Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 6

Posted: September 23rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 6

12.  Providence has implanted a divine standard or law in created beings, and in accordance with this law when we are ungrateful for spiritual blessings we are schooled in gratitude by adversity, and brought to recognize through this experience that all such blessings are produced through the workings of divine power. This is to prevent us from becoming irrepressibly conceited, and from thinking in our arrogance that we possess virtue and spiritual knowledge by nature and not by grace. If we did this we would be using what is good to produce what is evil: the very things which should establish knowledge of God unshaken within us will instead be making us ignorant of Him.

Such arrogance is an easy trap for any of us. We have all seen people fall into it and, I think, if we try to be honest with ourselves, I think most of us have at least begun to fall into it at one point or another. Paul writes about this, of course, as the sort of knowledge which puffs up. All our virtue and knowledge and true power lies in Christ and our communion with him.

Paul describes Adam as the man of dust. He also calls Christ the image of the invisible God. We are created according to the likeness of the one true image or eikon, but that is not our nature. Our nature outside Christ is dust. In the Incarnation and Resurrection, Christ has made himself the source of the nature of humanity. It’s a wondrous teaching, but sometimes it can be easy to forget that it all flows from him. Without him, we have no life.


Original Sin 23 – Ephesians 2:3

Posted: March 18th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Original Sin | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Original Sin 23 – Ephesians 2:3

This verse (or actually just a portion of it) is typically used to support the notion of original sin as inherited guilt. However, for the purpose of this discussion, I’m going to quote all of Ephesians 2 verses 1-10. (And I would even urge people to go reread all of Ephesians again if it’s been a while since you’ve done so.)

1 And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

The part of the above that was used by St. Augustine to support the idea that we inherit guilt is the phrase “by nature children of wrath.” This was a part of his larger idea that instead of God interacting with the will and actions of each individual human eikon, after Adam all humanity became one big lump of sin. Tied to this interpretation is that we were born sharing a nature subject to God’s wrath.

However, there’s a problem with that interpretation, which is why I quoted the entire excerpt above. As Paul often does, he is contrasting two things — the kingdoms of death and of  life. All humanity was dead, subject as a result to the “prince of the power of the air“, bound by our passions, and the wrath of which we are all by nature children is the wrath flowing from the ruler of that kingdom — not God’s wrath. By contrast, God — who loves us — has made us alive in Christ, freeing us from the wrathful rule of the prince of the power of the air, and created us anew for good works rather than in bondage to our passions.

I love Ephesians. I fall in love with its vision all over again every time I read it. But it doesn’t say anything about human beings inheriting guilt. Trying to lift that one phrase in an effort to make that point does violence to the text.


Original Sin 7 – God & Man in the Creation Narratives

Posted: February 28th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Original Sin | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Original Sin 7 – God & Man in the Creation Narratives

This post is not going to be one that covers the few prooftexts in Scripture that generally tend to be the focus in discussions on the topic of original sin. I wanted to make sure at the outset that nobody reading this post did so with the wrong expectations. I will look at those specific texts later as I explore the historical context for the development of the idea of inherited guilt within some segments of Christianity. That’s where that particular discussion fits in my personal narrative and I think that’s the best context in which to discuss those few texts.

In this post I’m going to explore a few things about the God I found in the Holy Scriptures as I began to try to grasp the uniquely Christian narrative of God, Man, and their relation to each other. The Scriptures are an ancient text and that tends to make them a little harder for a modern American to read and truly understand. But these were hardly the first ancient texts or the first sacred writings I had ever explored and tried to understand. I recognized the challenge and knew that I would have to have a better grasp of both ancient and second temple Jewish culture. And to understand the new Testament, I would have to then perceive that culture’s interaction (in light of Christ) with the ancient Greco-Roman world (with which I already had a fair degree of familiarity).

So I read the Gospels (the obvious place to start) several times, trying to absorb what they said about Jesus of Nazareth. And I noticed something that caught my attention. Jesus insists, in more than one place, that the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings speak of him. It’s particularly dramatic in Luke on the road to Emmaus, but that’s hardly the only place. And so I began to gather the impression that it was not enough to simply have some understanding of ancient Jewish culture and historical context in order to read what we call the Old Testament. From a Christian perspective, it had to be read and interpreted through the lens of Christ, which means that a Jewish and a Christian reading of a text might very well be entirely different. I was also reading other ancient Christian writings and their authors confirmed my impression. Any and every Christian reading of our Holy Scriptures must first and foremost be christological in nature. The text is illuminated in and through Christ. I explain that because it conditions the way I read and understand the Holy Scriptures and thus necessarily frames the narrative arc I see in the text.

