The Gospel in Miniature

Most of us are familiar with this famous passage from the Gospel of John: For God so loved the world that he gave us his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him might not perish but might have everlasting life (John 3:16). For many people it serves as a kind of mini-gospel.

There is something of that same quality in St. Paul’s beautiful summary of salvation and of the gospel message: For we were, by nature, children of wrath, like the others. But God, who is rich in mercy, on account of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our sins, gave us life in Christ. It is by this grace that you are saved (Ephesians 2:3-5).

There is a compact beauty to this text from Ephesians. It paints a beautiful picture of the love of God the Father for us despite our terrible condition: we are children of wrath and are dead in our sins. The breakthrough begins with two simple words: “But God ….” From there, love comes to the rescue.

Let’s examine some of the teachings in this mini-gospel, this summary of salvation.

The Condition of our Salvation Salvation presupposes there is something from which we must be saved. This brief text lists two fundamental conditions from which we must be snatched and saved: disaffection and death.

Disaffection – The text says, By nature, we were children of wrath. The word wrath seems to be a synonym for anger, but in the New Testament it points to an ongoing state of aversion to or disaffection with the holiness of God. Wrath speaks to our inability to endure the holiness of God in our present sinful state. Only the grace of God can adequately prepare us to endure the day of his coming and stand when he appears (Malachi 3:2).

The Greek word translated here as “wrath” is orgḗ, and it speaks to a settled anger or aversion arising from an ongoing or fixed opposition; it is different from a sudden outburst of anger. Wrath is a disposition that steadfastly opposes or recoils from someone or something that cannot be endured.

Experientially, “wrath” speaks to the utter incompatibility of the Lord’s holiness and our current condition. To speak of the wrath of God does not mean that God is angry. Rather, it speaks to our inability to endure the light of His truth and heat of His love. It is like a man who emerges from a dark room into the bright sunshine and finds the light of day too harsh to handle. The problem is not with the sunlight; it is internal to the man, who has become accustomed to the darkness. Nevertheless, he continues to protest that it is the light that is harsh. This is our human condition without grace. We simply cannot endure the light and heat of God, who is like a blazing sun of love and truth. Only Jesus Christ, by His grace, can prepare us to enter into the full presence of God.

Before Christ, we were children of wrath, like the rest. Even to the great and holy Moses, God had to say, You cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live (Ex 33:20). Only Jesus can enable us to see the Father’s beautiful face.

Death – The text says that we were dead in our sins. Thus, this problem was not going to go away through any action of ours. A few more spiritual push-ups or alms for the poor were not going to be enough—or even possible—because we were dead in our sins. Dead people cannot do anything but lie there and be acted upon by others. It doesn’t get more serious than being dead in our sins. Only God, who is life and existence Himself, can resolve this for us.

The Cause of our Salvation – The text speaks to the primary cause of our salvation: But God, who is rich in mercy, on account of the great love with which he loved us ….

To love is to will the good of the other. We who are human almost always have imperfect love. We love others, but we also expect to get something in return. If we don’t think we are getting enough back, we easily become resentful and may begin to withhold our love. God’s love, however, is perfect and gratuitous. All that God got back in return for loving us was the cross!

This is the beauty of the text: we are saved by God on account of the great love with which He loved us.

Why does God love us? Because God is love and that is what love does—it loves. Love is more than an emotion, something we feel—it is willing the good of the other. Loving does not always involve affirmation; at times it will involve rebuke and correction. Sin and error are never the good that God wills for us. Thus, even when he must punish us or allow us to endure tribulations, it is only for our greater good, that we come to wisdom, repentance, goodness, and truth.

Love and richness in mercy are also connected in this passage. Even our imperfect love for others brings forth an understanding and a compassion that makes us more patient and more willing to presume good faith on the part of those we love. Due to our imperfections, our mercy can err by excess or defect. We may grow overly angry with those we love and be more severe with them because the blows they inflict upon us are more painful. On the other hand, sometimes we are overly merciful to those we love, becoming too tolerant and overlooking serious issues. Thus, imperfect love and imperfect mercy are often our lot.

Of course, God is perfect love. While He is rich in mercy, His mercy is His willingness to suffer on our behalf, but not in a way that harms us or inhibits our freedom. That is why one of the great evils of our time is the preaching of mercy detached from necessary repentance. Repentance is the key that unlocks mercy. It is the door we freely open to God, admitting our need for mercy and allowing Him to apply its healing affects. His rich mercy is freely offered, not imposed.

