Far Away, So Close

NATIVITY.JPGWith apologies to U2 for ripping on their song title Stay (Far Away, So Close) I spent much of today thinking about how God is both known and unknown. Bishop KALLISTOS Ware in his excellent book “The Orthodox Way” begins with a reflection on God as Mystery. He says, “The traveler upon the spiritual Way, the further he advances, becomes increasingly conscious of two contrasting facts – of the otherness and yet the nearness of the Eternal.”

Nearness of God

  • For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him? Deuteronomy 4:7
  • God drew near to men in the incarnation. Our Lord drew near to save His people in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. In fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14, His name was Immanuel, meaning “God with us” Matthew 1:23
  • As a friend talking with his friend, man speaks to God, and drawing near in confidence he stands before the face of the One who dwells in light unapproachable. St. Symeon the New Theologian
  • God our King is: more affectionate than any friend, more just than any ruler, more loving than any father more a part of us than our own limbs, more necessary to us than our own heart. St. Nicolas Cabasilas
  • Unknown and yet well known. 2 Corinthians 6:9

Otherness of God

  • God cannot be grasped by the mind. If he could be grasped, he would not be God. Evagrius of Pontus
  • Who alone has immortality, and dwells in light unapproachable; whom no man has seen, nor can see: to whom be honor and eternal power 1 Timothy 6:16
  • One of the stories that have proved troubling to students of Holy Scripture over the years is the account of Uzzah, who stretched forth his hand to steady the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark, we recall, was being carried by ox cart in order to be installed at David’s projected new shrine at Jerusalem. Some obstacle, however, perhaps a bump in the road, caused the oxen to lurch, nearly upsetting the cart and putting the Ark in danger. The Bible describes the scene: “Uzzah put out his hand to the Ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. Then the anger of the Lord was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him there for his error; and he died there by the Ark of God” 2 Samuel 6:6-7

“The shock of readers is surely understandable. Wasn’t Uzzah’s sudden reaction, after all, simply an instinctive response to save the dignity of the Ark? To the extent that we can even describe his deed as intentional, wasn’t that intention good and honorable? How is it, then, that the all-seeing Lord, the God who searches hearts, did not look favorably on what Uzzah did? Shouldn’t he have been rewarded rather than punished? The problem is not a recent one, and readers of the Bible have pondered it for centuries. For example, the Jewish historian Josephus, writing about the same time as some New Testament authors, explained that Uzzah was struck dead for touching the Ark, “since he was not a priest” (me on hierus — Antiquities of the Jews This explanation of Josephus is based on prescriptions in Numbers 4, which lists the duties of priests and Levites in regard to the treatment and transportation of the Ark. This interpretation of the event, which does not necessarily imply a conscious moral failing on the part of Uzzah, is essentially sound, I believe. The Ark of God was very holy, and holiness is dangerous. Uzzah was hurt when he touched something holy. In this respect it is important to reflect how little we know about the divina, the things of God. The little we do know will prompt us, surely, to be cautious in how we handle them, even in our minds.” From the “Unapproachable Holiness of God” by Fr. Patrick Reardon



Filed under Orthodox Christianity

2 responses to “Far Away, So Close

  1. Or, as my dear Priest (your brother), Fr. Josiah, puts it, “Uzziah’s error was that he thought his hand was cleaner than the dirt.”

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