You cannot have goodness, without God (ii)

St. Michael Vanquishing Satan (1518) by Raphael, depicting Satan being cast out of heaven by Michael the Archangel, as described in Revelation 12:7–8
Public Domain

O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord,
 in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose
service is perfect freedom: Defend us thy humble servants
in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in thy
defence, may not fear the power of any adversaries;
through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

“He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”  (Micah 6.8)

One thing that most of us, I suppose, do, is to refer to the ‘Workshop Manual’, the maker’s instructions; many of us do that first, before trying to do anything with a piece of machinery (I speak as a mere male, unblessed with womanly intuition…!). Micah’s first clause here, is often disregarded in the rush to ‘cut to the chase’, yet, time and time again, both the Psalms – Israel’s Hymn-book- , and Israel’s History Books, iterate and re-iterate a) that God has made everything, and b) that God has given us His ‘Workshop Manual’, for how to operate within this great piece of machinery. To ignore His Instruction Book, is to run the risk of ‘stripping the cogs’, of ‘running the engine dry’, ‘blowing the gasket’, ‘breaking the main-spring’ and so on.

One of the end of Term activities I observed when teaching in a Girls’ School, was ‘cleaning the desks’: they were issued with pieces of glasspaper, and told to clean off any writing or drawing – but I often felt moved to intervene, and tell them to ‘work with the grain’, that not only more effectually removing the ball-pointed graffiti, but being easier to do, and giving a much smoother finish.

Trying to work against, or across, the grain of the World invites disaster: down here, there are basically two different kings of stone – granite, hard and splendid-looking when dressed in great blocks, slate, soft enough to have been used as writing surface and ‘pencil’, which can be split (‘riven’) to make waterproof coverings for roofs. It would not be very sensible to ‘heal’ your roof with granite, or make the walls of slate. A well-known commercial maker of ‘Cornish Pasties’ (their factory was in England…) bought a field in the Parish of Goran, and to the dismay of locals, turned over this piece of land which was ideal for wheat, to growing potatoes… for the ‘Cornish Pasties’ that would be churned out in their factory, across the Border in England… ‘Horses for courses’ we cheerfully say and it would be folly to use a cross-cut saw where a rip-saw would be more effective,  or ignore the polarity indications when putting a battery in, and so on, and so on. Yes, you can use a teaspoon to lever up the lid of a part-used tin of paint, but it’ll take much effort, and might irretrievably damage the poor spoon.

So, back to ‘The Workshop Manual’: ‘to do justly, …’ takes us back to ‘Thou shalt not steal’, and stealing includes activities such as ‘bait and switch’ selling and ‘issuing a false prospectus’ and not ‘being deceitful upon the weights’; ‘to love mercy’… well, we always hope to receive mercy, whether we deserve it or not, but remember that, in the Old Testament, ‘mercy’, as often as not, has to do with what is otherwise called ‘almsgiving’: actively care for the less fortunate, or ‘Do as you would be done by’. I remember the late Prof. J.D.M. Derrett giving a talk in Truro, including a segment on ‘good measure, pressed down, and shaken together shall men measure into thy bosom…’: a well-found business man, would look after his customers in this way, he would not only fill the measure  – think Bushel or Peck – but shake the ‘measure’ to allow for settlement, after ‘pressing down’ : then, and only then, would he ‘measure it into thy bosom’) – i.e. pour it out into your held-out robe… a merchant doing less, would soon find his customers dwindling as they heard of others giving more generous measure. So, it was not only right, but ‘good business’.

The last words, however, not only tie it all together, but put it all in the context of to what the Psalmist refers to as ‘the great offence’.

Pride (superbia) is the primal sin – presuming to know more and better than The Universe’s Creator – nonchalantly throwing The Workshop Manual into the bin! The Serpent’s adroitness is illustrated in the way he obliquely questions God’ command: ‘So, God’s told you you mustn’t eat of any of the fruit…’ ‘No: God has told us not to eat of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the Garden’. Already, Eve has been brought to the brink of questioning God’s commands – even before he has done his salesmanship on the attractiveness of those ‘forbidden fruits’… to which ‘walk humbly with thy God’ is the antidote.

A more Aristotelian way of expressing this might be by way of the ‘Apodeictic’ (vs. the Casuistic). There comes a time, as any harrassed parent of a small child knows, when, to the infinite regress of ‘why’s’, the only answer is ‘Because I say so!’ – whether or not with an enforcing ‘clip across the ear’. The Causuistic approach, will being joy to the hearts of any Lawyer, who, like Lewis Carroll’s ‘Old man’, have ‘argued each case with my wife’, but who will, in the end have to submit to the ruling of a Judge (‘I am grateful to your Lordship’): in this instance, the Judge standing in for The Judge.

Now, commentators take Aristotle in a particularly godless sense, reducing ‘apodeictic’ to ‘self-evident’…(you can probably tell I’m much more inclined to platonism!) only to find that what is self-evident to most, is no longer sufficient, e.g. in the case of men with broad frames, masculine jaws, and male secondary sexual characteristics – as well as primary sexual characteristics – being ‘deemed’ to be women…

So, when each morning, I read the Prayer Book Second Collect, I reflect on those Augustinian words, “whose service is perfect freedom”, recalling how onerous are the burdens The Serpent would rather have me bear. In the Latin translation of The Book of Common Prayer (1560), the Paradox is made much sharper: cui servire, regnare est. Satan does not wish or intend that we should rule him: he wants us as slaves (cf. Klaus Schwab, Blair, Gates, et al) so let us embrace our God-given freedom! Let us strive to ‘do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him.

© Jethro 2022