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According to the Scriptures

October 6, 2013

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“With wars and rumors of wars,” “with earthquakes and famines that are just the beginning of sorrows,” people living in every epoch decry the evils of their age and bemoan the injustices found therein. And yet, there is a certain calm that comes to the soul that views life as proceeding “according to the Scriptures,” that sacred reminder to the faithful that nothing happens outside of God’s plan, for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

According to Saint Hilary of Poitier, the creedal phrase “according to the Scriptures” solemnly seals the most sacred mystery of the Christian faith with the full weight of all the previous revelation of God to man throughout the preceding ages and keeps it safe forever: “Christ wept, but according to the Scriptures that which made Him weep was also a cause for joy. Christ hungered, but according to the Scriptures He used His power as God against the tree that bore no fruit…Christ suffered, but according to the Scriptures He was about to sit at the right hand of Power. He complained that He was abandoned to die, but according to the Scriptures at the same moment He received in His kingdom in Paradise the thief who confessed Him. He died, but according to the Scriptures He rose again and sits at the right hand of God. In the belief of this mystery there is life” (On the Trinity, book 10, §67).  The words “according to the Scripture” continually affirm God’s presence, God’s plan, and God’s transforming power in the midst of the most fundamental aspects of the life of Christ and our lives as well.

According to Saint John Chrysostom, the same creedal phrase “according to the Scriptures” indicates that nothing was done without cause or at random (Homily 38 on First Corinthians). Every detail has its significance, revealing both God’s wisdom and guidance. “According to the Scriptures” should open up a world of associations to the believer. Not only do discrete phrases in the Scriptures come to mind such as “they pierced My hands and My feet” (Psalm 21:18), “They shall look on Him Whom they pierced.” (John 19:37; Zechariah 12:10), “He was wounded for our transgressions” (Isaiah 53), but also entire narratives come to the fore such as Jonah and the whale, the three children in the fiery furnace, and the prophecy of Ezekiel about the dry bones. “According to the Scripture” points to a richness in God’s care that undergirds the most basic truths of the faith.

The holy Apostles knew the scriptures before the Resurrection, but they didn’t realize that their lives were also involved in an ongoing mystery “according to the Scripture.” And although Christ had spoken often to them about His suffering and Resurrection, even after He was transfigured in glory before their eyes on Mount Tabor, they did not make the connection between the Prophets’ fiery words and their Lord’s fiery deeds. In their fear they were not able to comprehend the significance of the Prophets’ sayings for everything they witnessed Christ undergo until the Risen Lord appeared to them and opened the Scriptures causing the very hearts to burn with the truth, love, and presence of God like unto the burning bush that the Prophet Moses beheld. Given that the apostles were only able to perceive this mystery of salvation after they were illumined, “according to the Scriptures” also refers to an illumination that sets the heart on fire with the love of Christ in the knowledge of all He has done for us since the foundation of the world.

If the words “according to the Scriptures” were to descend deep into hearts, to illumine it with the flame of divine grace, and to shape the way we interpret the events in our lives, our thoughts and feelings would be ordered differently and oriented differently, for beneath the events and occurrences of our daily life we would see through the piercing eyes of faith the hand of God Who arranges all things now as He did then “according to the Scriptures.” Thus, when something evil happens in our lives or when we are subject to suffering and pain, we would be able to move beyond the human responses of fear and questioning about “Why does God allow this?”, because of our firm conviction that no human event or evil circumstance is beyond the purview of God. The phrase “according to the Scriptures” prepares us for difficulties and promises that if we imitate Christ “according to the Scriptures” in His self-emptying, in His suffering, we will ultimately share in His resurrection from the dead “according to the Scriptures.”

“According to the Scriptures” also indicates where we are to look and how we are to look for an understanding of the events in our life. In the afterglow of the Resurrection, the illumined Apostle Peter recognize the providential love of God, writing: “Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into” (1 Peter 1:10-12). That which is “according to the Scriptures”, tragic and victorious, sorrowful and joyous, form a treasure and an inheritance given to us to make sense of our own tragedies and victories, joys and sorrows. And we are a part of that sacred tapestry.

The evil of the age need not be an excuse for giving up the struggle, for “according to the Scriptures, God is with us, “always, even unto the end of the age.” God remains faithful even when His people are faithless and wandering. This is evident in the New Testament as well as the Old.  The prophet Habakkuk cries out, “O Lord, how long shall I cry, and Thou wilt not hear! Even cry out unto thee of violence, and Thou wilt not save!  Why dost Thou show me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? For spoiling and violence are before me: and there are that raise up strife and contention. Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceedeth.”  And the Lord answers Habakkuk, “And the Lord answered me, and said, write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it.  For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.  Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith” (Habakuk 1:2-4; 2:2-4).

“According to the Scriptures” is a small phrase that denotes the unfailing riches of faith, an abiding continuity with a great cloud of witnesses, and the firm security that God watches over our lives and guides us through fire and water to a place of refreshment (Psalm 66:12). And what matters most is not so much the fires and floods in our lives, as God’s guidance towards the place that He has prepared for us “according to the Scriptures.”

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