Human beings are vulnerable to Satan’s assaults. Even Christians can become his slaves, precisely when we submit ourselves to sin (Rom 6:16). I wish, in this post, to describe the slavery of the intellect – the only alternative to the wisdom of God.
“The natural person,” writes St. Paul, “does not accept the things of the Spirit of God.” The reason for this rejection is simple: “for they are folly to him”(1 Cor 2:14). There is therefore an antithesis between Christian thinking and the alternative. The natural man disdains the Holy Spirit, considering all the Spirit’s gifts to be folly. Yet to those saved by Christ, there is a wisdom bestowed by the Holy Spirit, namely that “secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages to our glory”(1 Cor 2:7). This wisdom of God, in St. Paul’s framework, stands in opposition to “the wisdom of this age.”
We live in a pluralistic society, where our loved ones are often nonbelievers. The temptation for us, in such a society, is to minimize the antithesis in our hearts, believing that Christian and non Christian thought can cohabitate harmoniously. The opposite, however, is the case. The seed of the serpent, as we read in Gen 3:15, is ordered against the seed of the woman. The fallen children of Adam, though loved by God, are children of this age nevertheless, and are therefore hostile to the things of God. And though we share a common humanity, with many particular common beliefs and experiences, we subsist in two separate spheres of allegiance: “the domain of darkness” and “the kingdom of his beloved Son”(Col 1:13).
My intent in highlighting this opposition, rather than creating a spirit of animosity, is simply to caution against an intellectual ease. Apostasy is a real threat to Christians, whether that apostasy is explicit or implicit. The author of Hebrews, writing against apostasy, has bequeathed an epistle relevant to our present times, because even now apostasy is an imminent danger. The subtle messages in television, film, music, and books are easily absorbed into our minds. If we were blocks of wood, then we would have no need to warn ourselves of such threats, for then we would repel all the ungodliness around us. But because our minds are gullible, it is important that we remind ourselves of our Lord Jesus Christ, the governor of our intellects and the exemplar of true wisdom. I am not advocating fundamentalism, whereby we abstain from secular entertainment. But we are to realize the truth of St. Paul, that there are only two fundamental postures for our intellects: the wisdom of God and the wisdom of this age.
Let us make no mistake, this world is against Christ. There is no honest inquirer, one who simply rejects Christ for the sake of intellectual honesty. Idolatry arises, as St. Paul writes, because men “suppress the truth in unrighteousness”(Rom 1:18). Men are not naturally idolaters, even though they are idolaters from birth. All idolatry is contingent upon a more fundamental action, namely refusing to honor God as God (Rom 1:21). As St. Athanasius wrote, humanity devised idolatry ek kakias – from wickedness. We cannot take pagans at their word, at least not fundamentally, when they claim sincere unbelief. Atheists might be genuine at one level, but they are self-deceived at another level. This is because in their heart of hearts, they know their creator’s power, and they have sensed a murky rebellion within themselves. Yet over time, their consciences have become seared, and they no longer recognize their rebellion. We therefore, who are surrounded by unbelief, must not accept atheists at their word, as if they had judged themselves accurately. Indeed, experience testifies to this truth, namely that apostasy is connected to moral rebellion. For apostates usually entangle themselves in many sins prior to their intellectual slide, so that it seems that moral decline and intellectual apostasy are Siamese twins. St. Athanasius writes that “faith and godliness are allied to each other, and are sisters…He therefore who is in a state of wickedness, undoubtedly also wanders from the faith”(Letter XI).
We cannot even trust our own thoughts. When doubts appear in our minds, telling us that Christ’s word is false, we are to remember the source of these doubts, namely our finite and fallen minds. Knowing that we are easily swayed, especially in a world where Satan is active, let entrust our thoughts into God’s hands, knowing that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10).
Yet this is impossible in our own strength. Trusting in Christ is not mustered through willpower. Our hearts need supernatural attestation that Jesus is Lord, and this comes through concrete confirmation of the Holy Spirit. This is why we must confess our sins often, both to our appointed authorities and to God himself, and we must receive the divine wisdom in the Eucharist. The Lord Jesus, during the Eucharist, speaks to our hearts by his word, and he inwardly heals us through his flesh and blood. If we receive the meal worthily, not harboring bitterness in our hearts, then we are confident that we participate in his salvation (1 Cor 10).
Though we desire concord with all people, let us remember the true state of this age, namely that its wisdom is opposed to God’s. If we would sanctify Christ in our hearts, let us not be surprised when assaults bombard us like mortar fire. Satan will bully our intellects by multiple measures, making us feel ashamed or foolish to fully commit to Christ. But our vulnerability only endures when we are our own masters. Yet when we cede control to the Lord Jesus, placing all our wisdom in his hands, then we are able to judge all situations rightly, knowing that the Lord had determined the reality of all things, and he therefore is the trustworthy king of all creation. Let us be humble people, seeking to establish loving relationships with all people, but let us remain courageous in our commitment to Christ, eschewing the wisdom of this age, in order that we might flee always into the arms of our God.
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