Have You Not Known? Have You Not Heard? Has It Not Been Told You?Fr. Barnabas Powell
When I get discouraged, I can always trace it back to a loss of perspective. I mean, it’s inevitable. My challenges give me tunnel vision and I lose the ability to see beyond my own immediate pain. And staying aware of how pain or trauma or even conflict gives us “tunnel vision” helps me avoid the traps of forgetting to keep perspective. My life and your life are rarely all bad or all good. There are always some spots of real joy and others of real pain. But the pain tends to flood us with emotion and the passions and that always leads to a loss of perspective.
It becomes a bad thing when I get trapped in those moments. There are many times in my life when I need to be focused on the moment; to be drawn to contemplate the challenge right in front of me. But, as usual, that which can be good can also become destructive if I don’t keep balance. And more often than not, I lose my balance, especially when I’m in pain. It’s in those moments when I’ve forgotten myself that God asks me three questions that ALWAYS puts any moment, good or bad or in between, in perspective.
Look at our lesson today in Isaiah 40:18-31:
Thus says the LORD: To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him? The idol! a workman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold, and casts for it silver chains. He who is impoverished chooses for an offering wood that will not rot; he seeks out a skilful craftsman to set up an image that will not move.
Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nought, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.
Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.
To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? Says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing.
Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hid from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary, his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
The prophet Isaiah was from a wealthy family and a well-connected family at that. He could have been anything he wanted but he embraced his calling as a messenger for God to his people. When you get the chance, read Isaiah 6. A great story. But Isaiah was called to remind the people that Truth is supposed to be the standard by which they govern their daily lives. And they had (as we often do) forgotten that. And this Truth isn’t based on my emotions or even my perspective. NBot! This Truth is timeless, solid, and eternal.
So, God has His prophet ask these misguided children of God three questions: Who will you compare to God? Have you not known? Have you not heard? With these three questions, God confronts His people with a perspective check meant to get them back on track! Perhaps God is asking you these questions today? In fact, God always provides in any situation a moment where we can exercise our will to embrace an eternal perspective rather than the intoxication of pain.
And it all has to do with that very eternal perspective. First, our temptations to reduce smaller idols to our objects of worship. We are tempted to worship our resources, our education, our talents, or even our society, and, they all prove to be too weak to bear the weight of our devotion. Next, we are not ignorant. We are forgetful. We’ve heard the truth. We know there is a God Who loves us and Who knows us better than we know ourselves. And yet, we live daily as if that weren’t true! This “functional atheism” is at the heart of most of my stumbles. And finally, we are blessed with a Faith that reinforces a reality and proper perspective in every worship service, but we have grown deaf to this daily treasure. To be sure, “familiarity breeds contempt” and this is why most of us pass through our liturgical experiences unmoved by the beauty and profound wisdom contained in our liturgy. We are so familiar with it that we’ve stopped hearing it and seeing it. But that isn’t the liturgy’s fault. No. It is our unwillingness to stay attentive to the wisdom of the Faith so often rehearsed in our ears and eyes!
St. Hilarion the New was a confessor of the Holy Icons during the Iconoclast heresies of the 9th century. He was so pious as a child that he was tonsured a monk at 12 years of age at a monastery near Constantinople. He was exiled several times for his devotion to true Orthodox theology and the veneration of icons as a confession of the real incarnation of the invisible God in Jesus Christ. He died, having never compromised his faith or his determination not to lose the eternal perspective of heavenly Truth, in peace in 845 AD at the Dalmatus Monastery where he had served many years as a priest.
Today, have you been tempted to lose a proper perspective? During this season of the Church Year, you are invited by your Orthodox Faith to reconnect with wisdom that protects your life from that lost balance. Waiting for you in your church services, in prayers, fasting, and generosity is all you’ll ever need to truly live a Normal Orthodox Life!
P.S. The image of God was faithfully preserved in you, O Father. For you took up the Cross and followed Christ. By Your actions, you taught us to look beyond the flesh for it passes, rather to be concerned about the soul which is immortal. Wherefore, O Holy Hilarion, your soul rejoices with the angels.
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