Maturing in Faith

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How many times have you heard your children, your teenagers, or yourself whining those words, ‘It’s not fair’? Because we have a conscience, because we have an innate sense that there is such a thing as right and wrong, we are quick to respond to a perceived wrong. The problem is that, just because we have this instinct, it does not mean that we are always right in our perceptions. This is the case here in this passage from the Prophet Ezekiel. In it we are essentially hearing God say to us again, ‘Listen, my children. And learn.’

ʺThus says the Lord: You say, ‘The Lord’s way is not fair!’ Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair? When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies, it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die, But if he turns from the wickedness he has committed, and does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins that he has committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.ʺ (Ezekiel 18: 25-28)

God’s way is perfect. Ours is not. We know this in our hearts and minds but, like children, or immature adults, we often hear God’s commandments and proscriptions as unfair impositions on us. We see them, in our slothfulness, as too hard. We think that it is unfair for God to expect so much of us. Oh, if we could only bend our wills to his more and more. For it is a matter of wisdom to submit to his ways, rather than to presume that we know better for ourselves.

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Because we have consciences and God has written his Law onto them, we know that virtue is the way to happiness. But we ‘turn away’ from the virtuous way so often. We do so for as many reasons as there are individuals. And every ‘reason’ is a rationalization rooted in either our pride or our sloth. The great irony is that inevitably, if we turn away from the path of virtue, sooner or later, we will experience some form of ‘death’ as a result. Why do we do this? Paul struggled with this question for he himself struggled with this same inner dilemma: ʺFor I know that Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand, for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate, but if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good.ʺ (Romans 7: 14-16) When we go against the virtuous way, we know that we are doing so. We know that we are going against the Law, and in doing so, we are actually agreeing the the law is good. For one does not rebel from what is evil, one only rebels from what one knows to be good. So, when we go astray, we argue that we do so because God’s way is ‘too hard’ for us and, therefore, it is unfair. When we do this we are attempting to place the blame on the Law Maker, rather than where it belongs, with the Law breaker.

The other side of the story is rooted in faith, hope, and love. When we turn back from doing evil, and retake the virtuous way, we ‘preserve’ our bodily and our spiritual life. When we do this it is because our moral character has matured, we have turned away from the ways of the child, of the slothful teenager, and taken on the role and the duties of an adult life, and adult spiritual life in accord with the Law of God. This is an internal choice, in cooperation with God’s grace, to grow up and to be with God. When we have reached this point in our moral and spiritual lives, we begin to take on the difficult work of turning away from our old, sinful ways. When this happens, the Prophet Ezekiel tell us, ʺ[you] shall surely live, [you] shall not die.ʺ (Ezekiel 18:28)

Lord, help us to grow up in the practice of your Law. Help us to turn away from our childish ways, and to take up the narrow path that you have marked so clearly with the road signs of your Law. We are nothing without you Lord. Your Law is the source of our happiness. Help us to come to this realization. For Your Law is supremely fair; it is our rebellion that is ‘unfair.’ We ask these prayers in your name, Jesus. Amen.

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.