The Holy Scriptures everywhere assure us that we cannot be saved apart from faith in Christ and (based upon that faith) love for Him.
Do I have faith? How do I know? St. James says, “Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:18)
Do I love God? How do I know? St. John, in his First Epistle, says repeatedly it’s by doing His commandments. St. Paul tells us without love we are nothing, no matter how much faith we have (I Corinthians 13:1-3) and even goes so far as to anathematize those who do not love Christ. (I Corinthians 16:22)
By those measures, by any practical, objective measure, my faith is laughable and my love pitiable. Perhaps some may dare to suppose with certainty they could pass these scriptural tests, but not I. And it’s much worse than merely that I have done this or failed to do that. Those are but the symptoms of underlying attitudes, and those attitudes, in turn, are reflections of my heart, of who I am. That is the problem: not even what I do or don’t do, not even the attitudes that produce those misdeeds and omissions -- but who I am!
Here then, are the paradoxes: We Orthodox see in ourselves no faith through which Grace might work to save us; yet, we know the communion of the Holy Spirit, unmistakably present, the pledge and token of our salvation. (2 Corinthians 1;22, Ephesians 1:14) Christ tells us if we had faith the size of a mustard seed, we could move mountains; (Matthew 17:20) and we (most of us) move no mountains. Yet, we, like those first disciples, already have the joy of walking with Him. We are like the man who cried, “I believe, Lord; help Thou my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) Yet, we observe that this man’s petition was granted; his son was healed. Like St. Paul, we do not dare to judge ourselves (as saved); (I Corinthians 4:13) yet, though our hearts condemn us, Christ is greater than our hearts. (I John 3:20)
Moreover, we look at the holy ones in our midst, the people who already are who we want to be, namely, “Christ with skin on” – and from them we hear that their perception of themselves and of their faith and love is the same as our perception of ourselves and our faith and love! So we see that even the objective criteria by which faith and love, in Scripture, are to be measured, are seen by our hearts only subjectively. We do not know how God sees our hearts. We do know Christ is greater than our hearts.
Certainty is an intellectual conclusion based upon irrefutable evidence. An Orthodox Christian simply cannot, in honesty, arrive at absolute certainty (and he marvels that anybody else can speak so certainly!) regarding his ultimate destiny, because in all honesty, very realistically, he finds that the iron-clad, deductive evidence is simply not there that he has any faith in Christ or any love for Him -- or that if he has faith, he will keep it unto the end and not fall away.
Faith, by contrast, is not an intellectualization, but the lived experience of reality, such that the beginning and the end of reality are Christ, and so is everything in between. Faith is the hypostasis (here and now existence) of things otherwise only hoped for, and the actual scrutiny of things invisible: we do have communion in the Holy Spirit, we do walk in and with Christ, we have been made to sit in the heavenly places, we do receive healing. These things we do not deduce but encounter.
Faith (the lived reality) makes certainty of salvation (the intellectual conclusion) unnecessary. Faith bypasses that certainty.
Certainty about salvation also bypasses real faith, resting content with itself. (That's the whole idea behind the craving for certainty, to be able to rest content.) I'll have to ponder it some more, but I'm thinking certainty may also be incompatible with real faith.
Sunday, January 20, 2008