Monday, December 6, 2010

For He is Good and Loves Mankind

This is the title of a new blog. It is to be David Garner’s account of his conversion to Holy Orthodoxy.

But it’s a phrase I’ve been pondering for several days now, ever since Fr. Stephen so beautifully wrote about it here.  He writes about how hard it is for us fully to believe and accept, in our heart of hearts, that God is good and only good. We struggle, as Fr. Stephen says, to believe deep down that God is good, that His will for us is good, and that His goodness is infinite. Infinite! That means it has no borders; it doesn’t end where my sin begins. It doesn’t come in moderation or in measure, or tempered, or diluted, or spoiled or balanced by something else. It is unconditional. It is freely given. Nothing can keep God from being good to you, and only good, no matter what.

Most of us who were raised in other religions have this feeling lurking somewhere inside that God’ll getcha if ya don’t watch out. God is good, yes, we tell ourselves, but I am not. I am a sinner; I am not “right with God” and if there is such a thing as Justice, then I have some come-uppance due eventually. Even when we become Orthodox Christians and know better in our heads, the inculcated (but highly distorted) image of the Wrathful God still haunts our imagination. The ugly feeling lasts a lot longer than the ugly belief.

We were raised being told, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Yes, it’s true that an encounter with God, Who is Truth, shows me myself as I really am, and unless I am already extraordinarily humble, this can be a devastating thing. But this is a salutary revelation, a needful, medicinal step; and at the very same instant, together with the fearful knowledge of myself, God shows me Hope and Love and tender forgiveness and the offer of newness. Meet God and you discover He isn’t angry and never was; isn’t even displeased or disapproving; and He never was.

What? I did all these terrible things, I became this unbearable person, and God wasn’t even frowning at me? He indeed disapproved of what you did, and was even working at cross-purposes to your intention, but that was for your own sake, and the sake of His other precious children, not because He personally took offense. He’s much bigger than that, infinitely bigger than that. His purpose, His intention, His will, was always and ever only to save us all from ourselves. The surprising truth turns out to be that the only person out to get you was, well, you! – projecting it onto God all the while.

God has not a single shred of ill will toward you; to the contrary, the message of the Christmas angels is, “Peace on earth, good will toward men!” He was only awaiting, with love and goodness, with kindness and compassion and infinite tenderness, your eventual return. You are not to worry about anything in the past, but only look to the here and now; all you have to do is say, “Yes” and “Thank You!” and you find yourself in the embrace of the Holy Trinity, Who is sharing the Divine Life Itself with you, making you whole.

Is God out to get you? Well, yes, and He will, but this is the very best news there ever could be! This is the miracle of miracles; this is the overflowing fulfillment of every hope, the culmination of everything good and true and beautiful and worthwhile.

7 comments:

GretchenJoanna said...

Yes, and therefore, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!
Thank you for a lovely Advent message, Anastasia.

David Garner said...

To be in such company!

Honestly, as I told you over on my own blog, I chose that phrase as the title because it struck us deeply when we attended the Divine Liturgy. At the end of the liturgy, after witnessing such beauty, to hear "may Christ our true God have mercy upon us and save us, through the intercessions of His most pure and holy Mother, of the prophet and forerunner John the Baptist, of St. John Chrysostom whose divine liturgy we celebrate this day, and of all the saints, for He is good and loves mankind." What a glorious proclamation of Who God is.

Reading your words and Father Stephen's today deepens that appreciation. Thank you for this post, and for the plug.

melxiopp said...

The thing that strikes me about the perception you discuss is that Lutheranism (and Protestantism) tries really hard to do away with this angry God view, the God who must be placated, through sola gratia and sola fide. Unfortunately, their solution is still within the paradigm of a God who must be placated, who would be angry with us if he didn't pay our debt for us, etc. That is, it maintains the assumption that God is angry, is not infinitely good and loving, etc.

Emily H. said...

Balm for the soul! Thank you Anastasia!

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

melxiopp,

Yes, Martin Luther stewed over how to find "a gracious God," when the one and only God was gracious all the while, always and everywhere, in every cirumstance.

And yes, what you say is true, as far as I can tell, of all the faiths of the Reformation as well as the Roman Catholic. Orthodoxy is the only one that preaches a God who is thoroughly, infinitely, unconditionally and consistently good toward us. As Jesus said, He is even "kind to the unthankful and to the evil." (Luke 6:35)

David Garner said...

One of the most striking things to me as a Lutheran was to look back and realize that while we were so on guard against merits, merits were assumed in the discussion the whole time.

In the end, we had begged the very question we were trying to avoid. We exchanged our merits for Christ's, but merits were there nonetheless.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Yup, and the assumption that merits are necessary (inherited from Catholicism) shows a lack of belief that God's love is unconditional and infinite.

And - what strikes me - if you say Christ did not die to rack up merits on your behalf, then people think you are taking away the reason for the Crucifixion or denying the Atonement or something. They literally can't imagine why else Jesus would die.