The best place to start, perhaps, is at the beginning. In the West, Genesis 3 is typically read as a story of legal violation and condemnation. The first man and woman are tempted. The first man and woman knowingly break God’s inviolable and holy law. The first man and woman are “separated” (now there’s a concept that requires very careful nuance and unfortunately rarely receives it) from God. The first man and woman are condemned by God to death and punishment and eternal torment in hell for their guilt for breaking God’s law. (And tied into that usually runs a thread that creates a problem for God either with his honor or his ability to forgive. Basically, you usually end up with a God who is either overly concerned about his honor or a God who cannot forgive an offense without payment. Now, that does not correlate very well at all with the God we find in scripture and it oversimplifies mankind’s problem and the measures necessary to save us. But that’s an entirely different series. Not this one.) And then their descendants, all of humanity, inherit from that first couple the guilt for their one violation of God’s command.

The problem with that narrative is that Genesis 3 simply doesn’t read that way without some serious distortion. That part of the narrative opens with the serpent telling the woman that she would not “die by death” from eating of the fruit. Instead, they would become like gods — a short and easy path to deification. (Ironically, God had created humanity in his image to bless creation and to grow and mature into communion with God. But the proper path was through obedience and faithfulness rather than disobedience and faithlessness. The serpent tempted the first couple with a false path toward the goal for which they were intended in their creation.) When they eat, their eyes are opened and they know shame, something they had never previously known.

So now they are condemned by God and “separated” from him, right? So then why is it that the next twist in the story is that God comes looking for them? They have tried to turn from God. They have moved away from their only source of life. In effect, they are seeking a non-existence they have no power to attain (since everything is sustained by and contingent on God who is everywhere present and filling all things). Hiding from their only source of life, they are mortal and are now ruled by death. But God does not permit that separation. And in this first turn of the story, we immediately see Jesus, also called Immanuel — God with us. We hide. God comes to us.

And what does God do? He curses the serpent. But the man and the woman suffer the natural consequences for their choices. Moreover, all creation is cursed, not by God (read it carefully), but by us. And God tells us that we are formed from the earth, and it is only when the clay is joined with God’s breath that we become a living soul. So, having turned from God’s breath, from God’s life, we are dust returning to dust. And yet, we are also eikons of God — a God who does not begrudge any of his creation existence — and as images of God, however damaged, we have no means of completely ceasing to exist. (That’s the source of the description of death as Sheol, Hades, or Hel — in Jewish and Christian rather than pagan terms. We became ruled by death and descended into it, but were unable to pass completely into non-existence. That was mankind’s ultimate plight from which we needed rescue. That’s why our problem required a solution as utterly amazing and unimagined as the Incarnation.)

And then God clothes the man and the woman. He covers their shame. But in that act, I also see a prefiguration of the Incarnation. Jesus takes on our nature in order to clothe the nature of man with the divine nature and through that union to heal and transform the nature of man.

And finally, lest we bind ourselves forever in ever corrupting flesh, God seals us from any other path to a sort of fleshly immortality that would not heal our corrupted nature and bodies. It’s clear in the story that he does this as an act of love and mercy on our behalf.

So tell me, where in this story is man truly “separated” from God. Yes, we try to turn from God. We try to hide from God. But God searches for us. God clothes us. God protects us. We have created a sort of separation from God our source of life within ourselves. That is true. But God never draws away from man in the story.

And where does God condemn man? Yes, he describes the consequences humanity will suffer flowing from our turn from him. And God describes how through that turn from him, we have cursed creation and creation will therefore no longer exist in harmony with us. And yet even as he describes the consequences, he gives the first promise that he is working to solve the problem. The promised seed of the woman is Christ. In the story, God does not condemn us. Instead, he immediately promises to rescue us from our own folly.

The God in our text, the God revealed to us in Jesus, is not a God of condemnation. He is not a stiff and unforgiving God. He is a God who overflows with mercy, a God who is slow to anger and quick to forgive, a God whose justice is love. We’ll look more at that God in the arc of scripture tomorrow. I don’t know a whole lot about our sacred text. I still feel woefully ignorant. But nowhere do I see the story of the sort of God who condemns all of humanity for the inherited guilt of a single act by a single pair of distant ancestors.


