Monday, January 26, 2009

Why God Created Us

On Saturday, my husband was having a theological conversaion with a friend who is Roman Catholic. The man mentioned (alluding to Paragraph 1721 of The Catechism of the Catholic Church) that "God put us in the world to know, to love, and to serve him, and so to come to paradise."

Demetrios burst out laughing.

No, dear friends, that is not why God created us. It's a sweet doctrine if you claim to be God's vicar on earth, of course, because then knowing, loving and serving God implies knowing, loving, and serving you! But the true God has no need nor want of our knowledge or love or service. He Who is our Revelation of the Father told us, "The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve."

God has so much glory already that all the glory the human race could ever bring Him throughout all of its history would be infinitely less than a miocroscopic drop of water in all the oceans of the world. His glory is His goodness, and it is already infinite. He already has the plenitude of everything, "nor wanting nor wasting," in the words of the Protestant hymn. He lacks nothing.

God created us for our sakes, not His! He created us that we, too, might be good and glorious as He is good and glorious, that we might be blessed by sharing in His own blessedness, that we might be gods participating in all He does.

The true God is not, not, not self-serving.

The notion that He is appears to me to be the root of all sorts of further heterodox errors. Not the least of them is this: that the deities people worship embody their followers' highest notions of morality. This means we can't be more moral than our concept of God. If our god is self-serving, we are doomed to be likewise.


Byzantine, TX said...

I don't know why he laughed. A more careful reading see that this is taken largely from the Gospel (second Peter and John). I don't see where it says it was done for the 'sake' of one or the other. I see that it says "God put us in the world to know, to love, and to serve him, and so to come to paradise." which to me is true... is it not of primary importance to theosis that we know God, love him, and "serve" him by living out the Gospel and working towards the Good? What then is theosis if it is not a path towards paradise?

This seemed to be a post designed to mock the catechism, mock the pope, and mock a Catholic.

I know it's in vogue for Orthodox to write blog posts railing against Catholic teaching, but I don't know if it denotes more of an inability for Orthodox bloggers to articulate enough of their own opinions without bouncing everything off of the "heterodox" or if it simply the popular thing to do. There is a wealth of Orthodox teaching to be found and expounded upon without "bursting" out into laughter at people.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

He burst out laughing because it was an idea he had never encountered before or ever dreamt of. He was not mocking his good friend, nor did his friend take it that way. Their discussion continued another couple of hours.

But the friend did have a very difficult time trying to adjust his thinking to a God who does nothing at all for His own sake or for the sake of His glory.

That's the point. God doesn't do anything self-serving. Knowing, loving, and serving God are all good, but it's not as though they were the purpose of our existence and if we fulfill it adequately, God rewards us with blessedness. That blessedness itself is the purpose of our existence, and the rest is but means and method. Not the goal, not the purpose.

The Catechism itself is ambiguous on this point, as on so many. The friend was not. And yes, he is a well informed, highly educated, very intelligent, devout Catholic. So I suspect he is far from alone in supposing God created us for His own sake.

But actually, I wrote the post more with Protestants in mind than Catholics. I apologize for the offense.

William Weedon said...

What would Demetrios make of Jacobs description:

Man was created in order that God might assume man's nature, cover all the faults and defects of that nature, pay the penalty for all the sins and bear all the sorrows of that nature, that man's nature, thus redeemed, might rise from its humiliation and mortality, to share eternally the blessedness and glory of God's own nature. Elements, p. 65

[No need to comment on the "pay the penalty" part - I already know what you think of that; I meant the rest.]

Svetlana said...

I have to agree with Josephus here, that it appears to be the willful desire of the blogger to assume there is a need because there is a reality.

The reality is that the same Catechism refers to the oikonomia of the Trinity as to the why of our existence. The notion that God is Love and that Love is fruitful are some of the hints at the gift of creation and life that we enjoy. That the Catechism properly addresses a how or for what were we created does not mean or even suggest that there is a lack in God that we fill up with all our goodness and praise (because frankly, we suck at it). We certainly were not created for the Fall or for driving Hondas. Also note that while I didn't have children for the express purpose of their loving and praising me, I raise them to be loving and to be grateful none the less.

Frankly, it could have been that your friend's expression of the topic was imperfect. It could be that there was prejudice (on both sides) that ran under the conversation, it could be any number of things, but there seems to be a real desire for passionate people to be right at the cost of someone else being wrong.

