Sunday, January 20, 2008

Faith v. Certainty (Part 3 of a series)

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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.

14 comments:

William Weedon said...

When you say that "faith makes certainty of salvation unnecessary" - what do you mean by "salvation"?

Faith's certainty (which is an essential meaning of the word itself - as seen from Hebrews 10 and 11) does not rest in US but rests in God's promise. Anyone may fall away from faith, and so from salvation. Salvation is only "in Christ" but since faith is what lays hold of Christ and holds to Him for dear life, it does indeed afford the certainty of the life that is IN HIM. Thus, the Apostle John says: "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may *know* that you have eternal life." (1 John 5:13)

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

???

Salvation -- perfect conformity to and union with Christ.

Hebrews 10 is a bit ambiguous, isn't it? It also speaks of the possibility of falling away; doesn't that possibility make the certainty of salvation impossible? Hebrews 11 catalogues all the deeds of faith others have done, who had faith, and that can be either an inspiration or an implied accusation.

Yes, clearly salvation is only in Christ. Yes, faith is what lays hold of Christ and holds to Him for dear life -- but that begs the question. Do I have such faith? I, for one, have nothing wherewith to demonstrate it.

I John 5:13 has to be read in the context of the other verses upon the subject, bearing in mind the possibility of falling away, and losing the eternal life, HIS life, in which we now share. Nobody knows, as a certainty written in stone, that he shall endure to the end. Nobody even OUGHT to have than kind of brazen self-assurance.

So what's with people's certainty talk???

orrologion said...

Do I have such faith? I, for one, have nothing wherewith to demonstrate it.

Which is why all we have is repentence, not certainty, not assurance, etc. only my sins. Only hope in that the God that accepted the sinful woman and the woman with an issue of blood and the repentent persecutor will accept me also. That repentence is never, in this life, subsumed under the "but God sees me as other than I am, as Him, as sinless" - for such would be to know, experientially, that God is either a liar or a fool. He is not.

orrologion said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Christopher, your comment showed up twice, which is why I deleted the 2nd occurrence...

It's also why any doctrine that tells us "faith rather than works" won't fly. No works means no faith. If I have no works, there is no way to demonstrate that I have any faith, either, and no biblical ground for supposing so.

And if salvation requires faith...well, I'm reasonably sure I have it, but there does remain a bit of a question in view of the fact that I have nothing wherewith to demonstrate it. In a court of law, I'd be sunk.

William Weedon said...

The certainty of salvation is never impossible! But it is only possible in that repentance (which Christopher mentioned) which holds before us always the very real possibility of falling away. We Lutherans tend to use two terms to distinguish these things. Certainty and security.

Regarding certainty: Faith gives the certain joy that in Christ we have been given forgiveness greater than all our sin, and life stronger than all our death. Faith gives the certain joy that according to God's own promise in Baptism, we have been made heirs of God and joint-heirs with our Lord Jesus Christ. Faith gives the certain joy that in the holy absolution, our sins are remitted. Faith gives us the certain joy that from the chalice we receive the very blood that was poured out for us, for the forgiveness of our sins, the blood of the new testament. This is what we mean by certainty of salvation.

And while holding all of this to be true, we also warn against security. Here I'll just let old Johann Gerhard speak for us Lutherans:

"Consider, O devout soul, the difficulty of being saved, and thou wilt easily cast aside all sense of absolute security. Never and nowhere is such security possible; neither in heaven, nor in paradise, much less in this world. An angel fell in the presence of God. Adam fell into sin in that delightful abode in which God placed him.... Judas belonged to the very circle of Christ's disciples, and was under the daily instruction of that greatest of all teachers, and yet he was not safe from the snares of the great seducer..." Hence: "There can be no security in this life, except that afforded by the sure promises of God's Word to those who believe and walk in the way of the Lord."

Not one or the other: both together. Which is why we say that saving faith exists always and only in penitence.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Dear William,

Okay, then we agree we aren't absolutely sure we shall be saved, although in different words. I said, "certainty" and you said, "security."

Is that really all Lutherans are arguing about when they seem so scandalized by the Ortho position?

