Monday, October 22, 2007

The Cruelty of Heresy

In Martin Luther's "Table Talk," there is a story of family prayer that involved a discussion of the story of the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham. His wife, Katie, speaking for all of us, exclaimed, "How horrible! God would not allow his son to be sacrificed!" And Luther quietly replied, "But, Katie, he did." The horror of the story is only partly relieved by the substitution of the ram for Isaac, and not at all relieved later by the absence of any intervention to bring Christ down from the cross. But beneath this horror is a love that is tough enough not to destroy humanity in order to save it, and a love powerful enough to see humanity vindicated over death.

Divine patience that insists on working through and thereby transforming humanity is not the whole story (there are times to intervene--on God's part and ours), but it is an essential part of it. The unwillingness of God to intervene prematurely, to save the Only Begotten from the betrayal, from the agony of the garden, and from the cry of dereliction and temptation to despair on the cross is the greatest challenge to our all-too-human desire for an Apollinarian short-cut.

A seminarian taking a summer's course on the oncology ward of a hospital was described by his supervisor as making the universal mistake of "giving premature reassurance." "Premature reassurance" is a kind of Apollinarian sentimentality that is long-range cruelty. Unfortunately, everyone does not always get well, and to suggest that they will does not provide for that patience which allows one to respond in trust to whatever reality obtains. We need to make room for a deeper hope than the one we pray for at a given time.

A New York jazz pianist once observed, "God never comes when you want him, but he's right on time." All of us caught in the agonies of God's failure to come on our schedule become especially susceptible to the seduction of the Apollinarian hope that we will be saved without being changed, without our wills being changed through the painful stretching of our time into God's.

Bishop C. FitzSimons Allison The Cruelty of Heresy