I am weak;
O LORD, heal me, for my bones are troubled.
My soul also is greatly troubled;
But You, O LORD—how long?
Return, O LORD, deliver me!
Oh, save me for Your mercies’ sake!
For in death there is no remembrance of You;
In the grave who will give You thanks?
I am weary with my groaning;
All night I make my bed swim;
I drench my couch with my tears.

(Psalm 6:1-6, Of David, A Prayer of Faith in Time of Distress)

King David, was loved by God, and yet in the Psalms he composed, he offers woeful lamentations about the suffering he experienced in his lifetime.  His Psalms certainly speak to those of us who have suffered, as well as expressing the sorrows of our hearts.  Distress, pain, sorrow, and suffering can all seem to go on forever with no end in sight.  We do wonder with David, how long will God let the suffering go on?

We can also have the same experience of endless suffering just by listening to the news.  And depression itself can come upon us like a darkness which will not go away.

What brought this all to mind was the words of St. Paul:

“It is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)

As I mentioned in the previous blog, Light Shines in Darkness, I realized what hope we have in the God who shines out of darkness.  God is there present in the darkness.  God doesn’t have to shine light into the darkness, for in the darkness we will find God, even if hidden, and we realize we don’t have to get out of the darkness to find our Lord.  He is there where we are.  The darkness is not darkness to God (Psalm 139:12)

I also realized that while suffering and worry seem to go on forever, there is another scale of time within which I can understand my own existence or even the times we are in.  It is the time of the The Cosmic Calendar.  The Cosmic Calendar tries to give us a graphic view of time from the beginning of the universe (the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago) as science calculates it, to the present day.  It takes this long history of the universe and puts it all into a 1 year calendar.  Assuming the Big Band occurred at 1 second after midnight on January 1, and then showing when other things appeared in the universe, based on scientific calculations and assumptions.  Here is just a very brief glimpse at when some things appeared in our world:

January 1 – 13.8 Billion years ago The Big Bang

 

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Not until
December 25  –  is the Age of the Dinosaurs
December 31, 23:59:49 –  Invention of the Wheel
December 31, 23:59:55  –  Jesus Christ walks on earth
December 31, 23:59:59  –  The past 500 years

When viewed in this perspective of the universe, we realize that relatively speaking nothing we humans have experienced has lasted all that long.  In fact all of human history and experience lasts less than a minute on the Cosmic Calendar.  Even if one doesn’t believe in the Big Bang, or thinks the universe is younger than these scientific claims, still we come to realize how whatever we experience in the world is still a very small part of the whole, no matter how much of our thinking and lives it occupies.   When we think things last “forever”,  or when we worry about why God lets some event happen, we can see things from the perspective of the Cosmic Calendar and realize on the grand scale of things, our troubles are a minuscule part of time.

In the perspective of eternity or of the eternal God, we begin to understand the wisdom of Scripture:

“But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”   (2 Peter 3:8-9)

Helix Nebula
Helix Nebula

In the absolute immensity of space and boundlessness of time , God shines forth out of the darkness.  God is there.  The darkness may obscure God to us.  The vastness of space and the of enormity of time, may hide God from our eyes, causing us to see only darkness.  Sometimes events occur which make us feel the darkness will last forever.  But out of this darkness God will shine, illuminating all of time with eternal light and divine love.

Praying on 9/11

angrycrowdOften when human relationships falter, there is a lot of blaming that goes on.  Those dealing with such situations quickly tire of all the blaming, faultfinding, and finger pointing which only helps to escalate hostilities.  The blame game.  And those who see it express the sanity of “stop blaming everyone else.”  While we appreciate the wisdom of this in personal relationships, we might find it harder to accept when applied to world events.