Believing that to engage in word games would be unprofitable, I am quite willing to amend my vocabulary.

:-)

William Weedon said...

Dear Anastasia,

The language sometimes used by the Orthodox *sounds* in Lutheran ears as though one is being invited to doubt the promises of God as being true for the person to whom they are spoken. And that's why I asked what you meant by "salvation" because that's a lot of the time where the problem comes in. When a Lutheran hears "salvation" he tends not to be looking and thinking toward the restoration at the Appearing of our Lord, but toward the great acts of our Lord which achieved in Him and in union with Him a full and complete salvation for the human race. I am attuned to the way either camp speaks, and yet at times I get tripped up myself and hear something quite the wrong way round. But it is safe to say, I believe, that the vigor behind Lutheran rhetoric against Orthodox lingo is because it is seen as an attack upon the completeness of what our Lord accomplished for the salvation of the world.

Nathan said...

Anastasia,

Greetings!

Continuing from here: http://frgregory.blogspot.com/2008/02/on-using-fathers.html

You said:

Meanwhile, I'd like to point out that it is St. John himself who "mitigates" his statement about knowing we have eternal life. He does this by pointing out that it is he who abides in love who abides in God, and explaining how we know we love God: if we do His commandments. To the extent we do this, our confidence in our eternal future grows.

I John 3:23 says the following: And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.

I note that God's command is for us to believe - namely take Him at His Word. Again, I see the most fundamental aspect of faith as being passive in nature, something we "suffer", so to speak. Hence I said before: the completely unpretentious and unreflective infant freely receives his parent's love and kindness, spontaneously erupting with smiles and shrieks of acceptance, so it must be with us.

From this trust, love grows.

Father Gregory said: Rx: Personal examples would work. I can grasp things like math and science. I cannot grasp even human persons, because they are free. How much less can I grasp God!

I assume he meant they would *not* work... Again, why not? Persons are *never* to be "grasped" as we would a math or science problem. And yet, I can say with 100% conviction and certainty that my relationship with my wife is strong and stable. I am confident and secure of this, and have very good reason for not thinking that I am deceived in the matter. :)

I can *know* this with some certainty indeed.

Also with God, I believe.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Dear Nathan,

Welcome to my blog!

Again, I see the most fundamental aspect of faith as being passive in nature, something we "suffer", so to speak. Hence I said before: the completely unpretentious and unreflective infant freely receives his parent's love and kindness, spontaneously erupting with smiles and shrieks of acceptance, so it must be with us.

Here, I expect, is revealed the difference between us. It has not only to do with what we each think faith is, but also what we think our eternal destiny is.

Certainly I agree with your description of childlike love and trust; I even wrote a post on that recently (February 13, "Now That's Love!").

But St. James describes faith as active in nature. He describes faith's actions as having the same relationship to faith as the soul has to the body. The Epistle to the Hebrews, too, in its great chapter on faith (Chapter 11) ends up being a catalogue of great deeds. A modern analogy might be, works are to faith as the operating system is to your computer. Faith is the Christians' operating system, or modus operandi.

So in Orthodoxy, faith does not merely *result*> in works, it�s something that by nature *includes* its works. (Note: *Its* works, prompted not by the Law, but by the Holy Spirit, done not out of obligation, but love, not the "dead works" of the faithless, but living works God is actually doing in us through our effort.)

And this, for us, is a very necessary point, because of the Orthodox teaching on what our eternal destiny is: participants in God's own Life. Participants, not spectators, as in Catholic teaching, wherein the "Beatific Vision" is the goal. Jesus said, "My Father works, and I work."

My husband just finished a book on psychotherapy in which a Hindu monk, disagreeing with the classical Hindu doctrine that we are all divine by nature, says, "I am not interested in becoming the sugar. I would rather be the one tasting the sugar!" Well, in Orthodoxy, the goal is not merely to taste, but to become, by Grace, that sugar. Not to be ultimate consumers, but givers. Deification, we call it.

So the difference in how we each regard faith may at least partially account for why the Orthodox are more likely to question the extent to which they truly have it. We see faith and works as two sides of the same coin, and other people's insistence upon keeping that coin face up and not wanting to look at the other side seems quite strange to us. In fact, it almost seems like denial of the other half of reality!

