Being Truly Human
“I don’t believe in God.” “OK,” I told him. “Tell me about this god you don’t believe in.” This young man began describing Zeus. You know, a god who is vindictive and angry; who punishes the mortals with lightning bolts of pain and sorrow. This god tries to control humans through threats and rewards. As the young man kept describing this “god” he didn’t believe in, I discovered I agreed with him. I didn’t believe in this “god” either. Imagine his surprise when I said, “Oh, I see. Well, I don’t believe in that “god” either. I’m an atheist about that god.”
All too often today, we deal with people who reject God and the Faith based on a wrong view of God. And, truth be told (I mean, let’s be honest here), many people have the wrong view of God based on how we who say we believe in God act! We aren’t the best role models about the God we say we believe in. And this, many times, is a result of our own wrong view of God.
What is so very dangerous about this is the Truth that since we are made in the image of God, having a distorted view of God will AUTOMATICALLY mean we have a distorted view of being a person. So to be truly human means doing the attentive work of knowing God. I don’t mean knowing “about” God. That’s too small. No, what I mean is a deep motivated desire to KNOW God in intimacy, love, and devotion.
Look at our lesson today in 1 Timothy 6:17-21:
TIMOTHY, my son, charge the rich in this world not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on uncertain riches but on God who richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous, thus laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed. O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards the faith. Grace be with you. Amen.
I love Paul’s words to Timothy here, and it isn’t a mistake that the Church has us read these words during this time of year. Paul wants to make sure Timothy leads his parish correctly so he insists Timothy teach clearly the whole purpose of the Faith.
And it may surprise you that the purpose of the Faith isn’t so you’ll know how to “go to heaven” or even miss “hell.” No, the purpose of the faith (and you know I’m big on purpose) is to be set free from all the false notions about God SO THAT I can become LIKE God. And what is God like? In another place, the scriptures insist that God IS Love. God IS Life Himself. If I am ever going to be like God and be truly alive, it’s going to be by learning to love as God loves.
Paul reveals true life and true love first by insisting Timothy warn us about rejecting the false idea of life as being about accumulating stuff! Too often in our society, we come to believe that the acquiring of stuff is how to be happy or how to have a “good” life. It’s a trap. It’s a dead end. All of us know people who have lots of stuff and yet they aren’t happy or loving.
Turns out that the path to becoming truly human is loving people and using things. Never the other way around. In fact, true riches are to be rich in “good deeds.” To excel in generosity is true life. But, of course, that’s truly living because that’s exactly how God is. He holds nothing back. He gives Himself in creating His universe. He gives Adam His very “breath,” the “breath” of life. He gives Himself in revealing Himself in His Son, God in the flesh. He gives Himself in entering into even our mortality to destroy mortality from the inside out! God IS Life. God IS Love.
We become like God when we are generous and share our treasures with others. When we avoid the haughty lie that our possessions somehow “make” us happy or safe or fulfilled. It doesn’t work. Never has!
No, the path to true life comes from the humble embrace of the generosity of mercy, and kindness, and seeing all my life as an invitation to give my life away rather than hoard my life to myself.
St. Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, was born in Gaul in 340 AD. He was a nobleman and a member of the Roman Senate. During his lifetime, the Church and Roman society was being torn apart by the controversy of Arianism. Arius was a priest in Northern Africa who taught that Jesus was a created Being and not co-equal and co-eternal with God the Father. The Church, in Council, condemned this teaching as heresy because it confused how we understand God, and it was not how the early believers understood Who Jesus is. And when you confuse this foundational teaching, it has ripple effects everywhere else! Get God wrong and you’ll never be able to get yourself right. So, Milan had an Arian bishop, and when he died, a violent dispute erupted as to who would replace him. Since Ambrose was the governor of the area and a member of the Roman Senate, he desired to mitigate the dispute and bring peace to the area. He spoke so eloquently and wisely that the people demanded he become bishop! A small child in the crowd shouted “Ambrose bishop” and the people roared their approval. He was a tireless defender of true Orthodox doctrine, an effective administrator, a great preacher, and a faithful example to all the people. He wrote many scholarly works in defense of the Faith and fell asleep peacefully in the Lord at age 57 in the year of 397 AD.
Today, are you “liberal” (not a very popular word in some circles) with your possessions? Do you fear losing your safety or your “security” if you are loving and generous? Then, know you are in danger of a haughty delusion that your safety and security can be obtained by selfishness. The true God, the God we are called to become like, is generous and kind even to His enemies. Being Orthodox on Purpose means being set free to know true life and the true God Who gives, expecting nothing in return!
P.S. Flashing lightning-like with godly doctrines, you, O Ambrose, drove off the darkness of the impious error of Arius; and working wonders and signs by the Spirit’s might, you, O good shepherd, did heal divers sufferings. Righteous Father, you initiate of sacred mysteries, entreat Christ God to grant great mercy unto us.