Original Sin 5 – Evolution

Posted: February 26th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Original Sin | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

As I began to record my thoughts for today’s post, it dawned on me that the route this series is taking might seem to be a strange and circuitous one to some of those reading it. In part, I believe that is due to the way I’ve chosen to develop it. I’m writing from the perspective of my own personal interaction with this idea as I journeyed into my present Christian faith. As such, even though I am compressing and abridging that interaction, the shape of the series necessarily follows something like the shape of my own journey. And that also means that the series will explore problems and questions first; answers come later for I began to discover them later. It also means the issues, problems, and questions I encountered may not necessarily be the same ones someone else encounters in their journey. Though I mentioned my approach at the outset, I thought I should clarify. I realized that yesterday’s post and today’s might seem like a strange detour to some reading.

Yesterday I briefly discussed karma to illustrate how I was unwilling to exchange a framework with which I was pretty comfortable for an inferior one. That was tinged by an early recognition on my part that I could not continue to hold both. At a very deep level, the narrative of Resurrection is very different from and incompatible with the narrative within which karma functions. I would not say I suddenly dropped one and embraced the other. It was a lengthier process than that. But it did become clear from an early point — St. John the Theologian’s Gospel had a lot to do with that illumination — that if I continued my journey into Christianity, at some point I would shift narrative frameworks. (Although it’s not exactly relevant to this series, I’m struck by the manner in which so many modern Christians don’t seem to realize just how revolutionary, transforming, and counter-intuitive the narrative of Resurrection is.)

I was shaped and formed within the context of an extended family of scientists and artists. (I’ll also point out those are not mutually exclusive categories. Many in my family are both scientists and artists of one sort or another.) While I’m neither, at least in any realized form, I’ve always lived and breathed within the framework of both. My father is a geneticist and spent his career doing research. While, as I outlined above, I foresaw the need and was not unwilling to exchange my narrative framework of the broader context of reality (some might call it a metaphysical framework, but I’m not entirely comfortable with that word as it means very different things to different people) for a Christian one, I was never willing to adopt a framework that sat in opposition to the scientific narrative of physical reality. (Nor is there anyone who reasonably should. The larger frameworks — Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Atheist, etc. — operate beyond the scope of the scientific narrative.) It’s an unfortunate reality that so many modern Christians have allowed their Christian narrative to shrink either to an alternative and opposing perspective or to one which is smaller than and fits inside the narrative of science rather than the other way around. But I was never tempted in either direction.

Why does that matter? Long before I found the root of the idea behind the notion of original sin as inherited guilt in ancient Greek philosophy, I recognized one key weakness in it from a natural perspective. If all human beings who presently or have ever lived have inherited the moral and juridical guilt of the first man who “sinned” against God, then that means that all human beings must be descended from a single pair of ancestors (or at least from the original “guilty” one). And we now know, with near certainty, that that is not the case. The science is beyond the scope of this series. Moreover, it’s not a field in which I can claim any sort of personal expertise and I don’t trust myself to communicate my understanding of it clearly. Nevertheless, the evidence is pretty convincing and I encourage anyone interested to explore it on your own.

I had ample reasons from my perspective to set aside the idea of inherited guilt without even considering this particular issue. Nevertheless, I did see this problem early and was unwilling to adopt a “faith” that stood in opposition to pretty clear natural evidence. I don’t particularly care myself whether or not humanity originated with a single couple nor do I know many scientists with a vested interest either way. But the evidence does not seem to support such an idea, and I’m not interested in making something so shaky a “linchpin” of my larger narrative framework. Mine already don’t tend to be as strongly held or constructed as they seem to be for many people. I’m not interested in deliberately weakening it with such comparatively fragile pieces.

As an aside, I will note that it’s my understanding that the Roman Catholic Church, which is the tradition within which the idea of original sin as inherited guilt originally flowered toward the end of the first millenium of Christianity, does in some way reconcile scientific evidence with the overarching idea of inherited guilt. Although I have had numerous interactions with Roman Catholicism over the course of my life and have Catholic family and friends, I wandered into Christianity myself in an evangelical Southern Baptist context. So I must confess I don’t know how the Roman Catholic Church reconciles this specific issue. If anyone does know, feel free to share that information in the comments.

