A Bitterness unto Death

“The heart knows its own bitterness…” – Proverbs 14:10

Social media, and American society itself, increasingly seems to be morphing into a platform and arena of projected bitterness. Our democratic republic is facing a high intensity of polarization. Bickering and violent protests are everywhere. So, the question we must ask is whether the bitterness on display is the direct result of social media and American culture or rather inherent to the nature of man. I am one to believe that bitterness stems from the heart of man. But, bitterness is reactionary in nature. One becomes bitter and angry when he experiences something distasteful. Envy of others, the betrayal of a friend, anger at someone’s beliefs, these experiences and more cause humans to become bitter. Humans resent that which causes them pain. Similar to Newton’s Third Law, experiencing bitterness often has an equal and opposite reaction of bitterness in the soul of the one affected. Experiencing bitterness causes bitterness; one could call this the dualism of bitterness. Therefore, if bitterness is reactionary, it then follows that social media acts as a conduit or conductor for bitterness.

Social media as a platform has infinite potentiality to grow bitterness in individuals. For, an individual involved with social media not only deals with local issues and interpersonal relationship, but also has their world opened to millions of issues and thousands of relationships, albeit shallow ones. The more one focuses their attention on the shallow world of mass media and less on the physical community they are a part of, it is often the result that these individuals naturally become more bitter. Why do you ask? Simply because there is more content to which one can react. With more content, comes the greater chance of encountering something that makes one envious, depressed, and annoyed. These experiences cause one’s heart to become bitter. And, this bitterness often leads to anger and anger to retaliation, sometimes violent. One only need watch the nightly news to see a protest that ended violently. Often the violence that erupts at these protests are fueled by rhetoric on social media. Sadly, we live in a day in age where internet trolls do not remain online in the world of perceived fantasy, but in their bitterness, allow their nature to be corrupted to the point where they physically act like brutish, ugly trolls themselves, illogical and violent.

But, we must remember that bitterness is a plight of the heart of man and not inherent to social media. Therefore, our solution must be focused on the care of the human soul. So then, from a theological and Christian perspective, how does one combat the plight of bitterness? The answer to this question must pierce to the root of the issue, which we have stated as the heart of man. When a man is sick and hot with a fever, it does him no lasting good to merely cool him down with cold ice compression. A good doctor will give an antidote to combat the root cause from which the fever stems. And, this is what our Lord does for us in the Scriptures. Let us look to them for guidance.

One of the major themes of the Sacred Scriptures is this idea of bitterness. One would expect this as bitterness is a common experience to all of humanity. Every created thing experiences some form of bitterness, whether physical suffering, spiritual agony, emotional distress, or the vices of sin because the world is broken. For, bitterness entered in the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Though its flesh may have been sweet, it left only bitterness in the mouth of Adam, Eve, and their descendants thereafter. For, after that fateful act, the Triune God cursed man resulting in the multiplication of sin, pain, suffering, and eventually death. Suffering, sin, and pain are bitter by nature, and as we stated earlier they also produces bitterness in the heart of men. Let it be noted here, that experiencing the bitterness of pain and suffering is not itself evil; it is only evil when man allows those external evils to create bitterness toward God or fellow man in his very soul.

From Genesis to Revelation bitterness is painted over the pages of Scripture. Exodus, Leviticus, the Proverbs, Lamentations, the Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and even many New Testament passages expound on the theme of bitterness. In Exodus, God makes a central part of the Passover diner eating bitter herbs, so the Israelites remember the bitter bondage of slavery in Egypt. Job and the prophet Jeremiah are perhaps the primary example of the scriptural theme of bitterness. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul consistently writes to put away bitterness from the church body, and the apostle John records in Revelation that one of the plagues cast down on earth is bitter waters. Bitterness’ emphasis in the Sacred Scriptures thematically adds great depth to the redemptive salvation of man by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. For, mankind does not need saving if there is no bitterness from which to save him. Let us specifically put before us the accounts of Moses and Naomi to better explain this concept.

On Moses and the Israelites:

It is recorded in the book of Exodus, that after the Israelites fled Egypt and crossed the Red Sea, God immediately began to provide for their daily needs. He provided them with mana, quail, and of course, water. For God not only saves, he daily provides the sustenance needed for life. Moses writes in the book of Exodus that, “Israel set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore, it was named Marah. And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?”[1]

This passage, along with the entirety of the Israelite Exodus, teaches that tasting bitter things often result in inward bitterness. The bitter waters of Marah caused an inward bitterness in the hearts of the Israelites. The Israelites wanted water. That desire was good. But, when they could not have it, they responded with annoyance and bitterness toward Moses and, in essence, God. Experiencing bitterness resulted in inward bitterness and outward grumbling.

So, as the story continues, God guided Moses to throw a wooden log into the water. The wooden log transformed the water from that which was bitter and undrinkable to that which was sweet and refreshing. Thus, supplying water to quench the thirst and needs of the Israelites.

On Naomi and Ruth: 

The book of Ruth examines the life of two women who experience the pain of familial death and societal ostracization. While the book is named for Ruth, Naomi is integral to the redemptive telling of this story, for the book begins and ends with Naomi.

First, the book starts off with Naomi and her family leaving Israel to go to Moab because of a famine. In Moab Naomi and her husband have success and happiness, culminating with their two sons marry local women, Ruth being one of them. Tragedy strikes. Naomi’s husband and two sons die, leaving her with no possessions and no purpose, living in a strange land.

The story then continues that Naomi to find some consolation leaves for her home, Bethlehem, Israel. Naomi urges her daughter’s by law to leave and start their own lives with other men. It is then when Ruth famously tells Naomi, “For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried.”[2]

After Naomi returns to Bethlehem, her old friends are talking to her and very simply call her by her name. Naomi, who is so bitter in her heart, responds, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Marah, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty.”[3] Naomi’s name in Hebrew means “pleasant.” So, this illustration becomes even deeper, for as Naomi ate of the bitterness of this fallen world, she responds by becoming bitter herself even naming herself Marah.[4] That which was pleasant became bitter. Experiencing pain caused inward and outward bitterness in Naomi, so much so, that she formed her identity around bitterness.

The story continues that Ruth through her love and faithfulness to Naomi, brings redemption to her family by marrying Boaz and bearing Naomi a figurative grandson. As stated earlier, the book of Ruth starts with Naomi and ends with Naomi. Chapter four states, “Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a redeemer…He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”[5] God turns Naomi’s bitterness into joy with new life.

Moses and Naomi Explained:

Similarities between these two stories emerge as one puts their mind to study. Each story has an object or subject that is first pleasant. The Water of Marah and Naomi were once pleasant; they were not always bitter. But, outside circumstances entered and caused bitterness to overcome each, making them bitter to those who interacted with them. The Israelites wouldn’t drink the water, and Naomi was bitter toward God, her friends, and countrymen. Yet, both were not left to remain bitter. God in his infinite wisdom sent remedies to them both. The waters of Marah were healed with a tree, and Naomi was healed through her loving daughter-in-law, Ruth. Both the waters and Naomi became pleasant once again bringing refreshment and joy to those they interacted with. The waters quenched the thirst of the Israelites, and Naomi once again was pleasant toward her countrymen. Is this not a foreshadowing of our Savior, Jesus Christ?

It is clear to see that the waters of Marah and Naomi, who named herself Marah, represent fallen humanity. Humanity has become bitter toward God because of the suffering caused by sin, death, and the devil; suffering and bitterness which was self-inflicted in our case. Mankind in his selfishness became bitter toward God, unpleasant, and useless. Not only is mankind bitter toward God, we also are bitter toward our fellow man becoming envious, angry, and full of resentment. It is also clear that the tree Moses cast into the water and the godly Moabite, Ruth, are symbols of Jesus Christ. For, that which is unpleasant needs a mediator to make it pleasant once again. No man, woman, or created object has the inherent qualities or abilities to make that which is bitter sweet again, for in the fall all things became bitter. As Proverbs poetically puts it, “The heart knows its own bitterness.”[6] Every man, woman, and child has bitterness in their heart, and bitterness cannot cure bitterness. Mankind needed a mediator of divine sweetness, a mediator of God himself.