I like your analogy of your relationship with your wife. Works for the Orthodox, too, but precisely because it is not *objective* certainty. That is, you cannot prove it in court. Yet you are not worried. Why not? Because both of you daily show evidence of your love by your actions, and the more you do this, the more secure you grow. It�s that way for the Orthodox, as well.

But here's the catch: my deeds do not daily show forth my love of God. Despite that, God knows I love Him, so I can take comfort in that - unless, of course, I am deluded in thinking I love Him, as my deeds would suggest. So, as every Lutheran knows, this quickly becomes a morass! You can drown in it. But the solution, for us, is not to blind ourselves to it, just look the other way, keep our eyes on Jesus. Rather, the solution is, as it would be in an insecure marriage, concentrate on doing those things which show your love, trusting all the while, and you will acquire more love. Love of course can't be measured, but then, it's not as though you needed to stop and take stock now and then, because as you acquire more ability to love, you acquire together with it more and more security concerning the ultimate goal. Which, after all, is to become love as God is Love.

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Nathan, you wrote:

Father Gregory said: Rx: Personal examples would work. I can grasp things like math and science. I cannot grasp even human persons, because they are free. How much less can I grasp God!

I assume he meant they would *not* work... Again, why not? Persons are *never* to be "grasped" as we would a math or science problem.

Rx: No; I meant that they *would* work. They work to illustrate that persons cannot be grasped.

Nathan said...

Father Gregory,


OK – then we believe the same thing here.


Anastasia,


Your blog is a pleasure to read, rich in Christ. I can’t find much I disagree with.


You said:


So in Orthodoxy, faith does not merely *result* in works, it’s something that by nature *includes* its works…. And this, for us, is a very necessary point, because of the Orthodox teaching on what our eternal destiny is: participants in God's own Life. Participants, not spectators, as in Catholic teaching, wherein the "Beatific Vision" is the goal. Jesus said, "My Father works, and I work."


Would you believe that I think Luther would agree? Some of the stuff where he talks about being united to Christ is remarkable.


Again, I think faith, before it “gets busy”, is primarily all about receiving – that is the whole nature of gift. Again, this is why I bring up infants. They are willing to “be nothing but given to”. This is like C.S. Lewis’ concept of “first things” – God’s justifying the wicked (those who have sin inhering in them in some sense), constantly giving them faith, regeneration, etc. through the forgiving Word of God their neighbor gives to them (“good works are necessary for our neighbor’s salvation” indeed!). Then, regarding “active” works, we see the first fruits of that in the “spontaneously erupting with smiles and shrieks of acceptance”. If you believe in your heart and confess with your lips…


So in this sense, when you say “faith does not merely *result* in works, it’s something that by nature *includes* its works” I agree wholeheartedly. “Faith and good works belong so indivisibly close together that faith itself even is a good work” a pastor friend of mine once said.


“So the difference in how we each regard faith may at least partially account for why the Orthodox are more likely to question the extent to which they truly have it. We see faith and works as two sides of the same coin, and other people's insistence upon keeping that coin face up and not wanting to look at the other side seems quite strange to us. In fact, it almost seems like denial of the other half of reality!”

I understand this. When I look inside I only see sin. Due to the infection that rages within me, there is a sense in which I, like Satan, am a masterful destroyer of relationships. When I stand naked in the midst of a holy God I know that I am undone. I have denied him before men, and in the name of "justice" refused to turn my cheek, refused to forgive from the heart 70 x 7, ignored the unfortunate and outcasts who sense their need for Him more than most, and hated my enemies for whom Christ bled. I have refused to recognize marriage – my own marriage – as a crucial sacramental sign of God's presence in the world. My actions have served as an acid that dissolve the Gospel proclamation that brings forgiveness, life, and salvation. How little I must know my God! In short, because of my lack of trust, confidence, and reliance on God – and hence, love – I have caused my neighbor to perish. They have not seen the love of God in me.

But woe to me –when Christ comes in glory He will root out everyone who does evil, as St. Matthew reports. When I am honest about my evil, this statement can not bring comfort. Certainly, for the sake of the little ones that we daily cause to stumble, millstones are in order for it all.