As the Parable of the Prodigal Son teaches, if we take one step by God’s grace, the Father takes two steps and starts running toward us. Yes, our Heavenly Father loves us and is rich in mercy, rejoicing in our return and summoning the angels and saints in Heaven to the celebratory feast!

Here, then, is the cause of our salvation: God’s great love for us and the richness of His mercy. We have but to say yes by turning the key of repentance and opening the door of our heart to His rich, necessary, freely-offered mercy.

The Cure of our Salvation The text says that God gave us life in Christ. It is by this grace that you are saved.

We who were dead in our sins and who were children of wrath like the rest are brought back to life in Christ. Notice that it is in Christ that we are saved. That is to say, Jesus does not act upon us in a merely extrinsic way. Rather, He takes us to Himself and makes us members of His Body. He is the Life as well as the Way and the Truth. He incorporates us, makes us members of His body, so that we live in Him and through Him.

  • Now you are the body of Christ, and each of you is a member of it (1 Cor 12:27).
  • Are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We therefore were buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him like this in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in resurrection. … Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him (Romans 6:2-8).
  • Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me, and I in him … so also the one who feeds on Me will live because of Me (Jn 6:54-55).

So, the Father gives us life in Christ not just by Christ. To be saved and no longer be dead in our sins, to live, is to be in union with Him. This is more than a juridical act, more than an imputed righteousness; it is a saving relationship and incorporation into Christ’s Body. Christ’s Body is no mere abstraction or allegory; it is the Church. The Church is the Body of Christ. It is the living, active presence of Christ in the world (see Eph 5:23, Col 1:18, Eph 1:23, Eph 4:12, 1 Cor 12:22ff, inter al).

It by this grace that we are saved, but by what grace? By the grace of a life-changing transformative relationship with Jesus Christ. The grace by which we are saved is Christ Himself and our incorporation into Him. It our remaining with Him through the relationship that is the grace of faith. He saves us by the rebirth and washing of baptism, strengthens us in the Sacrament of Confirmation, feeds us with His Body and Blood in Holy Communion, and heals our wounds in the Sacraments of Confession and Anointing of the Sick.

Here, then, is a kind of mini-Gospel or a summary of our salvation from St. Paul. It is beautiful and compact, worthy of a framed copy in a special place—or better yet, hanging on your refrigerator door.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: The Gospel in Miniature

Why Did the Second Person of the Trinity, Rather Than the Father or the Holy Spirit, Become Incarnate?

Trinity Dome. Credit: J. Lippelmann, Catholic Standard

As we await the approaching Feast of Holy Christmas, we have been pondering some of St. Thomas Aquinas’ teachings on the Incarnation. Today we will consider why it was the Son, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, who became incarnate.

Most people have never even thought of this question let alone sought to answer it. God could have chosen many different ways to save us; He chose to act as He did not because it was required but because it was fitting. It falls to us to ponder, using Scripture and our own reason, why His chosen way was fitting and what we can learn from this.

As always, St. Thomas Aquinas provides rich resources for us. I present below his teaching from the Summa Theologica (part III, question 3, article 8) in bold, italics; my poor commentary appears in plain red text. St. Thomas proposed four reasons as to why it was most fitting for the Son to become incarnate.

I. First, on the part of the union; for such as are similar are fittingly united. Now the Person of the Son, Who is the Word of God, has a certain common agreement with all creatures, because the word of the craftsman, i.e. his concept, is an exemplar likeness of whatever is made by him. Hence the Word of God, Who is His eternal concept, is the exemplar likeness of all creatures. … for the craftsman by the intelligible form of his art, whereby he fashioned his handiwork, restores it when it has fallen into ruin.

When the Father created all things, He uttered a Word (i.e., Let there be light). He creates through His Word (the Logos), and the Word of God is Christ. Therefore, in speaking creation into existence by the Logos, God impresses a kind of logike (logic) on all things.

In this way the Son, the Logos, has a “certain common agreement with all creatures,” who bear something of logic or likeness to Him. If this be so, then, as St. Thomas reasons, God the Father would best repair His creation by the same Word through whom He first created it.

