Judgement By FireFr. Barnabas Powell
St. Paul called the Word of God a “two-edged” sword. In other words, the Word of God cuts both ways. It gives life and it strikes down darkness. Just as the surgeon’s knife wounds AND heals, so the wisdom of God wounds me and heals me all at the same time.
But too many people only focus on one side of the reality and that causes all kinds of problems for us. As with all things in the Faith, a sober balance is key if we are to really reap the benefits of the wisdom of God. And that balance is hard work in a world that rewards excess and shallow thinking!
Look at our Lesson today in Isaiah 66:10-24:
“Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her; that you may suck and be satisfied with her consoling breasts; that you may drink deeply with delight from the abundance of her glory.” For thus says the LORD: “Behold, I will extend prosperity to her like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall suck, you shall be carried upon her hip, and dandled upon her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bones shall flourish like the grass; and it shall be known that the hand of the LORD is with his servants, and his indignation is against his enemies. “For behold, the LORD will come in fire, and his chariots like the stormwind, to render his anger in fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire will the LORD execute judgment, and by his sword, upon all flesh; and those slain by the LORD shall be many. “Those who sanctify and purify themselves to go into the gardens, following one in the midst, eating swine’s flesh and the abomination and mice, shall come to an end together, says the LORD. “For I know their works and their thoughts, and I am coming to gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and shall see my glory, and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Put, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands afar off, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the nations. And they shall bring all your brethren from all the nations as an offering to the LORD, upon horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and upon mules, and upon dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the LORD, just as the Israelites bring their cereal offering in a clean vessel to the house of the LORD. And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the LORD. “For as the new heavens and the new earth which I will make shall remain before me, says the LORD; so shall your descendants and your name remain. From new moon to new moon, and from sabbath to sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, says the LORD. “And they shall go forth and look on the dead bodies of the men that have rebelled against me; for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”
Yikes! Such language from our dear St. Isaiah! Talking about fire and dead bodies and undying worms. Pretty scary language. And yet, how else are we supposed to describe the slamming together of Uncreated Light and shallow darkness. It can’t go very well for the darkness in that clash.
And that is just what it is for those unprepared by love and wisdom to face such an encounter. No wonder the prophet uses such language. The final tally of lives lived in the foolish slavery of self deceit can’t expect that the consequences of such choices won’t be painful and devastating! It’s just not reality! St. Isaiah is using language meant to wake up slumbering lives hoping to get just 5 more minutes of oblivious delusion before the piper has to be paid! And he uses the only kind of language that will break through the stupor of self-imposed delusion. And it ain’t pretty.
But what is a loving God suppose to do? Just let you drift along in the fantasy of your own darkness? No. God loves us, dearest, and He refuses to let us pass, undisturbed, into the Light of His presence unprepared or at least unwarned. So, fire it is. Fire that can purify now or torment later, but fire none the less!
Today, is this what it’s going to take to wake you up? If so, not to worry. Your Creator loves you so much that if this is what you need, here it is! Unambiguous language that says the choice is clear: Learn to embrace the fire of His love now and be purified or wait until this very same fire torments you! Perhaps it’d be better to be Orthodox on Purpose.
P.S. As we step into Holy Week, please know you will be in my prayers this week and I ask your prayers for me as well. This annual spiritual labor is worth it, so don’t miss it! Have a fantastic weekend and I’ll see you Holy Monday!