One thing one can notice in Orthodox prayers dealing with war and adversaries is that many of them do not blame the enemy, but start with personal repentance and asking God’s forgiveness.  The assumption is that if terrible things are happening to us, it is because we are sinners.  These assumptions and prayers are not always satisfying as they do not attempt to justify our own reactions to things, nor do they validate our point of view, nor do they vilify the enemy.  The prayers do not rely on human ideas of justice or righteous retribution.   They are one Christian way to deal with the antagonisms and aggression we experience in life (and might even inflict on others).

Below are a few prayers shaped by Orthodox Tradition which do not allow us to accept a self-pitying victimization point of view.  They seek God’s help and mercy. The proactive prayer in Orthodoxy has us repenting first and approaching God in humility, not asserting our righteousness, but asking God’s mercy first.  We approach our God on 9/11 with humble hearts, acknowledging the pain of the evil we have experienced.  We recognize what evil has done to us while beseeching God for mercy.

911O Lord our God, our help and assistance. You are just and merciful, and You hear the prayers of Your people. We humbly beg You to look down now upon us sinners and have mercy upon us. Through your deep and abiding love for us, deliver us all from this evil that has befallen on our nation from the senseless, violent and evil actions of terrorists and have mercy on us.

To those taken from us by these evil actions, give them rest with the saints in a place where there is no pain, sorrow or sighing, but life everlasting. Sustain and heal those who have been physically harmed but live on, and bring them to full restoration and health by Your Grace. For the families and friends of those killed or injured, grant them, O Lord, comfort, aid and mercy. Deliver them from the assaults of the evil one and grant them Your mercy.

ground-zero-crossO Lord, while we do not understand the purpose of these tragedies, we believe that you allow trials in life so that we may learn to trust in Your Love and Complete Goodness. Grant everyone awareness of your Presence, Your All-encompassing Love, and Your True Peace. Fill our hearts with Your Hope and inspire us to cherish life as well as defend against all violence, for all life is precious and comes from You the True Source of every good thing. Protect us and have mercy on us.

Endow us with patience and strength to endure all tribulations with an awareness of Your truth, and teach us to learn by our holy submission to Your gracious Will. You know our misery and suffering and to You, our only True Hope and Refuge, we flee for relief and comfort. We trust in Your infinite love and compassion. Deliver us from evil in these troubled times. Turn all of our distress into comfort, so that we can rejoice in Your mercy, and always exalt and praise Your Holy Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Seeing the Lord

“We are now able to discern the great difference between seeing the Lord and having the Lord appear to us. Seeing the Lord indicates what man may discover of divine attributes in proportion to his abilities and saintliness. In this sense, man can never attain a perfect vision of God. As for the Lord appearing to us, in this he unveils his own self to us according to the abundance of his love, mercy and goodwill. In his appearance, God reveals himself in all his depth to man. He takes upon himself the task of sanctifying man and offering him all the power by which he may discover God’s glory: ‘For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God’ (1 Cor. 2:10). With this distinction between vision that results from endeavor and saintliness and vision that results from the gratuitous appearance of the Lord, we may understand the difference between the verses occurring in the Old and New Testaments that confirm at one time the impossibility of seeing God and at another time the possibility of seeing him.

On the impossibility of seeing God, we find God saying to Moses, ‘Man may not see me and live’ (Ex. 33:20). We find the Spirit saying, ‘No one has ever seen God’ (Jn 1:18). St. Paul, moreover, says, ‘I charge you to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ; and this will be made manifest at the proper time by the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen’ (1 Tim. 6:14-16).

