In Egypt, in whose ancient Christian past there had once been many grand monasteries, there once lived a monk who befriended an uneducated and simple farmer. One day this peasant said to the monk, “I too respect God who created this world! Every evening I pour out a bowl of goat’s milk and leave it out under a palm tree. In the evening God comes and drinks up my milk! He is very fond of it! There’s never once been a time when even a drop of milk is left in the bowl.”
Hearing these words, the monk could not help smiling. He kindly and logically explained to his friend that God doesn’t need a bowl of goat’s milk. But the peasant so stubbornly insisted that he was right that the monk then suggested that the next night they secretly watch to see what happened after the bowl of milk was left under the palm tree.
No sooner said than done. When night fell, the monk and the peasant hid themselves some distance from the tree, and soon in the moonlight they saw how a little fox crept up to the bowl and lapped up all the milk till the bowl was empty.
“Indeed!” the peasant sighed disappointedly. “Now I can see that it wasn’t God!”
The monk tried to comfort the peasant and explained that God is a spirit; that God is something completely beyond our poor ability to comprehend in our world, and that people comprehend His presence in their own unique way. But the peasant merely stood hanging his head sadly. Then he wept and went back home to his hovel.
The monk also went back to his cell, but when he got there he was amazed to see an angel blocking his path. Utterly terrified, the monk fell to his knees, but the angel said to him:
“That simple fellow had neither education nor wisdom nor book-learning enough to be able to comprehend God otherwise. Then you in your wisdom and book learning took away what little he had! You will say that doubtless you reasoned correctly. But there’s one thing that you don’t know, oh learned man: God, seeing the sincerity and true heart of this good peasant, every night sent the little fox to that palm tree to comfort him and accept his sacrifice.”
(from: Everyday Saints and Other Stories; by Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov.)
“Zeal is not reckoned among mankind as a form of wisdom; rather it is one of the sickness of the soul, arising from narrow-mindedness and deep ignorance.”
“While you presume to stir up your zeal against the sickness of others, you will have banished health from your own soul. You should rather concern yourself with your own healing. But if you wish to heal those that are sick, know that the sick have greater need of loving care than of rebukes.”
“The beginning of divine wisdom is the serenity acquired from generosity of soul and forbearance with human infirmities.”
“For he says, ‘You who are strong should bear the infirmities of the weak’, and ‘Put right the transgressor with a humble spirit’. The Apostle numbers peace and long-suffering among the fruits of the Holy Spirit.”
(from: Daily Readings with St Isaac of Syria; trans. by Sebastian
Brock, edited by A.M. Allchin.)
“Often acts done in a spirit of religious irritation have consequences far beyond anything we could have guessed.”
“Always it is more important that we retain a right spirit toward others than that we bring them to our way of thinking, even if our way is right.”
“Again, pride may by religious influence be refined to a quiet self-esteem, skillfully dissembled by a neat use of Bible words to disguise a deep self-love which is to God a hateful and intolerable thing. The real trouble is thus not cleared up, but only driven underground.”
“A good rule is this: If this experience has served to humble me and make me little and vile in my own eyes, it is of God. But if it has given me a feeling of self-satisfaction, it is false and should be dismissed as emanating from self or the devil. Nothing that comes from God will minister to my pride or self-congratulation.”
(from: Gems From Tozer; by A.W. Tozer)
“But whoso shall cause one of these little ones which believe on me to stumble, it is profitable for him that a great millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be sunk in the depth of the sea. Woe unto the world because of occasions of stumbling! for it must needs be that the occasions come; but woe to that man through whom the occasion cometh!”
(from: St. Matthew 18:6-7; by Jesus Christ)
This story and the quotes following it are not meant to be misconstrued as statements against book-learning, education, or seeking the truth about God. But is rather to teach us about the right attitude we should have towards others whom we believe to be in error. Perhaps they are, but how do we approach them? Do we in our own self-righteous wisdom and zeal, set out to “correct” the other person, and consequently do more damage than good? How easy it is to do! (Aren't we all guilty of doing this?) Right knowledge of God and the spiritual life is important, but let us not allow our zeal for the truth promote our spiritual pride, damage our relationship to others, and harm their relationship to God.
What is needed instead is a spirit of humility, discernment, and wisdom. It takes skill and patience to work with someone, to slowly bring them to a place where they can receive the truths they need. Work with people where they are; don’t try to make eminent theologians out of those who lack spiritual depth or knowledge. Give them God-truths in bite-sized pieces they can swallow, to bring a steady spiritual growth that will slowly increase their faith in God and develop their character into Christ-likeness.
To quote Tozer again, ““Always it is more important that we retain a right spirit toward others than that we bring them to our way of thinking, even if our way is right.”
Let us all pray for Christ to give us His Spirit towards others, and for the gift of discernment: of when to speak and when to be quiet.
May the peace of Christ be with you,