Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity
“Poison Control” first appeared in the June 2000 issue of Touchstone.
My three-year-old son recently went through a rebellious stage. About a month ago he informed my wife and me that we were not to instruct him anymore because he was “talk-sick”: he had heard all that he wanted to hear and had no more use for further instructions or commandments. His request was not granted, but it has caused me to think about my own tendencies to avoid God’s instructions.
We all become a little “toxic” as we wander from God’s commandments. At such times, in our stubbornness we do not wish to be reminded of his instructions as we are busy clinging to our own desires. But to the extent that what God expects of us differs from what we expect of ourselves, our lives will be filled with toxins.
There are two remedies for the toxicity brought about by straying from the path of God’s instructions. Repentance is the first antitoxin. On this, Symeon the New Theologian wrote: “Hasten on the road of the commandments through repentance; run, run while it is still the moment when he shines on you, before the night of death overtakes you and you are thrown into darkness everlasting; . . . seek, knock, that the door to the Kingdom of Heaven be opened and you may enter into it and have it within you. . . . Indeed, repentance is the gate that leads out of darkness into the light. Therefore, the one who has not entered the light has not yet passed through the gate of repentance in the right manner; had he entered, he would be in the light.”
In Psalm 119 we read of the second antitoxin: “In my heart have I hid thy sayings that I might not sin against thee.” Listening to God’s instructions for us and hiding them in our hearts is a great antidote for sin. The fourth-century Alexandrian theologian Didymus the Blind (friend of Athanasius and teacher of Gregory Nazianzus and Jerome) wrote: “Those who do not receive the instructions of God superficially, sequester them in their heart for them to conform their thoughts to his intention, with the aim of being without sin before God, who sees those things which are hidden. Not only does this man not commit adultery, but he does not even desire anything bad.”
The instructions of God are mystical treasures. As Moses led the Jews out of Egypt by parting the Red Sea, so God leads us in wonderful and mysterious ways through his Word. As the Psalmist wrote, “I shall perceive wondrous things out of thy law.” Of course, mystical treasures are only treasures if they are valued.
It is easy to say that in this context, toxins are a major problem today, that we live in a polluted world where many who claim to be Christians also boldly claim to have little use for Christ’s commandments. But this has been and will always be the case. The question for us is: Are we “talk-sick”? Are we smugly looking at the rest of the world and decrying its contaminated state without regard for our own? Are we stubbornly entrenched in our lifestyles, as comfortable or uncomfortable as they may be, unwilling to measure them against the yardstick of God’s commands? Or are we running on the road of the commandments with all due haste? Do we take delight in the law of the Lord and on his Word meditate day and night? God’s Word is a balm for our souls. In his Word—the Logos—is life itself. Let us seek a Great Physician to rid us of all toxicity.
Thomas S. Buchanan is a member of the Orthodox Church and lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania, with his wife and three children.
“Poison Control” first appeared in the June 2000 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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