In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. God is one. Amen.
In the reading today from St Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 9, verse 8, St Paul makes an amazing promise to the Christians around him in Corinth and to all Christians in the future, including us. St Paul preaches: “God is able to make all grace abound [that is, overflow] toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.” That translation is the same in The Orthodox Study Bible and The New International Version (NIV) and The King James Bible. Most other translations agree. The Revised Standard Bible states: “God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work.”
In other words, if we learn to trust God and His will for each of our lives, God will take care of us. He will give us “sufficiency in all things”—enough of everything,” although we will experience some suffering during our lives. The Biblical translations are clear. If we trust God and seek to obey Him, He will look after us. But I was puzzled: How do we learn to trust God in this way? There is one translation of this verse from Second Corinthians, chapter 9, verse 8, that is “an outlier”—a different approach, a different idea. It’s from the Orthodox Christian theologian, David Bentley Hart, in The New Testament: A Translation. His translation, completed last year, is: “God is able to make all grace abound for you so that, having self-control at all times in everything, you may abound in every good work.”
I find that helpful: the way to “have enough of everything”—to have “all sufficiency in all things”—is to have “self-control at all times in everything.” The psychiatrist, Joseph Novello, has written in his book, The Myth of More that, and I quote: “If only we were able to want [only] what we already have and accept that we can’t have all that we want, we could find the happiness that God intends for us. But [often] we don’t find [that happiness] and we can’t. Why?,” he continues, “Our illusions get in the way,” that is, our misunderstandings, our confusions about what we need to live a life of purpose with the Lord. “Psychological and spiritual barriers to happiness are programmed into us in childhood and reinforced in our adult lives. I refer to these barriers as life-traps,” writes Dr Novello, “a complex mix of feelings, attitudes and behaviours that we learned as children to please our parents or to avoid their punishment. Life-traps begin as actions, become habits and end up as core components of our character. While they may have worked in childhood, life-traps are dysfunctional in adult life,” concludes Dr Novello (pp. xii-xiii). In other words, trying to please your parents often works when you are a child, but it is not how to live your life as an adult.
If something is dysfunctional, that means, it doesn’t work. The way we live when we are children is different than the way we can live as adults. St Paul puts it very clearly in First Corinthians, chapter 13, verse 11: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understand as a child, I thought as a child, but when I [grew up into an adult] I put away childish things.” For me, David Bentley Hart and Dr Novello and St Paul are saying the same thing, “When you grow up, learn to exercise self-control over your childish desires. Recognise that you or your parents are not in control of the world or even your own lives.”
Children, I found the Mother Goose nursery rhyme, “Little Bo-Beep” quite helpful in understanding this letter from St Paul. You may remember: “Little Bo-Peep has lost her sheep, and can’t tell where to find them.” Her first idea about how to deal with this difficult situation is “Leave them alone, and they’ll come home, bringing their tails behind them.” In other words, ignore the problem. Forget about the lost sheep. So, “Little Bo-Peep fell fast asleep, and dreamt she heard them bleating; but when she awoke, she found it a joke, for they were still all fleeting.” In other words, dreaming about what you want to happen doesn’t change the situation.” So, Little Bo-Peep begins to face the problem of her lost sheep: “Then up she took her crook, determined for to find them; she found them indeed, but it made her heart bleed, for they’d left their tails behind them.” In other words, Little Bo-Peep sees now that she has a difficult problem; and she starts to face it. She doesn’t solve the problem completely, but she’s made a good start. Then “It happened one day, as Bo-Peep did stray into a meadow hard by, there she spied their tails, side by side, all hung on a tree to dry.” In other words, the problem is being solved, because Little Bo-Peep is still trying to face it. “She heaved a sigh and wiped her eye, and over the hillocks she raced; and tried what she could as a shepherdess should, that each tail be properly placed.” Now, we don’t know if Little Bo-Peep got all the tails in place, but she was facing the problem and doing her best. If Little Bo-Peep were also praying, that could help solve the problem.
One of my children, when he was five years old, said to his seven-year-old sibling, “I could do a better job of running the world than God.” The seven-year-old, with impressive maturity, informed him firmly “God knows much better how to run the world than you do!” Whatever our age, we all need to learn that God can do a much better job of running the world and our lives than any of us.
We each learn to live our lives in three dimensions—within ourselves, with others and with the Lord. Within ourselves, we accept ourselves as we are, just as God accepts each of us as we are. Then we watch and listen and learn and pray throughout our lives and that empowers us to relate better and better to other people. As we learn to live better within ourselves and with others and to spend time praying to the Lord, we find that the Lord guides us into His purposes for each of our lives. These three dimensions—within ourselves, with others and with the Lord—can become integrated into a whole. To integrate is to fit the parts together, to form a whole, to be renewed now in body, mind and spirit.
St John Chrysostom, that magnificent fourth-century preacher and theologian, wrote of this verse from Second Corinthians: “Note how Paul does not pray for riches or abundance [for himself], but only for enough to live on…. He asks the same thing [for] the Corinthians… [Paul] wants them [too] to have enough of the world’s goods but [even] more so an overflowing abundance of spiritual blessings,” concludes St John Chrysostom. That too, is my hope for myself and my family and for each of us—“enough of the world’s goods” to live on, but even more so “an overflowing abundance of spiritual blessings” from the Lord of our lives.
So be it, as we ascribe as is justly due, all might, majesty, dominion, power and praise to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, always now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.