Monday, January 31, 2011

Kindergarten History

Here's a cute e-mail I received today from my daughter.

Sydney came home from school today with a pamphlet/worksheet with MLK Jr. on the cover. I asked her who that was and she said, "Martin Luthen". I then asked her what she knew about him and she said, "He wanted everyone to be treated equal and he wanted everyone to have a different color of skin."

Egypt

The trouble with rebellion or revolution is, you never know the outcome, and whether you'll be any better off, or whether it will even backfire and you'll be worse off.

I'm old enough to remember how the Chinese put down their rebellion, mowing down students in the Square, and afterwards imprisoning many people.

I'm old enough to remember marching on the day of the "Vietnam Moratorium", only to realize, before the end of the day, that it had not been a spontaneous demonstration, but was being led, and had been organized by, local Marxists. (So I went straight home.)

I'm even old enough to remember how delighted Americans were when that dashing, charming young Fidel liberated Cuba from the nasty old dictator, Battista. Yeah, right. That was before any of us knew he was a Communist.

So I can foresee several undesirable outcomes, from the point of view of the Egyptian people. What if it turns out Islamists are really behind this current uprising, and they take over afterwards? Or what if the government ends the rebellion with large-scale slaughter? Or what if the current American puppet simply is replaced by another American puppet like Mohammed el Baradei, so nothing changes but the face and the name?

There are, of course, even worse possibilities if you look at it strictly from the point of view of American interests - namely, that a genuine Egyptian patriot will take office, a good guy not an Islamist, but who is not an American puppet. What will be his policy toward Israel? Oil? And if one American puppet falls, will there be a domino effect, causing others to fall within a few short years, as the Soviet Union's puppets did?

Genesis as Icon, Part III: An Icon of What Went Wrong (And Still Does)

Preface

Are we supposed to accept the Adam and Eve in Eden story literally?

This is an open question in Orthodox Christianity. The Church has taken no position. Many of the Orthodox have taken the account literally and many have not.
In the end, the question is somewhat like wondering whether Shakespeare really wrote all those plays, or whether somebody else by the same name did. If the first man was not “Adam”, he was still Adam, because that is simply the Hebrew word for "man". In Genesis 5:2, God calls both the man and the woman, “Adam.” If the woman was not in historical fact called Eve, she was Eve anyway, because "Eve" means "mother of all the living." These are (or at least can be) generic names.

If our first parents did not literally eat any forbidden fruit, they still sinned. And their sin still consisted of what all sin consists of, trashing their relationship with God. And the earliest humans still acquired the knowledge of evil illicitly, namely by committing it. (Until they had done that, there was no need for them to know anything about evil.) Their sin still transformed the world in a tragic way. And they lost their chance for immortality.

And so on and so forth. Nowhere can you find as true or as profound an account of our beginnings as in Genesis – and this holds, whether or not it is literal history! Put another way, if it isn’t the literal history, for practical purposes it may as well be.

An iconic interpretation of Scripture, so typically Orthodox, does not necessarily deny the literal historicity of events, but does not require it, either. So yes, you may accept the Adam and Eve narrative as historical. Or yes, you may accept it as non-historical, but still a God-inspired interpretation of human history, conveying the truth about who man is and what his relationship with God is. Either way, it's an icon (really a series of icons) for us of spiritual realities.

What Happened in Eden

And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, [it was] very good. (Genesis 1:31)

The creation today is not as it was when God first made it and found it “very good”, and neither are human beings. Something grievous has happened in the meanwhile. Here is the biblical icon of it, found in Genesis 3:
Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, "Has God indeed said, 'You shall not eat of every tree of the garden'?"

And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, 'You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.'"

Then the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, "Where are you?"

So he said, "I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself."

And He said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?"

Then the man said, "The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate."

And the Lord God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?"

The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate."

So the Lord God said to the serpent: "Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel."

To the woman He said: "I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in pain you shall bring forth children; your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you."

Then to Adam He said, "Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat of it': Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return."

And Adam called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.

Also for Adam and his wife the Lord God made garments of skin, and clothed them.

Then the Lord God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever"-- therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.

***An aside: "Then the Lord God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us..." One of US. ***

Why the Serpent? Why the Forbidden Tree?

Perhaps the first point to note here is that God placed Adam in a garden of delights, providing everything he needed; and to make his first lesson in obedience as easy as possible, God gave him only a single commandment, not at all difficult to keep: "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." (Genesis 2:16-17)

These words, our Fathers teach us, were a friendly warning, an explanation of why the tree was off limits, and were not a threat.

[God] did not say to Adam: “return to whence you were taken”; but He said to him: “Earth you are and unto the earth you shall return.... “He did not say:” in the day you shall eat of it, die!” but, ”in the day you shall eat of it, you shall surely die.” Nor did He afterwards say:” return now unto the earth”, but He said, "you shall return," in this manner forewarning, justly permitting and not obstructing what shall come to pass. We see that death did not come at the behest of God but as a consequence of Adam’s severing his relations with the source of Life, by his disobedience; and God in His kindness did only warn him of it. (St. Gregory Palamas, Physical, Theological, Moral, and Practical Chapters 150 (PG 1157- 1160)
The tree was there, then, and God allowed the serpent to be there, to give our first parents the opportunity to refuse his enticements, and thereby to begin the process of maturation. That is still why God permits the serpent to tempt us today, that by strug¬gling against him we may learn how to live as spiritual instead of natural men, that we may grow toward God, that each test through which we pass may purify us, and each struggle strengthen us, more and more.

The Fathers tell us that had Adam and Eve remained obedient, then in due course they would have been allowed to eat both of the Tree of Life (which Christians understand as a figure of Christ; see Revelation 2:77; 22:2, 14) and of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – when they were mature enough to be able to receive this knowledge without harm to themselves. Learning about evil by doing it, however, is the disaster.

And the tree of knowledge itself was good, and its fruit was good. For it was not the tree, as some think, but the disobedience which had death in it. For there was nothing else in the fruit but knowledge; knowledge, however, is good when one uses it discreetly. (St. Theophilus, op. cit., 2, 25)
Trouble in Paradise

Let us look closely at what Adam and Eve did, which ruined their relationship with God, with themselves, with their whole world.

  • First, Eve distrusted God, choosing to believe the serpent’s charge that God was a jealous, lying tyrant.
  • Worse, she next gave the fruit to Adam and induced him to disobey as well.
  • Neither of them honored their Creator even enough to observe a single, easy prohibition.
  • In eating the fruit, they were trying to usurp God’s place. God had made them to share in all His Life and in all His Glory, but this they tried to seize by themselves, as over and against Him, as rival gods.
  • Next, they hid from Him, hid from the Lover of Mankind, from their Benefactor and Friend, Who used to walk and talk with them in the cool of the evening. Could anything more graphically demonstrate their complete estrangement from Him?
  • Next, they failed to repent. They could have fallen on their faces and renounced their foolishness and turned toward God again; but they did not. They stuck stubbornly to their wickedness and folly.
  • Far from repenting, they tried to shift the blame. Adam, instead of acknowledging his responsibility, blamed Eve. Eve, instead of owning up to her guilt, blamed the serpent. Neither of them acknowledged his or her culpability.
  • Worst of all, Adam even attempted to blame God! "The woman whom You gave to be with me,” he said, “she gave me of the tree, and I ate." It was God’s fault, he meant, for having given him the woman. He who ought to have shown lifelong gratitude for the companion God had so graciously provided him now implied that God ought not to have made her. (This was not the wisest comment to make about ones wife in her hearing.)
So we see that it was not one sin our first parents committed, but a whole series of sins, each compounding the ones before until, by the end, their repudiation of God (and of each other!) could not have been more complete.