Jesus Christ, through his life, crucifixion, and resurrection, is our Ruth. Jesus, upon that beautiful tree of Calvary, dispenses of the bitterness of humanity like the tree that cured the waters of Marah. St. Gregory of Nyssa states, “But if the wood be thrown into the water, that is, if one receives the mystery of the resurrection which had its beginning with the wood (you of course understand the “cross” when you hear “wood”), then the virtuous life, being sweetened by the hope of things to come, becomes sweeter and more pleasant…” Our Lord saves us not only from physical affliction with the hope and promise of the resurrection, but he also heals our souls of all bitterness and hate which we harbor in our fallen nature. Oh, how beautiful is our Lord, Jesus! He allowed himself to be cut down, that he might make mankind pleasant and fruitful once again. For the death and resurrection of Jesus lead to the redemption and resurrection of mankind.

Jesus not only redeems us supernaturally from the bitterness of sin, death, and the devil, he also gives us a practical example to overcome bitterness in our own souls. Christ Jesus has given us his Holy Spirit in order that we may exemplify Him more perfectly in our sanctification. Our Savior was beaten, whipped, and crucified; his own countrymen, whom he healed of physical and spiritual sickness, were the ones who killed him. Not only did his countrymen kill him, his friends abandoned him. Lastly, our Savior, in his humanity, had the Triune God turn his face away from him. And, as David before him, Jesus Christ cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Why are you so far from saving me…)”[7] But in this pain, in this bitterness, Jesus responded with only grace and humility. Toward his country men, who killed him, he stated “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”[8] Toward his friends, who abandon him, he stated, ““Peace to you!”[9] To the God the Father, whom he felt had abandoned him, he said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”[10] Jesus responded to bitterness with love and joy. Instead of letting bitterness poison his own soul, our Savior conquered bitterness with love, valuing the other greater than himself. May we learn from his example.

Thus, let us seek to emulate Christ in our own lives. When your enemies taunt, troll, despise, and spit on you ask for their redemption. When your friends use you for personal gain and then abandon you, grant them forgiveness and peace. And, when you feel your God has abandoned you, commit your spirit into his hands; knowing that he loves and cares for you even when He feels distant. Experiencing bitterness need not result in becoming bitter. When, the church and its members responds to bitterness, anger, resentment, and suffering with grace, love, peace, and joy, they act like waters of Marah. They are like sweet fruit produced by the work of Holy Spirit. For, being healed by Christ is not merely for personal betterment, but for the improvement of the world. Christ as our Mediator makes us sweet, humble, and full of joy. The world, like the Israelites, is thirsty for sweet and refreshing water. May the church seek Christ in order that we may become sweet to our fellow man. Showing them the way of love and peace. Showing them the gospel of Jesus Christ. Showing them the way to the Triune God. Amen.


[1] Exodus 15:23-24. ESV.

[2] Ruth 1:16-17.

[3] Ruth 1:20.

[4] It is interesting to note, that this is the very same Hebrew word the people of Israel gave to the place that had bitter water. So, bitterness is often so deep and painful that we define ourselves as bitter. One could even say mankind identifies as the essence of bitterness itself. Bitterness makes us bitter in our being.

[5] Ruth 4:14-15.

[6] Proverbs 14:10.

[7] Psalm 22:1.

[8] Luke 23:34.

[9] Luke 24:36.

[10] Luke 23:46.

Folding the Laundry: A Meditation on my Wife’s Birthday

Today is my beautiful wife’s, Stephanie Augusta Elliott’s, birthday. The more I think about her and all of her amazing qualities and virtues, I realize that I value her birthday infinitely more than mine. For, birthdays are a celebration of an individual’s life, and I would much rather celebrate my wife’s life than my own. For, God (and my family & friends for that matter) knows who I would be without her.

Stephanie is such an amazing wife, as she loves me despite my insecurities and downfalls, my lack of empathy, my occasional lapses in judgement, and even my hatred of folding laundry. She does not simply “suffer” through my problems, she calls them out and urges me to live in the grace of God. I manage my money better with her; I am more disciplined with her; I even wax the car now because of her. She has challenged me to “grow up” in so many ways. But, alas, folding the laundry still evades me, in all honesty, I don’t want to grow up in that area.

Continuing on, Stephanie is such a diligent worker. This year alone she finished her accelerated post-baccalaureate nursing program and graduated with her Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing, passed her NCLEX, and accepted a nursing job. She even did side cleaning jobs to make extra money to pay for our move across the country. Stephanie empathizes so effortlessly and is extremely caring. Steph and I were youth group leaders at our church this past year, and she constantly talked with her small group girls whenever and wherever she saw them. She had them over for spa nights, movie nights, cookie party nights. Stephanie legitimately invests in those with whom she is connected. Seeing her be this person, challenges me to equally be as diligent and empathetic. And, while Steph has her faults, as all humans do, no human has intimately shown me God’s grace more than her.

St. Clement of Alexandria once stated, “For with perfect propriety Scripture has said that woman is given by God as “an help” to man. It is evident, then, in my opinion, that she will charge herself with remedying, by good sense and persuasion, each of the annoyances that originate with her husband in domestic economy.” Perhaps it is just the editing and translating of Philip Schaff and Alexander Roberts, but I love that St. Clement uses the term annoyances. In marriage, men are given wives to refine our rough edges or as St. Clement puts it “annoyances.” Woman make men who they are. Women are the sanctifying tool of God for the life of mankind. Not only do they physically and literally give life to all of mankind, women metaphorically give life to mankind as they educate, develop, and refine mankind through marriage and motherhood. This is the true beauty of marriage as an institution; this is the beauty in which the triune God created man in his image, as specifically man & woman. Man is not truly man without woman.

All this to say, I am not fully who I am without you, Stephanie Augusta. Your Christ-centered love and righteous jealousy do not merely make me a better human, but rather they are the very dispensation of the triune God’s grace for my sanctification. I look forward to the many years ahead, to the children we will raise in God’s grace, and to the hope that one day I will enjoy folding the laundry.


“The marriage, then, that is consummated according to the word, is sanctified, if the union be under subjection to God, and be conducted “with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and the body washed with pure water, and holding the confession of hope; for He is faithful that promised.” And the happiness of marriage ought never to be estimated either by wealth or beauty, but by virtue.

St. Clement of Alexandria – Chapter XX: A Good Wife

Death in the Garden: A Reflection on my Grandmother’s Death

I find myself writing on death quite frequently. Every year for the anniversary of my father’s death, I write a theological reflection and meditation on the concept and reality of human death. Death has always had a certain hold on me, and I have always had a certain contemplative fascination with it as both a spiritual concept and physical reality. Well, death has reared its ugly face again, and on Tuesday, my Grandma Shirley experienced physical death and similar to her son, my father, became present with the Lord. I imagine they are together in heaven enjoying the presence of Christ and living in his perfection. Over the past three days, memories have both lifted and drained my Spirit. Thinking on my Grandma’s life and the many loving experiences I had with her has brought much joy, as well as grief, to my heart.

As I reminisced over all the stories Grandma told me and my siblings, all of her favorite experiences from her many travels around the world, all of the meals we had together at Thanksgiving and Christmas, all of the Dunkin Donut munchkins and coffee we had around her kitchen table, one characteristic overwhelmed me. My Grandma was truly one of the most consistent, resolute humans I have ever met. For the better part of my life from toddler to twenty-two-year-old, almost every Sunday afternoon after church, my family and I visited my Grandma. Every Sunday, there would be bakery snacks in the kitchen, a coffee pot half-filled, and a crystal bowl of M&M’s for anyone with a chocolate craving. Every week we as a family would talk with Grandma about her regular brunch meetings with her friends, her weekly mass, and much more. My Grandma was structured, disciplined, resolute, and unwavering, the Matriarch of the large Elliott family.