II. Moreover … Man is perfected in wisdom (which is his proper perfection, as he is rational) by participating the Word of God, as the disciple is instructed by receiving the word of his master. Hence it is said (Sirach 1:5): “The Word of God on high is the fountain of wisdom.” And hence for the consummate perfection of man it was fitting that the very Word of God should be personally united to human nature.

While it is true that Original Sin affected our bodily integrity, perhaps our greatest wound was the darkening of our intellect, which was (and is) our greatest gift, the distinguishing characteristic between us and brute animals. So, it is especially fitting that the Word of God, who is also the Wisdom of God, should be joined to our nature and bring healing to us in this way.

St. Paul writes, Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God (Rom 12:2). Even human words can instruct; all the more, then, can the Word of God made Flesh enlighten and heal us. This shows forth the fittingness that the Word—the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity—should become flesh.

III. The reason of this fitness [of the Second Person becoming flesh] may [also] be taken from the end of the union, which is … the heavenly inheritance, which is bestowed only on sons, according to Romans 8:17: “If sons, heirs also.” Hence it was fitting that by Him Who is the natural Son, men should share this likeness of sonship by adoption, as the Apostle says in the same chapter (Romans 8:29): “For whom He foreknew, He also predestinated to be made conformable to the image of His Son.”

In other words, because it is sons who inherit, it is fitting that He who is Son by nature should become incarnate. So shall we, conformed to His image as sons through our adoption and membership in His Body, also inherit the Kingdom and glory through the healing He effects in us.

IV. [Further], the reason for this fitness may be taken from the sin of our first parent, for which Incarnation supplied the remedy. For the first man sinned by seeking knowledge, as is plain from the words of the serpent, promising to man the knowledge of good and evil. Hence it was fitting that by the Word of true knowledge man might be led back to God, having wandered from God through an inordinate thirst for knowledge.

In grasping inordinately for the wrong kind of knowledge (the knowledge of evil) and in insisting on his own right to decide what was good and what was evil, Adam sinned. In and of itself, seeking knowledge is good; it was the object that was disordered (and thus forbidden). Because humans have this thirst to know (of itself good), all the more reason that God should offer us the true Word and Wisdom of God: the Son.

For the Word to become flesh is thus more fitting. In effect, God the Father says, “Let me offer you what you were really seeking but sought inordinately.” For this reason, the Son, who is the Word, who is Truth itself, becomes incarnate.

Forsaking Everything and Receiving More Besides

Church of Holy Comforter St. Cyprian. Photo credit: C. Pope

In the Gospel for Sunday’s Mass, we read this funny story about Peter that speaks to the paradox of losing one’s life only to find it more abundantly:

Peter began to say to Jesus, “We have given up everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age:  houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come. But many that are first will be last, and the last will be first” (Mark 10:27-31).

Every priest knows well the paradox of these verses. Each of us gave up being the father of children and yet thousands call us Father. We gave up the bride of our dreams and yet have the most beautiful and perfect bride: the Church. She is indeed beautiful but has a long “honey do” list! As for buildings and land? We don’t have our own homes on a parcel of land, but we oversee multimillion-dollar buildings, often occupying an entire city block or a country acre.

Talk about receiving back a hundredfold! I don’t have a house of my own with a great room, but you ought to see the “great room” where I live! It seats 800 people and has a 35-foot ceiling of arches with a painted firmament with gold leaf stars; it has marble floors and a frescoed clerestory! You ought to see the windows, all works of stained-glass art. Yes, it is a glorious space, and at the center, the Lord of the universe is tabernacled under a glorious baldachino!

Every priest knows the richness of his life in terms of buildings and land, but above all in people—in family. Such is the paradox of losing one’s life only to find it even more richly.

I think that God has a certain sense of humor about this as well and must have Himself a good laugh as we begin to realize the paradox.

I remember once, back when I was considering the priesthood, it occurred to me with some relief that at least I wouldn’t have to worry about losing my job or keeping a roof over my family’s head. Hah! God must have had a good laugh over those thoughts. I had a chuckle myself as I signed checks a few years ago totaling more than $300,000 just to replace the roof on our school. Somehow, we survived just fine financially; next come the boilers and other big-ticket items. I just can’t avoid a smirk and an eye roll when I think back on my once-naïve notion of the financial ease of being a priest. What was I thinking? Becoming a priest added at least two zeros to my financial world and all the headaches (what Jesus calls persecutions) that come with such large numbers.