In the next post, we shall begin a consideration of the catastrophic consequences of sin, and it appears this discussion will require perhaps two more posts after that.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Hidden Gem

[Love] Does not behave itself rudely, seeks not her own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil… (I Corinthians 13:5)

I’ve often quoted the second phrase here, “seeks not her own,” to people who think God needs to avenge or restore His honor, supposedly sullied by sinners, or to inflict “just retribution” upon them. But it’s that last phrase I have only this moment discovered. That’s because whoever translated it in the King James and other versions mistranslated it to suit his own theology of retribution. What it really says is not “thinks no evil” but “does not make an account of evil.” The verb is logisomai, and here are all its meanings, according to Strong’s Concordance.


1) to reckon, count, compute, calculate, count over
a) to take into account, to make an account of
1) metaph. to pass to one's account, to impute
2) a thing is reckoned as or to be something, i.e. as availing for or equivalent to something, as having the like force and weight
b) to number among, reckon with
c) to reckon or account
2) to reckon inward, count up or weigh the reasons, to deliberate
3) by reckoning up all the reasons, to gather or infer
a) to consider, take into account, weigh, meditate on
b) to suppose, deem, judge
c) to determine, purpose, decide

God is Love, and love (we are told on authority of Scripture, although everyone already knows it) does not keep account of evil. 

GOD does not keep account of evil!!!!

Each and every day I will praise You;
I will sing to my God while I have being.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Genesis as Verbal Icon, Part II: Icon of the Creation of Man

The first post in this series dealt with Genesis as an icon of the creation of the whole universe; this second post will look specifically at Genesis as an icon of the creation of Man.

He (Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, Who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. (Colossians 1:15-18. "Thrones, dominions, principalities and powers" are orders or ranks of angels.)

Man was Created In the Image of God

Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.' So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Gen 1: 26-27)

Christian anthropology, like Christian theology, begins and ends with Christ, the Perfect Man. The first man, although he appeared before Christ chronologically, was made in the image of Christ (not the other way around), and the God-Man, in turn, is the image of God. Man was patterned after Christ and for Christ, because from the beginning, God the Son in His fathomless love for us already intended to come among us as one of us and would need a mother to give Him flesh.

Thus, the first and most important statement in Christian anthropology is that mankind is created in the Image and Likeness of God.

The Fathers of the Church, although emphasizing the teaching that man is created in the Image of God, never systematized the doctrine. It meant different (not conflicting) things to different Fathers and Orthodox writers, and still does.

Some Orthodox writers say it is not permissible for us to compare any human characteristics with divine attributes, period – much less to say these human traits are the Image of God. Granted, man has much that distinguishes him from animals, such as free will, creativity, conscience, reason, and reflexive consciousness. (Reflexive consciousness is not only being, but knowing that we are; not only knowing, but knowing that we know,) Yet none of these distinctions, say some of the Fathers, is yet the Image of God. The Image of God in us, they say, is nothing less than the Holy Spirit. For these writers, man by sinning lost the Holy Spirit Who was both man’s immortality and the Image of God in him.

For other Orthodox writers, the Image of God in us consists of “all that distinguishes man from the animals and makes him in the full sense a person – a moral agent capable of right and wrong, a spiritual subject endowed with inward freedom.” (Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Church, p. 65.)

Man is Created for Love.

For every Orthodox theologian, though, it is certain that being created in the Image of God means specifically being created in the Image of the Holy Trinity. Like the Three Persons of the Trinity, we humans all possess the same human nature, yet each of us is a unique example of it.

Being created in the Image of the Trinity is the very meaning of personhood. In other words, to be a person is to love as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit love one another and love us.

A true person, then, is the opposite of an individual. True personhood is achieved and possessed not in isolation from other persons, but in the most intimate communion with them. As each One of the Holy Trinity indwells the Other Two, so too human beings are meant to indwell one another. “We are members one of another.” (Ephesians 4:25) Each other person is to me another hypostasis of my very own inmost nature, another self. His life is lived in my skin and mine, in his. His sorrows are mine and my joys are his.

Human beings were created not only for mutual love of one another, but also for intimate, personal communion with God. This communion is not an external, moral one. Neither is it merely an “intentional” relationship (“You and I intend to be one; therefore we both consider that we are one”), but a personal union: my person is connected to God’s Person; my very being partakes of Him. If man rejects this communion,

…he ceases to be properly Man. There is no such thing as ‘natural man’ existing in separation from God: man cut off from God is a highly unnatural state. The image doctrine means, therefore, that man has God as the innermost centre of his being. The divine is the determining element in our humanity; losing our sense of the divine, we lose also our sense of the human. (Ware, Kallistos, On the Orthodox Church, p. 67)

What is also certain is that being in the Divine Image means that there exists in each of us, at our most profound level, the capacity for direct contact with God. That the Image of God is at our center in turn means we can seek God there – and there experience Him, provided, and to the degree that, the center is pure. Jesus said, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8) and “The kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21)

Often, the Greek Fathers, reading, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”, make a distinction between the image and the likeness. The “likeness,” they say, is a moral similarity, while the “image” as an ontological one; that is, the “image” has to do with our being rather than our behavior, with who we are rather than what we do. “All men are made in God’s image; but to be in His likeness is granted only to those who through great love have brought their own freedom into subjection to God.” (“On spiritual Knowledge and Discrimination: One Hundred Texts,” 4 in Palmer, Sherrard and Ware, The Philokalia, vol. 1 (London: Faber and Faber, 1979), p. 253.)

The (moral) Likeness to God is obviously lost in us. The Image, however, the God-pattern built into our being, remains no matter what. We have obscured, ignored, desecrated, disfigured, and hobbled it, but it can never be erased.

Man was Created to Exercise Dominion Over the Earth

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. (Genesis 1:28)

Man was to be both the king and the priest of creation, exercising wise stewardship over it and offering it, with thanksgiving, back to God as a holy gift. This is man’s vocation. The implication is that we are not to ravage and plunder the earth. To the contrary, Man is also meant to be a co-creator with God, that is, to shape this world creatively, constructively, together with God.

Man was created Male and Female

...and both sexes, together, make up the Image and Likeness of God. And God blessed them both, and gave both the dominion over the earth. God created Eve from Adam's rib, as women have often pointed out - not from his foot, and not from his skull.

The fact that this verbal icon shows the man as the first to be made and the woman as the first to sin does not override these other points, does not in any way imply, as males have tended to say for centures, that woman is the morally weaker sex. Both the man and the woman in this story show themselves equally distrusting, disobedient, prideful, fearful, self-justifying and unrepentant. If, as St. Paul teachers us, "Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived," (I Timothy 2:14) it means Adam has, if anything, even less excuse.

That the man was the first made and the woman the first to sin, does imply a certain order in how we go about doing things. St. Paul discusses this in I Corinthians 11 and in I Timothy 2. But he emphasizes that the different roles, different functions, are not a matter of inherent inequality. First reviewing the Genesis icon, St. Paul then reverses it, writing, "Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman [as the man was before the woman was created], nor the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man [as in Genesis, of man's rib], even so is the man also by the woman; but all things are of God." (I Corinthians 11:11-12)

Man was Created with Freedom.

By freedom, we man both “yes/no” freedom and creative freedom, self-determination. God miraculously “made room” in His creation for other free agents than Himself. By His very will, He allows for the existence of other wills genuinely outside of Himself and able both to will and to do even things opposed to God.

Both “either/or” and creative freedom are essential for the attainment of Man’s vocation. Without freedom, we cannot give true love. Without freedom, we are not human, but only smart animals. Without freedom, there is no true morality – or immorality. Without freedom, we cannot be co-creators with God. Furthermore, if men (and angels) have no free will, then they are not responsible for the evil in this world: God is.

