Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California
In this day and age it is so easy to dismiss God from our lives. Jesus gives us an insight into the cause of this abandonment of God in society. St. Matthew records Jesus’ words on His Sermon on the Mount: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Mt. 6:21)
A contemporary Eastern Church holy father, Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain (Mt. Athos), gives a very perspicacious insight as to how this occurs: "If you want to take someone away from God, give [them] plenty of material goods . . . [they] will instantly forget Him forever." (Ageloglou, 1998) In past times one could look around at the beauty of the world and echo the words of King David in the Old Testament scripture: "The heavens shew forth the glory of God, and the firmament declareth the work of his hands. Day to day uttereth speech, and night to night sheweth knowledge." (Ps 18: 1-2)
Today we have material goods around us that were completely unheard of a generation ago - dazzling high-definition LED displays, even on smart phones and tablets, and television that intrinsically mesmerizes us. Even the recent Olympics, which in times past focused on sports, now, in 2012, are overshadowed by ceremonies that are extravaganza-style spectacles of laser strobe lights and bombastic sound. Is there any thought or remembrance of God, the creator of Light?
Not all is hopeless, however. Let us recall the words of Job (12:12) in Old Testament Sacred Scripture. In speaking about knowing God he says: "In the ancient is wisdom, and in length of days, prudence." Science seems to be catching up to this scriptural wisdom. A study done by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) of the University of Chicago concluded that as we increase in age, the more likely it is that we will believe in God. The study’s author (Smith, 2012) suggests that these results may be due "perhaps in response to the increasing anticipation of mortality occurring."
This is exactly the message the Eastern Church would have us keep in mind. The words in our funeral service are a sobering reminder of our finite existence, but include hope in God who can elevate us to eternal life. We pray the Idiomelon composed by St. John of Damascus: "I called to mind the Prophet, as he cried: I am earth and ashes; and I looked again into the graves and beheld the bones laid bare, and I said: Who then is the king or the warrior, the rich man or the needy, the upright or the sinner?" Or, in the words of a popular contemporary song, "Is that all there is?"
But then we move on to the prayer of hope: "Yet, O Lord, give rest unto Thy servant with the righteous." Later in the funeral service we pray, "May Christ give thee rest in the land of the living, and open unto thee the gates of Paradise and make thee a citizen of His kingdom." The meaning of illness and death is eternal life. Yes, with age, wisdom unites us with God.
Smith, T.W. (2012). Belief about God across time and countries: Report for ISSP and GESIS. Chicago: NORC.