At the same time, we find verses that prove that God actually revealed himself to Moses, Isaiah, Job, and others in the Old Testament. As for the New Testament, ‘all flesh have seen him’ (cf. Is. 40:5; Lk. 3:6) in accordance with prophecy. According to St. John ‘the life was made manifest’ (1 Jn. 1:2). Christ says, ‘He who has seen me has seen the Father’ (Jn. 14:9), also promising that ‘he who loves me….I will love him and manifest myself to him’ (Jn. 14:21). Again St. Paul also preaches, ‘For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God’ (1 Cor. 2:10). From all this, it becomes clear that what had been impossible for man to reach by effort of worthiness, that is, to see the Lord, has become possible with the appearance of the Lord. The appearance of the Lord is an act of love and a gratuitous work of grace, for the attempt to see the Lord is impossible for man to realize except for a small part. This part is proportionate to man’s chastity, love, and obedience to God’s commandments. As for the appearance of the Lord, it is granted to man unconditionally and without any effort or worthiness on his part. For God grants ability and saintliness to man by which he may see God as he is, that is, as God may wish to reveal himself at will.” (Matthew the Poor, Orthodox Prayer Life, pp 86-87)

God as Lord of our Lives

We do speak, metaphorically, about feeling or being closer to God or further away from God.  The imagery does describe an awareness we may have at times, but cannot really describe our relationship to God since God is not limited to any one place in the entirety of existence, for God is everywhere present and fills all things.

The Creator always relates to all creation.

It is also true that we live and move and have our being in God.  As the Fathers often note there is no front and back to God, no closer or further away.  Such ways of referring to our relationship with God are purely human attempts to describe what we experience, but do not in any way describe our relationship to God who exists beyond space and time.  Language is the way we communicate our ideas and feelings, but language is sometimes inadequate to the text of describing reality, especially when it comes to portraying our relationship to God.   Fr. Meletios Webber notes:

“One of the paradoxes of human existence is that there is nowhere where God is not. Even though we naturally assume that He is more concerned with certain parts of our lives than with others, God is not nearly as restrictive as we are.” ( Steps of Transformation, p 147)

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall* on me,”
Even the night shall be light about me;
Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You,
But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You.

(Psalm 139:7-12)

Enveloped in God’s Love

“Everywhere and in every endeavor remember the Lord your God and His holy love for us. Everything that you may see in heaven and on earth and in your house awakens you to the remembrance of the Lord your God and His holy love. We are enveloped in God’s love.

Every creature of God bears witness to His love for us. When you see God’s creation and make use of it, say to yourself thus: This is the work of the hands of the Lord my God, and it was created for my sake. These luminaries of the heavens, the sun, the moon, and the stars, are the creations of the Lord my God, and they illumine all the world and me.

This earth on which I live, which bears fruit for me and my cattle, and all that may be upon it, is the creation of the Lord my God. This water which waters me and my cattle is a blessing of my Lord. This cattle which serves me is the creation of my Lord and was given by Him to serve me.

This house in which I live is God’s blessing and was given me by Him for my repose. This food which I taste is God’s gift to me for the strengthening and consolation of my weak flesh. This garment with which I am clothed the Lord my God gave me for the sake of covering my naked body.” (St.Tikhon of Zadonsk, Journey to Heaven, p 9)

Welcoming Spring

The vernal equinox reminds us that the seasons are in constant motion, time for a change.

The clouds of spring water the earth which blossoms with new life.

Like the seasons, the flowers break into our world and then pass away, as do all things.

Even fading beauty uplifts the heart and delights the eye, giving hope that always there will be something that arises even from the dead of winter.

The scents, sounds and sights of spring may draw our minds to Paradise, yet there, since fruit was in season and in abundance, it must have been more like an eternal summer or fall.

 

Here, we can praise God for beauty springs eternal, as does hope.

 

The Prodigal Son’s Dependency

The second of the three Pre-Lenten Sundays takes its theme from Christ’s Gospel parable as recorded by St. Luke (15:11-32), the Prodigal Son.  Our Lord Jesus taught:

Then He said: “A certain man had two sons.  And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. 

And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living.  But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want.  Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.  And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.

But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!  I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son.  Make me like one of your hired servants.’  And he arose and came to his father.  But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 

But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.  And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.  Now his older son was in the field.  And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.  So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant.  And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’  But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him.  So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends.  ‘But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’ 

And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.  It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’

Archbishop Dmitri comments on our Lord’s parable:

And He said, A certain man had two sons: and the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of good that falleth to me.   And he divided unto them his living (vv 11-12).