Why, one may ask, did God create man free and responsible? Precisely because He wanted to call him to a supreme vocation: deification; that is to say, to become by grace, in a movement boundless as God, what which God is by His nature. And this call demands a free response; God wishes that this movement be a movement of love. Union without love would be automatic, and love implies freedom, the possibility of choice and refusal. (Lossky, pp. 71-21)

Man was Created Body and Soul

And the LORD God formed man [of] the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. (Genesis 2:7)

We do not have to insist upon believing that man was literally created out of dust (or clay, since the dust was formed). That detail intends to convey the fact that Man, in his own nature, is virtually nothing. He would be no more than dirt, had not God breathed life into him. The proper response to this image is not to debate its literal veracity; the proper response is humility.

Man is unique in all of creation in that he is compounded of matter and of soul. Man, by uniting in himself the material and the immaterial, proves them not mutually exclusive. Not only the soul, but also the body of man is created in the image of God. “Together they were created in the image of God,” writes St. Gregory Palamas. (Lossky, p. 71)

Man is superior to the animals, who lack the spirit of man; and Man is superior (in being, if not morally) to the angels, who lack bodies. Man, dust though he is, by bridging both the material and spiritual realms, is the apex of creation.

To be composed of body and soul is another facet of being “in the image” of Christ. As we, in our persons, unite the material and the spiritual, Christ unites in His person both God and Man, indivisibly and without confusion.

In mankind, creation comes to consciousness and is endowed with reason. In mankind, the creation has the possibility of offering itself to God. Man was created as the priest of creation, as the soul and mind and voice of the whole natural order.

We are therefore responsible for the world. We are the word, the logos, through which it bespeaks itself, and it depends solely on us whether it blasphemes or prays. (I can't remember where this came from.)

Fr. Alexander Schmemann emphasizes that man was created to be the priest of creation:

So the only natural (and not “supernatural”) reaction of man, to whom God gave this blessed and sanctified world, is to bless God in return, to thank Him, to see the world as God sees it and – in this act of gratitude and adoration – to know, name and possess the world. All rational, spiritual and other qualities of man, distinguishing him from other creatures, have their focus and ultimate fulfillment in this capacity to bless God, to know, so to speak, the meaning of the thirst and hunger that constitutes his life. “Homo sapiens,” “homo faber” … yes, but, first of all, “homo adorans.” The first, most basic definition of man is that he is the preist. He stands in the center of the world and unifies it in his act of blessing God, of both receiving the world from God and offering it to God – and by filling the world with this eucharist, he transforms his life, the one that he receives from the world, into life in God, into communion with Him. (Schmemann, For the Life of the World, p. 15)

Body and soul are not opposed to one another, as though one were evil and the other good, or one were mortal and the other immortal. Neither of these is the case. The body is neither some tomb of the soul nor some evil prison of the soul. In fact, in biblical terminology, “flesh” and “soul” are sometimes even interchangeable. “All flesh” refers to the complete human being as in Genesis 6:12; or in the broader sense, to all living creatures, as in Psalm 136:25. “Every soul” or “living soul” means the same thing, as we read in Acts 2:43 or Romans 13:1. The terms are shorthand for the same, complete reality of body plus soul, both of which constitute Man, both of which are made for immortality and failed to achieve it, as we shall see.

Nor is “flesh” anything bad in itself. After all, St. John writes that “The Word became flesh” (John 1:14) and Jesus bids us eat His flesh and drink His blood. (John 6:51-56) St. Luke proclaims that “All flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (Luke 3:6)

“Carnal” does not always denote something evil, either. St. Paul, requesting donations for the Jewish-Christian famine victims in Jerusalem, writes, “For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in carnal things.” (Romans 15:27)

What is wrong is to live carnally; that is, to live according to either our bodies or our psyches, for their demands are alike self-serving and therefore opposed to the Holy Spirit. Bodily pleasures are not evil in themselves, but to live for them, instead of living for Christ, is evil because in the end, it is subhuman. To live as mere fleshly creatures is wrong because the flesh will pass away. “For if you live according to the flesh, y shall die: but if you through the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live.” (Romans 8:13)

Man was not Created Perfect.

Strange as it may sound, the statement that man was not created perfect does not mean he was created imperfect! It means he was created a spiritual infant. As an infant, Adam was perfect, and innocent, too; but he had yet to acquire the perfections of mature adulthood. (If he had been perfect from the beginning, he could not have fallen into sin, for perfection is not corruptible.) Rather, our first parents were intended to develop and grow, to increase in wisdom and in favor with God and their fellow man, just as Christ did, in Whose Image they had been made. Adam and Eve walked and conversed with God as with a familiar Friend; but they did not behold His Essence, as some suppose. They had every earthly happiness, but spiritual joys – which come from participating in God’s own Life – lay ahead of them. Life as spiritual beings had yet to be learned.

God transferred him from the earth, out of which he had been made, into Paradise, giving him the means for advancement in order that, maturing and becoming perfect, and even being declared a god, he might thus ascend into heaven in possession of immortality. For man had been made a middle nature, neither wholly mortal nor altogether immortal but capable of either…( St. Theophilus of Antioch, To Autolycus 2, 24, in Romanides, p. 125)

Had man been created perfect from the beginning, then his goodness (or wickedness) would be a function of his nature and not of his will. It would be involuntary, that is, and thus morally meaningless. Romanides writes, “He was made needing to acquire perfection, not because he was made flawed in nature and morally deficient but because moral perfection is achieved only in total freedom.” (Romanides, op. cit., p. 126)

Man was not Created Naturally Immortal.

Again, this assertion, paradoxically, does not mean man was created mortal, either. Our Fathers tell us man was created for immortality, but without having it as a part of his nature. Immortality is not natural, but supernatural, a divine attribute. Not having the divine nature, Adam had no divine attributes such as immortality. Having been created out of nothing, he had no immortality in his own nature. God indeed breathed life into Adam, and that life was immortal, but it was also contingent. Being contingent meant the life Adam had was not yet his own, but a communion in God’s Life. To secure it for himself, he would have had to grow into a mature spiritual man in a communion with God such as could never more be disrupted. Meanwhile, his life, although immortal, was borrowed, was derived from such nascent and on his part irresolute communion as he already had with God. There was no fountain of life within him; he had continuously to tap into God’s Well of Life. Or, using the Genesis icon, for Adam and Eve to become immortal, they would have had to eat from the Tree of Life planted in the middle of the Garden – which they never did. (Genesis 3:22, to be discussed more later)

St. Irenaeus says it is diabolical that man should ever suppose

that the incorruptibility which belongs to him is his own naturally, and by thus not holding the truth, should boast with empty superciliousness, as if he were naturally like to God. For he (satan) thus rendered him (man) more ungrateful towards his Creator, obscured the love which God had towards man, and blinded his mind not to perceive what is worthy of God, comparing himself with, and judging himself equal to, God. (St. Irenaeus, 3 XX, 1.)

St. Theophilus likewise teaches:

If God had made him immortal from the beginning, He would have made him God. On the other hand, if He had made him mortal, God would seem to be the cause of his death. Rather, He made him neither immortal nor mortal…but capable of being either one in order that, should he incline toward things of immortality and keep the commandment of God, he would be rewarded by him with immortality and become god. If, however, he should turn to things of death by disobeying God, he would be the cause of death to himself. For God made man free and sovereign. (St. Theophilus of Antioch, op. cit., 2, 27)

The erroneous supposition that Adam and Eve were created immortal is one of the major reasons for the terrible teaching that God killed them in punishment for their sin. Had they been immortal, nothing and nobody else could have ended their lives; it must have been God. But they were not yet ready for immortality; and before they had even become ready, they cut themselves off from it.

There is a great deal more to be said about Christian anthropology as portrayed in Genesis, but in the space allotted us here, perhaps we have mentioned the highlights. They are that Man was created in the Image and Likeness of God; that he was created to love his fellow man and to live in direct communion with God; that he was made possessing free will (Adam and Eve chose to disobey God), conscience (they hid from Him after they had sinned), reason, and reflexive consciousness; that Man was created to be the king of the world and its priest; that Man was created both male and female; that Man was not created perfect, in the sense of being fully mature, but rather, as a spiritual infant, needing to learn and grow in wisdom; that Man was created neither mortal nor immortal, but able to become either, and that Man was created body and soul, and both were good.

