On the Incarnation of the Word 32 – Whom the Demons Confess

Athanasius continues to defend the Resurrection in this section by emphasizing that the demons flee from the power of Christ and at his name. And this would not be true if Jesus were dead. Demons do not fear a dead man. He ends this section with a marvelous statement of our faith.

As then demons confess Him, and His works bear Him witness day by day, it must be evident, and let none brazen it out against the truth, both that the Saviour raised His own body, and that He is the true Son of God, being from Him, as from His Father, His own Word, and Wisdom, and Power, Who in ages later took a body for the salvation of all, and taught the world concerning the Father, and brought death to nought, and bestowed incorruption upon all by the promise of the Resurrection, having raised His own body as a first-fruits of this, and having displayed it by the sign of the Cross as a monument of victory over death and its corruption.

Amen and amen. This is what we believe as Christians. This is good news indeed!

An earlier thought by Athanasius in this section sent my mind wandering. I’m going to take a moment to explore that rabbit trail. Athanasius writes the following.

For it is God’s peculiar property at once to be invisible and yet to be known from His works, as has been already stated above.

Athanasius is explaining how we can know the Resurrection from the works that Jesus continues to accomplish even though we do not presently see him in the flesh. However, it recalled to my mind the distinction in Eastern theology between God’s essence and his energies. God cannot be known in his essence. (In truth, we can say the same of other human beings. Every other person is essentially unknowable to us in their inner essence.) But God is known through his energies, through the impact he has in creation, through his actions, and through the power of his presence. We see this in Scripture, of course. And as Christians, we know this to be true. We live within the power and assurance of the energies of God. Those energies are not something created by God. They are not some kind of byproduct. They are God.

Often we call these energies at work in our lives grace. It seems to me that Western Christianity (at least in its Protestant form) has done something almost sacrilegious by reducing the concept of grace to unmerited favor. Yes, of course we have God’s unmerited favor. God is a good God who loves mankind.  Every human being who has ever and will ever live has the utterly unmerited favor and love of God upon them. Scripture assures us of that in both the Old and New Testament. Our God is not some changing deity who one moment looks on us with disfavor and in another with favor. He is a good and constant God who blesses the just and the unjust alike. Certainly we have the unmerited favor and forgiveness of God. The Incarnation and the Cross proved that beyond all doubt.

But that has nothing to do with grace. Those of us who follow Jesus have the presence and power of God acting mystically in and through us. These energies of God are grace. The more we learn to live within the presence and activity of God, the more grace we experience. As Paul prays, we grow in grace. You cannot grow in “unmerited favor”. No, we are growing in union with God. Grace and peace are active, participatory experiences of the life of God. We participate in the life of God and grow in union with him in his energies. Grace is one of the most powerful theological statements of the New Testament. Let’s not neuter it.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted September 30, 2009 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    I’ve wondered a few times whether the assertion “God cannot be known in his essence” is true. The Incarnation seems to argue the other direction. Bless the East, though, at least they don’t apologize for mysticism. In the West you nearly have to start out with anapologia for the sanity, spiritual health, and constructive place of mysticism …

    Take care & God bless
    Anne / LF

  2. Posted September 30, 2009 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    It seems to me that the Incarnation would only be able to argue the other direction if it were true that, as human beings, we were capable of knowing each other in our essence. God, of course can, and in the union of the Incarnation united the essence of man with God. But we do not know ever know the essence of even another human being. However close we become to another, however much we grow together in even the most intimate union, we do not know each other in essence. Rather, we become familiar with the other through their words, through shared activities and experience, through the nuance and living presence of their embodied existence, and so much more. In other words, through their energies. It is our respective energies which interact and intertwine with each other. Only God truly knows the inner depths of the heart of man.

    Part of the problem may be the idea that God’s energies are somehow less than God or other than God. But they aren’t. They are as much God as is his essence, at least in Eastern theology. They are just the part of God we can experience and thus “know”.

    Of course, the language of essence and energies is simply one limited way to try to express something about God in language. I do tend to prefer it to some of the other ways, but that’s likely because of the Eastern (even though not Eastern Christian) influences in my formation. I do think it avoids some of the pitfalls common in some ways of speaking about God. But I never forget that as with any attempt to express anything about God in human terms and language, it is at least as not true and incomplete as it expresses truth.

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