But God has been good to me, so very good. In losing my own personal family I gained God’s family. In setting aside something lesser, I obtained something greater, far greater than I could ever have imagined. I forsook the rich blessing of marriage and family only to be astonished at the even larger family that would be mine.

Somehow for all of us the paradox rings true. When we lose our life to this world in some way, God has even greater things waiting. My mother set aside the more lucrative salary of a public-school teacher in order to teach in a Catholic school, but by her own testimony she got back more than she ever gave up. I know another woman who left a six-figure salary to be a stay-at-home mother. The beautiful and holy title of Mom meant so much more to her than her former executive title.

In losing our life we find it. Yes, while the full impact of this will only be seen in Heaven, many of us experience this truth even in this life. St. Paul expressed the rich tapestry of the paradox best of all. Looking to his own life and the lives of those who accompanied him, he could only marvel as he said,

We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything (2 Cor 6:8-10).

Yes, all is lost, but all is gained. Some is gained even right here in this world, as a kind of foretaste, but one day all will be gained beyond measure. Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matt 10:39). Yes, Lord, and we will find it in abundance! Thank you, Lord.

What is your story of losing your life to this world only to find it more abundantly in the Lord?

Marriage and family are wonderful gifts. That some are called to forsake them for the kingdom points to the depth of the sacrifice, but the return is priceless.

Important Reminder: God is more Powerful than Satan

In the work of deliverance ministry, one of the first obstacles to overcome in the afflicted soul is an exaggerated notion of the power of Satan and his demons. Often the troubled person is experiencing a time of crisis. Overwhelmed, he is often scared and sees only darkness. The power of the evil one seems very real, while the power of the angels, of grace, and of God Himself is discounted or all but forgotten.

There are some important truths that need to be reestablished in the faith life of those so afflicted:

  • God is more powerful than Satan.
  • Angels are more powerful than Satan.
  • The Word of God, the sacraments, and Christian blessings are more powerful than curses, hexes, or the lies of the evil one.
  • Satan is not all powerful; his power is limited.
  • Satan is not Not only is his knowledge limited, it is sometimes inaccurate.
  • Satan is a creature. Demons are creatures; they are beneath God and subject to His authority.

One must be restored to a trusting faith in the love of God and in His power and authority over all things. Deliverance ministry (to include the Rite of Major Exorcism) is not a magic pill; it is a journey in faith and faith is necessary for its fruitfulness.

Part of faith includes the rather difficult concept that God allows certain afflictions “for a season and for a reason.” God mysteriously allows some of His creatures, human and demonic, to afflict one another, but it is only to draw some greater good and ultimate glory from the sufferings (see 2 Cor 4:17). Faith embraces not only the power of God over demons but also His mysterious providence in allowing some degree of affliction in our lives. From the perspective of faith, Joseph was able to say to his brothers (who had acted wickedly toward him): You intended it for evil, but God intended it for good, so that many would be saved (Gen 5:20).

In this essay, I want to focus on correcting exaggerated notions of Satan’s knowledge, power, and influence. This is not to say that we should have no concern whatsoever about the devil. Indeed, we should be sober. Daily, with confidence and with recourse to the assistance of God, we must stand against Satan’s evil temptations and torments:

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 5:8-11).

To be sober does not mean to unreasonably fearful of the devil or to forget God’s power and grace. Through strong faith we are to resist, to stand up again and again against Satan. To this end, it is helpful to understand that we can, by grace, stand against him, for God has set limits on Satan’s power, knowledge, and influence.

Let’s consider a few areas that illustrate some of the limitations of demons:

Demons are not omniscient.

To be omniscient means to know all things at all times, past, present, and future. This sort of knowledge pertains to God, but not to His creatures; and Satan and his demon minions are creatures. They are fallen angels. While intelligent, their intellects are darkened by sin as are ours (e.g., Romans 1:21-22).

We see this illustrated in Scripture. Satan has only gradual awareness of who Jesus is and that He has come. Jesus is born quietly in the small town of Bethlehem, in a kind of daring raid behind enemy lines. Satan seems aware of some sort of incursion, but is not certain as to where, or who it is. In the Epiphany account (Matthew 2:1-12), we see him seek information through his agent Herod. Even upon learning of the birthplace, he still does not know who. Herod takes a wild stab and orders the murder of all male children under the age of two (the Holy Innocents). Jesus and the Holy Family evade his grasp and slip away. This demonstrates the limits of Satan’s knowledge. He is aware of the incursion but ignorant of the details. Jesus, the Son of God, continues to live in Satan’s lair for thirty years and Satan does not know who or where He is.