The next post, God willing, will consider just what did and did not happen in the Garden of Eden.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Catty

Did you see this?

Snickers, an eleven-week-old hairless kitten, flew from from a breeder in Utah to her new home in Connecticut in the supposedly climate-controlled cargo hold of a Delta Airlines plane. Her new family paid the airline $70 extra so she would be removed immediately. Instead, she sat under the plane for about 50 minutes, on a 10 degree Fahrenheit evening. When she finally met her family, she showed symptoms of severe hypothermia. They tried to warm her up and rushed to a vet, but it was too late.
Cargo holds are pressurized these days, and have temperature control, as well.  Still, I'm sorry, but who does this in the depths of winter to a hairless kitten? 

But if you do, you have to provide at least a little knitted jacket for her from the pet store.  Adding a hot water bottle would be better, safely tucked under several layers of bedding, of course, with kitty's claws having been carefully trimmed beforehand.

Tip:  There's a wonderful product called Hot Hands available in the sporting sections of stores like K-Mart or Wal-Mart.  It's a dry chemical mixture like ThermaCare which, when exposed to air, heats up.  If you wrap this in several layers of rags or a couple of old baby blankets and put it at one end of the cat's kennel so she has the choice of sleeping on it or not, it will keep her warm.


Another Tip:  Whether using a hot water bottle or Hot Hands, you do have to be careful to give kitty  room enough for making this choice, as overheating can kill a small animal, too. 

Okay, with this post I've fulfilled my newly-made vow to the Sisters of Snark to post something catty.

Newly-Discovered Blog!

If you want some help actually following Christ (as distinct from merely thinking about Him) and opening your life to the Holy Spirit and attaining to theosis, I urge you to follow this blog, new to me, by Father Deacon Charles Joiner.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Genesis as a Verbal Icon, Part I: Icon of the Creation of the World

Marsha, in response to my post about the Garden of Eden story being a verbal icon, asked whether I might expand on that idea.  So I think I shall.  First, though, I'd like to say a few things about the creation stories that precede the Adam and Eve narratives.  This subject, of course, could fill libraries, and does, but here are just a few reflections on the spiritual meaning of the creation stories.  Because spiritual meaning, after all, is what any icon, painted or written, is intended to convey.  So here are a few of the big lessons we need to take to heart from the opening chapters of Genesis.  (Each point here combats some specific heresy, by the way.)

God creates the world. 

The details related in Genesis are like the details of a painted  icon, like the wings of St. John the Baptist, or the three stars depicted on the vestments of the Mother of God to show it's she.  We are not obliged to take every detail literally, as the spiritual point of those details is, this universe did not just happen.  It was deliberately created.

God creates the world alone and directly.

God creates the world without any help or any intermediaries. There are no demigods, angels, tools, eternal ideas, or emanations involved in the creation of the world. God creates it all directly, by His Word alone, not by any created means. This means his dealings with us are direct – in contrast to Thomistic scholasticism, for example. Thomas Aquinas, lacking the distinction between God’s Essence and His Divine, Uncreated Energies, held that God was His Essence, and since God’s Essence is unchanging, He could have no direct dealings with a changing world.  But unless we have direct dealings with God, and He with us, there is no salvation as the Orthodox understand salvation.

“I am the Lord who performs all things. I alone stretched forth the heavens and established the earth.” (Isaiah 44:24)

God creates the world ex nihilo, from nothing.

By faith we understand that the worlds have been framed by the Word of God, so that what is seen has not been made out of things which do appear. (Hebrews 11:3)
Creation from nothing is not just mysterious; it is unimaginable. Nothing exists outside of God. In fact, no “outside God” exists, for God is everywhere present, filling all things.  In other words, there is no "nothing" from which to create things.


Yet creation ex nihilo does mean just such an act producing some¬thing which is ‘outside of God’ – the production of an entirely new subject, with no origin of any kind either in the divine nature or in any matter or potentiality of being external to God. We might say that by creation ex nihilo God ‘makes room’ for something which is wholly outside of Himself; that, indeed, He sets up the ‘outside’ or nothingness alongside of His plenitude. (I have forgotten where I originally found this quote, but I think it is from Vladimir Lossky.)

“Nihil,” means here simply that “before” creation nothing existed “outside” of God. Or rather that this “outside” and this “before” are absurd, since it is precisely the creation that posits them. (Lossky, Vladimir, Orthodox Theology: an Introduction, p. 54.)

Creation from nothing also means God does not make the world out of His own Substance, thereby bestowing the Divine Essence upon created being. To suppose He did would be to suppose every created thing divine. That is pantheism instead of monothe¬ism. God did not create the world out of anything at all, whether material or immaterial; rather, He called the world “from non-being into being” by His simple, all-powerful, “Let there be.”

This Created Order is Real.

An important implication of the creation from nothing is that this world is the real world. Reality is not Eternal Ideas or Emanations from the Divine Essence, of which the world is merely an imperfect copy or an unreal reflection. Neither is the world a veil of unreality concealing reality within it, nor is reality opposed to materiality or change. Instead, this world, both material and immaterial, with all its changes and cycles, is the world God created and it is real. In Orthodoxy, that means this world is the setting in which we find salvation, not in some dream world, not in some realm of thought.

God’s creation is good.

God looked at all He had made, and behold, it was very good. (Genesis 1:31)

Fr. John Romanides writes,

It follows from the dogma of creation ex nihilo by the will and energy of God that the visible and invisible world was created in an altogether positive manner…it is neither an imperfect copy of another supposedly real world nor the result of contact with matter through some kind of fall, nor an estrangement from reality, nor some emanation of ideas from the divine essence. (Romanides, ibid., p. 59)
It means material things are not evil; this world did not come into being by some sort of contamination by materiality.

Had the world been good, it would mean that God were not good. If God had caused evil, God would be evil.

In that case, Christ’s counsel would be meaningless: “Be perfect, just as your Father in Heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

But God is absolutely Good; in fact, He is Goodness Itself and the very definition of Goodness. St. John says, “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” (I John 1:5)

God creates the world as an act of His completely free will.

God decides what He is going to create, and when, as when God decided, “…Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” (Genesis 1:26a) Nothing compels God to create, no external or internal necessity. He does not do it for His own glory, but for love, that we may share the living of His eternal Life. Nor did He need to create in order to love, for being God in Trinity, He already is the plenitude of Love. God created us because He wanted to, period.

Another way of saying the same thing is that it is not by His Essence that God creates. It would not be in any case, since an essence does nothing whatsoever but sit there being whatever it is.  Whoever has the essence works, or rather whoever is the essence does. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work.

God’s Essence (anything God so to speak can’t be God without) is unchanging. if we say God makes any new work which He had not made before - such as creating a universe -  and that His Essence does this, we introduce temporality and mutability into our concept of the Divine Essence.  Thus, even if the Essence did anything at all besides constituting God’s Being (as it were), It would have to have been doing or thinking or saying the same thing(s) from all eternity. God must have been creating the world from all eternity. Then this world would be co-beginningless and co-eternal with God. In short, this world would be divine. But Christian teaching, based upon revelation in history, is that the world both had a beginning and shall have an end. Therefore it is not divine; it was neither created out of the Divine Essence nor by the Divine Essence.

“These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created. In the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, “ (Genesis 2:4)

“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away…” (Revelation 21:1)

If it belonged to the Divine Essence to create, then creation would be a necessity. God would have to create. His very Being would be dependent upon His own creatures!  But this would be outrageous.

