Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Idiot (The Six Shades of Sin, Part III)

"Woe unto those that draw along iniquity with cords of vanity, and [draw along] sin as it were with a cart rope, who say, 'Let Him make speed and hasten His work that we may see it, and let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw nigh and come that we may know it.'" Is. 5:18-19

Impiety is a stuffy sounding word to most, but in truth it is and has always been one of the greatest sins of humanity. Even ancient pagan cultures knew it: to fear the gods was the height of virtue (and common sense), and impiety was warned against. The impious rage of Achilles brought only death and sorrow, while the pious wiles of Odysseus brought him safely home (to slay the impious suitors). The point was simple and practical and yet profound: there is a moral order to things that is higher than and greater than you, and it behooves you to align yourself (as best as you can) with it.

That is the true idea behind piety: not arrogant or pompous self-righteousness, but humility. Piety is found in the humble realization and acceptance of our own smallness before something that is legitimately greater than us. Wisdom teaches us the truth of our smallness, and embracing that smallness is even further wisdom, for "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Pro. 1:7).

If piety is humility produced by and producing wisdom, then impiety is pride produced by and producing idiocy. The pride is obvious, but the idiocy should be even more obvious. To claim superiority over the One who holds your very breath in His hand is the height not only of arrogance but also absurdity. There is no greater farce than to see a spark speak blithely to its fire, or to watch a leaf rustle defiantly against its branch and tree, yet this is precisely what we do.

It is bad enough that we often plan in spite of God, but worse still is when we plan out of spite for God. Our schemes and dreams are no longer excusable indulgences but rather open acts of rebellion. Our utopic visions and agendas degrade from innocent ignorances to spitting in the eye of the Trinity. Our movements and politics and sloganeerings cease to be mere acts of dedication and devolve into acts of desecration. This is the point where the ignorance of fallen humanity gives way to the idiocy of human hubris. We do not believe, and we want no help for our unbelief. Without faith it is impossible to please God, for without faith there is only the slobbering stupidity and horror of humanity pleasing itself. All of human history (right up to this very day) can be summarized under a single declaration: "We will have no other gods before us."

Chesterton once said that if we are to have a large universe then we must make ourselves small. What he meant is that humility produces clarity, while pride can only produce a contracted delusion. If impiety is the greatest kind of pride, then it also produces the greatest delusion. If we are to see the truth of real things, to see reality as it is and not as we make it, then we need humility. We need piety. We need a return to the radical notion that there is something higher and greater than ourselves, our nation, our party, our denomination, our status (in both secular and religious circles), and our way. We can only kick our insane habit of hubris when we acknowledge (day by day, moment by moment, instance by instance) that God is and that without Him we are not. He is the foundation and center and energy of all things. He is the ultimate source and ground for all movement, even the movement that runs away from Him. He is the one who knows better than we, for without Him there would be no grounds for reason, or minds to reason, or brains to house minds. The point is simple enough: unless God (and nothing else) is the highest in our life, then everything is in vain (Ps. 127:1). That is the fear of the Lord. That is piety, and wisdom, and the only way to walk safely and sanely through this world.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2012

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