The anger of man does not work the righteousness of God (James 1:20)
I have occasionally read discussions or heard conversations in which the subject of a “righteous anger” is brought up. I understand the concept. I will say without fear of contradiction that I have never seen a single case of human “righteous indignation.” Just as I have never met a man who was pure in heart, neither have I man a man who is pure in anger.
I’ve seen anger and plenty of it. Priests are not strangers to anger, either within themselves or within others around them. But as St. James notes, it does not work the righteousness of God. In plain and simple terms, I’ve never seen it do anyone any good.
By the same token, if you have never had the experience of a righteous anger – then how would you know one when you saw one? The simple fact is that you wouldn’t. This is what makes discussions of the “anger” or “wrath” of God so academic. We have the words of the Fathers who direct our hearts properly to the love of God. St. Isaac of Syria once said, “We know nothing of God’s justice, only His mercy.” And yet there are those who are bold enough to theorize a Divine Justice to which God is bound by necessity. Those who speak of such things do not know what they are talking about. These are theories and hypotheses, not Divine Teachings. This is the blind rationalism of those who have removed the Scriptures from the Church and the living witness of the saints who dwell in light.
From an Orthodox perspective, some things are quite simple. St. Silouan of Mt. Athos said, “If you do not love your enemies then you do not know God.”
It is also possible to conclude that if you do not know God then you do not know about such things as His anger, His wrath, His goodness, His power, etc. But there are many who “know” the Scriptures. But they do not know the path of salvation that has been walked by the saints through the ages.
From outside the world of Orthodox Christianity such statements can be judged as heresy (because they do not fit certain formulas of the heterodox). However, it is not formulas that save but the Divine Grace of God dwelling in us changing us from glory to glory into the image of His dear Son. The evidence of that glory will be manifest in the heart and will be manifest as love. “He who loves not, knows not God.”
Sometimes I just have to say these things. No arguments. Forgive me if I offend.
Comments are now open. Tread lightly.
No offence taken!
Father, you said: “I will say without fear of contradiction that I have never seen a single case of human “righteous indignation.””
Then perhaps – just perhaps – based on this your honest admission, it may not be a bad idea to consider that God’s wrath really is something that is not simply to be explained by whether one believes and loves God or not, right? (is it a good idea to absolutely insist that all the Fathers speak unanimously with one voice on this point?). Perhaps we should understand “The anger of man does not work the righteousness of God” to mean that though a spiritual man may experience righteous anger (energized by the Holy Spirit in Him), it is not his to act on this emotion in ways that have not been given to him (as it is finally the Lords to avenge, or set right) – is it not enough to insist on this? (and even if a Christian civil ruler has been given the duty to bear the sword, He is always to execute judgment with sorrow). Truly, God works in us His people in His Church with the end to save through our acts of mercy and healing, and if we afflict, we are to do so with the words of Law, not physical deeds of violence, which are meant to lead persons to repentance.
(Admission: By the way, when I say that I think I have seen righteous anger (having no really good reason to believe that what I saw was not energized by God in these godly persons) keep in mind as a Lutheran I still believe that we still sin in all our good deeds (since we all die this is proof we can’t justify ourselves in this way), due to the infection that rages within us. God contributes the good; but tend to contribute the sin, in larger or smaller amounts…)
I know I must love my enemies – and it does my heart good to know that this is God’s heart. But I also believe in Divine Justice – not because God is bound by necessity – but because He freely acts out of love to preserve and protect his children.
Father: “However, it is not formulas that save but the Divine Grace of God dwelling in us changing us from glory to glory into the image of His dear Son. The evidence of that glory will be manifest in the heart and will be manifest as love. “He who loves not, knows not God.””
Thanks again for delving into this stuff – and opening up the comments – more from me on Tuesday, I hope.
“. . .there are many who “know” the Scriptures. But they do not know the path of salvation that has been walked by the saints through the ages.”
