Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Into the Unknown

Psalm 79:1-9

The human psalmist writes: "Pour out Your anger on the nations that do not know You, and on the kingdoms that do not call on Your name ... Do not remember against us the iniquities of our ancestors ..."

The Divine and Eternal God speaks through the prophet Jeremiah: "My joy is gone; grief is upon Me, My heart is sick.  Hark, the cry of My poor people from far and wide in the land: 'Is the Lord not in Zion?'"

It can be suggested that both passages were written roughly in the same time period during the Exile and by the same people (though not necessarily the same person) - AND BOTH with completely different notions about the Lord.  The psalmist prays for judgment against the "nations ... who have defiled Your holy temple" - and yet the prophet conveys thoughts from our Heavenly Father whose holy heart is broken not by these uncircumcised invaders but by His own circumcised people of the Holy Covenant ("Why have they provoked Me to anger with their images, with their foreign idols?")!

It is easy to connect these passages with so many others to provoke a sense of conviction and guilt against the faithful who should never have allowed themselves to reach such state of spiritual neglect, and the value of conviction and guilt cannot be overstated when it comes to the spiritual cleansing of earnest repentance.  Beating people over the head time and again, however, produces little more than "scar tissue", an ambivalent lack of sensation that is no longer even capable of, let alone concerned with, a healing response.  What do we do with this?

It is important to remember that the Psalms in general are prayers written by prophets and priests as well as some which can be indirectly attributed to King David or at least attributed to the period of his reign as king.  There are psalms of joy as well as psalms of lamentation, expressions of a people no more and certainly no less fickle than we are today. 

Psalm 79 is just such an example of a people who pray for judgment against invading nations - AND YET they pray out of the "other side of their mouth" not to be held responsible for the "iniquities of our ancestors".  It would appear this is a people who refuse to look too closely at themselves to determine that the problems they are experiencing are not coming from outside - but from within.  It is a lot like what we do today in blaming our government or foreign terrorists for invading our "bubble" without realizing there is no political or military solution for what truly ails us.

The prophets are another story altogether.  These men have been anointed and commissioned by the Holy God to speak in His behalf to His people, so these words carry a little more weight - especially when Jesus brings these words forward into a new generation to show essentially the same people that not much had changed from the time of the Exile to the Messianic period when our Lord quotes the prophet Isaiah: "This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.  In vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Mark 7:6-7).

There was recently an interesting speculation from an atheist writer who commented that these and so many other passages come dangerously close to suggesting that the people of God knew nothing about this God.  And then, of course, this atheist goes further to point out that the very same holds true for Christians who claim a Messiah but seem to know even less about Him even today!  This is the very same spiritual ignorance cited by the prophet Muhammad in the 8th-century which gave rise to Islam - an alternative religious expression that sought to reconnect the "people of the Book" (Jews and Christians alike) to the original faith of Abraham.  So what are we supposed to do with this?

It is one thing to be accused by an unbeliever.  It is another thing altogether to stand accused by the Eternal Judge: "My people are foolish; they do not know Me" (Jeremiah 4:22).  Or from St. John: "He came to His own, but His own did not receive Him"

In spite of this willful ignorance and rejection comes this eternal prayer from Messiah: "Forgive them, Father, for they do not know what they are doing."  In the face of the Ultimate Rejection, the Messiah - the very One sent directly to us by our Holy Father - nevertheless prays for our forgiveness, and it was in that moment when the entire human race was redeemed by the blood of the Sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world; forgiven for willful neglect may be another story altogether, but this is a story which continues to be written!

Sin is defined as a "transgression against the moral or divine law", but sin is also defined as "estrangement"; that is, a broken-ness in fellowship and relationship.  This estrangement does certainly come when we willfully commit an act of transgression against the clearly stated will of the Most High God. 

This estrangement also comes when we willfully choose not to pursue a familiar relationship with the Holy God in Christ Jesus through His Divine revelation in Scriptures but rely instead strictly on "feelings", feelings borne of emotions which can often betray us - especially when our feelings are, more often than not, completely irrational because they are based strictly on what we THINK we know rather than what we ACTUALLY know.

After 2000 years of preaching the Gospel of our Lord through His Holy Church, one might think we would know more by now.  Do we?  Can you pick up your Bible and turn to any random page, read what is written and say, "Oh.  I didn't know that"?  If you can - and I suspect we all can - then we do not "know" enough.

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