Élucide: part three
“Mr. Jerome, this is the crux, the very cause of apostasy. Why do Christians fall from grace? Why do they doubt that God is merciful and His judgment infallible?”
“Because, Dr. Horace…”
Ebrach had in some way taken her into his circle, where Jerome belonged already. She saw that Dr. Horace was building an attack against Ebrach…he must recognize the importance to Ebrach of Jerome. Her cousin was frail, and Élucide chose to shoulder his burden. “Because they die.”
“Miss Élucide, you put the matter bluntly.”
He smiled, not at her, but her father. “And thus, confronted with mystery, some grow to doubt Him—in their weakness, they doubt His compassion. Equally, they may doubt His justice. He has promised us peace and an end to suffering. Yet, as we know, an age on earth is, in the realm of the eternal, the winking of an eye. Some, in their impatience―in their ignorance, we may say―seek an early deliverance. In fine, they seek after idols.”
Here Dr. Horace, quite capable, if no one took him up, of addressing his own argument, paused.
“But,” she said, “they don’t really.”
A startled laugh from her godmother.
Though of course Élucide didn’t, her education scarcely permitted, disagree on some point of theology. All her theology came from Dr. Horace himself. All her early reading, before she’d got old enough to slip off at Rutherford’s and buy a book of her own choosing, had been Bible study, and the sermons of Wesley, under the guidance of Mrs. Horace. Élucide thought of the molten calf, the Philistines, Jezebel, worshipers of Baal and sons of Belial. She knew of no Cookesville citizen who behaved this way.
“Those who abandon Him in their hearts…because they have not the discipline to perform what is in its own right an abandonment…an abandonment of self-interest…”
He weighed his words, and chose a shortcut. “We need only obey. We are asked to do no more. The mind of man was not made to fathom the mystery of God. To attempt to do so is sin.”
He did not succeed altogether in keeping his gaze from straying to the right. “I refer to the deceiving practice of substitution, to the perversion of faith into practice alone. A belief may be in itself an idol, in such cases where a purpose of one’s own takes the place of God’s purpose. Prayer may be an idol. Prayer is no more than ritual, if we do not ask when we pray, My Lord, what is your purpose for me?―and listen humbly for His voice in reply. If we merely repeat forms of words in hopes of dispelling fear, we pursue the favors of an idol.”
Horace looked at the fingers of Jerome’s nervous right hand, as they caressed the silverwork of the spoon on his plate.
(2017, Stephanie Foster)