In the narrative of the temptations in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11), Satan seems to narrow in on Jesus and His identity. He still seems unsure, however, for he says, “If you are the Son of God …” (e.g., Matt 4:6). From this time forward it would seem that Satan has reached a conclusion as to the identity of Jesus and through his demons manifests that conclusion. Scripture reports, Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God” (Mk 3:11). Another time a demon cried out, I know who you are—the Holy One of God (Mk 1:24). There are other similar passages in Scripture (e.g., Mk 1:34, Luke 4:41).

We should not conclude that Satan had a comprehensive or flawless knowledge of Jesus and of the full plan of salvation. If Satan had had such complete knowledge, especially of the plan of God, he would not have inspired the crucifixion of Jesus, the very means by which he was defeated. Why play into the hands of your enemy if you know you are going to lose?

Hence, there is evidence that Satan eventually acquired a basic understanding of Jesus’ divinity and of His plan, but his knowledge was limited and likely somewhat flawed.

From this we can conclude that demons are not omniscient. They cannot know the future. They cannot read our minds. They cannot even interpret the present with perfect accuracy. However, demons have long observed human behavior; they can see more widely and know hidden things about the past and the present.

This breadth of knowledge is often evident in exorcisms, where demons show some ability to disclose hidden things of the present or past. They also lie and guess a lot; and anything they claim to know about the future is a lie because they cannot know anything about future events or outcomes.

Demons are smart but lack wisdom.

One of the most surprising things encountered by exorcists and those who work on their teams is that many demons behave in downright juvenile ways. They sneer, call people names, whine, and in many ways seem to be dumb as rocks; they often act like pre-teens.

There are certain higher ranks of demons who are fierce and loud. Others are capable of great subtlety and psychological manipulation. A great many of lower ranking demons, however, are boorish, narcissistic, and incapable of anything close to sophistication.

One explanation for this is that while intelligent, they lack wisdom. Wisdom is a gift of the Holy Spirit that is operative when one is in a state of grace. Without wisdom, demons have no way to organize their intelligence to its proper end.

Wisdom, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, is a gift through which we know the deepest cause of all things: God. Out of this gift comes clear judgment of all things because we know their author, know something of His purposes, and can orient our behaviors toward our truest and highest goal, God Himself (see Summa Theologica II, IIae, q. 45).

Without wisdom, human beings tend to “major in the minors.” They maximize the minimum and minimize the maximum. Their lives are often disorderly and foolhardy because they have lost the moorings of either their origin or their destination. They may be very smart or capable in certain specific (e.g., finance, football), but to what end? There is little to organize their life or prioritize matters.

Similar things must set up in demons as well. It seems hard for demons to develop a coherent strategy other than to sow chaos and elicit fear. There are lots of histrionics, diversions, and silly games, but little that displays anything other than a short-term strategy to disrupt, cause pain, and manifest irrational hatred.

Another explanation for the juvenile behavior of many demons is that sin darkens the intellect. The old saying, “sin makes you stupid” is likely operative here as well.

All this said, we should not presume that demons they are as dumb as they seem. Some of it may be an act to inspire pride during the deliverance session. Pride is the mortal enemy of any exorcist or deliverance team member. The surprisingly “dumb” behavior of demons, whether real or an act, makes most exorcisms more tedious than frightening.

Satan and demons are not all-powerful.

While at the current time the Lord permits a certain freedom of at least some demons to “roam the earth and patrol it” (Job 1:7), he also limits their power.

A remarkable passage of Scripture says,

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven with the key to the Abyss, holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, the ancient serpent who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. And he threw him into the Abyss, shut it, and sealed it over him, so that he could not deceive the nations until the thousand years were complete. After that, he must be released for a brief period of time. (Rev. 20:1-3).

Most Catholic scholars and the Fathers of the Church interpret the “thousand years” in the passage above as a figurative long period of time rather than specifically 1000 years. They hold that this “thousand years” has already begun and is the time in which we now live, the current “Church age.” During this time, the gospel goes out to the nations, as it has been, and Satan’s power is limited to some degree.