My dad was one of ten children. So, as you can imagine, my extended family is quite large. My grandma had so many grand children and lived to see many great-grandchildren born as well. And, she was there for all of us. Grandma was amazing. Her resolute character, witty responses, and devoted nature inspired me as a child. Grandma was truly a Matriarch not only physically but morally. She led my father, my siblings, and me, and I am sure the rest of the Elliott family as well, in her beautiful example. She impacted so many through her absolute, unconditional love of her husband, children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. I with the rest of the Elliott family are an heir to her great legacy.

And above all, Grandma loved Jesus, loved his church, and proved this week after week by going to mass, listening to His word, partaking in the Eucharist, and giving of her time and money. Even when Grandma could not physically go due to her health, she would watch the mass on TV. Even in her last week, when she was at the hospital, she told me that she was able to watch the mass and take the Eucharist with the local parishioner. It is this resolute discipline and dedication to the church and to Jesus that impacted me so much. It is my Grandmother’s unwavering dedication to the Church through thick and thin that spurs me on to do the same.

And, as I think to my Grandma’s dedication to God and family throughout her life, I cannot help but meditate on the Triune God’s dedication and faithfulness to her in death. For is this not the gospel message that gives hope and inspires humans to have faith and love in this world? God’s word in it’s witness to the person of Jesus Christ assures humans of God’s faithfulness to those who believe in his Son even in their death. As Jesus himself proclaimed, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent…that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”[1] God asks every human: come to me, eat of me, listen to me, know me, and have life. Come to my Son, Jesus through my Spirit and have life. And, if one does these things in and through the faith which God has given him, then God through His good grace will raise him on that final day, when he comes to defeat death and evil once and for all.

And the Christian message is the only message that preaches Jesus Christ as both fully God and fully man. That Jesus, as a man, did what man could not do and defeated death. And, that he defeated death, because he was God incarnated, the eternal Son. And Christianity preaches that this God-man did not conquer as a king but as a servant who submitted to death to bring man to life. For, Jesus took sin upon himself in death and thus defeated sin, death, and the devil through the power of his resurrection. Thus, death was the divine tool of man’s salvation. As the Apostle Paul writes, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”[2]

Death was originally humanity’s enemy. It was not part of our original design; it was a self-inflicted wound from our forefather, Adam. As St. Paul explains, “Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”[3] Death is a a wound that still hurts us to this day. The pain of loss. The pain of memories that draw you into presence of those who have passed away. My Grandma’s death hurts me, and I am sure that when I attend the funeral I will experience more pain and sorrow. Pain is not the only weapon of death, doubt and insecurity often follow as well. In human life the reality of death, of our physical existence ending, causes man to question existence itself. What is life? What happens after death? Paramount metaphysical questions enter the human mind when death enters the picture. So, death as the enemy attacks with pain, suffering, doubt, and insecurity.

Now, insert the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

God has defeated death. And, if one in faith draws to that message of truth, God will raise him on that final day. Humanity’s pain and suffering is answered by the truth that God will wipe away all tears, and that we will be reunited with our loved ones. Human doubt and insecurities are answered as well. What is life? Life is to know God through His Son. What happens after death? After death one will become present with the Savior and healed of all evil and physical infirmity. This means that death is not only the divine tool of salvation, but also becomes a tool that makes humans rely on God. Death draws us to God. [Perhaps this is why I am fascinated with it.] As Jaroslav Pelikan wrote, “God brings men not from life to life with smoothness and ease, but from life to death to life with the pain of childbirth and the pangs of death and the continuing threat of nonexistence hanging over them. Living in hope, therefore, means living by faith in the God who can reach even into the hollowness of nonexistence . . . to confer life.”

My Grandma had a hymn she quite liked. It was “In the Garden” by Charles A. Miles. Miles wrote this hymn after reading and experiencing the story of Mary Magdalene meeting Jesus in the garden after the resurrection. Miles was in complete awe of Mary Magdalene seeing an empty tomb and being filled with doubt, hurt, and pain, thinking her dead savior’s body had been stolen. Mary Magdalene was experiencing the attacks of death: pain, sorrow, and doubt. But, the story follows that in the garden outside the tomb, Mary Magdalene sees a man who she thinks to be the gardener and ask if he knows where they took Jesus’ body. The man then reveals himself to be the resurrected Jesus Christ. And, in this moment, the truth of the resurrection becomes so clear. Jesus has defeated sin, evil, sickness, fear, sorrow, and doubt, because he has defeated death itself. In the garden, Christ arose; in the garden, death was defeated. As the song goes:

He (Jesus) speaks, and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

I’d stay in the garden with Him,
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.

I know for a fact that as the night was falling around my Grandma, that Jesus Christ’s sweet voice was calling out to her to come home. I know that God was faithful to her, as she was faithful to Him. She had faith that in Jesus’ Baptism, in his Word, in his Eucharist, in his Church, in his Love that she would be secure even through death because of his almighty power and mercy. That although death in her life had caused her pain, sorrow, doubt, and insecurity, that Jesus was standing next to her saying, “Death is swallowed up in my victory. Death where is your sting? Death, where is your victory?[4] I have defeated you. You have no power.” I hope to have that same resolve when I am faced with death. And, I know that if I draw near to Christ in this life, he will raise me in the next. For, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent…that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”[5]


[1] John 6:29,40. ESV.

[2] 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14.

[3] Romans 5:12.

[4] 1 Corinthians 15:55.

[5] John 6:29,40.

Brothers at War: Theologically Reflecting on Race


In moments of confusion and uncertainty, moments that cut to the heart and cause man to question the goodness of God, it is good that man seek God above all else. I often have to remind myself of this truth. Evil actions of men in this world such as the recent murders of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, five Dallas policemen, and three Baton Rouge policemen, make my heart sink. To see the image of God, men and women, murdered and marred because of prejudice, hate, or revenge should cause the hearts of all men and women to be sorrowful. Our hearts should break seeing this division and malice, as our God is not a God of chaos[1] and hate, but a God of order[2] and love[3].


Whenever my heart is overwhelmed with sadness and confusion, I look for answers. I want an answer that explains the evil that we as humans see and experience. These recent murders have caused me to deeply meditate on modern racism and racial strife. Racism is a despicable thing in and of itself, for racism, at its core, denies the created order that God ordained as “very good.”[4] For, God created all men and women in his very image, as his very own children.[5] No human life escapes the dignity and value that comes with being born and fashioned in the image of God. And, if every human is made in the image of God it is not wrong to say that every human belongs to the same divine race.


Most rational, educated persons can tell you that there is only one true race in the world: the human race. Soledad O’Brien in her Q Commons talk on race in America quipped, “Race does not exist. I am not trying to be clever…biologically speaking, genetically speaking, there is only one race.” She’s right. Scientifically, it has been proven that all humans biologically and genetically descend from the same ancestors. And, this is theologically correct as well, for the Bible teaches that humans are all descendants of Adam and Eve. Boethius, the fifth century theologian also states, “All mankind comes from the same stock.”[6] So why do social, cultural, and physical differences cause man to believe that there are literally many races?


Racism and slavery in their essence are results of the fall of our parents, Adam and Eve. Because, Adam and Eve, as our representative heads, fought against our true Father, the Triune God, mankind was thus divided.[7] Mankind now fights and bickers in continual cycles of animosity, because its parents first bickered and disobeyed God, their Creator. Racism points to an inherently deeper issue: mankind’s sinful nature. Christianity thus claims that our first parent’s original sin is placed on the following generations. All of Adam and Eve’s children, all humans, receive an inherently self-centered nature, and this manifest itself in many ways; one way being racism.


