Thursday, March 22 (O.S., March 9), 2018: Thursday of the Great Canon of St Andrew; New Hieromartyrs Priests Michael, Alexis, Demetrius, Sergius, Sergius and Deacon Nicholas, Venerable Martyrs Ioasaph, Natalia and Alexandra († 1938); Martyr Urpasianus of Nicomedia († c.295); Venerable Cæsarius, brother of St Gregory the Theologian († c. 369); Martyr Philoromus; Righteous Tarasius of Liconium; Martyr Philoromus; Albazinian Icon of the Mother of God called “The Word Was Made Flesh” (1666).
Once again Isaiah reminds me that God isn’t “good” in the way I typically think of goodness.
Isaiah begins by telling us about God redeeming His people. In words that Jesus will quote at the beginning of His ministry (Luke 4:18), we are told that God has made the Jewish people “a light to the nations.” Through them, He will “open the eyes that are blind,” He will “bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,” and liberate “those who sit in [the] darkness” of sin.
In response, creation and the whole man-made world join in sing “to the LORD a new song.” The sea roars together with “all that fills it,” roars in praise of God. Then “the coastlands and their inhabitants” join in the song together with “the desert” and the “cities.” All “lift up their voice,” all “sing for joy,” and “shout from the top of the mountains” their gratitude to God.
At this point, things quickly take what might seem to us to be a dark turn.
“For a long time,” God says, “I have held my peace.” God has “kept still and restrained” Himself in the face of human sinfulness and disobedience. Now though, God cries out “like a woman in travail.” God gasps and pants as He makes ready to destroy.
I will lay waste mountains and hills, and dry up all their herbage; I will turn the rivers into islands, and dry up the pools. And I will lead the blind in a way that they know not, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I will do, and I will not forsake them.
We see something like this in God’s response to Sodom and Gomorrah.
God is intent on destroying these cities because their sin is “great and … very grave.” Abraham negotiates with God to spare the cities for the sake of ten righteous individuals. But as we discover a bit later (Genesis 19:12-29), the cities don’t have even ten good people between them and so they are destroyed.
God’s isn’t good the way I understand goodness.
God isn’t the aggregate of moral goodness. Rather, God is holy–He is sovereign and as Lord of All is over all that is. As the Creator of the universe, He is the source of moral goodness but moral goodness itself is only a shadow, a veiled revelation of God (see Hebrews 10:1, Colossians 2:17).
And so we come again to the importance of Wisdom.
Wisdom not just as practical and moral guidance–though it includes both. As we hear today, Wisdom is the “fountain of life.”
Wisdom fosters in us “a lowly spirit” (humility) and willingness to “heed” God (obedience). The wise heart is discerning and speaks in a way that is both “pleasant” and persuasive. Like Jesus, the wise speak and teach with an authority that comes not simply from moral goodness but the disinterested freedom of holiness (Matthew 7:9, Mark 1:22 and Luke 4:32).
And wisdom levels, or better transcends the often arbitrary distinctions with which we divide ourselves off one from the other as we jockey for power and control. “A slave who deals wisely will rule over a son who acts shamefully, and will share the inheritance as one of the brothers.”
Christians are called not simply to be morally good but holy. We are called to share (as we can never tire of repeating) in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). In fact, everything we do as Christians has only one goal: to become like God, not just good but holy.