Rejoice in the Lord

“St. Paul urges us again and again, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice’ (Phil. 4:4).  Notice that he says, rejoice, not in your circumstances but in the Lord. This is where the joy is – in the Lord- not in our circumstances. We cannot squeeze a drop of rejoicing out of our circumstance or our past or our prospects, but we can always rejoice in the Lord. Habakkuk expressed it this way:

Though the fig tree does not blossom

nor fruit be on the vines,

the produce of the olive fail,

and the fields yield no food,

the flock be cut off from the fold

and there be no herd in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the Lord,

I will joy in the God of my salvation.

(Hab. 3:17-18)

Rejoice in the Lord – not in your circumstances, not in your empty stalls and parched fields, but in the Lord.” (Anthony Coniaris, HOLY JOY, pp 57-58)

 

Are the Blessed Happy?

Commenting on Matthew 5:1-12, English Evangelical the Rev.  John Stott  (who died last month) wrote:

“The beatitudes are Christ’s own specification of what every Christian ought to be. … The eight beatitudes which Christ speaks describe his ideal for every citizen of God’s kingdom.”

In the beatitudes Christ speaks of being “blessed.” Some say “blessed” can also be translated as “happy.” But John Stott writes:

“It is seriously misleading to render makarios ‘happy’. For happiness is a subjective state, whereas Jesus is making an objective judgment about these people. He is  declaring not what they may feel like (‘happy’), but what God thinks of them and what on that account they are: they are ‘blessed’.

What is this blessing? The second half of each beatitude elucidates it. They possess the kingdom of heaven and they inherit the earth. The mourners are comforted and the hungry are satisfied. They receive mercy, they see God, they are called the sons of God. Their heavenly reward is great. And all these blessings belong together.”       (John R.W.Stott, The Message of The Sermon on the Mount, pp 31, 33-34)

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 9:1-2

See:  God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 8:20-22 (c)

Genesis 9:1 And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. 2 The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the air, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered.

“Be fruitful and multiply….”   God’s first words to humankind after the flood are to repeat to them what He had commanded when He first created them in Genesis 1.  Does God understand that creation is beginning totally new or just that creation has been renewed?  This new world order is not like Paradise, nor even like the world into which Adam and Eve were expelled and exiled; animals will now fear and dread the humans, not live at peace with them.  In Genesis 2 Adam named the animals which showed he had power over them, but the animals did not dread the human.  After the deluge, the animals which Noah had helped preserve from death in the flood are to be human food.  Is this why God wanted Noah to preserve the life of all the animals because He knew in the post-flood world they would be human food? 

Except for the brief time when the animals follow Noah into and out of the ark – when Noah was shepherding or rather animalherding all wildlife – never did the humans demonstrate their “dominion” over all other creatures.  Now human “dominion over” is to be replaced by dread in the animals themselves.   Humanity failed to do God’s will, and in the connected world of creation the animals suffer from the failure.  Soon in Genesis, humans will practice warfare where not only will animals dread the humans, but humans will dread other humans as they each attempt to lord it over, enslave or eliminate one another.

God blesses Noah and his sons which will present a textual problem later in 9:24-25 when Noah wants to curse his son Ham for lewd behavior but instead curses his grandson Canaan, perhaps because Noah doesn’t want to curse one who had been blessed by God.  Such tensions in any one human reveal that humans have the capacity for both good and evil.   God has learned to work with this fact as is witnessed in the Gospel description of the behaviors and attitudes exhibited by the Twelve Apostles.

“God … said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply … Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.”     In the modern world we commonly separate our spiritual lives from all else that we do:  We go to church, we do our prayers,  we give to the poor, etc.    All of these “spiritual” activities are somehow separated from our “regular” lives where we:  watch TV, go out to eat at a restaurant, exercise, do housework, have sex.   We live a very dualistic life and are quite comfortable with it.   The Genesis account knows of no separation between the religious/spiritual and the secular/profane.  Everything in Genesis is God’s and everything is part of God’s creation.   From the beginning God spoke to the humans about what they could eat, and about their sexual lives, and about work.  All that happens to the personages in the story is religious – there is nothing they do which is in any sense unrelated to God and to their spiritual lives. The challenge for all humans today is to reconnect all the disparate elements of our lives so that we experience wholeness in life again.  How we behave at work, what we eat at supper, what interests we have, what skills we have, what friends we have, what knowledge we hold, what property we own, who we marry, how we treat our neighbors, are actually all related to God and to our relationship to God.  God speaks to the first human beings not about heaven or hell (neither is mentioned in the early chapters of Genesis) but about this world and our relationship to it.  Genesis 9:1-17 represents the longest speech from God to any human beings up to this point in the story.  God speaks about life, death, eating, law, procreation, environment, and anthropology.   Nothing that we humans do is outside of God’s interest.  To fail to see ourselves and our daily lives in relationship to God is to live exactly like the people of Noah’s day did before the flood.  Jesus taught, “As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man.  For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man” (Matthew 24:37-39).   Have we learned nothing by reading the narrative of Noah and the flood?  What are we doing today?   How should we be living?  What difference did Jesus think the Noah story should make in our daily lives?

