Sun, 15 April 2018
Trust, Magic, and the Meltdown on Aisle Three
One of the themes in today's Gospel reading is belief. We live in a world where it is hard to know what to believe. It's no longer just a matter of media spin, we cannot even agree on the facts themselves (example of gas attack). It threatens to drag us down into the hell of the man whom we heard declare last week; “what is truth?” (Pilate in John 18:38) Perhaps this is nowhere more true than when we are talking about belief in God.
Dealing with belief is hard; it has a lot of psychological baggage associated with it. Today I would like to deal with it in its purest form; not as a measurement of a person's relationship to a set of propositions, but as trust in a specific person.
Let's get even more specific and start with an example we can relate to, the example of a marriage and the trust between a husband and a wife. Even if we have never been married, we have experience with this. We know how good things are when it is there and we know how terrible – how bent, crooked, rough, and dry – things are when it is missing.
What does it mean when a husband believes in his wife? Does it mean he understands her? No. (As if!) It means that he trusts her. He knows that she is committed to her marriage and her family, that all of her decisions and actions are devoted to its health and protection, that she loves and sacrifices for it, and that they are part of the same team.
Again, it does not require that he understands her. There is always more to learn, and learning and the good listening and communication that contribute to it is important, but the main thing is trust. Without that, there is no relationship. [Recorder ran out of tape here, BTW] No peace. No real cooperation. No unity. Just, perhaps, coordinated loneliness. They are not an icon of the fulfillment of God's desire that we “all be one as He and His Father are one” (John 17), but an icon of the world's brokenness, its bentness, its roughness, and its dryness.
Similarly, we can look at the relationship of children with their parents and see the value of trust.
How wonderful is the relationship between mother and child! Love and sacrifice on the one side, and faith and obedience on the other. Has a child any other path to happiness than that of faith [trust] in its mother and obedience to her? Is there anything more monstrous than a child that has no faith [trust] in its mother, and does not obey her?
[Faith is the purest path to knowledge. Anyone who turns from this path becomes shameful and impure. Faith is the quickest path to knowledge. Anyone who turns from this path will lag on his way. Where there is faith there is counsel; where there is no faith, counsel is of no help. Where there is faith, there is dialogue; where faith is lacking, dialogue is also lacking; then doubt and temptation take the place of dialogue...
Oh what a sorry sight it is when two mortal men meet, both creatures of Him who also created the seraphim, and one speaks to the other to tempt him, and the one listens to the other with doubt! There is only one sorrier sight than this, and that is when a created man listens to the words of his Creator in the Gospel, and doubts them.]
p. 213-214, “Homily on the First Sunday after Easter” of Homilies by [St.]Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic”
What do good parents want for their children? A common answer is that parents want their children to be happy. We should be dubious about this: it is a trap. A better goal – and the one that our Father desires for us is that we be good [as He is good]. This is not about following rules, but about goodness, about sacrificing for what is right. About the development of virtue.
The parent may offer happiness as a reward for doing good. But happiness on it's own? No. That does not create trustworthy adults that are willing to sacrifice for their beloved – it creates selfish and superficial people who judge every transaction on the amount of happiness it brings them.
Come at concept sideways: magic. Magic involves is the manipulation of supernatural forces. The magician is the one who attempts to cajole, flatter, bind or bargain with them to get them to do what they want, often on behalf of a client. Magic, magicians, and their familiar spirits are all judged based on whether they deliver. It's transactional and selfish.
This is NOT the way the world is meant to work. The deeper magic is about relationships enjoyed NOT for what they deliver but for the enjoyment of love itself. It's about shared lives, grounded in mutual sacrifice and the development and exercise of virtue. It most certainly is NOT about manipulation.
To go back to the point about trust and belief, God is not judged by whether we can manipulate Him into giving us what we want or even what we believe is best for the world and its suffering people.
We cannot be like the tyrannical child that throws a fit in the grocery store because he is hungry; but rather like the good child that trusts that when the parents say a meal is waiting at home – it is there.
Let us enter now into the preparatory feast of our good Father.