As a former minister of worship in the evangelical church for 30 years, this is precisely the great deception that has blinded the eyes of evangelicals. This is a huge tragedy and a source of great concern for my friends who remain in that situation. May the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the light shining into the darkness, rescue those souls from deception. ( I don’t mean to be offensive to anyone, by my comments. Please forgive, if I have become a stumbling block to any.) Lord have mercy.
Clarification: ‘. . .great deception” in my previous post is: claiming to know God, but only “knowing the Scriptures.”
I know this, I am incapable of acting in a righteous manner when angry. There have been times where I was able to significantly mitigate the damage I might cause, but this always involves some sort of de-coupling of my anger from my actions. I have to insert my conscience and will in the chain of events.
This is not limited to anger, I distrust any action which arises out of “pressures” or “needs” or “musts”. Whenever someone says to me “I feel I must…” I take a few steps back. That is a person reacting, not acting; a person controlled and manipulated by their senses. A person deluded about their ability to effectively act to resolve the disturbance caused by their passions.
In this sense I can finally say that I agree that God is dispassionate. As long as dispassion is defined as God being subject to anything but His own will.
But I don’t see God’s anger, or laughter, or any other action of God ever being subject to anything other than Himself. If that requires some manipulation in my vocabulary to say “God’s wrath is merely our misperception of His love” I can say that, but not in the way I think folks have meant it in these discussions.
If Christ laughed, He did so because He willed to, not because He was caused to laugh. If God was angry then it was also His will to be and not because He had lost control of His will.
Thank you Father Stephen for your patience when I have been angry.
Fr. Stephen I liked it better with the comments off.
My apologies Robert. It seem to be providing my own visual aid for the failures to control one’s self.
On the concept of human righteous anger I always think about “Judge not that you be not judged” along with the “beam and mote”. Lord have mercy.
I think what I mean to say in this post is that it’s one thing to say that you do not understand the passages on anger and wrath with regard to God, but feel it is important somehow to hold to those passages. I well understand. For those who say they do understand those passages I say they are in delusion – they don’t even understand human anger. I will continue to post on the subject because I believe it is important and many people are hungry to hear this patristic witness to the gospel. I will not argue the point much, however, because I find it painful to hear God described in terms that border on blasphemy. Turning off comments was an attempt to cool things down. To say, “Read and listen for a while.”
Hi Father Stephen,
I hope by my differences with you in these past threads doesn’t imply real opposition. I am very VERY sympathetic with your views, and those of the Orthodox church. A large part of me wants you to be right on all counts. But of course my heart must seek the truth, and not just what I may want to be true.
Anyway, I suppose my question for you (or others) is: what about anger and hatred for hell and all its works? Are there not times where anger at evil can spur us to righteous action? Did not Christ hate death – hate it so much that he trampled it down giving life to those in the tombs? Or is it pointless to say so, since evil and death are ultimately empty and not “things” in themselves?
Has no good really ever been done due to anger at injustice? That’s hard for me to swallow. Perhaps not – perhaps good is only done by “dispassionate” love. But is there not a side to love that opposes that which would corrupt and destroy God’s good creation with a burning vehemence? And if this is so, then this is what the scripture is speaking of by “the anger of the Lord” – his love when turned towards that which is seeking to pull creation towards death (and indeed, in the sin and corruption in our own hearts). In the words of Rich Mullins – “the reckless raging fury that they call the Love of God”. And if this is so, might there be something redeemable in human “anger” when that anger is aimed against that which threatens the good?
I don’t know the answers. In the words of Eomer of Rohan: “I speak only as do all men in my land, and I would gladly learn better.” Thank you for your patience and your teaching.
Please Wonders for Oyarsa and everyone else read, or re-read River of Fire.
That above link seems not to be working, it is https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/the-river-of-fire-kalomiros/
I understand the theory, I’ve just never seen it. To use the Lord of the Rings analogy, using that ring always does harm to the bearer. The anger of man does not work the righteousness of God. That is the Scriptural word.
