Saturday, May 29, 2010

On Books and Dogs and Natural Behaviour

What if we could explain everything?  What if all our human behaviors from birth to grave could be explained in terms of evolutionary development, hormones, chemical imbalances, family of origin issues, and cultural setting.  What if I found out that it is normal and quite reasonable and even somewhat predictable that a fifty year old man would throw a book at his wife’s little dog just because it unexpectedly started barking and gave him a shock, especially after working with the dog for weeks not to bark in the house and after a terrible morning making Holy Bread with the wrong flour and burning four loaves?  What if it all could be explained?  Would it make a difference?
Sure it would make a difference.  It makes a difference to know that my book throwing impulse is not insanity--or at least not an unusual insanity.  It makes a difference to know that I struggle with the same impulses, fears, lusts, and ambitions that most fifty year old men struggle with.  Sure it helps to know this, but it isn’t news to me.  St. Paul said the same thing to the Corinthians: “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man.”
In a clergy meeting once, bishop Joseph was commenting on a certain behavior that he considers inappropriate for priests and deacons, when one of the brothers in defending the behavior used the expression, “it’s only natural that….”  When the priest had finished, His Grace asked, “Are we Christians or mere men?"
At the end of 1 Corinthians chapter 2, St. Paul makes a distinction between the spiritual person and the soulish person (translated natural person in New King James, or the person who relies on the resources of the soul without the Holy Spirit).  In chapter three, “carnal” person becomes a synonym for the “natural” (soulish) person.  The babes in Christ--those who have not trained themselves to rely on the resources of the Holy Spirit, but who rely merely on the resources of their own soul and thus become carnal or flesh-driven--these are the ones who experience envy, strife and division in the Church.  These are the ones who are “behaving as mere men” (1 Cor. 3:3).
Sts. James and Jude say the same thing.  St. James says that bitter envy and self-seeking are “earthly, sensual [soulish] and demonic” (James 3:14,15).  St. Jude seems to come down the harshest on mere humans.  He tells his readers to remember the warning of the Apostles that into the church would come mockers who live according to their own ungodly lusts (impulses and desires).  “These are sensual [soulish] persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit” (Jude 18,19).
Morality isn’t really the main problem with mere humanity.  Moral weakness is a symptom.  The real problem with being only natural is eschatological.   The natural person cannot “receive the things of the Sprit of God” (1 Cor. 2:14), and therefore cannot be transformed by the Spirit of God and cannot participate in the life of God.
Throwing a book at a barking dog may, at some level, be natural; but it is not spiritual.  Repentance is in order, again.  Slowly, slowly, slowly this mere human being is becoming a Christian.

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