Finally, though not really related to the topic of this series, I will note that I’m also not tied to the idea that within the context of created time, there was ever a specific point in time when creation was not disordered as a result of sin. According to Christian faith, human beings were created as eikons (icons or images) of the uncreated God for the purpose of reflecting God into creation and for communion with God. Time itself is a creation of God, not uncreated. If we were created, in part, to reflect the uncreated energies into creation, then it seems to me that normal perceptions of causal effect might not apply in this regard. I’m comfortable with the idea that creation has been disordered and groaning from the beginning as a result of our failure to fill our proper role within it. And I’m comfortable with the idea that even as we are born into a “fallen” creation, “inheriting” death, we also participate actively in the fall of Man and the disordering of creation when we each choose to abandon our eucharistic (thanksgiving) role. I tend to view being “in Adam” or “in Christ” in more active than passive or static terms.

I will also note, however, that we see a marked increase in the disordering of creation as soon as man took an active hand in it. Even with very primitive tools, we hunted entire species to extinction and contributed (although mildly by modern standards) to climate change. And those are just examples that can be measured from a perspective that is millenia removed. Paul’s analogy of creation groaning is an apt one, indeed.

Tomorrow I’ll touch on some of the problems the idea of inherited guilt creates within the Christian scriptural narrative.


What Does It Mean To Be Alive?

Posted: November 20th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

I almost always enjoy listening to Fr. Thomas Hopko, but I’ve especially liked his podcast series on The Names of Jesus. Names remain important today. The names by which I am known certainly describe me in the minds of others. But in the ancient world, the power of names was much more widely recognized than it is today. And Jesus has many, many names in the Holy Scriptures. In this week’s podcast, Jesus – The Life, Fr. Hopko explores the name Jesus gave himself as the Life. My thoughts mostly riff off one thought in the podcast, but it’s well worth your time to listen to it in its entirety.

At one point in the podcast Fr. Thomas mentions that we are not spirits whom God places in bodies. We did not exist before we were conceived and we were not created to have any sort of existence apart from our bodies. We are the embodied eikons of God within creation, not spiritual beings. There already are spiritual persons in creation who do not have the same sort of physical bodies that we have. The Holy Scriptures call them angels (or demons for those who oppose God).

Fr. Hopko was specifically refuting Platonism, something Bishop Tom Wright also does fairly frequently. Platonism held that the spirit was eternal and had always existed. In Platonism, a spirit has a body for a time, but that body is not who you truly are as a human being. After death, your spirit is freed from your body and might have the opportunity to join the “Happy Philosophers” eternally in a purely spiritual existence. That perception of reality does not even intersect the Christian perspective of reality, yet has infiltrated it again and again over the centuries in one form or another.

I’m not particularly interested myself in the flesh/spirit dichotomy of Platonism and never have been. However, I realized as I was listening that to the extent I begin to think of spirit as eternal, I remain drawn to the Eastern non-Christian aspect of my formation. While I can’t say I ever fully embraced it (or anything else) before I was eventually drawn into Christianity, I do remember the attraction the Hindu perspective on reality held for me. Oddly, now that I’ve been shaped within Christianity, I would probably lean more toward Buddhism than Hinduism were I to rebound or drift in the direction of another world religion. I say “oddly” because in my younger days I didn’t find any flavor of Buddhism particularly attractive at all.

However, both Buddhism and Hinduism deal with spirit as eternal in a much richer and fuller way than either Platonism or the strains of Christianity influenced by something like that perspective. Whether it’s the Happy Philosophers or an eternal ‘spiritual’ existence in ‘heaven’ adoring God, both perspectives share the same fatal flaw. They are deeply existentially boring. I can think of no better word for it. Whatever else might be said about them, Buddhism and Hinduism are not boring. They are both deep and rich.

The sad thing is that Christianity actually has a lens into the heart of reality that is deeper and richer than anything I’ve ever encountered. It has the most profound things to say about what it means to be human and alive. And yet that lens seems to have often been buried so deep it’s impossible to see. And that shallow perspective has no legs to stand either against materialism on the one hand (we are just bodies) and the ancient Eastern religions on the other (all is actually spirit).

As Christians, we say that we are neither spirits that have a body nor bodies that have a spirit. We living souls, body and spirit, inextricably interwoven, interlaced, and sharing the same substance in a profound way. Ironically, as our scientific knowledge grows, we find our knowledge of the ways our bodies impact who we are growing at an exponential rate. But this is not a victory for the materialists, somehow proving that there is no such things as ‘spirit‘. No. It’s actually an affirmation of the Christian story of what it means to be a human being.