Couldn't there be some validity to the notion that the East and West started at one point and developed different expressions of much of the same traditions? For instance, there is clearly a relationship between the Immaculate Conception and the Conception of Anna, but the emphasis in each tradition make them look like strangers. . . and one can rail against it as an innovation or what have you or you can recognize that both traditions call Mary blameless and one goes further to define than the other because of the need to more clearly state that which has been state in many different (but supportive) ways already.

Regardless of what argument you make, making a lot of hay over it really only points to the next thing which is: the reason that there are some who claim that Constantine established a Catholic Church and crushed the authentic Jesus movement stems from a similar refusal to acknowledge how doctrine developed. That something could exist in the Tradition without being rigorously defined until an Arius or a Priscilla or a Julius Cassianus or a Luther came along and created a need for a more firm doctrinal statement does not make it an innovation or invention.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Man was created in order that God might assume man's nature, cover all the faults and defects of that nature, pay the penalty for all the sins and bear all the sorrows of that nature, that man's nature, thus redeemed, might rise from its humiliation and mortality, to share eternally the blessedness and glory of God's own nature. Elements, p. 65

William, I don't know what Demetrios would say to this, but I can tell you what I think. I appreciate its attempt to avoid painting God as self-serving, but it's badly worded at the least.

* It sounds as if God had created us defective. I'm sure the author doesn't really believe this. (Does he?)

* If by "God's own nature" he means God's Essence, the notion that we could ever come to share it is a no-no. We don't know what that Essence is, but whatever it is, it is eternal, which means you either always had it or you never shall. Divinity doesn't come into being.

* In Orthodox understanding, the barrier between God and man is a triple one, so it's more than just our nature. It's death (our mortality is incompatible with God's immortality) and sin and nature. All three. Christ overcame them in reverse order: the difference in nature He overcame at His incarnation, sin He slew by His crucifixion, and death, by His resurrection.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Hi, Mrs. Darcy,

I daresay our friend misunderstood the Catechism. That book is too vague in too many places to be able to know for sure.

But my point was that very many believers, not only Catholics, but also Protestants and yes, some of the Orthodox, make the same mistake. They suppose God created us for His own glory, without stopping to consider how entirely self-serving such an act would be, how entirely incompatible with the true God. My motive was simply that a reader should pause to consider that implication of this very common belief. (In fact, my impression is that most Western believers make this error.)

WRT "development of doctrine," the question is how to discern legitimate development from a wandering away from the Truth. So you're right that the Orthodox are suspicious of it.

But the main reason the Orthodox reject the idea of the Immaculate Conception of Mary is something else. It has to do with the ancient dictum, "What is not assumed [by Christ] is not saved." Christ, to save our fallen human nature, had to assume our fallen human nature. And He acquired it from His mother, and sanctified it at His own conception.

If God could exempt a person from sin at his or her conception, one has to wonder why He hasn't just done that for all of us and be done with the whole problem. It could have been easier than dying on a cross.

Svetlana said...

Without being totally boring, I did not suggest that your friend misunderstood the Catechism, but merely expressed something imperfectly due to the difference in the use of terms and definitions, of course I can't speak to this: I wasn't there and i don't know him. That said, as a faithful Byzantine Catholic, I can say that I have never heard it talk about or expressed in either the Latin or Byzantine Churches that God created us for his own glory. And I do not read that from the Catechism (so I was astonished to read it here). Persisting in the assumption that this is a teaching of the Church is silly as it is not.

As to the Immaculate Conception . . . there is simply no point in getting into a blow by blow argument about it, if the Eastern Catholics and the Latin Catholics can reconcile it (and they absolutely do not express identical theology in the regards to this issue) that is enough to suggest that wiser and smarter men have wrestled with this issue and recognized that more unites us than divides us.

The reality is that God's miracles are well grounded in his creation and are not "bread from stones" fabrications. As Christian sisters, I hope you will pray for me and unity in the Church, it is a sin that we are against one another when there is so much we share. (I wasn't offended by your reply, by the way, just saying, we, Christians, already have the world against us . . . we shouldn't make their job easier).

God bless.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

I don't know if what I've written about is what Catholicism teaches or not. The Catechism can be read in more than one way.

All I know is, lots and lots and lots of people believe the error I discussed.

The Orthodox think more divides us than unites us, chiefly the filioque, which goes to the heart of who God is, and the pope, which goes to the heart of what the Church is. But yes, we need to pray for one another and for unity, so I gladly and gratefully accept your invitation to do it.