Monday, February 2, 2009

On Yesterday's Epistle

It’s just hard, for someone raised in the West, especially, to understand very clearly, once for all, that God has no dark side. No dark side. None. “God is love, and he who lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” God isn’t love on the one hand but something else on the other. He is not love but also justice; rather, His justice IS His mighty love in action. He is not love but also holiness, for his love precisely is His holiness. It’s His love, not His fastidiousness, that makes Him all good; it is the God Who is love, before Whom we bow and make solemn processions and stand in awe and cry, “Holy, holy, holy!”. God is love through and through, pure, unadulterated love, period.

Many of us converts to Orthodoxy know this in our heads, yet the image of the angry god persists, to some degree, in our imagination and in our feelings, and yes, it has a deleterious effect upon our ability to relate to Him the way we should. Perhaps it is the image of our own parents that lingers in us, who loved us but still threatened us; perhaps it’s just the feelings inculcated into us when we were young, that take years to dissipate (and only when not stimulated).

To be sure, there are in sacred Scriptures many images of God as vengeance and wrath. These the Church has always taken iconically. They are word pictures, verbal icons, of what will happen to us if we hate God. But icons represent spiritual reality. They show divinized souls rather than camera-accurate bodies. They use inverse perspective to show what our eyes cannot see (three sides of a building, for example). They conflate historical events to make a theological point.

The Scriptural passages about God’s vengeance and wrath are like that. They are spot-on portraits of our souls’ condition if we estrange ourselves from all that is true, lovely, bright, pure, loving, meaningful – all, in short, that makes living worthwhile; for that is what we reject if we reject God. If you do not want God, then physical darkness is an icon of the true darkness you will have chosen. Fire and brimstone (sulphur), prison, earthquakes, pestilence, famine, slaughter, the worm that dies not, these are material icons of the (much worse!) ultimate destruction you yourself gradually wreaked upon your personality, your character, your soul, if you despised Him Who is Love, Life, Truth, Beauty. (I'm not saying some of these didn't happen historically; I am speaking of how the Church interprets and applies them.)

Ours is not a god who is out to get you if you don’t watch out! That's demons you're thinking of. The truth is the opposite; He gives Himself totally to you; and when you come to judgment, the criteria used will not be whether you did this or failed to do that. No, the only real issue will be whether, deep down, you truly want God or not. Nobody who genuinely wants God will be turned away. If you will have Him, He will have you. (And I do not mean anybody will be saved apart from Christ or apart from His Church; but that’s another issue for some other post.)

God really is all that is most dear, most delightful, most beautiful. And He is all these eternally, and nothing contrary to these.

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written:

"For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter."

37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death
nor life,
nor angels
nor principalities
nor powers,
nor things present
nor things to come,
39 nor height
nor depth,
nor any other created thing,
shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Romans 8:35-39)