As we see in Jesus, the death of the eikon grieves God with a heartbreaking grief. Standing before the tomb of Lazarus, even knowing that he is about to raise him, the Word is deeply troubled, is disturbed, is angry at the violation of death, and weeps the tears of God. But God is our only source of life and as we participate in the sin of humanity (of the ‘adam‘) we turn from our life and seek a non-existence we can never actually achieve. This is the wonder of the Incarnation. Jesus of Nazareth, the Word of God, joins his nature to that of humanity so that he might bring Life to us. Our life is now hid with Christ in God. How amazing is that?

But the life we have remains an embodied spiritual life. And we retain a function and purpose within creation as the eikons of God. The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. The deepest mystery is not what happens in the fully realized Kingdom, when the veil between God’s reality and our own is dropped and we see things as they truly are. No, to me the strangest mystery is how God preserves our conscious existence between the time we die and the time we are all resurrected. There are a few scattered hints in the Holy Scriptures, but they are mostly silent on that point. Of course, we also have the witness of centuries of interaction between the Church and the reposed saints to affirm that we are preserved and remain active in some sense. But the whole thing is something of a mystery.

However, for Christians, the death of the eikon, of the human being, is always an abomination, as it is to God. Death is not a release. It is not a sweet journey home. It is something that even God grieves and acted in the most amazing way to defeat on our behalf. Yes, to be apart from the body is to be with Christ, which is far better, one of the few things our Scriptures tell us. And certainly, to be with the particular God we see in Christ is certainly better. But death itself? Still a great wrong, not something good itself. And we deeply wrong people when we tell them it is for the best or that they should rejoice for their reposed loved one. Death is ugly and wrong and we know that to the core of our being.

Either that’s what Christianity proclaims about reality and what it means to be human or it deserves to die out as a world religion.


On the Incarnation of the Word 22 – Received the Death of All Men

Posted: September 14th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 22 – Received the Death of All Men

Athanasius makes several closely related points in today’s section, but I’m going to focus on one.

And besides, the Saviour came to accomplish not His own death, but the death of men; whence He did not lay aside His body by a death of His own — for He was Life and had none — but received that death which came from men, in order perfectly to do away with this when it met Him in His own body.

Jesus, the eternal Word was Life and had no death of his own. He received the death which came from men, at the hands of men, in his body. And when the Life of the Word met the Death of the eikon in the physical body of Jesus of Nazareth, Life overcame Death once and for all. Jesus did away with death.

Reflect on that thought today. Feel its immensity.


On the Incarnation of the Word 3 – Man in the Image of God

Posted: August 26th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 3 – Man in the Image of God

In the third section of his treatise, Athanasius emphasizes that God created everything through the Word and that he does not begrudge existence to any of it. That’s important to always keep in mind. Yes, God created and sustains everything from moment to moment. But that contingency is not a matter of concern. The uncreated God does not begrudge the existence of creation.

For God is good, or rather is essentially the source of goodness: nor could one that is good be niggardly of anything: whence, grudging existence to none, He has made all things out of nothing by His own Word, Jesus Christ our Lord. And among these, having taken especial pity, above all things on earth, upon the race of men, and having perceived its inability, by virtue of the condition of its origin, to continue in one stay, He gave them a further gift, and He did not barely create man, as He did all the irrational creatures on the earth, but made them after His own image, giving them a portion even of the power of His own Word; so that having as it were a kind of reflexion of the Word, and being made rational, they might be able to abide ever in blessedness, living the true life which belongs to the saints in paradise.

Mankind was alone created in the image or as the eikon of the uncreated God. Mankind is not an afterthought, not an accident, not unwanted. Man is created to proclaim God into creation. It’s a different sort of story of creation and man’s place within it.

Athanasius wraps up this section with an important point. Man was not created in a state of absolute perfection from which we fell and to which we are being restored. Rather, man was created immature, with the potential to choose God and life and grow in communion with God and the potential to turn from God instead; to seek non-existence and find the corruption of death.

There is no going back to the garden. Instead we’re moving forward to something new.


The Didache 4 – Have No Enemies

Posted: June 14th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Didache 4 – Have No Enemies

This series is reflecting on the Didache if you want to read it separately.

For what reward is there for loving those who love you? Do not the Gentiles do the same? But love those who hate you, and you shall not have an enemy.