It seems that story of Cain and Abel, the actual first children of Adam and Eve, was in some way prophetic.[8] Socially constructed races, who are brothers of the same family, look to others and are filled with envy, jealousy, and anger. And, instead of working together, races attack, murder, and enslave those they envy or those by whom they feel threatened. Like Cain, different races and societies lift the stone of jealousy and strike down the brother they envy or dislike.


This cycle of animosity has never stopped. Think on mankind’s history. Most great people groups have created enmity within themselves, brother against brothers. Noah’s son’s Ham (Africa & Southwest Asia), Shem (Middle East), and Japheth (Europe & Asia) divided from each other and they fought and enslaved each other.[9] Isaac (Israel) and Ishmael (Palestine) bickered and fought for Abraham’s birthright and land, and they continue to fight to this very day.[10] Jacob (Israel) and Esau (Edom) fought for favor with their father.[11] Joseph was hated by his brothers, and his brother’s wanted to murder him but settled to sell him as mere property, as a slave.[12] Even in the myth of the founding of Rome, Romulus and Remus, the twin brothers, fight over where the city would be founded. The arguing ended with Romulus killing Remus. Brothers always seem to be at war. And God, both through his divinely inspired word and through history, teaches us that it is in man’s sinful nature to continue this cycle of animosity, jealousy, and division. This division continues even unto today.


Societies bicker. Nations war. Cultures clash. Races hold prejudices. The cycle continues. In America, whites accuse black communities of fueling gang warfare and violence against police. Blacks accuse white communities of institutionally binding them down while stealing their culture. Broad generalizations are used as arrows in the quivers of social media warriors. Complex issues are foolishly compressed into ammunition to be fired at the enemy. The cycle continues. Brothers are still at war; the fighting continues and anger grows. Sin has taken its hold on us and will not let go; evil has a firm grasp, and it will not relent.


Let me first say, that I do not have definitive answers for these complex and divisive issues. The black community has truly been hurt by present and past American institutions, the War on Drugs is one prime example. This does not even scratch the surface of the past atrocities America committed against the black community in the evil known as slavery. Furthermore, white Americans do live with certain privileges. I as a white male will never understand the fear of being pulled over for my skin color; I will never understand the fear of getting a job application glanced over and thrown away because of an “ethnic” name. These are privileges I do live with. The black community has legitimate fears and concerns.


But, on the other hand, police officers have been targeted and killed while defending the free speech of those who are protesting them. And, many white men and women have been falsely generalized into the category of “ignorant.” This spurs white Americans to feel either ashamed or defensive. These two realities make the situation feel more like a war and less like a constructive conversation.


The solutions to national racial strife are not simple. The governmental action to be taken is still unknown. I can tell you a good place to start legislatively weeding out racial injustice, is researching candidates and voting for ones that include criminal justice reform in their platform; candidates who oppose the “War on Drugs” on the basis that it has caused an increase amount of black and Hispanic arrests and incarcerations over that of the white population; and candidates who would decriminalize drugs without legalizing them. (Yes, there is a difference.) These policy reforms would dramatically reduce the amount of racial profiling and injustice in America. And, if a candidate you vote for does not explicitly support these types of reform, write him as his constituent.


But, even though these legislative policies would most likely help eradicate certain racial injustices and disadvantages, they are not the answer to racial strife. Government has never been the answer and never will be the answer. Very simply, the government cannot legislate its citizen’s into true peace and community, because the government can never impose reconciliation. Reconciliation is not a concept that can be forced (legislated) onto two parties; reconciliation is in it’s nature voluntary. Therefore, I am of the opinion that the only way racial reconciliation can ever be truly achieved is in the person of Jesus Christ, and in his body, the Church.


And, although I do not have definitive answers to these complex issues, I do understand that the Church is the single greatest vehicle for racial reconciliation and communal problem solving among local, broken communities. For, in the Church mankind worships the God who became man (His enemy) to save them, the Creator who became creation to redeem that which was lost.


Christ became our brother to end humanity’s sibling rivalries and jealousy. Jesus Christ, the eternally begotten Son of the Father, became fully man and partook in our humanity. Christ assumed our racial strife, our familial hatred, our sin. For, He was hated by his own family. He was hated by his own people, the Jews. He was scorned by the Romans. All of humanity stood before him on the cross and scoffed at him. As G.K. Chesterton noted, “All the great groups that stood about the Cross represent in one way or another the great historical truth of the time; that the world could not save itself.” Mankind killed its brother. We, as Cain, lifted our stone of jealousy and hatred and killed He who we envied. Jesus Christ, our Brother, offered a pure sacrifice to His Father, and we murdered him unjustly.


But, what mankind meant for evil, Christ meant for good. Joseph similarly stated to his brothers: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”[13] The story of Joseph was a foreshadowing of the story of Christ. Joseph’s brothers meant to harm, kill, and destroy him. But, Joseph rose from the depths of prison and was seated with the king and given power. Joseph used his power not to destroy his brothers and avenge his misfortune. Rather, Joseph gave his gifts to the very brothers who sought to kill him. Joseph was a mediator of divine reconciliation.


Jesus, as Joseph, is seated at the right hand of the Father and has been given all power under earth, on earth, and in heaven. And, Jesus does not condemn all of his brothers to the same death we gave Him. No, Christ gives us His very gifts. Jesus as our Mediator, heals our broken nature and restores our fellowship with God. Jesus wipes away the stain of original sin. He gives us his righteousness. He gives us eternal life. He gives mankind, Himself. And, he does this to heal that which is broken. Jesus became our brother, and suffered under our hate and scorn, in order that brothers may no longer fight.


Christ is our hope. And, this hope is not far off, but among us in the Church, which is the body of Jesus Christ, the head. The Church is his vehicle for racial and familial reconciliation. Local communities are able to partake in the nature of God. Communities that seek God together through the Son, Jesus Christ, by the power of His Holy Spirit can partake in real reconciliation. And local communities reconciling will lead to the nation being reconciled. For, in and through Christ we are equal. In Christ, men and women are not judged not by the color of their skin but by the virtue of his or her actions. In the communion of the Church mankind can be vulnerable and open, while theologically understanding that even redeemed humanity is still sinful and imperfect. And, in instances of imperfection, instances of ignorance and prejudice, the Church understands that it’s head, Christ, gives grace. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”[14] Thus, Christ ushers mankind into voluntary reconciliation; a reconciliation that pierces to the heart of man and changes their worldview.


The incarnation of Christ also teaches us that even the man you call your greatest enemy is still your brother, a co-participant in the human race, and an image bearer of your common Father, the Triune God. And, Christ did not merely “put up” with his enemy, he personally carried his enemy’s burden and emptied himself even to the point of human death.[15] Christ carried mankind’s burden, so that mankind would learn to carry each other’s burdens. Therefore, in the Church individuals are able to hear the burdens that other members have and help carry them.


In the life of the American Church, we as white Christians have the ability to help carry the burdens of racial injustice that our black brothers and sisters so often carry alone. Jesus Christ so lovingly carried our burdens, may it never be said that we did not do the same for our brothers. But how do we carry this burden? Well, I cannot tell you. But, ask your brothers and sisters of color with a humble spirit, listen to them, and they will tell you. And, this attitude will then be reciprocated. In a reconciling community men and women of every skin color and culture carry each other’s burdens: black, white, Asian, Latino, and Middle Eastern. In the Church individuals carry each others burdens because all of our members are our family, all of our members are our brothers and sisters. Humanity’s nature as one family, one divine race, is thus being restored. America, and the world alike, is yearning for a solution: the Church is that solution, but the Church needs to lead and show by example it is the best vehicle for reconciliation.