Although Satan and demons are described as “chained,” “in prison,” or “in darkness,” this is more likely a way of indicating that their power to influence or move about is limited in some way. This does not say that they do not wield considerable power, only that it is not unlimited. If you think it is bad now, just imagine what it will be like when their power is unchained!

It is said that St. John Vianney spoke of the devil as a chained dog. While it can bark and make a lot of noise, it can only bite if we get too close. Thus, Christians must remember that God mysteriously permits some influence of demons; He allows them to cause some harm, but their power is limited. They cannot directly kill, and it would seem that they cannot even fully control the very evil they set loose. This is evident in the way that the wicked often turn on one another. It can also be seen in the way that strong evils often usher in reforms. Consider, further, that the Church is still here preaching and teaching the same gospel after two millennia, while numerous evil regimes, empires, heresies, and corruptions have all come and gone. Although the gates (i.e., powers) of Hell have tried to prevail, they have failed due to Jesus’ promise of indefectibility for the Church as His Body and Bride (see Mat 16:18).

Demons are outnumbered.

While the exact number of demons and angels is unknown, Scripture hints at the fact that demons are outnumbered two to one:

And there was seen another sign in heaven: and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads, and ten horns: and on his head seven diadems: And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth … (Rev 12:3-4).

It is likely that the “stars” referred to here are the angels. Satan is able to rally a third of them to his side and they became demons, some of whom roam the earth and others who are consigned already to Hell (see 2 Peter 2:4).

The good news is that for every angel that fell to become a demon, two did not and are thus able to serve God, assist us, and do good works.

These are important reminders for all of us, afflicted or not. There is a kind of theatric fear that too often exaggerates the powers of demons. Movies and other verbal and visual sources emphasize things to scare us and to deepen the drama of the movie or book. Satan and the work of demons should not be summarily dismissed. They are intelligent, crafty, and persistent. Our faith in the Lord must outweigh our fear of demons. We must grow in our faith that God has the power and capacity to both overcome evil on our behalf and to draw greater good from it when He chooses to permit it.

There is an old saying meant to shift our focus: Stop telling God how big your storm is and start telling your storm how big your God is. For deliverance and exorcism to have their fullest effect, confident and trusting faith must grow and exaggerated notions of the power of demons must give way. To all of us experiencing any trouble Jesus has this to say:

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me you might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation: but have confidence; I have overcome the world. (Jn 16:33).

Here is a classic commercial that emphasizes the “cheap parlor tricks” of demons, though in this case the cause is more natural than first appreciated by those here. Remember, the first goal of demons is to strike fear in us.

How Justice and Mercy are Alike with God

Many people today set mercy and justice in opposition to each other, but where is mercy if justice is absent? Could the victims of genocide really be said to experience mercy if their unrepentant killers were ushered past them into the Kingdom of Heaven? Could Heaven even be Heaven if unrepentant sinners dwelled there? At some point, mercy demands that justice rightly separate what is stubbornly evil from what is good. For now, there is a time of mercy and access to the throne of mercy, but there comes a day when justice requires a final answer and verdict. It is mercy that accompanies us to the justice of the final judgement. Mercy and grace prepare us.

Mercy that canceled the requirements of God’s justice and His law would not be mercy at all. It would leave us deformed and incomplete; it would mean that injustice would continue forever. Neither of these outcomes is merciful.

Further, justice that did not rely on grace and mercy would not be justice at all. This is because without grace and mercy, we are dead in our sins; justice is unattainable.

One of the signs of orthodoxy is the ability to hold competing truths in tension, realizing that they are there to balance each other. For example, on the one hand God is sovereign and omnipotent, but on the other we are free to say no to Him; both are taught in Scripture. Our freedom mysteriously interacts with God’s sovereignty and omnipotence.

Heresy will not abide any tension and so it selects one truth while discarding others meant to balance or complete it. For example, is God punitive or forgiving; is he insistent or patient? Too often we focus on one while downplaying or dropping the other. In some eras, the notion of a harsh, strict God was so emphasized that His mercy was all but lost. Today, the tendency is to stress His mercy and kindness while nearly dismissing His role as the sovereign Judge who will set things right by upholding the just and punishing the unrepentant and wicked.

The balance of orthodoxy holds that justice and mercy are alike with God.