The way of Jesus, the way of life, is the way of love. We should not find that surprising for as St. John tells us, “God is love.” Nevertheless, we do not want to love every other human being we meet. We believe we ought to be able to pick and choose whom to love. Some people, after all, are not worthy of our love. Is that not so?

No, the way of life is about perceiving reality and acting accordingly. We are to love even those who actively hate us because we perceive their reality as a beloved eikon of God and as our brother or sister.

I see dimly how this is true. Jesus had no enemies. Those who plotted his betrayal and death were not his enemies, though I’m sure they saw themselves as such. They were his brothers. The Romans who crucified him were not his enemies. He forgave them their actions done in ignorance. Judas was not his enemy. Jesus loved him.

Each time I read this part of the Didache these days, I am reminded of two posts by Father Stephen Freeman about a monk in the Holy Land who has no enemies, On the Edge of Heaven and A Single Monk. I invite you to read his posts. Father Stephen expresses what I would say better than I possibly could.

In the face of the God of love and those human beings who truly love, I can only exclaim, “Lord have mercy!” If we love those who hate us, we can have no enemies. Instead, we too often choose to live in delusion surrounded if not by perceived enemies then by those we keep at arm’s length because they might be our enemy. In fear, we push them away rather than embracing them.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.


Beyond Justification 3 – What is the goal of the human being?

Posted: May 23rd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Justification | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

We are not only being saved from something, we are being saved toward something. What is the goal of our salvation?

When you immerse yourself in the ecumenical councils and the writings surrounding them, you quickly find that you cannot discuss salvation without discussing Christ. You cannot even begin to understand what it means to be saved until you understand who Christ is. As St. Gregory the Theologian famously proclaimed:

What has not been assumed has not been healed; it is what is united with his divinity that is saved.

This is the reason that Jesus had to assume our fallen nature, die, and be resurrected. We first had to be freed from death. But that was never the ultimate goal for humanity. That was the work of redemption, restoration, and healing. But the goal? I don’t think so. For what were we created? In order to begin to answer that question, consider another one first. If mankind had never fallen would the Incarnation still have been needed? Referencing St. Maximos the Confessor and others, from the Beyond Justification article:

However, the Fall is not the primary reason for the incarnation itself since, as Maximos and others point out, the incarnation was always part of God’s plan since it was the means by which humanity could truly achieve salvation, understood as theosis or union with God, an approach which will be discussed in more detail in the following section.

Absolutely. In the Resurrection Jesus emptied Hades, that is to say he defeated death universally for every human being. This is the gift of God we were powerless to achieve on our own. But that act alone only brings us back to something like the starting point. By joining his nature to ours, Jesus makes it possible for us to unite ourselves to God. In the story of man in the garden, man had the potential for immortality or for mortality. That much was in our nature. But we were still created either way and the uncreated God was beyond our ken and ultimately unknowable. In the mystery of the Incarnation, God united human nature to his nature, changing what it means to be human and providing us the means to unite, to become one with, God. To be truly human is to be the one standing in creation such that when creation beholds us, it beholds God. This is what it means to be an eikon living fully in the likeness of God. We are meant to reflect God into creation as we participate in the communal life of God.

Thus, as many theologians have noted, the Orthodox understanding of Christ’s crucifixion, derived from soteriological christology, is diametrically opposed to the Anselmian theory of satisfaction which underpins both Catholic and Lutheran notions of justification. God is not a judge in a courtroom, and Christ did not pay the legal penalty or “fine” for our sins. His redemptive work was not completed on the Cross, with the Resurrection as a nice afterword. The eternal Son of God took on our fallen human nature, including our mortality, in order to restore it to the possibility of immortality. Jesus Christ died so that he might be resurrected. Just as Christ is homoousios with the Father in his divinity, we are homoousios with him in his humanity; it is through our sharing of his crucified and resurrected human nature that our own human nature is transformed from mortality to immortality. John Meyendorff summarizes the significance of the Cross for the Christian East as follows:

…In the East, the Cross is envisaged not so much as the punishment of the just one, which “satisfies” a transcendent Justice requiring a retribution for one’s sins. As George Florovsky rightly puts it: “the death on the Cross was effective, not as a death of an Innocent One, but as the death of the Incarnate Lord.” The point was not to satisfy a legal requirement, but to vanquish the frightful cosmic reality of death, which held humanity under its usurped control and pushed it into the vicious circle of sin and corruption.

