Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Blame Game

Today is the Sunday of Forgiveness or, more properly, the Sunday of the Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise (also called Cheesefare Sunday, since today we brace ourselves for forty days of enforced veganism). St Symeon the New Theologian, commenting on Genesis 3:9-13, writes:
Do you see, dear friend, how patient God is? For when he said, “Adam, where are you?” and when Adam did not at once confess his sin but said, “I heard your voice, O Lord, and realized that I am naked and hid myself,” God was not angered, nor did He immediately turn away. Rather, He gave him the opportunity of a second reply and said, "Who told you that you were naked? Unless you ate of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat.” Consider how profound are the words of God’s wisdom. He says, “Why do you say that you are naked but hide your sin? Do you really think that I see only your body but do not see your heart and your thoughts?” Since Adam was deceived he hoped that God would not know his sin. He said something like this to himself, “If I say that I am naked, God in his ignorance will say, 'Why are you naked?' Then I shall have to deny and say, 'I do not know,' and so I shall not be caught by him and he will give me back the garment that I had at first. If not, as long as he does not cast me out, he will not exile me!”

While he was thinking these thoughts… God, unwilling to multiply his guilt, says, “How did you realize that you are naked? Unless you ate of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat.” It is as though he said, “Do you really think that you can hide from me? Do you imagine that I do not know what you have done? Will you not say, 'I have sinned?’ Say, O scoundrel, ‘Yes, it is true, Master, I have transgressed your command. I have fallen by listening to the woman’s counsel, I am greatly at fault for doing what she said and disobeying your word. Have mercy on me!' ” But he does not humble himself, he does not bend. The neck of his heard is like a sinew of iron! For had he said this he might have stayed in paradise. By this one word he might have spared himself that whole cycle of evils without number that he endured by his expulsion and in spending so many centuries in hell.
We have become experts in blaming others for our own failings: "The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat." The advent of modern psychology, genetics, and sociology has made this blame game all the easier to play: the parents that You gave me have left me traumatized; the genes that You gave me have made me an alcoholic; the society that You put me in is corrupting me. When we, caught making a mistake, say that we "take full responsibility" – what in the world do we actually mean? The "therapeutic culture" in which we live may have done some good in erasing the stigma from some forms of mental illness, but in the process it has wiped out the stigma from much that deserves to be stigmatized, taken the guilt away from much that is indeed deserving of guilt, and drained us of our capacity for real virtue. As we approach the Great Fast, let us remember, if nothing else, that we really do need to beg God for His mercy and forgiveness, for we really have sinned, and really are guilty of this sin.

Posting this week will be very light and, most likely, uncharacteristically pious. Those wishing for something a bit more wordly are invited to peruse the archives.

Perhaps the very best modern essay on fasting is "The True Nature of Fasting" by Mother Mary and Metropolitan Kallistos, which can be found in the English version of The Lenten Triodion, and online here.

S postom!

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