For His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
And His kingdom is from generation to generation.
All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing;
He does according to His will in the army of heaven
And among the inhabitants of the earth.
No one can restrain His hand
Or say to Him, "What have You done?"
(Daniel 4:34-35)

St. Justin Martyr (d. 165) says,

Though God is able to do all that He wills to do, He does not will to do all that he is able to do. To be is not the same as to will…if God creates in His being, it is by necessity that He creates whatever He creates. But if it is by will that He creates, he creates out of sovereignty. Creating out of sovereignty, then, He creates as much as He wills and whatever He wills and whenever He wills. If God creates in His being, His will serves no purpose and is altogether useless. (St. Justin Martyr, Christian Inquiries, III, 2, quoted in Romanides, Ancestral Sin)
In summary, the world is created by God and by Him alone, with no help, and by Him directly, by His fiat, not by some emanation from Himself .  The world was not created using anything pre-existing, whether material or immaterial (Divine Ideas).  It was made by God's own free will, and not by any necessity, external to God or within Him (such as a drive to enhance His glory).  Neither did His own nature (Essence) require Him to create.  God's creation is real, not some shadow of reality.  And God's creation is very good.  These are some of the major features of the verbal icon in the opening chapters of Genesis.

In Part II, I hope to talk some about the icons of Man and of sin, featuring Adam and Eve and what happened in Eden. Then, in a projected two further posts, we'll look at the icon of the consequences.


P.S.)  I've had the most awful time getting this post up.  Its format keeps changing, and even the order of the paragraphs.  I do hope it now makes sense!  And my apologies if you tried reading it before I managed to correct most things in it.  I'm not going to try more minor corrections, because that seems to mess everything up all over again!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Great Interview

It was two years ago, already, almost to the day, that our very own Mary Joy was interviewed by Frederika, but I've only belatedly found that interview, and Mary, it was so edifying! Thank you.

Here's my favorite quote, just to whet the reader's appetite:

The first time I ever came to Divine Liturgy, I thought, “Wow, the Holy Spirit is here!” We worked so hard in the charismatic church to make the Holy Spirit show up, and all I had to do is walk in the Orthodox church, and I didn’t do anything! God brought me there, God is there.
No go read the whole thing, if you haven't already.  It's mostly on being the mother of 10 children, including some with special needs.

Garden of Eden

Frederika Matthewes-Green has an essay on her web page dealing with iconogrpahy.

Here is a snippet I love  from the conclusion.

An icon is meant to be a “window into heaven,” showing us, not characters as they were on earth, but as they are now, transformed by God’s glory. Every icon is an icon of Christ. If it depicts a human saint, it is showing the person as she is with Christ shining fully through her. It is our goal and destiny as well, to become bearers of this glory, and be likewise transformed. It has been said that God was the first iconographer, since we are living images of him: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our eikon” (Gen. 1:26). If an icon does not assist us in recovery of that union with God, it is not a true icon at all. ... “In the final analysis, icons serve a purpose only to the extent that they assist us in becoming icons of God.”
Did you catch that? Icons are not painted of external reality, but of spiritual. St. John the Baptist, for example, is painted with wings, because he was the greatest prophet of them all, God's messenger, and the word "messenger" in Greek is angelos, angel. Women saints who started out as prostitutes are painted with long hair showing, even though in public they probably hid their hair like chaste women. Martyrs are depicted holding small crosses in their hands, whether or not they ever literally held one.. And so forth.

Well, when reading the story of Adam and Eve in the garden of delights, featuring a talking serpent, a Tree whose fruit could give a person immortality and another tree whose fruit could impart the knowledge of good and evil -- it helps greatly to remember that this is an icon. Yes, a verbal icon.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Scratch That

After prayerful reflection, I've deleted the previous post. Not that there were any privacy rules, but it just seemed best.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Nothing Doing

or, No News is Good News

Nothing's wrong here; I just haven't had anything in particular to write about. Haven't received any more medical reports so far (will inquire on Monday) and have been devoting myself to, besides housework, trying to finish a big knitting project AND designing but not yet building my latest marble run. This time it's also going to have elements of a Rube Goldberg contraption. Not too much of that, though, as every Goldbergish stunt requires the gizmo to be reset.  (For example, if your marbles knock down some dominos, you have to set them up again before the next go.)  Well, I've been having fun with scissors, tape, toilet paper rolls, magnets, chimes, 1" clear plastic tubing, pulleys, weights, paper cups, and so on. 

Next week I hope to build the thing.  Just a couple more design elements to figure out first.  How to knock the hammer down without damaging hardwood floor, for example.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sobering Video

... or, Why Islam Will Triumph (Humanly Speaking)

This is well worth all of us watching. It's just demographics and our economy. It's an unintended consequence of artificial contraception.

video


Okay, so evangelizing can only properly be done from love, not fear. Still, everybody should check this out, I think.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

My Newest Grandson at Two Months

Friday, January 14, 2011

Medical Update - Not

There's no news to report, for family or anybody else who may be waiting to hear it. I had an x-ray taken of my right hand, and a bone-density test while we were at it, and I gave a blood sample because rheumatoid arthritis leaves markers in your blood. But it'll be the middle of next week before I get the results of any of those.

Jesus Our Umbrella (?) Reprint III

God reveals to us His principles because they are good for us, because without their guidance (and even with them) we fall headlong into behaviors that tend to ruin our lives and our societies and our civilizations. He gives us His commandments, in other words, for the same reason He created us, for the same reason He does anything in relation to us: because He loves us.

This means that when we violate God’s commandments, we do no harm to God!  He didn't give them to protect Himself, but us.  It’s not as though the commandments existed for His sake. They, like the Sabbath, exist for our sake, and when we sin, we harm ourselves and our fellow man and our world. God's honor has not suffered, His glory remains intact. You and I are simply far too small to have any effect upon the high and holy God. He knew before He created us everything we would do, yet still loved us, still gave us life, and still became Man and died for us, “while we were yet sinners.”

There is no such thing as a God who is literally angry with us, but this doesn’t mean there is no such thing as Divine Wrath. There is, but it is directed at our enemies for our sake, instead of at us for His sake. Our God does nothing from self-interest. Rather, God's wrath is directed against our greed and sloth and lust and pride and so forth, the things that prevent us from becoming fully human, the things that drag us down to a level below the animals. God’s Wrath is exercised on our behalf against all the things that destroy us as bearers of His own Image. (Of course, if God were to destroy my pride, it might indeed feel as though God were against me, but in reality, He would have liberated me.)

And the exercise of God’s Wrath involves not punishment (which is totally useless!) but correction. He is not pleased when sins are avenged, but when they cease.

God exercises His Wrath by destroying evil, displacing it and replacing with the corresponding good. Thus, when He reveals Himself to us and teaches us His ways, He is indulging His fury against ignorance. When He leads us in the paths of lovingkindness, He is pouring out His anger against hatred. When He rises from the tomb, He is displaying His Wrath against death. And so forth.

Now all of this is only a prelude to what I really want to say. The point I’m getting at is that there is this idea in non-Orthodox theologizing that Jesus Christ shields us from God’s Wrath. The truth, of course, is that in Christianity, Christ is God. Thus, if He shields you, so does God the Father and so does the Holy Spirit. Or if God the Father were angry with you, so would God the Son be, and so would Jesus Christ, the Man, whose will is always conformed to His Father’s.

Jesus Christ is indeed our Shield, our Umbrella. But what we all need protection from is not God’s Wrath, but the devil’s. He is the angry one, the furious, the envious one, the one from whom we need rescuing.

God and the devil are NEVER on the same side.

And they don't switch sides or from time to time swap roles, either.

