or, The God of Order, Revisited
Order is Heaven's first law. As the law of the physical universe is mathematical, the law of the spiritual universe is logical. That which has no place in system, is not of God, is not truth. All his works reflect his unity and self-consistency. -- C. P. Krauth, Conservative Reformation p. 176
I found this quote on Pastor Weedon’s blog and I wrote in his comment box that I thought I’d put a brief remark or two about it here. This is going to be brief because I’ve already written three posts about the God of Order, here, here, and here.
What started me writing about it, being blown away by all its implications, was an excellent podcast (I mean an even more superb one than usual!) by Matthew Gallatin, which I hope you will take a few minutes (14) to listen to. Matthew puts deep things into words all of us can easily understand, so do not let the subject matter intimidate you.
This statement by Krauth represents the fundamental difference between Western and Eastern Christianity. It is from here that West diverges from East, and from this all the other differences in theology stem. At least, that's what Matthew Gallatin thinks and I agree, finding he has made an excellent case for his point.
There is no question, of course, that God is a God of order. (That's why true doctrine does not, ever, contradict itself.) The question is whether “order is Heaven’s first law.” Whether it is THE thing in which God’s perfection is first and foremost manifest, whether it is the primary thing about God.
This idea comes from Plato, ironically enough, through the Platonizing influence of St. Augustine of Hippo. (Ironically in view of how often Western commentators imagine Orthodox Christianity has uncritically gobbled up pagan Greek philosophy.)
God as Eastern Christians know Him, revealed not by Plato but Jesus Christ, is above all else the God of Love, the God of self-emptying, self-forgetting, other-directed, pure and perfect Love, and this Love is Heaven’s first law. Love, not mathematics, is the first law of the physical universe, and Love, not logic, is the first law of the spiritual universe. It's in His infinite, unconditional Love that God's perfection is manifested. (Matthew 5, last several verses).
That’s a profound difference. It has implications for every facet of theology. Take, for example, creation. The God of Love created humankind as an expression of His Love, created us to make us godlike and blessed forevermore. The God of Order created humankind because without us, His perfect Order would be incomplete, imperfect.
Or take the doctrine of sin. For the Eastern Christian, sin is most fundamentally a betrayal of Love. For the Westerner, it is most basically a disruption of God’s Perfect Moral Order.
Or take God’s response to sin. The God of Love, immediately upon the fall of Adam and Eve, devotes Himself to healing us and restoring us to intimate, free, loving communion with Himself and each other. The God of Order has to be concerned first of all with mending the breach sin has created in that Order. His perfection is at stake and He must defend it as his first order of business.
And restoring good order involves punishment, and not just punishment for chastisement, as in Orthodoxy, but punishment for the sake of the good order. How is punishment supposed to restore order? I do not know! I've spent years trying to decipher that. But I think it’s because the pain and suffering of punishment are thought to “balance out” the guilty pleasure one had taken in sinning. The one is supposed to make up ("pay for") the other. In Eastern understanding, there is no way for anybody (including Jesus Christ) to make up to God for past sin. There’s just nothing that could undo it except forgiveness.
Or take eschatology (the doctrines concerning the last things: the end of the world, judgment, heaven and hell). The ultimate destiny the God of Love has ordained for us is perfect, free, loving, intimate oneness with Him, participation together in His very Life. The goal for us of the God of Order is that we should attain to a state of moral perfection.
So every doctrine, from the beginning to the end, is different depending upon whether we choose the God of Plato or the God of Jesus Christ. But do listen to Gallatin's podcast, as he puts things far better than I can, and more simply and more clearly and with many biblical references in the bargain. He explains all this in detail.
“God is love.”
4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never fails. (from I Corinthians 13, emphases mine)
From Matthew 232 (See also Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28):
34 But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 36 "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?"
37 Jesus said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' [fn4] 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."
P.S.) Orthodoxy, in common with today's scientists (!), doesn't really believe in "Laws of Nature", either, but I'll save that for another post in a day or two.