Four Hundred Texts on Love 3

12. When the intellect is ravished through love by divine knowledge and stands outside the realm of created beings, it becomes aware of God’s infinity. It is then, according to Isaiah, that a sense of amazement makes it conscious of its own lowliness and in all sincerity it repeats the prophet’s words: ‘How abject I am, for I am pierced to the heart; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips; and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts’ (Isa. 6:5)

The construction of this text is complicated, but I felt it worth selecting and discussing. I have come to understand that a lot of modern Christians hold to a belief that faith or “salvation” (whatever they might mean by that word) begins when a person recognizes their lowliness or wretchedness before God. As a result, they tend to orient the things they say to people about themselves and about God in a way designed to instill guilt and possibly fear of retribution. In other words, their proclamation of the good and victorious king (which is what an euvangelion was) begins by trying to make their target feel bad about themselves and afraid of God.

Read almost any modern “Gospel” tract. Some take a hard line approach while others soft sell it, but that is almost always the entry point. It’s also what people hear almost every time they encounter Christianity in the US today. In the past, I think the majority of our culture was perhaps preconditioned to respond in some sense to that message. And it appears to me that a steadily shrinking minority may still be. But that was not the case in the ancient world and it is increasingly not the case in the modern world. Moreover, I think that even in the contexts in which it has worked or even still “works” this approach produces a distorted understanding of God.

It is, rather, only as we are ravished by God’s love, as we turn to him and begin to know him, that we begin to see ourselves as we truly are. This is the normal order in the progression of Christian faith. I know it has been so far for me.

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