Sunday, September 7, 2008

Still Thinking About Holiness

An Isaac Watts hymn asks: Is this vile world a friend to grace to help me on to God? The implied answer is a resounding NO.

Sometimes I think about the direction our own society is going. One telling example is road rage. This is a relatively recent term coined because of declining basic civility and expanding meanness on our public streets and highways. As I said last time, one way to understand sin is putting one’s self first — just the opposite of the Great Command to love God with all one’s being and one’s neighbor as one’s self. Road rage is simply acting out the attitude that no one else on the road is as important as I am, so other drivers are nothing but objects that stand in the way of my convenience. This is being expressed today with greater and greater vehemence.

There is a powerful spirit of the age at work here. It’s as if one can get behind the wheel of a car and become someone else; as if becoming a contemporary driver disengages an otherwise nice person’s character — even a committed Christian. I know, because I’ve become aware of how I can feel toward the driver in front of me who is going 5 mph below the speed limit in a no-passing zone.

Some of the biggest tests of holiness are in the small, simple activities of day-to-day life. A big — and revealing — question is: How do I respond when I do not get my way? It can be on the road, in a restaurant, in a church council meeting or an issue with my spouse.

Our self-will can really be nasty when we think we have “right” on our side, so that — to us — the issue is not only about “me” but about “justice.” The slow-poke on the road is not just holding me up, but causing inconvenience and frustration for all those cars behind me. So, the insidious voice inside me says I am justified to tailgate and give the evil-eye....

These have been some of my thoughts after reading the following by Theophan the Monk (d.1894):

Anger gives place to the devil as soon as it is regarded as something just and its satisfaction is felt to be lawful. Then the enemy immediately enters the soul and begins to suggest thoughts, each more irritating than the last. We start to be aflame with anger as though we were on fire. This is the fire of hell; but the poor person thinks that he or she is burning with zeal for righteousness, whereas there is never any righteousness in wrath. This is the form of illusion peculiar to wrath....
Is there anyone who, after extinguishing his anger and analyzing the whole business in good faith, does not find that there was something wrong at the basis of his irritation? But the enemy changes the wrong into a sense of self-righteousness and builds it up into such a mountain that it seems as though the whole world would go to pieces if our indignation is not satisfied.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. And Father, make me holy....

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