2004-11-01 - Pillar Saints
Exodus 33:19, "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion."
I almost hesitate to write about this 5th century superstitious practice, for fear that someone will take up the practice to try to get attention. But there was a custom, followed by a few Eastern Christians, of standing on pillars. One of the greatest pillar saints was Simeon, a Syrian shepherd, who stood on pillars of various heights for 37 years (the last being 40 cubits). The heights of his pillars grew continually higher, as they ascended to Heaven, and became closer and closer to God. A second Simeon in the 6th century was said to stand on his pillar for 68 years. This stupid practice was quickly stopped in the Western Churches, when it began in the 12th century there. When Wulsilaicus put up his pillar to advance himself, the other Christians promptly pulled it down and decried the superstitious practice.
Are you a pillar saint? Are you trying to do or be good enough to earn your way to Heaven? You may as well get yourself a pillar, for trying to earn your way to Heaven is an equally stupid practice no matter how it is done. It is only our ignorance that causes us to think that we can earn God's saving favor by doing anything of any kind. The call to earn God's favor is simple. It is faith. That is all, and sometimes that can be the stumbling block for us. Many of us would like to have the Bible teach that if we did this or that, stood on pillars for 25 years, we would earn Heaven. But the truth is that there is nothing like that we can do. The call to the Christian and to the would-be Christian is to faith. The verse we started with is repeated again in Romans 9:15. Scripture is clear that we cannot earn our way to God. It is God who has mercy.
Trying to earn our way to God is common today. One of the distinctives of the Christian faith is that we don't believe we can earn our way to God. I work at a college, and usually am alone in a large classroom while I work. Yesterday, and from time to time, Muslim students will come in to use my room for their prayers. They have to do these prayers, or they will miss out on Heaven.
It is a performance-based faith, and it is nothing like the Christian faith. Christians know that they can't earn God's favor. Christians know that even if they have missed 9 days or prayer, and 47 days of Bible study in a row, God's forgiveness is in Christ - and we may start anew today. We do not earn Heaven by our performance; we do not lose Heaven by our lack of performance. Our standing before God is wrapped up in Christ, and in the mercy offered to us through His atonement for our sin.
There are many ways to be pillar Christians. It is not hard to fall into the trap of performance-based faith. Remember (Luke 10:38-42) Mary sat at the feet of Jesus listening to Him, and Martha was busy about all the preparations for their honored guest and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me." The reply of Christ was that Mary had chosen the good part of the two. We can't serve enough, or do enough. Some of us may need to take a chainsaw to our pillar and simply sit at the feet of Jesus more than we do. We may need to be out serving less, and in our prayer closet communing more. Mary was not concerned about how high her pillar was, but rather simply sitting at Jesus' feet and learning from Him. Mary had chosen the good part.
Soli Deo Gloria,