As C.S. Lewis reminds us in The Weight of Glory,  “The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.” Only a society that seeks to be like Christ will find itself healing and reconciling. And, a society imitating Christ begins with local communities seeking Christ. And finally, communities striving to be morally just and loving can only be so if it’s individuals are. And that change starts with you and me seeking Christ in communion, community, prayer, and the preaching of the word. Love and seek God; pray for racial reconciliation and peace; and love your neighbor as yourself.


Title Painting: Orazio Riminaldi, Cain and Abel, 17th century

[1] 1 Corinthians 14:33.

[2] 1 Corinthians 14:40.

[3] 1 John 4:8.

[4] Genesis 1:31.

[5] Genesis 1:26-27, Psalm 8

[6] The Consolation of Philosophy, pp 75.

[7] Genesis 3.

[8] Genesis 4.

[9] Genesis 9:18-28.

[10] Genesis 21.

[11] Genesis 27:41-45.

[12] Genesis 37:12-28.

[13] Genesis 50:20, English Standard Version.

[14] Matthew 6:12.

[15] Philippians 2:8.

Medicine for an Anxious Heart: a Christian Meditation on Death and Fear

Court-of-death

 

Peter Lawler stated in a recent article, “Philosophy is learning how to die, to get over obsessing about your personal significance. Being (existence) itself is not in our hands.” Lawler aligns himself with great thinkers such as Plato, Cicero, and Montaigne in believing that Philosophy has the purpose of preparing oneself to die. Shakespeare even incorporates this thinking into his many plays. But, I am convinced that philosophy can only do so much to sooth man’s soul, and I would like to assert that one should replace Philosophy with Christianity. And, I am fully convinced of this: Christianity is learning how to die.


This past year has been quite a year. I graduated from college debt free. My brother was married. I became an uncle. I was offered a job that I wasn’t qualified for. And most importantly, this year, I married my beautiful wife, Stephanie. God has been gracious and kind to me.


But, although this year has been filled with joy and happiness, I found myself deeply saddened. April 15th, 2016 marked the 18th year anniversary of my father, John Francis Elliott’s, death. It can easily be deduced that my father was not at my graduation, at my niece’s birth, at my brother’s wedding, or at my wedding. His death still has a real affect on my life, even though it was 18 years ago. So much so that in April of last year, I had an anxiety attack that landed me in the emergency room of Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Washington. Having too much caffeine from coffee and to much stress from school, work, and wedding planning resulted in the anxiety attack, but I am convinced the root cause was my deeply rooted fear of death. Let me explain.


Because of my father’s early death, I have always feared a premature death, myself. My dad died of a heart attack when he was forty-one, and I was so scared that my anxiety attack was a heart attack that I literally tricked my body into thinking it was going to die. The doctor told me that I had experienced a hypochondriac reaction. I had convinced myself I was dying, and my response consisted of being frantic, afraid, and scared.


But, this brings me back to my original point. Christianity is learning how to die, at least a large part of it. Death is the great equalizer of humanity. Every one experiences death. Naked we enter this world, and naked we leave. From dust we are formed, and to dust we return. No matter who you are, you will die. Death is scary, and the fear of death has many tangible reactions. Anxiety, denial, and ignorance are just a few.


I am afraid of death. I am afraid of being separated from my family. I am afraid of the pain I might face in my final hours. I am afraid of not being there for my children. And, every year I remember my dad’s death, and what he has missed, it incarnates that fear even more into my life. Fear is not something that mankind merely experiences, it is a part of our nature. Although a concept, fear incarnates itself into our reality in a concrete way. How does mankind conquer fear and its many consequences? The Apostle John with such sublime and simple words tells us that, “Perfect love casts out fear.”


But, how does love cast out fear? Often the answer to this question places the action on man to love and not act out of fear. Preachers often tell us, “You, human, in your own capacity, do not fear. You, human, in your own capacity, love other.” But this is the wrong way of understanding this concept. Fear has incarnated itself as a part of our human nature. The only thing that can overcome the human incarnation of fear is a divine incarnation of love.


The question one should ask is not “how do I with love cast out fear?” but rather, “how does perfect love, the Triune God, cast out fear?” The Father gives us His Son, Jesus Christ, through His Spirit. And, the presence of Jesus Christ in our souls casts out human fear. Christ casts fear out, because He is perfect love. And, as Christ casts out demons who controlled the men and women they indwelled, so Christ cast out fear from his church’s body. The God who calmed the raging waters of the Galilee Sea, can assuredly calm the fear in his children’s heart.


Therefore, the answer to fear is Christ himself. Christ went through death for humanity. God experienced death. As Peter Leithart eloquently explains in his article Lord over Death, “He (Jesus) is not only Lord over the safe confines of heaven…Not only Lord over galaxies, but Lord in the world of hunger and thirst. Not only the Lord over nations, but the Lord in suffering, injustice, and pain. Not only the Lord over life, but also the Lord and tamer in death.” Christ did this as our brother, a partaker in humanity. Adam sinned and brought death, destruction, and fear upon all mankind. But, through Christ, the God-man, mankind has life, redemption, and love. As Leithart states in another article, “The Lord of life becomes Lord of death. God’s throne is a tomb… Any old god could put up a throne in a temple. The true God must reign also in the midst of hell, among the ruins, or he doesn’t reign at all. He is no living God if he isn’t the living One among the dead.” Our God not only became man, He experienced the dirty, messy, humiliating act of death.


Modern society views death as man’s weakest point, that great adversary of mankind. Death is the point of human existence in which human will and ability can do nothing to stop the impending destruction of life. Death is in its nature a humiliating moment. Perhaps this is why euthanasia is becoming so appealing to many; human will can exercise its power one last time. Human will desires to be lord of its own peaceful death. But, that subject can be tackled at a later time.


In Christian thought, death receives a new nature and purpose. Death is man’s act of victory; man’s final experience of pain and sorrow, becomes its moment of victory. Death is still humbling in Christianity’s understanding, but it is humbling because we submit ourselves to God in humility with faith that he will raise us up incorruptible. Christian’s go to the grave not fearing death, for in death’s humiliation we are exalted to the heavens into the throne room of God. God made his throne the grave, so that man’s grave could become his throne. This is why a large portion of Christianity is learning how to die. For, Christianity teaches that in death we have life if we place our faith in the power of our Savior, Jesus Christ. We literally preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in our very death. Man is sinful and weak and deserving of the punishment of death, but through faith in Jesus Christ man is restored to a divine life that is incorruptible. This is the message of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15.


So, when fear attempts to reincarnate itself into the hearts and minds of men, man is to think of Christ. Think on that perfect love, who incarnated himself on this earth and in your heart. Think on Christ, who descended into the grave and rose victorious. And, pray. Pray for Christ to give you His Spirit. For through His Spirit, we receive the power, presence, and love of Christ, the Eternal Son. Our God, came to this earth as one of us, and conquered not as a powerful King, but as a dying servant. And, through this we have peace. Our anxieties and fears can be calmed, for God has accomplished the work of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ. And, with this peace, man can truly live. Understanding the true nature of death leads to true life. Anxiety, stress, and despair slowly fade.


My fear of death still exists, and my heart is still anxious. Every year when I remember my father’s premature death, my heart will become heavy with fear and anxiety. But when my heart is heavy, I think of the word’s of Christ, “Come to me all who labor and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Christ speaks to my heart through his Word, through His Church, through His Communion, and through Prayer. He tells me to have no fear, for he has conquered the grave. And, slowly, very slowly, I am learning how to die.