But, then there is the word that I hear from my pastor, my neighbor, of Christ saying that all my sins are forgiven, and that my relationship with Him is restored. Do I dare doubt this Word that has been planted in my heart? Yes, I have sinned greatly, but is it not especially sin to doubt the Word of my God when it comes to this matter?

Again, as I told Father Gregory, “My point is that part of the love of the Father is that He, through His Word, creates the situation where we can be at confidence and peace. He tells us, though His apostles, that we “have peace with God” and that we can “know we have eternal life”. Our sin would tell us otherwise, but His Word makes a new situation, where doubt is slain, and our eyes are lifted to Christ. And we know this is appropriate. As parents, we try to do the same with our children – we try to create a situation where they can be confident of their love and forgiveness for them, even as we make it clear that their sin will not be tolerated. How much greater is God’s trust/life-creating Word than is ours?”

I simply don’t see how I can deny this word that makes all things new, even in spite of all my other sin. By denying or questioning it, what do I gain? Am I somehow being more pious, more righteous, more holy, more acceptable before God?

I would grow deeply frustrated with my own children – perhaps even angry – if they resisted my efforts to give them security, comfort and peace with me in spite of their constant sinfulness.

A: Works for the Orthodox, too, but precisely because it is not *objective* certainty.

Right, but I am more confident of the reality of this love between us as it exists in the present than I am of the fact of many scientific theories (which are also pretty reliable, though always “imperfect mental maps”). I am not even sure what you mean about “objective” certainty (mathematical, perhaps?). In any case, things that are “proved” in court are certainly not “objective certainty”! They are simply “beyond a reasonable doubt” (not “shadow of a doubt” - certainty) – this is the human reality that we live in.

A: Despite that, God knows I love Him, so I can take comfort in that - unless, of course, I am deluded in thinking I love Him, as my deeds would suggest.

Yes…I feel this way often. Which is why I have to tell myself that even now, he would die for me his enemy, whispering forgiveness from the cross – and I cling to that.

But the solution, for us, is not to blind ourselves to it, just look the other way, keep our eyes on Jesus. Rather, the solution is, as it would be in an insecure marriage, concentrate on doing those things which show your love, trusting all the while, and you will acquire more love. Love of course can't be measured, but then, it's not as though you needed to stop and take stock now and then, because as you acquire more ability to love, you acquire together with it more and more security concerning the ultimate goal. Which, after all, is to become love as God is Love.

I agree that we need to be concerned to show repentance. Turning from sin to Christ means embracing not only forgiveness but the life that is given in that forgiveness, which is the only life there is – the "cruciform life" that is "being given over unto death" for the life of the fallen world. This form of life is one of steady cross-bearing, of being where Jesus is, of prayer, fasting, and [alms]giving.

So, yes. But “no” too, I am afraid. For I believe that God justifies the wicked with the trust/life-creating Word.

Anastasia, I will try to check back here again later, but won’t comment for a while. Thank you very much. God bless you.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Nathan,

I see not a single word in your comment with which to disagree. Even yor yes, but no, perfectly summarizes the Orthodox position. Yes, we trust HIM. But no, we do not trust ourselves or our own faith.

But since faith is necessary, that is the ONLY reason we decline to be so positive we shall end up at our ultimate goal.

orrologion said...

I would add that we are not confident because we see how sinful we are. As Anastasia once said, Good works don't earn salvation, they are salvation. We are saved to be active and holy in all we do. Salvation isn't salvation from punishment, which then brings us back to the paradisal state. In Orthodoxy, Adam and Eve were understood to be children, born at dawn and fallen by noon; they were wee and immature. We are already 'higher' than they because our common humanity-wide nature is united with the Godhead eternally and interpentrated by the divine energies hypostatically in the person of the Logos, Jesus Christ. And, yet, we are also still fallen and immature, but with far greater support than they had (which is good, we need it). So, since we are united to God, and once we are forgiven and united to Christ's Body, we are then able to start on the work toward our final and full salvation. Everything along the way and in the past is referred to as salvation, too, but only because of its telos, its end on the Last Day.