“The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth”      Humans were created by God in Genesis 1 to have dominion over all of creation.  Humans were originally envisioned to live at peace with all animals – none were carnivores.   This is very much what Isaiah envisions for God’s Kingdom: “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, says the LORD” (Isaiah 65:25).   But following the flood human rule is accomplished with and through fear and dread. The world though “restored” by God is a different world where carnivores dwell.  God has promised never to destroy all of life on earth again, but He will allow the humans to slaughter animals even if He will not.  It is no wonder fear and dread have come upon the animals – God has lifted His protection from them and left them at the mercy of the violent and vile humans!

“…into your hand they are delivered.”   The lives of the animals are placed at the mercy of the humans.  God who saw the wickedness and violence of the humans before the flood, now entrusts the lives of all his creatures to these same humans.  One has to wonder, Why?   Has God seen a change in humanity which makes Him think humans can be entrusted with behaving responsibly toward the rest of creation?   Or, is it possible that God is revealing a deistic tendency and is simply withdrawing from creation?  Or is God putting full responsibility on the humans to make us fully accountable for all we do?  The story is perhaps preparing us for the great and awesome Final Judgment.  It does not offer a very satisfactory explanation as to why humans have delivered into their hands the lives of all other animals.   Humans have not proven themselves very good stewards of God’s generosity.  God seems determined to place ever more responsibility on the humans.

Next:   God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 9:3-4 (a)

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 5:1-2 (b)

See: God Questions His Creation: Genesis 5:1-2 (a)

Genesis 5:1 This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. 2 Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created.

God intended for humans to have some affinity toward him.  Our God-likeness relates us to God by nature, whether or not we believe in Him!   But the image of God which is bestowed on us by God  does not make us God, nor even like God, a lesson which Eve and Adam learned to their and our eternal sorrow.   Elsewhere in the Old Testament the people of God are sternly warned away from mistaken idol/image worship.   Isaiah 40:18 states flatly that no “likeness” of any sort compares with God.  So though we are created in God’s image, we humans are not comparable with God.   God is totally other.  In Deuteronomy 4:15-18, the Israelites are reminded that God is invisible and therefore it is forbidden to make any graven image in the likeness of any male or female or of any animal which humans might then worship.   Christians believe that the imagelessness of God changed when the Word became flesh and dwelt on earth and we were able to both see and touch Him.   The incarnation of God suddenly made God visible in the flesh.  To see Christ is to see God the Father (John 12:45).   This becomes the basis for the theology of the icon in Orthodoxy.  God really has brought about a new revelation, and Orthodox icons are an affirmation of the truth of the Gospel that Jesus is both God and man.

And again as in Genesis 1 both male and female are created simultaneously and co-equally, both in God’s likeness.  God blesses both the male and female.  In the Septuagint God names the male Adam.  Naming another being is a sign of the power God has over the man.

“When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God.  Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man.”    The unusual wording which is reminiscent of Genesis 1:27 reinforces the idea of God making man both male and female and giving them one name.  This may be what St. Paul had in mind when he wrote:    “there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus”  (Galatians 3:28).  For in Christ we both are blessed with what humans were before the Fall as well as with being a new creation.