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, "He is my refuge and my fortress;
My God, in Him I will trust."
Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler
And from the perilous pestilence.
He shall cover you with His feathers,
And under His wings you shall take refuge;
His truth shall be your shield and buckler.
You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
Nor of the arrow that flies by day,
Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
And ten thousand at your right hand;
But it shall not come near you.
(from Psalm 91)

Always remember that our God is “holy, harmless, undefiled”. (Hebrews 7:26)

Does God Hate Sinners? Reprint IV

Tragically, many people think He does.

Pastor Snyder teaches that God hates sinners. Furthermore, I have seen at least one Lutheran blog reprint this piece.

Pr. Snyder can cite some passages of Scripture to “prove” it, too, such as Psalm 5:5 and Jeremiah 12:8.

Just today I had an exchange with someone who seems very, very nice, but listen to who He believes God is.

He wrote, "The Father loves us on account of Christ and always listens to His Son’s pleas for His people."

I replied, “But surely the Father always loved us, before Christ came, from the foundation of the world, eternally even, which is why He sent Christ in the first place. Yes?”

He answered, “…He loved the world in such a way that He sent His Son Christ to take care of what would actually cause the Father to hate us all... sin.”

Dear pastors, and everybody else, I have excellent news for you, wonderful, joyous news for you: God can be perfectly just (and is!) without hating anybody, ever.

To show how this can be, I’d like to remind you of three basic principles upon which, I expect, we can all agree.

1.) Christ is the Light of the World (John 8:12, 9:5, 14:6)

He is the perfect, definitive, ultimate revelation of God. Therefore, we interpret absolutely every thing in life in His light. That includes the Old Testament. “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” We must understand the Father first and foremost in terms of Jesus Christ, not first and foremost by the comparatively feeble light of the Old Testament.

Not that the Old Testament is a feeble light, either! I said, “comparatively,” compared to the revelation in Christ. Yet, another thing we must always remember is that, according to the Fathers, it is always Christ who speaks in both Testaments. Therefore, if God in the Old Testament says He hates us, it is Christ speaking.

So what do we learn from the Jesus, the Word Incarnate, about God’s attitude toward sinners?
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48; see also Luke 6:27-36.)

God blesses the good and the evil alike with rain and sunshine. We are to imitate His goodness, loving our enemies as He loves His. We are to love your enemies, bless those who curse us, do good to those who hate us, precisely for the sake of being like our Father in heaven.

2.) God is Immutable

"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." (James 1:17)

That God is immutable means He never changes. It doesn’t mean He cannot vary His actions toward us, in response to innumerable changes of circumstance. But it does mean He does not change His disposition toward us, His attitude toward us. He is not fickle, but constant and true. “His mercy endures forever” is a phrase that occurs 41 times in Holy Scripture. “God is love,” and nothing we do could ever change almighty God, even in the slightest, and it is downright presumptuous to suppose we could.

St. Anthony wrote:

God is good, dispassionate, and immutable. Now someone who thinks it reasonable and true to affirm that God does not change, may well ask how, in that case, it is possible to speak of God as rejoicing over those who are good and showing mercy to those who honor Him, and as turning away from the wicked and being angry with sinners. To this it must be answered that God neither rejoices nor grows angry, for to rejoice and to be offended are passions; nor is He won over by the gifts of those who honor Him, for that would mean He is swayed by pleasure. It is not right that the Divinity feel pleasure or displeasure from human conditions. (Philokalia, Chapter 150, St. Anthony the Great)
It is not possible for God to feel wrathful toward us at one time and compassionate another. There’s no such thing as, “It’s time to have compassion,” if that implies there was ever a time for not having compassion. God does not change!

Some people teach that unless God changed, we would be consumed, but Scripture tells us the very opposite: it is because He never changes that we are not consumed. “[It is of] the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.” (Lamentations 3:22) “For I [am] the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” (Malachi 3:6.)

Of old You laid the foundation of the earth,
And the heavens are the work of Your hands.
They will perish, but You will endure;
Yes, they will all grow old like a garment;
Like a cloak You will change them,
And they will be changed.
But You are the same,
And Your years will have no end.
(Psalm 102:25-27; Hebrews 1:10-12)
God will never be angry with you, not literally.  So why do you need to be in His good graces (so to speak)?  Because that is the only true and pure Joy there is, the only genuine and lasting Peace.  That is our destiny, our authentic meaning and purpose, for which all men were created.

 3.) God’s love is infinite

There is no such thing as a border on God’s love. There is no boundary we can cross, such that God will cease loving us and hate us instead. God is infinite. And God is love.

Infinity also implies there is nothing else, nothing that is not love, countering or balancing or modifying God’s love. He does not love us and hate us at the same time, nor alternately, either. He is not schizoid. There is no polarity, no tension between opposites. “This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” (I John 1:5, emphasis mine)

* * * *

So what are we to make of such verses as Psalm 5:5, which says, “The boastful shall not stand in Your sight; You hate all workers of iniquity.” Or how about Jeremiah 12:8? “My heritage has become to me like a lion in a forest. She has given forth her voice against me – therefore I hated her.”

First, we are to remember that we must see all things by the Light of Christ, “For the law was given by Moses, [but] grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17) Christ Himself is the context for all Scripture. When we look by the light of Christ, we see a Father who no more “hates” than He has hands or feet or eyes or a mouth, all of which Holy Scripture also speaks of His having.

Yet Scripture speaks truth, even if not literal truth, in describing God in all these ways. For example, when we speak of God’s eyes, we mean He knows everything. When we speak of His hands, we mean His power. His face denotes His presence, and so forth. His “hatred” refers to two things. One is that He does chastise sinners, and the other is that He does act to limit sin or to put a stop to it. These two facts, combined, give an appearance of hatred to those who do not know Him.

To take chastisement first, what do we see about it in the light of Christ?

"My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord,
Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
For whom the Lord loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives."

If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:5-11)
We don’t even have to go to the New Testament for part of this; verses five and six quote Proverbs 31:11-12. (See also Deuteronomy 8:3) But here, in Hebrews, we get an exposition of the Proverb. And the exposition here tells us that God’s chastisement does not stand in contradiction to His love, but is actually a function of that very love. It is “for our profit.”

The other factor that makes hatred perhaps seem an apt metaphor for God’s response to sin is that He does always work at cross-purposes to the schemes of sinners. He defeats their wicked plans. He thwarts their enterprises. “The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect.” (Psalm 33:10)

Again, He does this for the ultimate good of all concerned. This is true even when He employs violence to do it. He delivers the oppressed from the tyrants. He gives an example to the survivors (for fear is edifying). He cuts short the careers of the wicked, who would otherwise have to appear before Him at the final judgment with even more sins on their hands, even more crimes to torment them forever. For all concerned, then, He is loving them in the ways appropriate to each.

He frustrates the devices of the crafty,
So that their hands cannot carry out their plans.
He catches the wise in their own craftiness,
And the counsel of the cunning comes quickly upon them.
They meet with darkness in the daytime,
And grope at noontime as in the night.
But He saves the needy from the sword,
From the mouth of the mighty,
And from their hand.
So the poor have hope,
And injustice shuts her mouth.
(Job 5:12-16)


In fact, this is what we mean when we pray, each day during Holy Week, “Bring more evils upon them, O Lord, bring more evils upon them that are glorious upon the earth.”

Now if we go back to Jeremiah and read all of Chapter 12, we can see that Jeremiah is praying the same prayer, in different words, and receiving an answer. Both these factors, chastisement and putting a stop to evil, are what is really going on there, under the term, “hate.” David is praying a similar prayer in Psalm 5, too.

God doesn’t love you because Jesus causes Him to. God doesn’t just love you for Jesus’ sake (as if there were some discrepancy between the feelings of Father and Son!) but for His own. “I, [even] I, [am] he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.” (Isaiah 43:25)

God loves you with an infinite, unchanging, unconditional, perfect love. He always has, He still does, and He always will. The love you see in Jesus not only reflects but literally IS the love of the Father as well, for "He who has seen Me has seen the Father."

“Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and for ever." (Hebrews 13:8)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Wrath of God: Reprint I

As another discussion involving God's Wrath has recently arisen, I would like to address this issue. A quick review of what I've already posted on this subject reminds me, however, that it's already been said here more than once. So I should like to re-post two items, beginning with this one, not by me, but from Father Stephen's blog.

By Fr. Stephen Freeman

What shall we make of the wrath of God?

We have this quote from the Gospel of St. Luke:

And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, And sent messengers before his face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him. And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of (Luke 9:51-55).

In this passage, sending down fire from heaven, in the pattern of Elijah is rebuked as somehow belonging to “another spirit.”

Fans of New Testament wrath are quick to point out the passage in Acts concerning Ananias and Sapphira:

But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things. And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him. And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much. Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out. Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband. And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things (Acts 5:1-11)

For accuracies’ sake, it must be noted that we are nowhere told that Ananias and Sapphira died as the result of the action of God. We are told that they fell down dead. This is not unimportant.

Of course the New Testament makes reference to the wrath of God. Indeed there are 45 verses which make reference to the wrath. It is little wonder that interpreters should want to make a theological point out of so common a reference. Of course many of those verses refer to our own wrath and tell us to put it away from us.

But of the wrath of God we read a typical passage:

Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience (Colossians 3:5-6).

A legitimate question has to be: has the Spirit “of which we are” changed between Luke 9 and Colossians 3? Or is there a deeper understanding at work?

With this I offer an Orthodox answer. First, Christ Himself is the definitive revelation of God and that revelation is not corrected by either an Old Testament reading (for “these are they which testify of me”) nor by an Epistle, for Christ as witnessed to in the gospels is the definitive revelation for interpreting even the Epistles. Of course my citation of Luke 9 is often countered with, “What about the moneychangers in the Temple?” To which I can only say that He “drove them out with a whip” which is not the same thing as saying that Christ beat them, nor did He call down fire from heaven to consume them.

For various reasons, some people are determined to make the economy of salvation to be linked with the Wrath of God. If you do not repent, then God will do thus and such… I have always considered this representation of the gospel to be coercive and contrary to the love of God. I have heard convoluted ways in which this wrath is interpreted to be “the loving thing to do” but I do not buy it.

The common witness within Orthodox Tradition is that the wrath of God is a theological term which describes not God Himself, but a state of being in which are opposed to God. Thus the work of Kalomiros, The River of Fire, makes ample citation of the fathers in this matter. We may place ourselves in such a position that even the love of God seems to us as fire or wrath.

But it is essential in our witness to the God Who Is, to always relate the fact that He is a loving God, not willing that any should perish. He is not against us but for us. This is utterly essential to the correct proclamation of the Gospel. Those who insist on exalting His wrath as a threat, inevitably misportray God and use anthropormorphism as a substitute for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Intricate theories of the atonement which involve the assuaging of the wrath of God are not worthy of the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I can say it no plainer. Those who persist in such theological accounts do not know “what Spirit they are of.” It is not ever appropriate to exalt a Biblical system over the plain sense communicated to us in the Gospel. No matter the chain of verses and the rational explanations attached - we cannot portray God as other than as He has shown Himself to us in Jesus Christ. To do so makes the Bible greater than Christ.

It is very difficult in our culture, where the wrathful God has been such an important part of the gospel story, to turn away from such portrayals - and yet it is necessary - both for faithfulness to the Scripture, the Fathers, and the revelation of God in Christ.

I commend the referenced work, the River of Fire, for its compliation of Patristic sources. I also beg other Christians to be done with their imagery of the wrathful God. They do not know the God of Whom they speak. Forgive me.

God's Love and God's Wrath: Reprint II

The Love of God, to the extent we can understand it, is not to be understood via words at all, but by living it, living in and by it.

Then, what we begin to understand, we can try to find words that best express (insofar as words can) that understanding.

We need to be apophatic when speaking of God, saying what is not rather than what is. “My ways are not your ways,” says the Lord. “My thoughts are not your thoughts.” We need, in all soberness and humility, to recognize this reality.

Some of the apophatic statements that need to be made concerning God’s Love are:

* that it is not finite

* that it therefore is without measure

* that God therefore never restricts His Love, nor measures out more love to one than to another, nor measures it at all

* that since God’s Love is infinite, nothing can border it (such as His Wrath or His Justice). Love has no boundaries.

* that God’s Love is no part of any dichotomy, polarity, contradiction, antinomy, or balance

* that it is unconditional; therefore we cannot speak of it being deserved or not, or merited or not; such categories do not apply to UNCONDITIONAL Love.

* that being unconditional, it is not conditioned by, or qualified or modified by, anything at all, including His Wrath or His Justice

* that Love is not something self-seeking


And here are some aphophatic statements we need to make about God’s Wrath, saying what it is not:

* that it is never arbitrary

* that it is never unjust

* that it is not the same as human wrath; it is never like a hot-tempered tantrum, nor some coldly dispassionate necessity.

*that, unlike almost all human wrath, God’s wrath does not contain any element of animosity toward people

* that God’s Wrath never implies any necessity or inclination to be vindictive or retaliatory

* that God’s Wrath never forms a boundary upon His infinite love, or a counterbalance or alternative to it

* that God’s Wrath and God’s love are not contradictory, nor opposite poles of something

* that God’s Wrath and God’s love are not a dichotomy or an opposition, as human wrath and love almost always are

* that there is nothing in God’s dealings with creation, including His Wrath, which is not a function of His Love

* that God’s Wrath can never mean He is seeking something for Himself at human expense, whether we call it payment or satisfaction or punishment or whatever, for "Love seeketh not her own." Nor does the all-sufficient God ever need anything from us. God is totally, serenely, fully free to love us without that.

*God’s Wrath can never mean returning evil for evil but redefining the evil as good because it is God doing it.

Of course, apophaticism, saying what is not, isn't the same as being totally agnostic. If that were true, then nobody could say anything at all. Yet we do make statements concerning both, statements both negative, as above, and positive, as below. 

Cataphatic statements (saying what is) should still always be made in an apophatic spirit; i.e., recognizing that no words can ever be more than a very rough approximation of the Reality.

Here are some cataphatic statements about God’s Love:


* God is Love.

* Love is pure, sacrificial, self-giving.

* Love abolishes fear.

* Love wills the good and rejoices in the good.

* Love is an act of freedom.


Here are some cataphatic, or positive, statements about God’s Wrath:


*It destroys evil, relentlessly.

*God’s Wrath against evil undoes each particular evil by supplying the missing good. He fights evil with GOOD (and not with something we’d ordinarily consider evil, but if God does it we are obliged to call it good). God’s Wrath, when it rages against hatred, destroys it by supplying the love to replace it. God’s Wrath raging against death replaces it with life. God’s Wrath campaigning against foolishness supplies wisdom. God’s Wrath brings peace to replace strife, forgiveness to heal guilt, reconciliation to heal estrangement, and so forth.

*God’s Wrath will never cease raging until His goodness is utterly triumphant throughout all His creation.

*Until then, we do not want God's Wrath to cease or be appeased.

* God’s Wrath, like everything about His dealings with us, works FOR us, never against us, even when it seems that way. Even if He decides to shorten our time on earth, He always ends our earthly lives at the time He knows is best for us. God's Wrath is our champion against our enemies and His.

* In the Last Day, God’s Wrath will disarm and disable the sinfulness of the impenitent, and the process will definitely burn them, who still cherish their sin and cling to it and identify with it. They will not appreciate that this process is for the good, like having a gangrenous leg removed; they will only hate God for the excruciating pain it causes them, no longer to be able to indulge their passions.

* God’s Wrath against falsehood will disabuse the impenitent of every lie by which they had deceived and comforted themselves; and instead of rejoicing in Truth, as the saints will when God reveals it to them, the damned will find Truth unbearable. God is Truth.

