From the July/August, 2002 issue of Touchstone

Not So Cheap by Thomas S. Buchanan

Not So Cheap

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.
—Psalm 131:1

Hardly a week goes by when I do not read at least one letter in the editorial column of my local newspaper describing God. One week there will be a letter explaining how God loves homosexuals and that orthodox Christians are bigots and, thus, new laws must be passed to protect ordinary citizens from the zealots. The next week there will be a letter explaining that God caused the September 11 destruction, using terrorists as agents of his wrath on our godless culture, and, thus, we must all repent and vote against the proposition to legalize the sale of alcoholic beverages on Sundays. The following week there may be a letter explaining God’s views on smoking or body piercing or littering. Each of these letters is usually followed a few days later by a rebuttal, explaining what God and the writer really think (which is usually that the first writer’s opinions were heretical).

While I enjoy a good discussion of the character of God, I find it interesting that many people feel free to confidently explain him to me and the rest of the world through newspapers, television shows, and other public podiums. Of course, freedom of speech is highly valued in our country (as long as it isn’t politically incorrect), but as Christians, we should not all feel so free to philosophize about God.

The fourth-century Cappadocian father Gregory of Nazianzus discussed this in his Theological Orations:

Not to everyone, my friends, does it belong to philosophize about God; not to everyone—the subject is not so cheap and low—and, I will add, not before every audience, nor at all times, nor on all points; but on certain occasions, and before certain persons, and within certain limits.

Gregory explained that this is not for everyone because “it is permitted only to those who have been examined, and are past masters in meditation, and who have been previously purified in soul and body. For the impure to touch what is pure is, we may safely say, not safe, just as it is unsafe to fix weak eyes upon the sun’s rays.” And what topics, one might ask, should be discussed? Gregory said we should only speak “on matters within our reach and to such an extent as the mental power and grasp of our audience may extend.”

The things of God are holy things, and, as it is said in the Eastern Orthodox Liturgy, “holy things are for the holy.” They should not be treated as if they were base or cheap or low. Too often we think, unlike David, that there is nothing that is too great and too marvelous for us. But if the fear of God is the beginning of all wisdom, then we need to approach even our discussions of God with humility and save our public proclamations for that time when we are purified in soul and body.

Thomas S. Buchanan is a member of the Orthodox Church and lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania, with his wife and three children. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.

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