Tuesday, March 13 (O.S., February 28), 2018: Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent; Venerable Basil the Confessor, companion of the Venerable Procopius of Decapolis († c. 750); Hieromartyr Proterius the Patriarch of Alexandria († 457); Hieromartyr Nestor, Bishop of Magydos in Pamphylia († 250); Venerable women: Marina, Cyra, and Domnina of Syria († c. 450); Apostles of the 70: Nymphas and Euboulus; New Martyr Kyr-Anna; Blessed Nicholas Salos of Pskov the Fool-For-Christ († 1576); Hieromartyr Arsenius, Metropolitan of Rostov († 1772).
For many people, the darker aspects of the Old Testament are unsettling. For example, look at today’s reading from Isaiah.
The reading begins and ends with the Prophet praising God. In between, however, we learn that the “wonderful things” at least some of what God does sound terrible.
God reduces “the city to a heap,” obliterates “the palace of aliens,” so that it can “never be rebuilt.” He Who is “a stronghold of the poor, … the needy” and “a shade” for those suffering from the heat is at the same time is the One Who subdues “the noise of the aliens.”
The God we meet in Isaiah is forgiving and merciful to the poor, the destitute and repentant. At the same time, He is ruthless and destructive to those who exploit the poor, ignore the destitute and are unrepentant of their sins.
Turning to the reading from Genesis, we hear how God establishes a covenant with Noah and his sons, their descendants “and with every living creature …, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth …, as many as came out of the ark.”
And what is God’s promise? That “never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
Even now, in this promise, God’s anger hovers in the background. God promises never to destroy the world by a flood. But as Isaiah makes clear, God remains willing to use others means to punish the unrepentant.
The temptation we face is this: to prefer one aspect of God to the other.
Again for many Christians and even non-Christians, the gentle face of God is preferred. To these individuals, the harsh words of Isaiah are an embarrassment and even a justification for the sin of atheism.
Just as frequently, however, there are those who cannot will not, accept the gentle voice of God. For these individuals, God’s justice outweighs His mercy–at least in the lives of other people.
In either case, my struggle is really not with God but with my own, heart. By turns, I am kind then cruel, forgiving then vengeful, gentle then harsh. I go back and forth from one extreme to the other. Sometimes the change is so rapid as to induce emotional vertigo in my heart and yours.
And so we see the need for wisdom.
Solomon says that “the mercy of the wicked is cruel.” Yes, I can be kind, forgiving and gentle. But I do these things to win the praise of others than mine is “a false witness” that “utters deceit.” All too easily, my virtue is merely an affection, the fruit of “lying lips” rather than of a faithful heart.
Fidelity to God means that I must take seriously the example of God. I must not artificially limit God’s revelation of His character and will to only those aspects I find pleasing. I must not, in other words, worship a god of my own making. This is especially the case when I make this god by cannibalizing the Scriptures.