Despite the apparent equality between man and woman being repeated here from Genesis 1, many who read Genesis including St. Paul still saw a male dominance as being normative on earth.  Paul comes to that conclusion by reading Genesis 1:27 through the interpretive lens of Genesis 2:22.   Genesis 5:1-2 repeats the Genesis 1:27 version of God creating humans:  male and female are created simultaneously and both are ikons (in the image of) God.  Usually such a repetition in scripture would be seen as significant by the Patristic writers such as John Chrysostom who thought that every verse and word was essential – doubly reinforced if the verse is repeated.  In this case despite this particular repetition, St. Paul more or less downplays Genesis 1:27 and 5:1-2, in favor of a notion that the woman is created after the male so therefore is not equal to the male but must submit to the male (1 Timothy 2:12-14).  His interpretation of Genesis 1 & 2 because it is part of Christian scripture becomes normative in Christian thinking, and yet it must be noted that his interpretation is not entirely faithful to the verses he downplays or outright ignores in 1Timothy.  In the Gospels, the Lord Jesus clearly accepted and affirmed the text of Genesis 1:27 and did not reinterpret that text through Genesis 2. “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female…”  (Matthew 19:4, Mark 10:6)     Jesus uses this passage in arguing against easy divorce and affirms that the husband and wife become one flesh – they share a union, a oneness which God intended when He made them male and female.   Here Jesus does not rank the woman as either second rate to the male or somehow below the male in God-given dignity.   When Jesus then makes the statement, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mark 10:9, Matthew 19:6 ), one realizes He is not simply referring to their marital union but how God created them from the beginning – male and female sharing a God ordained oneness. 

“… he blessed them…”   The original blessing of humans in Genesis 1:28 included words for the humans to be fruitful and to multiply and to fill the earth and subdue it.  The blessing by God is not fleshed out in this text.   To “bless” is far more than to “wish them well” or “wish them good luck.”   In the Bible words and names have power and are chosen carefully for they are thought to contain the essence of thing they represent.  To “bless” means to convey vigor, strength, life and peace to the one being blessed.   God in blessing is bestowing the very life and peace which belong to Him.

Genesis 5:1 takes us back to the beginning of humanity one more time.  It is not going to repeat the story of the original Fall of humankind.   Rather the story simply reminds us that in the beginning humans were blessed by God.  No paradise in the story this time, and no original sin is mentioned.  But quickly in the story it becomes clear that the world is not paradise for in it there is sin, and though humans live long, they still die.   The story is going to move quickly to the lives of the most important characters in the early history of the people of God.

Next: God Questions His Creation: Genesis 5:3-5 (a)

Psalm 1:1-2

1Blessed is the man
   who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
   nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
   and on his law he meditates day and night

(Psalm 1:1-2, ESV)

True Happiness is something the Psalms speak about frequently.   Do you truly want to be happy?    The first Psalm tells us that true happiness (blessedness) comes by not following the way of the ungodly, or the sinners or the scornful.  Now we might ask where do I learn these ungodly ways for I certainly do not try to associate with the ungodly?    Well,  we learn the values of the ungodly and scornful from those who find God to be restricting their behavior.   We learn a lot of ungodliness from the books, emails, magazines, movies, podcasts, web pages and television we view each day.  We learn these values from modern songs, talk shows, and sitcoms.    Does this mean that everything in our culture is evil?     No.  It does mean that the values, priorities and perspectives of today’s mass culture media is not shaped by the Church or by God or by scripture.  Just think about the humor you encounter daily through the internet or media (maybe you even assumed, “hey it’s supposed to be humorous not holiness, otherwise it wouldn’t be funny.  Right?!?” )  Think about the language, images, content, which we accept as normative, and then ask yourself “is it ungodly?”  Should I be keeping company with such humor?   Or think about the things we consider to be “entertaining”  – murder, mayhem, slasher, blood and gore, torture, destruction, amoral, immoral, rape, violence, crime, suffering, humiliation, degradation.   We can be judged by the “company” we keep – our communications and our entertainment of choice.   We will learn the way of the scornful and the ungodly by the messages we watch, read and listen.

Interesting to note:  the early Church Fathers saw this Psalm as a prophecy of Christ – THE Man who rejected the way of the world and brought true joy to all.

Who is blessed by God? 

The person who studies and meditates on the Lord’s decrees, commands, teachings.  The happy person thinks constantly about what God says.   God’s commands are life, and light, and joy and peace and strength.  In them, we Orthodox will find all we need to survive in the world.  We will find guidance for daily living in God’s Word and World.  We will find comfort in time of trouble.  We will find God’s revelation to us – indeed through them we will find God Himself – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  We will find in God’s commands purpose for our existence.  We will find direction for all decision making.  We will find songs to uplift us, and songs that express our anguish.  God’s law is a joy to think about & fills our hearts with delight.

How different would our lives be if we read and studied the Gospels and the entire New Testament as often or for as long as we entertain ourselves with computers and the mass media?  I’m not saying we read the New Testament more than all these other things, only that we study it for an equal amount of time as we spend on entertainment and the internet.

See also Psalm 1:3-6