Title Painting: The Court of Death by Rembrandt Peale. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2012645626/

Like the Blind Leading the Blind: Donald Trump and Evangelicals

This morning, like most mornings now, I found myself reading an article on Donald Trump’s candidacy. Everyday I ask myself the question, “How can so many American Evangelicals support such an openly narcissistic, power driven man?” Sarah Palin endorsed him, Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, endorsed him,[1] and not too long ago, a poll was released that showed that Evangelical Christians as a whole are gravitating to Trump.[2]


But, this article I read today gave me a much needed answer as to why Americans and specifically republican “anti-establishment” Evangelicals are gravitating toward Donald Trump. The author, Gina Dalfonzo, asserted, and rightfully so, that when fear is driving a certain people group, they will seek safety and power in the wrong places. The author then went on to make the connection that the American people, specifically “anti-establishment” republicans, are putting their faith in Donald Trump, because he projects an unwavering, albeit narcissistic, strength. She even takes a particular jab at American Evangelicals it seems, when she states, “Some who have professed faith in Jesus Christ are lured by a man who openly puts all his faith in power and money, the very things Christ warned us against prizing too highly.”[3]


 

Americans are scared. And, when humans fear they look for security. And, what appeals to humans seeking security? Strength. This is why Trump is so appealing; he exudes a certain unwavering cockiness that somehow appeals to people as “strength.” But, Evangelical Christians must remember that to exchange morality and virtue for strength and power is to reject an important Christian principle.


 

American Evangelicals, by voting for Trump, are rejecting a key principle from the message of Christ and his incarnation: personal power is not to be prized.


 

I could to try and sway Evangelical voters by pointing to Trump’s not so morally consistent business and personal history. I could easily point to Trump’s multiple divorces,[4] his business endeavors, the fact he owned the nation’s first-ever casino strip club,[5] the fact that he preys on the weak by using his power to take their land through eminent domain,[6] his previous support of abortion, his sexist[7] and racist remarks,[8] and much more.[9]  But, more than all of these actions, the reason why Trump should cause Christians to cringe is what seems to be his deep, personal, one could say philosophical, love of power and not virtue.


 

Trump fails to realize that power is neither good nor evil in and of itself. Power can be a good, or it can be an evil. Power can be likened to a hammer. In the right hands it is a tool that builds up and strengthens a structure. In the wrong hands it can be a tool used for destruction or tearing apart a structure. It is the character of the man wielding the hammer that matters not the hammer itself. Power needs virtue in order to be good. But, Trump insists that because he is successful, because he is rich, because he is powerful, he deserves your vote. Remembering our illustration, it is as if Trump is saying, I’ll be a good builder cause I have a hammer. This, I believe, contradicts the virtue ethic of the Bible. And, the question every voter, not only Evangelical Christians, must ask is “How has he used his power? How has he used his tools?”


 

The Prophet Jeremiah writes, “Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom, do not let the mighty boast in their might, do not let the wealthy boast in their wealth; but let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the Lord.”[10] This is a summary of the Christian message. The Christian message and ethic is that man’s boasting whether it be in money, power, or wisdom, gains him nothing. It’s worthless. But, God delights in men of virtue, of love, justice, and righteousness. Trump does not live a life of virtue, rather he boasts of all his money, power, and accomplishments to gain your trust and vote. Trump is successful; Trump is rich; Trump is powerful. I am not denying this, but American Evangelicals must question how he uses his money, success, and power. And, I believe if one questions this, he will realize that Trump’s actions show that he consistently uses his money and power unethically.


 

The Apostle Paul states in his first epistle to the Corinthians (not One Corinthians), “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast.”[11] Jesus as our Leader, our Savior and King, did not rule this world with king-like power or with earthly riches. Jesus Christ lived a lowly life, a life of healing the sick, a life of serving the poor and the outcast. Christ lived a servant’s life, and he died a humiliating death to save mankind, even those who crucified him. Christ does not claim followers because of His mere power. Jesus Christ claims followers because of how he uses His infinite power. Christ’s life, death, burial, and resurrection show that true power comes from understanding virtue and enacting love, justice, and righteousness in our broken world. Virtue and morality is what builds and structures our communities, our cities, our states, and our union. This is what is called a Virtue-ethic. Man living for virtue’s sake not for personal gain.


 

That being said, there was a time when American Evangelicals voted from this Christian virtue ethic. Russell Moore says it well,

“One may say that Trump’s personal life and business dealings are irrelevant to his candidacy, but conservatives have argued for generations that virtue matters, in the citizenry and in the nation’s leaders. Can conservatives really believe that, if elected, Trump would care about protecting the family’s place in society when his own life is — unapologetically — what conservatives used to recognize as decadent?”

Some American Evangelicals want to elect a man who stands for the exact opposite of Christ’s message of virtue as true power. They want a leader who mocks, scoffs, and ridicules his competitors and dissenters. Some Evangelicals want to elect Trump as their political “savior,” but sadly they cannot see his blatant rejection of their very Savior’s virtue ethic. Like the blind leading the blind, so Trump leads scared and impressionable Evangelicals.


 

I am not saying that Christians can only vote for verified Christians, there is no religious test for office; I am not saying that Christians cannot vote for rich men; I am not saying that Christians cannot vote for powerful men. The point I am wishing to make is that Christians cannot vote for rich, powerful men who reject virtue and have both a flawed character and ethic. As previously stated, I do not care if Trump is rich; I do not care if Trump is successful; I do not care if Trump is powerful. But, I do care how Trump uses his money, success, and power. Therefore, I care that Trump is immoral; I care that Trump is arrogant; I care that Trump is narcissistic. And, all of these characteristics paired with his personal and business actions show his blatant opposition to Christ’s message of true power as virtue. Thus, to vote for Trump is to accept the message of this world: that the powerful, the rich, the successful deserve power and leadership. And, if that is true, then Jesus Christ would not have been a good leader according to modern standards.


 

Evangelical Christians must understand that to seriously support Trump is to politically forget that morality is to be prized over earthly power; that divine virtue is greater than human strength.

 


 

[1] Scott, Eugene. “Jerry Falwell Jr. Endorses Donald Trump for President” CNN. Web. 27 Jan. 2016.

[2] Gass, Nick. “Poll: Evangelicals Flocking to Trump.” POLITICO. Web. 27 Jan. 2016.

[3] Dalfonzo, Gina. “Nikabrik’s Candidate.” First Things. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

[4] Sun, Feifei. “Top 10 Donald Trump Failures.” Time. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

[5] Williamson, Kevin D. “Witless Ape Rides Escalator.” National Review Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

[6] Malkin, Michelle. “Trump’s Eminent-Domain Empire.” National Review Online. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

[7] Obeidallah, Dean. “Donald Trump Doesn’t Understand What ‘sexism’ Is” CNN. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

[8] Edelson, Chris. “Donald Trump’s Moral Cowardice.” TheHill. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

[9] “Conservatives against Trump.” National Review Online. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

[10] Jeremiah 9:23-24. NRSV.

[11] 1 Corinthians 1:27-29.

St. Gregory of Nyssa on Divine Transcendence and Presence

“All the heavens can fit in the palm of God’s hand; the earth and the sea are measured in the hollow of His hand. And though He is so great that He can grasp all creation in his palm, you can wholly embrace Him; He dwells within you…saying: I will dwell in them, and walk among them.” [1]


A deep morning fog surrounded me as I read these words from St. Gregory of Nyssa’s Commentary on the Song of Solomon. How fitting it was that this deep fog surrounded me as I read these words, for the fog of nature provides a beautiful image that reflects God’s transcendence, which St. Gregory is expositing.

A thick layer of fog surrounds and encompasses everything within it’s borders. Those walking in the fog actually participate in that fog as they breathe in the air. God too is like this, for God encompasses everything with his presence, and man has the ability to participate and breathe in that very presence.

Often in the Scriptures God’s presence is described as a cloud. God leads the children of Israel as with a cloudy pillar by day,[2] and the Psalmist,[3] along with Job,[4] describe God’s presence as a thick cloud. A cloud represents an image of transcendence. It is visible, yet man cannot grasp it. It can be breathed in to one’s lungs, yet it cannot be held in one’s hands. God too is like this. God is visible, yet we cannot completely comprehend him. God is both attainable and unattainable, graspable and ungraspable, knowable yet incomprehensible.