The younger son judges himself capable of independence, and, like many young people, he wants to leave home and live on his own. Strangely, he sees no inconsistency between his desire to be independent of his father and his request for his inheritance. Even in the new way of life he proposes for himself, he must begin with his father’s endowment. His words betray profound self-centeredness: Give me the portion…that falleth to me. Just as children often do not realize what a great debt they owe their parents – their birth, their nurture, their training, their knowledge, their health, and many other things – so the human being often thinks nothing of all he owes to God, Who has brought him into being, crowned him with glory and honor, endowed him with talents and abilities and brought him to adulthood by His Providence. The son asks his father for what is his, failing to see that what is ‘his’ is the fathers gift. Human beings often take for granted that God owes them something. And, just as the father in the parable, despite his son’s youth and inexperience, gives him what he asks for, so also God gives freely to those who ask of Him, even though this recipient may misuse the gifts.[…]

And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him (vv 14-16).

The son has been reckless; rather than use his gifts to build an admirable life consistent with his upbringing, he has wasted them in self-indulgence. Having spent everything on an illusion of happiness, he wakes to find he has nothing. ‘Mighty famine’ really describes the state of his soul. Empty spiritually and morally, he has nothing to sustain him. He adopts a kind of substitute father, and this ‘citizen of that country’ indeed takes him in, but he sends him to the fields to feed swine, no doubt the most despicable task on the farm. How sharply this picture contrasts with the relationship he had with his loving father! The emptiness and meaninglessness of his life are brought out by the statement that he would have gladly filled his belly with the husks he fed the swine. Every attempt to satisfy his real needs leave him unfulfilled. No man can replace what he has lost.” (Archbishop Dmitri, The Parables, pp 80-82)

Love is Action, Not Reaction

St. Isaac of Ninevah (6th Century) makes a very astute theological observation about God.  St. Isaac’s basic premise is that God is love, and everything God does is an extension of the Divine love.  God’s actions toward human beings and God’s activities in creation cannot be inconsistent with God’s very nature.

God by definition of God’s nature is not altered by time or change, so God is forever acting toward creation, not reacting to it.  Human behavior, including sin or rebellion against the will of God, does not change God.  The Father, Son and Holy Spirit continue to love their creation because that is their very nature.  The mystery of course is that we exist in time and God does interact with us.  God is not an impersonal force, but in a manner beyond our comprehension, takes into account what we do with the free will God has bestowed on us.  God has created the universe with quantum uncertainty.  These are factors God deals with in God’s eternal being – they all are part of creation as God intended it and as God loves it.  And the mystery deepens for God in Christ enters into creation in the incarnation, subjecting Himself to time and space.  None of this changes God’s nature or the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity.

St. Isaac ponders:

“But we know that everyone is agreed on this, that there is no change, or any earlier and later intentions, with the Creator: there is no hatred or resentment in His nature, no greater or lesser (place) in His love, no before or after in His knowledge. For if it is believed by everyone that the creation came into existence as a result of the Creator’s goodness and love, (then) we know that this (original) cause does not ever diminish or change in the Creator’s nature as a result of the disordered course of creation.”

(Isaac of Ninevah, The Second Part: Chapters IV-XLI, p 161)

Adam naming the animals

Because we exist in space and time and are temporal, mortal beings we experience God’s love within our human experience and interpret it as love or justice or anger or grace or judgment.   Our experience of the Divine is real, yet tempered by our created, mortal natures.  We may gain glimpses into the Divine Life, but our understanding of it is shaped and limited by our own limits, and by the limits language imposes on our ability to conceive and explain.

God’s love is not diminished by God’s interaction with us nor by God’s ability to condescend to our limited understanding.  We experience God within our capabilities of understanding and articulation.  This does not change the love of God or the God who is love.