Exactly. We need forgiveness. We have done wrong. But in deed and parable and voice we see in Scripture a God overflowing with mercy and forgiveness. Heck, that was Jonah’s complaint about God and he was proven right! The Cross was not necessary for God to forgive us. If all we had needed was forgiveness, God had (and has) an inexhaustible overabundance. God has never had a forgiveness problem and we do him wrong when we attribute such a problem to him. But don’t worry, I’m sure he forgives us for the poor way we portray his lovingkindness and mercy. 😉

Tomorrow I’ll explore more fully the goal which is variously called theosis or deification, becoming one with God in Christ.


Not the Fast I’ve Chosen – Part 8

Posted: May 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac, Fasting | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Not the Fast I’ve Chosen – Part 8

If God is not any of those images of God from my last post in this series, then what sort of God is he? Why does it matter that he is not a God who sends illness and disease? The answer to both of those questions is the same: Jesus of Nazareth.

It seems to me that many in the modern era, whether they profess belief in the Christian God or not, profoundly misunderstand the so-called “miracles” of Jesus. I hear the miracles believed (and disbelieved) as these interventions into the natural order that Jesus did in order to prove that he was divine. The secular division between things that are natural or normal or mundane and things that are of God and holy is accepted almost universally except by those who believe the second category entirely unnecessary. The first category seems everywhere assumed.

The Incarnation itself gives the lie to these ideas. It is less an external intervention into creation than the ultimate coming alongside or joining of the creator and his created. God reveals himself within his creation not as its powerful sustainer on whom it is all contingent from moment to moment (though God is certainly that), but as one with his eikon, man. He joins his nature with ours. He shares in all we are. He participates with us in the most intimate manner possible.

The miracles are never about Jesus proving anything. God had nothing to prove. He was giving up his natural honor and becoming the servant of all. The things we call miracles, excepting the special and unique nature of the Resurrection, always are presented as what happens when God joins his nature to ours, when creation begins to be healed.

Jesus commands the elements. Man was created to rule creation and reflect God into it. We were meant to be the steward of all and lovingly order and care for creation. Of course, the storm bows before the true and faithful man.

Jesus feeds the people. This is what God has always done. From the garden to the desert, God provided food for his eikon. Now, in Jesus, he has come that we might consume God himself and receive life. Of course Jesus fed the people. Where else would we find life?

The demons and invisible powers bow before him and flee his presence. They have long ruled mankind through deceit and the power of death. But their tools are useless against the undeceived man, against the God-man who has come to break the power of death over us all. They have no power over Jesus and they see him as he truly is. I would suggest they see him as he was glimpsed by his followers during the transfiguration. Of course they flee the uncreated light of his glory. His simple presence must have burned them with the knowledge of what they had made themselves to be.

And Jesus healed. What are disease and sickness but the fruit of death at work in our bodies? Our bodies sicken and die because we, collectively as mankind, choose non-existence over life. We make that choice every time we turn from God and in some timeless manner we make creation what it is. There is no singular fall of mankind, some distant past event in which I share no responsibility or culpability. I don’t get to blame some faceless, distant ancestor. Every time I face the void and choose that which is not God, I share in the fall of man, I participate in the ruin of creation. In the Incarnation, God wed his nature to ours in order to enter death and break its power over us. This is the mystery of the Resurrection. Death swallowed a man on the Cross and found it had swallowed God instead. How can disease and illness and death, simultaneously the physical symptom and cause of sin (they are so inextricably intertwined) not flee from the very fount of life itself? Jesus heals sin and heals disease, often together and at the same time. This is part and parcel of the renewal of creation and a foretaste of the ultimate defeat of death.

Now, that is not to say that we get sick because we sin. It’s bigger than that, less individually focused. It is true that we can certainly damage our bodies through our thoughts and actions. But most illness and disease are simply part and parcel of a disordered creation. Did Jesus get sick in the Incarnation when he fully assumed the human nature? It seems likely to me that he did. We know he so fully assumed our nature that he was able to die. And could he have experienced all that we experience, could he have been tempted in every way we are tempted if he was never tempted to blame God for an illness? It’s one of the oldest temptations. I recall what Job’s wife said to Job when he was sitting in dung covered with boils. “Curse God and die!” Would a Jesus never so tempted ever even understand, much less have been faithful through, so basic a human temptation?

No, God did not give me celiac disease. That would be an almost blasphemous claim. But perhaps he did work to prepare me for this disease. Let’s explore that idea next in this series.