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St-IsaakSyrianI see that Purgatory has raised its head again this week. Typically for me, I sit on the fence.  I don’t know whether I believe that there is an actual place, but I think there is a state of mind which is purgatory. That may be, as Geoffrey thinks (and, as usual, my thanks to him for minding the shop) because we cannot accustom ourselves to the vastness of God’s mercy and love.  My beloved St Isaac gets almost cross when men attribute emotions like anger to God, and yet it is hard not to see in the Scriptures as a whole, evidence of what looks like God’s anger. Is that just us transferring our emotions to God?

That love is given freely and in superabundance. He is the shepherd who risks all to save one lost sheep and brings it home on his shoulders, rejoicing. In Homily 38 he tells us with exaltation:

In love did He bring the world into existence; in love does He guide it during this its temporal existence; in love is He going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state, and in love will the world be swallowed up in the great mystery of Him who has performed all these things; in love will the whole course of the governance of creation be finally comprised. And since in the New World the Creator’s love rules over all rational nature, the wonder at His mysteries that will be revealed then will captivate to itself the intellect of all rational beings whom He has created so that they might have delight in Him, whether they be evil or whether they be just. 

The just and the unjust enjoy His benefits.

Isaac understood how hard this is for sinful mankind to grasp – it is too simple for us:

If zeal had been appropriate for putting humanity right, why did God the Word clothe himself in the body, using gentleness and humility in order to bring the world back to his Father? And why was he stretched out on the cross for the sake of sinners, handing over his sacred body to suffering on behalf of the world? I myself say that God did all this for no other reason than to make known to the world the love that he has, his aim being that we, as a result of our greater love arising from an awareness of this, might be captivated by his love when he provided the occasion of this manifestation of the kingdom of heaven’s mighty power—which consists in love—by means of the death of his Son.

Why did He choose this (for Him) terrible way of redeeming us?  Some say that it was to fulfil a covenant, because they cannot comprehend that God really can do anything, including transcend any human idea of a covenant. No, He made that sacrifice to open our hearts, so that we might see how very much He will sacrifice for us. As St John the Divine tells us:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

In part I of his works, St Isaac reminds us:

Mercy and justice in one soul is like a man who worships God and the idols in one house. Mercy is opposed to justice. Justice is the equality of the even scale, for it gives to each as he deserves; and when it makes recompense, it does not incline to one side or show respect of persons. Mercy, on the other hand, is a sorrow and pity stirred up by goodness, and it compassionately inclines a man in the direction of all; it does not requite a man who is deserving of evil, and to him who is deserving of good it gives a double portion. If, therefore, it is evident that mercy belongs to the portion of righteousness, then justice belongs to the portion of wickedness. As grass and fire cannot co-exist in one place, so justice and mercy cannot abide in one soul. As a grain of sand cannot counterbalance a great quantity of gold, so in comparison God’s use of justice cannot counterbalance His mercy. (I.51, p. 379)

Does Christ mention ‘justice’ in His teaching? Or is that our obsession? Isaac challenges us:

 “Do not call God just, for His justice is not manifest in the things concerning you” (I.51, p. 387)

We cannot see through God’s eyes.  The Gospel is one of love. If we really proclaimed that, in its most radical and self-sacrificial form, I just wonder what might happen?  But that such a God requires from us something more when we are dead? Well, there’s the rub for me.

[For those wanting some profound reflections on St Isaac, the series here by Fr Aidan Kimel is wonderful: http://goo.gl/eDDQt ]