  • The LORD loves righteousness and justice. His mercy fills the earth (Ps 35:5).
  • Righteousness and justice are the habitation of your throne: mercy and truth shall go before your face (Ps 89:14).
  • Hear my prayer, O LORD; give ear to my pleas for mercy! Because of your faithfulness and justice, answer me (Ps 143:1).

Yes, in God, justice and mercy meet.

https://youtu.be/XFj-3RHGkrY?t=2786

Two Teachings on Discipleship from Jesus

In the Gospel for today (Monday of the 13thWeek of the Year) Jesus gives two teachings on discipleship. They are not easy, and they challenge us—especially those of us who live in the affluent West.

Poverty– The text says, As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”

Here is a critical discipline of discipleship: following Jesus even if worldly gain not only eludes us but is outright taken from us.Do you love the consolations of God or the God of all consolation? Do you seek the gifts of God, or the Giver of every good and perfect gift? What if following Jesus gives you no earthly gain? What if being a disciple brings you ridicule, loss, prison, or even death? Would you still follow Him? Would you still be a disciple?

In this verse, the potential disciple of Jesus seems to have had power, prestige, or worldly gain in mind. Perhaps he saw Jesus as a political messiah and wanted to get on the “inside track.” Jesus warns him that this is not what discipleship is about. The Son of Man’s kingdom is not of this world.

We need to heed Jesus’ warning. Riches are actually a great danger. Not only do they not help us in what we really need, they can actually hinder us! Poverty is the not the worst thing. There’s a risk in riches, a peril in prosperity, and a worry in wealth.

The Lord Jesus points to poverty and powerlessness (in worldly matters) when it comes to being disciples. This is not merely a remote possibility or an abstraction. If we live as true disciples, we are going to find that piles of wealth are seldom our lot. Why? Well, our lack of wealth comes from the fact that if we are true disciples, we won’t make easy compromises with sin or evil. We won’t take just any job. We won’t be ruthless in the workplace or deal with people unscrupulously. We won’t lie on our resumes, cheat on our taxes, or take easy and sinful shortcuts. We will observe the Sabbath, be generous to the poor, pay a just wage, provide necessary benefits to workers, and observe the tithe. The world hands out (temporary) rewards if we do these sorts of things, but true disciples refuse such compromises with evil. In so doing, they reject the temporary rewards of this earth and may thus have a less comfortable place to lay their head. They may not get every promotion and they may not become powerful.

Thus “poverty” is a discipline of discipleship.What is “poverty”? It is freedom from the snares of power, popularity, and possessions.

Jesus had nowhere to rest his head. Now that is poor. However, it also means being free of the many obligations and compromises that come with wealth. If you’re poor no one can steal from you or threaten take away your possessions. You’re free; you have nothing to lose.

Most of us have too much to lose and so we are not free; our discipleship is hindered. Yes, poverty is an important discipline of discipleship.

Promptness (readiness)The text says, And to another he said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

The Lord seems harsh here. However, note that the Greek text can be understood in the following way: “My Father is getting older. I want to wait until he dies and then I will really be able to devote myself to being a disciple!”

Jesus’ point is that if the man didn’t have this excuse, he’d have some other one. He does not have a prompt or willing spirit. We can always find some reason that we can’t follow wholeheartedly today because. There are always a few things resolved first.

It’s the familiar refrain: I’ll do tomorrow!

There is peril in procrastination. Too many people always look to tomorrow. But remember that tomorrow is not promised. In Scripture there is one word that jumps out repeatedly; it’s the word now. There are many references to the importance of now or today rather than tomorrow:

  • Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD (Isaiah 1:18).
  • behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2).
  • Today if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your heart (Ps 95:7).
  • Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for you know not what a day may bring forth (Prov 27:1).

That’s right, tomorrow is not promised! You’d better choose the Lord today because tomorrow might very well be too late. Now is the day of salvation.

There is an old preacher’s story about delay: There were three demons who told Satan about their plan to destroy a certain man.The first demon said, “I’m going to tell him that there is no Hell.” But Satan said, “People know that there’s a Hell and most have already visited here.” The second demon said, “I’m going to tell him that there is no God.” But Satan said, “Despite atheism being fashionable of late, most people know, deep down, that there is a God, for He has written His name in their hearts.” The third demon said, “I’m not going to tell them that there’s no Hell or that there’s no God; I’m going to tell them that there’s no hurry.” And Satan said, “You’re the man! That’s the plan!”