* God’s Wrath against our scattered, separate existence will cause us all to dwell forever in the presence of His Love, but unlike the saints, for whom this will be the culmination of all their hopes, the damned will hate dwelling with Him.

* God’s Wrath against death has done away with it; now all will be resurrected. But while the saints have sought eternal life and for them it is their crown, the unrepentant would far prefer to be annihilated than continue in this eternal condition.

* God’s Wrath against sin will take away from us all every opportunity to exercise wickedness. For saints, this will mean deliverance, but for sinners, it means taking away every pleasure they ever knew. They will never be able to harm anybody again, including themselves. (If it weren’t for the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, I suppose they’d probably be bored stiff!)


In short, God’s Love and God’s Wrath are two facets of the same gem. Wrath is what we call it when His Love campaigns against sin and evil. (He does this for and from LOVE, not for Himself! He never seeks anything for Himself, Who already has everything.) As a matter of fact, His very Presence, even if He were to do nothing at all, would annihilate evil, because evil is precisely the opposite of God. As the presence of knowledge demolishes ignorance, so the Presence of God destroys all evil.

Personally, I think God’s Wrath, while it is something wonderful, is also frightening as hell; in fact, for the damned, His very Love IS hell. And certainly it is very, very real.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Old Albums, Part 01

When my father's closets and office were cleaned out, nearly 30 of his photo albums came to me, and I've been scanning them gradually whenever I can.

It's quite an experience, to see one's life, and the life of the whole family, and of friends, go by in fast-forward, as it were. You think things like, "Ah, that was the minister before he was out of the closet," and, "This was Mark before he had any idea he'd become the father of three..." and, "Here's the guy who in his old age ended up in prison and died there," and ,"Here's the Korean orphan Mom and Dad 'adopted,'" and you know what the young girl in the picture doesn't:  that she will marry an American soldier and come to live in America. You see patterns you may not have noticed when life was proceeding at its normal, comparatively slow pace. You see tons of pictures of some people, not enough of other people. You notice looks on faces and body language and you say, "I might have known!" You see people you miss and people you don't and people you even wish had never entered your life, except then you remember that our God who loves us so tenderly would never have let them into our lives if it weren't something from which we could reap spiritual profit, so in the end you're glad for every, every, everything.

I thought I'd share a very few pictures with you that come with a story. Here's the first.




Here's a snapshot of Barbara and me, with a bird on Barbara's finger, just transferred from mine. This was taken at our cousin's outdoor wedding reception in about 1981. Barbara and I had just boggled the minds of the company by approaching this bird, who was sitting in a hedge singing, and when we called to it, right there in front of everyone, he hopped onto my finger, and then Barbara's.

Nobody knew it was a bird I had raised, and Barbara and I, sneaking around the back side of the hedge, had put the bird there, surreptitiously, a few moments before.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Freedom Over Me

Each memory triggers a dozen more...

"Oh, Freedom" is one of the songs we sang to get our spirits up before we went marching, that and "Precious Lord, Take My Hand," and "We Shall Overcome," both of which I take it people still know better than this one. We sang this the way this choir does, jazzed up, but I've found as well a most beautiful, slow rendition by Joan Baez. (Anybody still know who I'm talking about? She was one of your parents' favorite singers if they were hippies or flower children or any kind of political dissident.)





Oh! And then there was, "Certainly, Lord!" but in a special civil rights version:

Will you march for your freedom?
Certainly, Lord!
Will you live for your freedom?
Certainly, Lord!
Will you die for your freedom?
Certainly, certainly, certainly, Lord!

Memories from the 'Sixties

Or, What You Find When You Clean out Closets & Drawers



P.S.)  I wasn't there. That button belonged originally to someone else.  All the rest are mine, though.  I did march with Fr. Groppi and I did go hear Dr. King, and I did boycott grapes and non-union lettuce and did support Eugene McCarthy for President (against both Bobby Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey), etc., etc.

Sigh... another life.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Eye Doctor's Report

There are two pieces of GREAT news and three pieces of not-so-great, but not horrible or anything.

The best news is, my retinas are intact, undamaged. That was the biggest worry.

The next best news is, I don't need eyeglasses except the drug store kind I currently use. My distance vision is slightly impaired, but glasses wouldn't help. (Tip: Dollar Tree sells them for $1.00.)

That's because - here we begin the not-so-great news - the problem is "baby cataracts." Very early ones. Most people in my age range have them, and they are too small to present any problem worth dealing with now.

There's a large piece of connective tissue floating around in one eye, that has come loose from the optic nerve. I don't see it any more because it has migrated to the bottom of my eye, where it isn't bothering me. I forgot to ask, but I assume it will go away in due course. ??

And lastly, I have a mole in my eye! It's the size of a pinhead. The doctor thinks I've probably always had it and that it wasn't detected before because a GP doesn't have the specialized equipment.

Mole in the eye? Yes, you can have them there, same as anywhere else. And as with any mole, it should be monitored a bit to make sure it doesn't grow. So I have another appointment in 8 months.

Snippet of dialogue in ophthalmologist's waiting room:

Anastasia, daubing at her eyes with a tissue: "I'm not crying; I've got drops in my eyes."

Other woman: "Who can see whether you're crying or not?"

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Updates and Fun

Julia and David have called to my attention that I haven't posted for about a week, and when last heard from, had some concerns re my eyes and my supposed osteoarthritis that may turn out to be something else.

So here's the scoop: I haven't had either of those medical appointments yet! I still don't know anything. I go to the eye doctor Monday (tomorrow), the earliest he could see me, and the GP for x-rays on Wednesday, and I'll let everyone know right away the results of each.

Meanwhile, I seem to see normally and I feel good.

AND, meanwhile, Demetrios has been keeping me very busy furniture shopping. We have finally ordered the furniture for our sun room, after three years of living in it with miscellaneous pieces of junk salvaged from other rooms where they were no longer wanted. But doing this took all week because of how difficult it is to find chairs small enough yet still comfortable - and of a style that will fit our room.

I've also - by way of distraction - been very much enjoying three websites new to me. One, sent to me by my neighbor, Frances, is a kind of miniature Youtube.  She sent me this particular hilarious video, showing a prank pulled off by twin sisters; but then I began clicking on the "PREV" and "NEXT" buttons and have found several videos I've bookmarked.  Some were informative and helpful, some cute, some amazing, some just very interesting.

Then someone on Facebook mentioned the Grand Illusions website, and I've explored every last delightful corner of it, I think.  It has fabulous, unique, (and mostly rather pricey) toys and magic gimmicks.  It also has a section full of optical illusions, some for sale, some just for you to enjoy.  I hope you do.

And then thirdly, I've been preparing to construct the best marble run/Rube Goldberg contraption I've done so far, and this video has been an inspiration, as have some of the other videos on the same site, the Gallery of Outrageously Complicated Rube Goldberg Contraptions.  I especially like the gizmo that makes martinis for you - or whatever that drink is (Video 6).

I certainly won't be able to build anything of this magnitude, but maybe I can adapt certain principles to a miniature version of some of the gimmicks.  My goal is to incorporate as many as I can.

Anyway, I hope you'll have fun with some of this stuff, and I'll check in again tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Look What Chris Took In!

Here are some pictures posted Monday by my good friend, fellow wildlife rehabber, and mentor, Chris.


Little Brown Bat With Spinal Injury, Causing Genitals to be Extruded


Help!  I'm Caught!  Got a Human Tangled in my Hair! 
Note the Very Thick Leather Gloves.


Awww... That's Gotta be Sore!
Looks Like the Spinal Cord Injury Has Messed up his Feet, Too.


And as if that weren't enough for one day, an injured Corn Snake also arrived.



It's Harmless (to us) and Will Keep its Territory Free of Rats.