Pride, Sensuality -- and Faith

I'm very struck by something I heard in the lecture yesterday, on Reinhold Niebuhr and Augustine on sin. But mostly on Reinie. I had the concept of sin as pride and sin as sensuality from the last time I did deep Niebuhrian study, but I missed the basic "constitutional anxiety" angle. The fact that Niebuhr takes that into the appropriate, as well as the inappropriate, responses to our existential anxiety. The inappropriate enhancement of the self, the inappropriate negation of the self -- and the appropriate respect for the self as creature among creation, before the Creator who is God providing for us and all life. I had not received the positive angle, that constitutional anxiety can lead into creativity and freedom.

Here stands something I've been missing from the discussion on the prophetic role. It is not enough to point out sin, however clearly. The prophet is not given words strictly for shaming -- prophecy is about metanoia. Prophecy does illustrate the place where we are so clearly that we see it -- possibly for the first time really see it -- for what it is. But it does so only in light of the "coh amar Adonai" and the "n'oom Adonai." "Thus says the Lord, 'Why have you gone over there? Why do you call to me as if I had left you?'" The oracle of the Lord reveals to us that God is here, that God is faithful -- and what the true lay of the land is around us. It reveals to us, in Niebuhr's terms, that we have either destroyed those around us by centering our lives in self, or destroyed our lives by fleeing into other things, when all that is necessary is simply to return to God who is gracious and merciful, and to be the creature shaped by promise and fulfillment.

God calls to us through the prophets, calling us to do a simple thing -- something so natural to us that it is almost inconceivable that we should have forgotten how. To rest in providence, to trust. But sin interferes. Power, knowledge, morality, self-righteousness, and sensuality -- our diseases. The squalor in which we have made ourselves content, and stifled both our own discontent, and the discontent of those around us. Not because any created thing is evil, or any way in creation may not be traveled -- but because rather than the good use and enjoyment of fellow-creation that comes from trust in God, we too often choose the abuses that come from primary trust in other things. What God has declared good, let us not call evil -- but if it becomes evil to us in our abuse of it, let us return to God and rehabilitate our addictive and anxious souls, each as it is necessary for each.


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