Yes, promptness is a discipline of discipleship. It is a great gift to be sought from God. It is the gift to run joyfully and without delay to what God promises.

Here are two disciplines of discipleship. They are not easy, but the Lord only commands what truly blesses. There is freedom in poverty and joy in quickly following the Lord!

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Lost in Cyberspace, as Seen in a Commercial

I am not sure what to make of the commercial below. On the one hand it celebrates the many creative acts that take place behind computer screens. On the other, there’s something sadly emblematic about all the solitary figures engrossed in their PCs.

Almost everyone in the commercial is alone behind his or her laptop. Today many people are almost obsessed with the virtual world while seemingly quite uninterested in the real world around them. It is most evident on city streets, on buses, and in the subways, where people stare at their smartphone screens with their earbuds in, only vaguely aware of the people and things around them. Even stranger is to attend family gatherings and see the teenagers not interacting with one another, but instead each plugged into his or her own device texting or playing video games.

I suppose it is a question of balance. Time spent focused on a computer screen can be enriching; it can be a time of creativity. As a writer, I spend quite a bit of time sitting alone at my computer mulling over the most effective way to communicate a particular article of the faith to my readers.

But when do we turn off the electronics and engage with the real people around us? When do we sit down together for dinner? When do we get together to play cards or board games, or even just to talk? When do we take a walk in our neighborhood and engage with our neighbors? When do we go out and attend community meetings? When do we call a friend to actually talk rather than just sending a short text?

Don’t get me wrong; I like my computer. But God and the people He has put in my life are much more important. The reality that God gives me is a much more beautiful place than what I can watch passively on my computer screen.

Below is the link to the commercial. There are a lot of solitary people doing creative things, but it is not clear for whom they are doing them.

Where is the Dwelling of God?

The following old Hasidic story was related by the late Jewish philosopher Martin Buber:

“Where is the dwelling of God?” This was the question with which the Rabbi of Kotzk surprised a number of learned men who happened to be visiting him. They laughed at him: “What a thing to ask! Is not the whole world full of his glory?” Then he answered his own question: “God dwells wherever man lets him in.”

Indeed, there is only one place in all of creation where God will not go without permission; that place is our own heart. Jesus says,

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and dine with him, and he with Me (Rev 3:20).

Yes, God knocks. He does not barge in. He is not rude or overwhelming; He knocks.

God fills all creation with His glory, but our heart has such an influence that if we do not admit Him there, we may well miss His presence elsewhere, including creation. Today there are some who deny God’s glory, which is so clearly manifest in creation. “No,” they say, “it’s all the result of random mutation, blind evolution. There’s nothing to see here, no one to see.”

If God is refused entry to our heart, our minds easily fall into vain reasoning. Of this St. Paul writes,

For what may be known about God is plain to [the Gentiles], because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from His workmanship, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking and senseless hearts were darkened (Romans 1:19-21).

To those who admit God into their heart, who open the door, His glory is seen everywhere.

The spacious firmament on High
With all the blue, ethereal sky!
And spangled heavens a shining frame;
Their great original proclaim!

Another song says,

O tell of his might and sing of his grace,
whose robe is the light, whose canopy space.
His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form,
and dark is his path on the wings of the storm.

Your bountiful care, what tongue can recite?
It breathes in the air, it shines in the light;
it streams from the hills, it descends to the plain,
and sweetly distills in the dew and the rain
.

If we admit God into our heart, suddenly the world lights up with His glory. We become “mystics on the move.” The world is full of God’s glory, and reason alone can conclude the existence of a creator from observing the book of creation, but if we open the door of our heart to God we are struck with wonder and awe, and we see the glory of the Lord as never before and in an ever-deepening way.

Look up to the stars. There is more there than just suns, planets, galaxies, and the vacuum of space. There is a revelation of God’s glory and love, a revelation of God Himself in His handiwork. Consider the stars and planets; learn their proclamation:

Though they in solemn silence all
move round our dark terrestrial ball;
And though nor real voice nor sound
amid their radiant orbs be found;
in reason’s ear they all rejoice,
and utter forth a glorious voice,
forever singing as they shine,
‘The hand that made us is divine!’

Does the Lord dwell in your heart? He will only dwell there to the degree you allow Him.

Let Him in and watch creation light up as never before. Yes, the world is full of God’s glory—do you see it?