Thursday, October 9, 2008

Why We Believe

The Bible is not the reason Orthodox Christians believe in God. It's the other way around: those things are in the Bible because we have believed them.

But we believed them before they were written there. Noah built his ark, believing God, without consulting any Scriptures. Abraham followed God out into the unknown before there was any Bible for guidance. Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt before there was any written Word. Elizabeth, the mother of St. John the Forerunner, recognized the Lord in His mother's womb without having derived the idea from an interpretation of Scripture. And so did her as-yet unborn babe. So did Symeon, and Anna. It wasn't the Bible prompted St. Joseph to flee with his family to Egypt, or St. Paul to sail to Macedonia. None of these famous deeds of great saints was derived from Scripture or was normed by it, either.

Yes, yes, I can imagine someone saying, but that was back then, whereas we, today...

We, today, what? No longer have the intimate, personal presence of God among us to lead us? God has withdrawn that and left us with a Book to go by? Or He has withdrawn Himself into a Book?

That is just not the case. The Bible itself bears witness to its not being the case. God doesn't do that. (Why would He?) In fact, the reverse is true: Christians now have greater access to God (if we would but take advantage of it) than anyone ever had before the coming of Christ. Because we have living communion in Christ Himself, in Whom we live and move and have our being. Because, as the Bible bears witness, He has not left us orphans. Because He has sent us the Spirit of Truth to teach us all things, the same Spirit who taught Noah and Abraham and Moses, Elizabeth, Symeon, and Anna, Joseph and Paul and Cornelius and all the rest of us, and still teaches us today, in Person, directly. Sometimes He teaches us the Scriptures and sometimes He teaches us other things, such as what to do next or to recognize a person who intends, figuratively, to stab us or how best to help in a tricky situation. His guidance is not confined to any text.

We were probably first atrracted to Christ, first induced to throw our lot in with Him, by some small but overwhelming insight into His infinite, mighty, tender Love and our own wretchedness, so in need of healing; as St. Paul said, "God demonstrates His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."

But now the reason we believe, or rather know, is that we have met the Crucified One as living; in fact, as our own true Life. We been baptized into a whole new existence, a new dimension; as Fr. Stephen says, "into the everywhere and always." We have been raised up together, and made to sit together in heavenly [places] in Christ Jesus." (Ephesians 2:6) We "have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel." (Hebrews 12:22-24)

That is why we believe. Because we cannot NOT believe, once we have met Him and once He has bestowed His own Life upon us and we are living it, once the Incarnate Word has sealed us with His own Spirit, His Life. This is how we know Jesus loves us, because He ever lives for us, and we in Him.


William Weedon said...

Certainly, the encounter with Christ as the living one is not something confined to Sacred Scripture, but it is something that Sacred Scripture mediates. Think of how Metropolitan Anthony could describe meeting the crucified yet living Christ through reading the Gospel of Mark and suddenly KNOWING that he was encountering a living Person. For Lutheran Christians, the encounter with the living Christ happens beyond the Scriptures also - for He is the One who baptizes us and into whose life we are baptized; the One who speaks to us the words of the Holy Absolution; the One who speaks to us in the Homily; the One who feeds us with His own body and blood to nurture the life He planted within us in Baptism. But that One is also the One whom we meet in the Sacred Scriptures - and thus we cry to Him when we hear His voice: Glory to You, O Lord! and Praise to You, O Christ! In and through these He reveals Himself to us as the One whose love we encounter at every turn of our lives.

Anonymous said...

God has withdrawn that and left us with a Book to go by? Or He has withdrawn Himself into a Book?

Good question to ask a Muslim. :-)

(You people of the Book!). ;-)

Anastasia Theodoridis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anastasia Theodoridis said...

What? A mediator between God and man besides Christ Himself? Doesn't that sort of go against one of the major battle cries of the Reformation?

No doubt - and I've already said it - we can meet Christ in the Holy Scriptures. And we do meet Him in the sacraments. But to hear from a Lutheran of any of these as "mediators" does seem strange.

The Orthodox say we are baptized into Christ. That means He is as available to us as our own life -- indeed, poorly as we may live it, His Life is our own life now. That makes His presence im-mediate to us, unmediated. Sacraments are one (important, unique, precious) form His Presence takes. But we encounter Him, as you say, "at every turn of our lives," in every breath we take. (Fr. Slexander Schmemann it was who said every breath can be sacramental.) And there, too, at every turn, His presence is revelatory. Just as it was - I was going to say - for Noah and Abraham and Moses and all the rest I named in my post - but that wouldn't be true, because for all those people, before Pentecost and before Christian Baptism/Chrismation, the Holy Spirit only came to them from outside of themselves.

Claire said...

What a terrific post; thank you!