It is interesting to note that in the Old Testament the cloud of God’s presence dwelt only on the physical tabernacle of the people of Israel. God’s presence and transcendence was only visible to those who worshipped at the tabernacle. But, something divine occurred in the incarnation. God’s presence filled a man, Jesus Christ. The Scriptures say that Christ was “a more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.”[5] Christ contained the fullness of God’s presence, for He was God. Gregory states, “It is God, then, the Only Begotten, Who encompasses in Himself the entire universe, Who has built His own tabernacle among us.”[6]

The God-man, Christ, acting as the mediator to mankind did not keep the presence of God to Himself. Christ took on human nature as to give us the ability to partake in God’s life. The risen Christ poured out His Spirit to man, to those who believe in his work. [7]

In the Old Testament, the presence of God only dwelt in the tabernacle, and in the New Testament that is still true. Only now the children of God, the church, is that tabernacle.[8] Christ who is the Mediator of man, gave man his Spirit so man can participate in the act of mediation. God uses man to mediate his love to the world. The church is the visible presence of God on earth. It is as a fog covering the face of the earth, allowing the world to breathe in the presence of God. In the church, the world is to be refreshed, for in the individual members of the Church, God is present.

The question that Christians and the Church must ask when contemplating this thought is, “Am I refreshing? Do I correctly display the presence of God to the world around? Do I allow the world to participate in the love of God as I love others?

It is easy to be dismayed when one asks these questions. But, dismay is not the answer to these questions. St. Gregory’s theological thought on God’s transcendence and presence is itself the answer to this question. For, it is in the moment when redeemed man realizes that the transcendent God lives in his person that he is urged to be virtuous.

Therefore, dwell on this thought: The infinite, Trinitarian God rests in those who seek Him. God who is spirit and boundless has given man His very Spirit in our being. He who contains everything is contained in humanity. And, this is only possible through the man, Jesus Christ. Be like Christ. Be refreshing. Be virtuous. Be just. Be temperate. Be courageous. Be charitable. Be these things not to be a good human, rather, be these things because the God who is the very perfection of virtue exists in your person. Christ who is Justice, Temperance, Courage, and Love lives in you through his Spirit to the glory of the Father.

[1] St. Gregory of Nyssa. From Glory to Glory: Texts from Gregory of Nyssa’s Mystical Writings. Ed. Jean Daniélou. Trans. Herbert Musurillo. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary, 1979. Pp. 162.

[2] Exodus 13. New Revised Standard Version.

[3] Psalm 97:2

[4] Job 22:13-4

[5] Hebrews 9:11.

[6] Gregory, pp. 132.

[7] Titus 3:5-7.

[8] 2 Corinthians 4-5.

The Glory of the Gods

What if I told you I was a Greek god? What if I told you that people offered sacrifices of food and libations to me? Well, it is true. Let me explain.


In Greek mythology, gods were built temples in which human subjects would bring offerings of food, drink, and incense. Greek citizens would try and bribe the god into favoring them. Sailors and seamen would offer sacrifices to Poseidon for a safe voyage across the stormy Aegean. Infertile women would offer a sacrifice to Demeter or Aphrodite in the hopes of bringing the fruit of life to their barren wombs. Kings and generals alike would offer many sacrifices to Athena and Ares to have the arrows of their artillery and the swords of their hoplites guided into the hearts of their enemies. In ancient Greece, if one wished to succeed in what he did, he would sacrifice to the gods. The gods were thus utilized for success.


Greek deities were not good. They were and still are symbols of the fall. They were worshipped in fear and utility. They were ruled by their emotions and used their powers to serve and glorify themselves. Greek gods symbolize the misuse of creation. So, while it may have seemed narcissistic that I called myself a Greek god, it actually was my confession of pride, arrogance, and sinful nature.


Has anyone ever said to you, “I need your help,” or, “Without you I would have failed?”


Well, fellow students in my bachelor’s degree constantly told me this when I helped them in their academic endeavors. I though that they needed me, like the Greeks needed their gods. I was like Coeus, the titan god of intelligence. I dressed myself in knowledge, facts, and academics. I was a book reader, a contemplator, and a theologian. I researched in the library, reading Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas. I taught, tutored, and edited the works of many students.  Friends, acquaintances, and students I had never met, would ask me for help. I was offered sacrifices of food and drink. I was frequently given meals and coffee for my help. People told me, “I need you. I need your help. I will fail if you do not help me.” Oh! How I loved those words. Oh! How I my heart was pleased to hear those words and to receive those gifts. I built for myself a temple of knowledge, a temple in which I allowed my heart to commit adultery against its very Creator.


Have you ever experienced this?


Perhaps you are like Apollo, god of music, theatre, and poetry. You dress yourself in the arts. You parade around mastering musical instruments. Maybe you are a poet, a writer, or a lyricist. Are you a lover of the theatre? Do you sit under a favorite tree or in a favorite coffee shop and read Browning, Byron, Shelley, and Shakespeare? Whatever aspect of the arts with which you dress yourself, you are defined as an artist. Are you one to allow your passion to exude through your performances? Do you thrive on the crowds cheering? Do you long for people to tell you how good you are; how wonderful your performance was? Do you perform poetry, sing songs, act in plays to receive adoration, even if for a brief moment? But, Oh! How you cherish that moment; Oh! How you desire that moment of pleasure again and again. Maybe you have built a temple for yourself, where others come to praise you. Perhaps you are Apollo.


Perhaps you are like Aphrodite, goddess of love, beauty, and eternal youth. You dress yourself with make-up, designer clothes, trending fashion, rich perfumes, and anything that could make you attractive, that could make you beautiful. Maybe you have a size zero waist, a beautiful smile, or even the hair of Aphrodite herself. Are you a lover of aesthetics? Do you sit at home fantasizing about wearing Burberry, Dolce & Gabanna, Versace, and Louis Vuitton? Or do you long for love? Do you long to be loved? Are you someone who dresses with garments of beauty in order to be loved? Do you long to hear people tell you how pretty, gorgeous, or stunning you are? When you hear these words, do you feel loved? Oh! How loved you feel, when someone adores your beauty. Oh! How divine you feel, when your beauty is desired. Maybe you have built a temple for yourself, where others come to adore your aesthetic beauty. Perhaps you are Aphrodite.


Perhaps you are like Ares, god of physical strength and war. You dress yourself with workout regiments, dietary restrictions, and muscle. Maybe you are at maximal physical strength. You are the best at sports, a born leader on the field; your teammates follow you as the Greeks followed Odysseus into battle against the Trojans. Are you a lover of physical physique? Do you always need to be stronger? Do you long for the cheers of others when you reach a new level of strength or when you excel in sports? When you hear those words, do you feel accomplished, strong, and powerful? Oh! How mighty you feel when others look to you as a strong man. Maybe you have built a temple for yourself, where others come to praise your strength, agility, and skill. Perhaps you are Ares.


Mankind imitates so many other Greek deities. Hades, the god of the underworld and wealth, was known to seek and accumulate riches. Hermes, the god of travel, commerce, and trade, mastered his occupation and helped others in their economic endeavors. Hera, the god of marriage, blessed new marriages and united spouses. All of these idolatrous deities represent specific idols in our life. Idols are created objects which mankind uses in self-gratification and self-glorification as a means to bring himself control over his life. Mankind’s sinful nature wants freedom from God, and wants to become itself a god. We desire to glorify ourselves, and in our self-glorification we deny any possibility to love and glorify our Creator.


