Archive for July 19th, 2008

With What Little We Know

July 19, 2008

I have written and posted at least three times that “I am an ignorant man,” which is to say that I do not consider myself a great source of wisdom and insight and that what knowledge I do have is indeed limited.

It is also true that wisdom and insight are in short supply these days. We do not live in a land that has monasteries everywhere within walking distance (or even a short drive). We do not have centuries of unbroken, living knowledge of the way of Christ in many places.

What we do have is a commercialized Christianity that panders to our culture and its passions at least as much as it considers the gospel. We do not thus produce a profound Christianity, but a passionate Christianity in which the impulse to consume remains unchecked and unnamed.

But to travel towards the Kingdom of God and to make true progress in the Spiritual life is not necessarily dependent upon a holy culture or hordes of holy people. Indeed, it depends upon the grace of God and the very little that we know.

In Christ, in the true light of the gospel, what do we know?

  • We know that God truly loves the world and gave us His only begotten Son that we might have life, true life, communion with the true and living God;
  • We know that this life is marked by love and forgiveness; even including and especially including the forgiveness of our enemies;
  • We know that giving is more blessed than receiving – thus we already have the means of being blessed;
  • We know that the Way of the Cross is the Way of Life and that following Christ on that Way means freely laying down our lives for others.
  • We know that we have been commanded to give thanks for all things, thus affirming God’s goodness as the true ground of our existence;
  • We know we are not alone – that many have walked this way before us and that our success in following Christ is of concern for them;

I certainly could add to this list with some further thought, though I find it is easy to state some things that not many of us know. What I believe is that, even in the absence of great and holy men, we can take the little that we know and live.

  • It is better to live seeking communion with the true and living God than to believe that God is somewhere at a distance;
  • It is better to forgive and to love even if it means we make ourselves victim to the hate and cruelty of others;
  • It is indeed better to give than to receive, even if I can give but little. No one can keep me from giving.
  • It is better to die for others than to die alone.
  • It is better to give thanks for all things than to be eaten alive with regret and bitterness;
  • It is better to have the saints as friends than to be famous or popular with those of this world.

I know that these things are small (though they are truly large). But such small things, lived and acted upon with prayer will make the way for paradise in our heart and write our names in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much… (Luke 16:10)

Will He Know Me in Heaven?

July 19, 2008

Some time ago I spent two-and-a-half years serving as a hospice chaplain. I have mentioned this before and some of the stories I encountered among the faithful people in East Tennessee. Most Hospice situations in America (home hospice) have a sort of commonality. One is that the vast majority of patients are older. Indeed in my time with hospice we never once had a patient who was a child. The reason, I was told, is that young people have such a possibility of life ahead of them that no one wants to declare them beyond help and consign them to palliative care alone. Thus they are usually treated vigorously until the very end.

The same is often true for not just children, but younger adults as well. My story is about one such adult. Unlike most others he had seen his prognosis and chosen hospice. It was difficult for everyone. The day he died I recall being with his young widow and two protestant pastors in the family room at the hospital.

The pastors were typical of many in the mountains of Tennessee: Baptist of the fiercely independent sort, holding part-time jobs to support themselves in small church ministry which is descriptive of most mountain churches.

The young widow turned to me (“Why me?” I thought when she had two pastors of her own in the room). Her question was as clear as it was difficult. “Will my husband be aware of me now that he’s in heaven?” I paused waiting for one of the pastors to jump in. They both looked at me and waited.

Being Orthodox I would have no difficulty with the answer, but I wanted to answer from the Scriptures alone lest I create a scandal. Thus I reminded her of the scene in Revelation where the saints pray for us day and night. I reminded her of the passage in Hebrews that speaks of the “great cloud of witnesses.” I even spoke of the rich man in Hades and his concern for his brothers still on earth (in Christ’s parable).

She seemed somewhat comforted with those passages. But then one of the pastors, a truck-driver by trade and a preacher on the weekend spoke up and gave a definitive answer.

“I think it’s like this,” he said. “I believe that when I get up to heaven I ain’t gonna be any dumber than I am now. So I think he knows you.”

I won’t even ask the proverbial “why didn’t I think of that?” because I don’t think I would have ever thought of that. Thus that day I learned some theology from a truck-driving preacher. And I pray that like him, I won’t be any dumber when I get to heaven.