Friday, April 25, 2014

The only fire worth having

Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to Him to call his attention to its buildings. ‘Do you see all these things?’ He asked. ‘I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down…
Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold…’

Matthew 24:1-2, 12 NIV

The love of most will grow cold.
This verse comes from Christ’s discourse on the end times, and there are many seemingly more startling predictions than this one in the passage—impersonators of Christ, wars and revolutions, famines and earthquakes, persecution, apostasy, and false prophets—and then this, the love of most will grow cold. It seems almost anti-climactic. Yet Christ included it. It must be an important sign, and a sign it is.

This is my experience practically every day.
This is our experience, though because its presence is so pervasive, we’ve all become used to it and don’t notice it. If we did, it might drive us to despair. What am I talking about? ‘The world’s not all that bad!’ Sorry, brothers, sorry, but it is. Even close to home.

At first I wanted to say of this love growing cold, that unwillingness to affirm the other person is its hidden root, but no, even that root doesn’t go deep enough. Jesus plainly calls its cause—wickedness—in Greek anomía, lawlessness. Ironic, that lawlessness causes lovelessness? I should have stopped here, but forgive me, brethren, for this worthless ramble.

We love because we feel we are loved. Loved by whom? Well, for starters, think of a child, one who knows that his parents love him, especially that his mother does. That makes it possible for him to love, and love he does. But what if his mother doesn’t love him, and he knows it? Right from the beginning, the inner emptiness caused by that lack of love can turn his love inwards, to self-love. ‘Well, if mommy doesn’t love me, I’m looking out for number one,’ or, as we read in C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, ‘The dwarfs are for the dwarfs!’ A lot of loveless people start out this way, crushed children grow up into crushing adults.

In a general sort of way, the love of most grows cold because they don’t really believe that God loves them, personally. Why don’t they? Well, it’s probably because they don’t believe that God exists at all. Imagine this—living in a universe without God. If you don’t open your eyes in the morning and look at the universe, it may not even exist! When you die, for sure the universe is gone. But if there is a God, could that be why the universe continues, whether any one of us is alive to experience it, or whether we are dead? This God, like the character of Christ in the film Jesus of Nazareth, doesn’t even blink. If He did, what would become of us?

This is my experience practically every day.

People protect themselves from the imposition of others. They see that something they know and could say or do would lighten someone’s burden, help them in some way, but they withhold it. ‘Why should I lend a hand? I’m busy,’ or worse yet, ‘Serves him right, he’s old enough to know how to do that. Too bad, you dope!’

Parents turning away their children, eager to push them out of the nest. Children abandoning their parents, ignoring them until they want something. Employees making a co-worker’s job difficult because they can’t be bothered to share what they know. Drivers cutting people off, making other unsafe manoeuvres, honking their horns at anyone who gets in their way. Customer service people who respond only to your exact question, unwilling to help you ask the right question to solve your dilemma. Why? What would it cost them?

How can anyone have such hatred towards another creature? They see someone crushed, they crush him lower. They see someone in distress, they say, ‘It’s none of my business.’

And when do these people attend? When do they extend themselves for others? When there is profit to be had, plain and simple. Calling ourselves Christians, we try our best to live in love according to our ability, because we know that he who lives in love lives in God’ (1 John 4:16) and ‘whoever loves his brother lives in the light… but whoever hates his brother is in the darkness’ (1 John 2:10-11), and yet we somehow are able to provide ourselves with reasons why we should withhold our love from this or that person. ‘Why should I help him after all he’s done to me?’ or ‘Let her learn for herself what I had to go through!’

Christ help us!

Why doesn’t our own past suffering soften our hearts towards those suffering now? Do we think by handing over a five-dollar-bill we can satisfy the justice of God? Does making a party for our friends and being generous to those from whom we expect benefits or praise make up for our callous hearts?

At any moment we can draw near to Christ’s resurrection, or rather it draws us near, the Father draws us near to His Son, if we will let Him. We confess, ‘All is forgiven in the resurrection,’ echoing the teachings of the fathers. We shout at the end of the midnight service of Pascha, ‘Epikranthi! It was vexed!’ speaking of Hades’ state when it discovered it had tried to hold the uncontainable God, and ‘Anesti Christos! Christ is risen!’ speaking of the single event in the universe that has annihilated annihilation.

Are we willing, at last, to rekindle in us the only fire worth having, the only flame that never goes out? Come, receive the light from the unwaning Light!’ Though in this world of darkness that Light still shines, without being put out, yet also without being grasped, can we walk in that Light? Can we live in love? Or is our love going to grow colder? Upon those who walked in darkness, a Light has shone’ (Isaiah 9:2).

Φωτιζου, φωτιζου, η νεα Ιερουσαλημ, η γαρ δοξα Κυριου επι σε ανετειλε. Χορευε νυν και αγαλλου Σιων…

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