Being a Greek deity is quite exciting, but that which is exciting is not always right. I realized that my deification of self came from the pride I found in my knowledge. Humanity is prone to this. Man seeks life in creation and not in the Creator. Man seeks fame, fortune, popularity through knowledge, athletics, business, artistry, and much more. This is the great temptation in life: to take that which God gives us to steward (creation) and use it for personal gain and self-gratification. It is to deny true deity, God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God cannot be glorified by one who loves and seeks creation as its own end, but sadly all humans are prone to do this. It is the temptation of the forbidden fruit. Take creation and use it to attain deity. It is quite ironic, though, for in using creation to attain deity, we forfeit any chance of becoming one with God. It is ironic because, in my pursuit of knowledge, I lost the true knowledge of God. Knowledge of God (theology) became an object to me. I saw it as a means to the end of glory, fame, and popularity. I became as the vain preachers in Philippians 1:15-16, who preached the knowledge of the gospel, “from envy and strife…from selfish ambition and not sincerely.”


I would like to clarify that music, the arts, fashion, exercise, beauty, strength, knowledge, money, and the many other created objects, which I stated were a means of self-glorification, are not inherently evil. Again, idols would not exist apart from humanity’s fall. And, if idols are objects, which God created and called good, then it is humanity’s fallen nature that is inherently evil. Man in his sin takes creation, that which God created good, and uses it to its own advantage and glorification. When God created the world it was good. Creation in itself is not evil; man uses it for evil. But, man can also use it for good. Creation is at our disposal, and, through the power of the Spirit, man is once again given the ability to use the objects that once enslaved him as channels of adoration to his Creator. Man seeks and serves God with creation through the love of God mediated in the work of Christ by the power of the Spirit.


And, this is the lesson I come back to time after time. Loving God is the cornerstone of all right action. The only thing that separates us from the natural tendency to love and worship ourselves as divine deities is God’s love for us. God has given us his word, his table, and his church as created objects which draw us into his love, through his love, and by his love. Thirst for these! Hunger for these! Be as a deer panting for water. Pray for God to be your sustenance. Do not be as the Greek deities, who take from creation for power and life; Scripture tells us to love the Creator and in his Son find power and life. Jesus is the very image of God to humanity, fully God and fully man, mediator of true life and our new nature. Jesus is not an idol, but God himself. He destroyed sin, death, all idols, and even the devil. Idols no longer control us, and our selfish desires have no power over us as long as mankind loves and seeks the Creator God through the Savior, Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Love God; seek Christ.

The Road to Emmaus: Reconsidering the Eucharist as a Spiritual Meal

Luke 24:13-35 tells the story known as the Road to Emmaus. In this story, the recently risen Jesus Christ comes along two confused and saddened disciples, who are struggling with Christ’s recent crucifixion and subsequent death. In this account the disciples do not recognize who Jesus is, because their “eyes are restrained;” (Luke 24:16 NRSV) they only think him to be a stranger. Thus, God blinded their vision from knowing Christ’s identity, for in the Greek we see that the verb used is a divine passive. (1) God does the action of blinding.


Christ then comes along, undetected, and dialogues with them asking them what caused their sadness. The two respond that their hope in Christ, who was a great prophet of God, being the Messiah was dashed by recent events, which ended with His death. These disciples had heard the resurrection account from the women, Mary, Mary, and Martha, but did not believe. Hearing these things, Christ explains to the disciples that throughout the Old Testament scriptures the Messiah was always to suffer. Beginning with the Law and ending with the Prophets, Christ explains and expounds on the Messiah’s true task. When they reach the village of their residence, the disciples ask the stranger (Christ) to lodge with them and to continue the dialogue. Again, the disciples did not know this was Jesus. As the group sat down to eat, Christ blessed the bread and gave it to the two disciples to eat. In this moment the two realized it was the risen Jesus. As Luke records, “Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.” (Luke 24:30-31) Therefore, one can see that Christ did not reveal Himself to the disciples until the moment they broke bread together.


On this narrative Leroy A. Huizenga exposites, “Luke’s language is patently eucharistic, recalling the institution of the Lord’s Supper in Luke 24:14–23. And it is precisely when the risen Jesus begins to celebrate the Eucharist that “their eyes were opened and they recognized him” and he then “vanished out of their sight.” (2) If it takes the risen Jesus to reveal the ultimate coherence of the Scriptures, it then takes the Eucharist to reveal Jesus. Thus one can see that from this post-resurrection passage, that Christ bestows a certain spiritual food in and through the eucharist, which nourishes the individual to see Him because of it. Scriptural word is always paired with eucharistic liturgy. The revelation of God is made manifest in both; the eucharist then involves a spiritual revelation or feeding in a sense. The bread is not only bread, it is the very Word of God, the incarnate Christ.


And if this is not enough, Luke makes it even more explicit. The last verse in the Road to Emmaus passage states, “They began to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread.” (Luke 24:35) The passage explicitly states that the disciples connected the breaking of bread (which was the first commonly used name given to the Lord’s Supper) with Christ’s presence. Their eyes were shut by God, and they were opened by Christ. This is what the Lord’s Supper is; it is God revealing Himself to His Church. It is not a Christian naturally, as with his own brain function, remembering Him.


What does this mean? Well, it means that the eucharist hinges on a correct understanding of salvation itself. Salvation is the act of God on man; it is the continual act of God on man. The work of salvation encompasses ones life. From regeneration to justification, to sanctification, to glorification, Christ is at work. Every act in the ordo salutis (3) is built on the the nature and will of Christ. Therefore, when one approaches the eucharist, he must ask, “How does God work in this?”


The Church knows that the bread and wine give life, and it understands that it cannot give or receive life apart from the work of the Creator. Humans as creatures respond to how God acts upon us. Therefore, one must allow for the specific work of God in the eucharist. From Scripture, one can see the beauty of the eucharist. It reveals Christ to fallen man. Human eyes, which are so often blinded to the truth of God, receive light. The preaching of the Word becomes a reality and not just a series of facts. The same way the eternal Word entered humanity to give them eternal life, so Christ spiritually presents Himself in the elements. Christ feeds His sheep, and unites them under his head. Thus, when one partakes of the eucharist, he is dependent on God and the faith which he bestows upon man to receive the grace of Jesus Christ through the Spirit. It is not man working to God, but God working in and through man for “His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13) Behold, the resurrected Jesus is standing at the door and is knocking. (Revelation 3:20) The Savior, Jesus Christ, desires His Church to realize that it personally partakes in a spiritual meal with him, where he gives himself to his Church through the power of the Spirit to the glory of the Father. Amen.


1. Huizenga, Leroy A. “The Tradition of Christian Allegory Yesterday and Today.” Letter & Spirit 8.1 (2013): 77-99.

2. Ibid. 

3. Latin for “order of salvation.” This does not describe a chronological order of events in salvation, but rather a logical progression in the way the the Triune God works to give an individual salvation.

The Paradox of Death

A child of five years I was

Sitting, waiting, confused.

People whispering in hushed tones;

People crying with sorrowful mourns.


“Where’s mommy?” I asked.

No response.

No one wanted to answer. 

No one did answer.


A child of five I was;

Lifted up, looking at, and wondering why

Everyone was watching daddy sleep.


“Why is daddy sleeping?” I asked.

No response.

I touched his face;

I kissed his cheek.

He was cold.


“Why is daddy cold?” I asked.

Finally, a response:

My mother’s eyes flowing with tears,

“Daddy’s not sleeping, Peter.”


I didn’t understand;

I couldn’t understand

What was happening.


A man of twenty-two years I am

Sitting, thinking, contemplating.

I think to myself;

I cry.


“Where’s God?” I ask.

No response.


A man of twenty-two years I am;

Looking up, crying out, and wondering why

Good men die young,

Why evil men live long.


“Why is my dad dead?” I ask.

No response.

I see his face;

I hear his voice,

But he is gone.


“Why is my father, a good man, dead?” I cry.

Finally, a response:

God’s hand wiping my tears away,

“Your dad’s not dead, Peter.

He’s only sleeping.”


I understand what has happened,

It is the paradox of death:

They are not sleeping; they are dead.

They are not dead; they are sleeping.


In loving memory of John Francis Elliott, beloved husband, father, and brother. I miss you Dad.