Sunday, January 19, 2020

Do we know our sinfulness?

King David committed horrible sins, adultery and murder (2Sam 11:2-27), but was not aware of how sinful he was until the profit Nathan came to him and told him a story that paralleled David’s life.  When Nathan told David a story of a supposed subject in his kingdom, that was actually a disguised story of David’s life, David severely condemned this person seeking to punish him. He asked Nathan for his name. Then when Nathan told him that he, David, was this person, he was awakened, he then condemned himself and sought God to help him repent (2Sam 15). This why the theme of many of his psalms are about repentance.

Are we like David, blind to our sinfulness? Who’s is your Nathan? How well do you know your sinfulness? Are you denying that you too are a sinner? 

Knowing our sinfulness is knowing ourselves. Not knowing our sinfulness is a common spiritual ailment. I have experienced this many times. Before I was a practicing Orthodox I was into various contemplative practices  I was also busy with my career and family, thinking every success was the result of my own efforts. There was no room for God. My contemplative efforts were simply to relieve stress.  At some point I discovered the Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ son of God have mercy on me a sinner.” It fit the passage meditation practice I had learned from an Indian teacher. But I made one change, I dropped the phrase, “I am a sinner.” Why? Because I did not know myself. I was like David, asleep, unaware about the nature of my separation from God even though I would attend Church regularly. I saw myself as a good person.

It took a number of years to break this shield and to see the depth of my sinful nature. It was after I began to learn about the Orthodox way of life. At first Confession was like going to the judge and pleading to have my case dismissed. But eventually, after experiencing the receptiveness of my confessions, I began to see the patterns controlling my inner being. To break this control I first had to learn more about the nature of God. I had to learn that God was love and he was merciful to those who recognized the nature of their condition and desired to change basic patterns of behavior in their life. I needed to learn that He was not a God seeking to punish me, but a God who had open arms to embrace me and to help me become more like Him. That He was all powerful and someone who could help me, like a loving father with his child.

At first I dealt with specific issues like judging others and anger. There would be cycles in this uncovering of sin. Recognition of one sin and it’s recurring pattern would lead to efforts to make changes in my life. Then there would follow periods where I was again blind to my sinfulness. Then I would beg God to help me see myself again as a sinner and eventually a new pattern would emerge. As this continued I came closer and closer to my basic issue, self-centeredness, my pride. When this became clear I was devastated because I was able to see the way I had lived my whole life in sin. Confession became more and more powerful.  The more I understood myself, the more God helped me.

We know that Christ came to save not the righteous but sinners (1Tim 1:15). He shows us that when we repent, sinners, publicans, and harlots easily enter into paradise (Mt 21:31), like David the adulterer and murderer. The main issue we face is pride. It underlies all sin. It, along with superficial piety, blocks us from seeing our sinfulness.

Seeing our sinfulness is more than acknowledging a particular sin, but is seeing that every aspect of our life is entangled with sin.
Archimandrite Aimilianos says: What does it mean to be a sinner? It doesn’t mean simply that I’ve committed a particular sin, but that my entire being, every aspect of my self, is entangled in sin, for in sins did my mother conceive me (Ps 51:7). From the very moment of my conception, long before I was born, before I ever had an opportunity to commit any kind of particular sin, I existed in a mode of fallen nature, in the fallen Adam, and as such I opened my eyes on a world adrift in evil and wickedness (1 Jn 5:19).
To become united with God, to become a true son of His, we need to know ourselves and know the loving nature of God. Then we will want to run to Confession, to follow the ascetic disciplines of the church, daily prayer and fasting, and go to Liturgy early to hear the prayers at Orthros and to receive Him in Communion by partaking His Body and Blood offered in the Divine Liturgy. 

When awake to our sinful nature we will no longer go to confession for relief, but to be rescued from this sinful condition, to be liberated, so God can lead us to paradise.

References: Psalm 37 (38), Psalms and the Life of Faith, by Elder Archimandrite Aimilianos, p 191-260

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