Saturday, February 25, 2017
Week Seven, Year I
Fear Minus Fright = ?
Sirach 17:1-15 takes us “back to basics.” But the basic truths of life are often the ones we never look at deeply. And seldom think about. Our loss.
“The Lord created humans out of earth, and in his own image he made them.” We don’t just exist. If we can see the hand in front of our face, we know it has no reason to be there, nothing within itself to explain its existence. Nor does anything else in the universe. Sirach says we are “created.” There is a self-explanatory Being whose existence is such that it needs no explanation. A Being who obviously, unimaginably just “is.” By nature. And this is the name God gave himself: God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.”
We only exist because “HE WHO IS” gave and is giving us existence. Right now. He is saying, “Beeeee….” and holding the note. That makes our existence intelligible. We can look at the hand in front of our face and see it for what it is. This is no small thing.
“In his own image.” We know we are like God because we can recognize intention in the structure of things, know why different parts are there and how they are related to each other. We can follow the Creator’s thought process and admire it. Praise him for it. Animals and atheists can’t do this. Animals see that things work but not why. Engineeers can explain why things work, but must stop there. Their inquiry does not extend to what things are. Metaphysics (the “philosophy of being”) explains the why of the why, the reason behind the structure, the Person whose intention we can understand and approve. Knowing this allows us to see beings for what they are. And it makes relationship possible with their Creator. In this we discover ourselves.
God helps us do this, both through our natural power of intellect — “he endowed humans with a strength of their own” — and through revelation: “With wisdom and knowledge he fills them… and shows them his glorious works, that they may describe the wonders of his deeds and praise his holy name.” We do this in the Gloria at Mass: “Lord God… we worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory.”
The key is “fear of the Lord.” This is not fright. Fear minus fright is perspective. We see what God is compared to us and we respect him. For Ben Sira, to keep this perspective in mind is the “beginning” and the “fullness” of wisdom” (1:1-20). Without it our understanding is reduced to groping and our will deprived of direction. There is no ultimate intelligibility, beginning, end or order in the universe or in our lives.
Sirach says that, in practice, to really appreciate the principle, we have to live by what follows from it. “If you desire wisdom, keep the commandments and the Lord will lavish her upon you, for the fear of the Lord is wisdom and discipline” (1:26-27). A disordered life — sin — blocks truth. Obedience to God frees the mind from enslavement to blind appetites and the culture.
God can guide those who have a sense of perspective: “Good and evil he shows them… he has set before them a law of life as their inheritance.” We echo that: “The Lord’s kindness is everlasting to those who fear him.”
Meditation: How has “fear of the Lord” freed me to see and appreciate truth?