Thursday, September 04, 2008

Save me, O Lord...but then again...

This morning I write to you via Google Chrome--how does it look?

In Ethics 101, there is a common example for legitimate 'harm' to be done for a greater good (this is distinct from, but related to, the question whether the ends always justify the means). You've surely heard the scenario: you are rescuing a drowning person whose struggles make it impossible to hold on to him.  So you bop him on the head to knock him out; now his body is relatively light and you have some chance of saving him.

We had a lively discussion at community recreation on Sunday about the permissibility of corporal punishment.  All the monks here are old enough to have been on the receiving end of this transaction when we were children.  No one expressed any hard feeling toward their parents as a result, even though we admitted that the parents were not necessarily perfectly just.

These connections came up as I pondered a recurrent theme that I encounter in spiritual direction.  We all say that we want a good life, to know God, to experience salvation.  But when offered salvation, there is a part of us who is like the panicky swimmer.   Instead of letting go and letting the life guard carry us into shore, we want to save ourselves.  Perhaps in this regard I am at an advantage because I know that I am a terrible swimmer.  I've actually had to be rescued a couple of times in my life (I used to make the excuse that I was too lean to float, but age and sedentary habits have deprived of that rationalization).  To extend the analogy back into the spiritual life, this would represent the unpopular virtue of humility.

Many, perhaps most of us only learn humility and give up our preference for saving ourselves when under the severest duress.  "When He slew them, then they would seek Him/return and seek Him in earnest," reads the memorable summation in Psalm 78.  This is a risky way to go about it, though; it is always possible that under the pressure of sufffering we will follow the advice of Job's wife to curse God and die.  I offer this reflection merely to say that when we encounter tough situations: job stress, relationship stress, health issues, family members in trouble, you name it, often our first impulse is to try and fix everything ourselves.  When we fail, then unfairly we blame the failure on God.  It would be more rational to turn to God first thing, admit our inability to fix the world (apologies to Live Aid), call to mind the various jams that He has dispatched of, the death of the Messiah being the worst of them, producing the greatest triumph.  Trials are simply unavoidable in life; no one is singled out for them or excused from them.  When they come, they actually present an opportunity to deepen our faith, grow in humility and eventually love of God, whose promises are proven to be trustworthy.

And while we're at it, why not start even when the trials aren't there by thanking God for sparing us for now, admitting that the good things in our lives are not our doing either.

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This blog is published with ecclesiastical approval.

If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
preach the Word of God, If I do something against the discipline of the Church
and the Rule of the Gospel so that I become a scandal to you, The Church, then
may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.

Origen of Alexandria
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