Archives for posts with tag: repentance

I apologize for the lack of blog posts as of late. We have had several things come up in our family, preventing me from posting regularly. Thankfully, things seem to have settled down now and I hope to blog on a regular basis once again.

Returning to the book of Genesis, I have mentioned several times now how Isaac is presented as an ideal; an example to which we should aspire. This was certainly the case with Isaac’s patience and his trust in God. In Genesis 26, Isaac continues to be an example for us, most especially in his willingness to live at peace with his neighbors.

Genesis 26 begins with Isaac once again choosing to remain in the land God promised him and his descendants. In contradistinction to Abraham earlier and Jacob later, Isaac spends his entire life in the promised land. Despite the famine, Isaac trusts God to take care of his needs in the very land God has promised him. So instead of leaving for another as Jacob will later do (and end up enslaved in Egypt for 430 years), Isaac remains in the land God has given him and “reaped in the same year a hundredfold” (Gen 26:12). In other words, God rewards Isaac for his obedience and his patience.

But the most outstanding and exemplary aspect of Isaac in Genesis 26 is his willingness to live peaceably with his neighbors. Isaac had every excuse to be bitter towards his neighboring Philistines. They asked him to leave the land because of jealousy/envy (vs. 16). They stopped the wells previously dug by Abraham (vs. 15) and quarreled with Isaac’s servants over a well of running water they dug in the valley (vss. 19-20), as well as another well elsewhere (vs. 21). Nevertheless, when Isaac was approached by the Philistines to make a covenant of peace, Isaac gladly accepted, throwing a feast for them (vss. 30-31). In some ways, this passage reminds me of the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 15:11-32): rather than “holding accountable”the Philistines for their sin, Isaac rejoices in his neighbor making the correct decision to return and repent. This is similar to the father in Luke’s parable throwing a banquet when his exceedingly sinful son decided to return home from his riotous living. Neither Isaac, nor the father in Luke’s parable, set conditions for the one repenting, but restored them immediately, rejoicing in their reconciliation.

Yet again, Isaac, who was born of God’s promise rather than of human will, is shown as a model. Despite famine and persecution, he remains faithful to God’s charge to remain in the land he was promised. Because of Isaac’s faithfulness and forgiveness, reconciliation with his adversarial neighbor is possible and Isaac is able to live in peace. Genesis 26 calls us to live at peace with our neighbors, realizing the world God has given us is big enough for us to co-exist, even with our adversaries.

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As a Yankees fan, the season (and perhaps career) ending injury of Mariano Rivera has been tough news today.  For those who are not aware, Mariano Rivera is one of the all-time great baseball players and a New York Yankee.  He is one of the best pitchers in the history of the game.  Indications were Mariano would retire after this season.  He has always been considered a class act as a human being and player, never being connected with any sort of controversy or immorality.  He has been as consistent over the past twenty years as any player in any sport, and last was on the disabled list for an injury 9 years ago.

Mariano is respected by his teammates and opponents alike.  He is known as a generous, Christian family man.  Given his history, everyone familiar with him hoped he would finish with yet another strong season, a fitting tribute to a good human being and superb athlete.  No one would have dreamed his career might end in the outfield of Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City during batting practice while he was shagging fly balls and twisted his knee (tearing his ACL).

One of my initial thoughts about this situation was the sadness he surely feels.  I also thought about the injustice of the situation.  An apparently good, honest, upright man who worked hard and was respected by everyone goes out in such a tragic way.  Granted, Mariano has millions of dollars to help comfort him–don’t get me wrong–but for me the deeper issue from a Christian perspective is the lack of justice in this situation. 

I think most people consider justice to be a good and noble thing.  However, true justice simply does not exist in this world.  Furthermore, I would argue, it has little place in Christianity.

St Isaac the Syrian once said (I’m paraphrasing) God is not just.  For where is the justice in the only sinless one dying for the sins of others?   Now, this is not to say God is unjust, but rather that God exceeds justice (emphasizing a higher virtue of mercy and compassion).  The reality is, through God’s grace, we have the possibility of not “getting what we deserve.”  We have the possibility of repentance and forgiveness and restoration.  Moreover, those in this world who suffer injustices are promised to be recompensed in the afterlife.  This is the gist of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12).  It is also reflected in the Magnificat from Luke’s Gospel: “He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich has He sent empty away” (Luke 1:53).

As Christians, we should spend much less time and energy thinking about “justice.”  There is no justice in this world.  Instead, in this world, we should focus on showing love, mercy, and compassion.  These are the highest gifts, the greatest virtues (1 Corinthians 13:13).  “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Matthew 9:13, see also Matthew 12:7).

In Genesis 6, we are confronted with a difficult reality.  We tend to think of God in abstract terms.  We also are inclined to think of God as some sort of cosmic ‘nice guy’–you know, like the teacher we have all had who was the easiest grader in the world, who liked to be ‘friends’ with the students, but from whom we learned absolutely nothing about the subject matter of the course. 

Genesis 6 presents us with a different picture of God.  Not because God is ‘mean’ or ‘angry’ per se, but because God is actually a good teacher–he may not be best friends with his students, but he challenges and admonishes them to get the best out of them.  He looks at the bigger picture, like great teachers, who know we will not truly appreciate them for another 10 or 20 years.

As one of my great teachers, Fr Paul Tarazi, used to joke, you will not see Genesis 6:6 on a bumper sticker: “And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.”  For some reason, that verse does not give us the warm, fuzzy feeling we like to have towards God.  But it does present us with a tough reality: we often disappoint our Creator because of our sin and disobedience. 

Although we tend to think of God in abstract terms, the Bible regulary assigns human-like attributes and feelings to God.  Genesis 6 reminds us we often grieve God.  It is a sobering thought, if we take it seriously; and one God hopes will lead us to repentance, NOT to despair.  As St Paul said: “Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing.  For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world” (i.e. despair) “produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:9-10).

We can grieve and mope and fall into despair because of Genesis 6:6, thinking God does not love us and having no hope for our salvation.  Or, we can wake up to the reality we often grieve God, and can be motivated to change the way we live our lives.  The fact God gave humanity a second chance after the flood shows that God hopes we will choose the second option–that we will decide to repent and change our lives to live according to His commandments.