Condemnation or Kindness? You Get a Choice You Know.

One day St. Epiphanius sent someone to Abba Hilarion with this request, ‘Come, and let us see one another before we depart from the body.’ When he came, they rejoiced together. During the meal, they were brought a fowl; Epiphanius took it and gave it to Hilarion. The old man said to him, ‘Forgive me, but since I received the habit I have not eaten meat that has been killed.’ Then the bishop answered, ‘Since I took the habit I have not allowed anyone to go to sleep with a complaint against me and I have not gone to rest with a complaint against anyone.’ The old man replied, ‘Forgive me, your way of life is better than mine.’ (p 57, ‘The Sayings of the Desert Fathers’)

Do you see the difference?

On the surface, I know that as much as I’d like to live as St. Epiphanius, there are those with whom I cannot reconcile. The reasons may be many, a few or just one, but it remains there is not going to peace. Do you have similar situations that have played out in your life? Are there those who you are odds with by your doing or theirs? Do you find your sleep unsettled? Do you find hatred at the heart of the matter? Pain? Grief? Loss of control?

Truly, the life of desert fathers and mothers limited their interaction with other people. They escaped to the desert to wrestle with the passions, with their sinfulness. It was the formation of the monastery life and the convents we are familiar with today. It is an admirable life and one which is more complicated than it may appear. Still, there are times when the complaint against us is beyond anything you can control.

But there is a lesson here, even deeper. Besides the truth that we are not able to control the behaviors of others, there is a deep difference in how people perceive the devout, religious life. For some, it is about maintaining rules, of manufacturing points of judgment where we might compare and complain and present ourselves as mightier and greater than others. You might even tear down those who threaten you. In the recent upheaval of the evangelical church, John MacArthur’s deriding comments to author and teacher, Beth Moore, is a great example.  Why make it a spectacle?  Where was the personal conversation?  Why the naming? And why the shaming? Let's be real here: how on earth is Beth Moore going stop any man from watching her videos?  Is she to hire bouncers so men don't "sneak into" her seminars?

What is the greater life? To be merely about rules or about being in a relationship? Is it about loving the “law” or is it the law of loving God first and loving others as you love yourself? In the story of Hilarion and the Epiphanius, we see a ‘law’ of personal preference and the law of God, which in truth, is the Law of Love. We see two gracious people, seeking after holiness and righteousness before God. We see gracious words spoken, not in condemnation but in kindness.
Centuries later, the lessons are still there for us to learn.  What will you now do?


Tim Wood said...

There was a time when I thought that rules, in of themselves were the problem. Of course, as you bring up with the illustration of Bishop Epiphanius and Abba Hilarion, the problem isn't the rules in of themselves. It's the origin and place of the rules. The better rule had it's origin in a practical answer about how we love each other. And the better rule was not placed above love. It was a practical rule of thumb that served that which is higher: love.

In the video of John MacArthur you linked, after MacArthur says Beth Moore should "go home" many in the room laughed. The laughter in the room indicates a bigger problem as you note. Given MacArthur's previous statements about Beth Moore, the intension of the segment was questionable. MacArthur's statement and the audience's laughter were not gracious.

In constructing the rules and theological frameworks, it's all too easy to start with two or five passages in the bible that seem to support our views and then pull them out their context and generalize them. In the process, it's easy to forget above love and relationships and even to miss when our arguments begin, like some of the baggage that goes with the argument. If there really are hard and fast roles for men and women (they have complementarity), it's easy to claim that's implicit in how we reflect the image of the divine. A couple of passages become the tail wagging the dog that is the image of God.

One of the things I love about being focused on relationships and on living out love is that not only do rules become secondary but they often become a matter of common sense. How do Bishop Epiphanius come up with his rule of cleaning up upsets before he went to sleep? Maybe he saw it in a passage in the Bible and maybe he just realized that our upsets interfere with and break our relationships so they should be cleaned up. If that's true, why not deal with that problem when we realize we've got a problem?

What am I going to do? I'm going to try and put myself in other people's shoes. What would build them up? What would demonstrate grace and love? What would create wholeness?

Jedi Pastor Ken said...

Great comments and further questions to consider. Thanks Tim!

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