The greatest of saints have wept even for the most evil. I suspect that’s a revelation of the heart of God.
It has always been clear to me, even before becoming Christian, that the typical understanding of the wrath, anger and justice of God was anthropomorphic, i.e, we re-create God in our image rather than striving to know His image in us. I wanted nothing to do with such a vision of God.
The Incarnation (which to me includes the Nativity, ministry, the Cross, the Grave, the Glorious Resurection and Ascension) is what Christianity is about. For us to participate in the ineffable grace He has bestowed on us, the Church, following the words of Christ, tells us that we must repent, pray (sacramentally and personally), give alms, fast (not just from food but the passions as well). Our focus in these activities is singular–union with Christ Himself.
I thank God everyday that He has not be just with me. I would be sharing quaffs of brimstone with Satan by now if God were just with me. If I am grateful of His mercy for myself, how can I accept anything else for others who are far more deserving of it than I.
Once you use your enemy’s weapon (anger) you become exactly the enemy that you dislike or hate. Christians are better off heeding Christ’s command “Love your enemies”. This is a very difficult commandment, one that I struggle everyday. But I accept Fr. Stephen’s teachings (Orthodox Christian teachings) on this subject.
We have seen how human “righteous anger” works. It works like the Saducees and Pharisees righteousness–very same anger (they thought that they were acting on God’s behalf); we know the rest of the story.
Please pray for me, a sinner.
God bless you, Fr. Stephen!
A question I need to continue to ask myself is ‘how does my anger effect my relationship, my ability to pray, listen, and cooperate with God and thus over the longer term begin to know Him?’
For me, anger blocks me from God. It’s primarily my response to the difference between they way it is and the way I think it should be. Often, the foundation of this difference is my belief that I know what is ‘good’ and ‘evil’ (sounds like a tree Adam explored maybe) and that the world is not conforming to my views. Fundamentally, I’m often confused about who is truly God and this confusion places me on the throne. Mixing the word ‘righteous’ into this equation; makes it easy for me to further delude myself into thinking that somehow this has some value in connecting me with God instead of recognizing that it clearly is seperating me from Him. I’m far from praising Him (or even seeing Him) when I’m consumed with my self centered view of how the world ‘should behave’. When I elevate myself to the throne of righteousness especially in anger; I’ve lost sight of the True King
I’ll be putting a reference to an article by Met. Jonah Paffhausen that speaks well to much of this – I’ll place it on the side bar and draw attention to it.
Thank you. This is a post to live by. It settles any desire I had for fruitless argument. I’ll allow myself to argue when I master loving my enemies!
David, your speculation of God’s dispassionate nature is very satisfying, these sections particularly:
“In this sense I can finally say that I agree that God is dispassionate. As long as dispassion is defined as God being subject to anything but His own will.
“If Christ laughed, He did so because He willed to, not because He was caused to laugh. If God was angry then it was also His will to be and not because He had lost control of His will.”
I found this profound. Thank you.
Dear Fr Stephen,
Thank you for your helpful reflections. As I have no e-mail address for you, nor do I even know your family name, I write to ask via the comment option if I might post your reflections on anger to the e-list of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship and, should I find room, perhaps also publish it in our journal, In Communion? Those Christians who aspire to be peacemakers very often struggle with their own anger — and, of course, with the anger of others.
I can’t answer your question, of course, but the about page tells you in brief who Father Stephen is:
And he has an ancient faith radio podcast which includes a published email address.
This email will self-destruct in about three days.
Thank you, Fr Stephen.
Where do I find the “about page”? I’ve looked at the blog top to bottom several times and not yet found it.
Look on the sidebar for pages. The first listing is: About. Click on that. Or just click on the previous “about.”
I hope Fr. Stephen doesn’t mind me using a little space on this blog to personally thank you for your writing. I may not have another chance. I have several of your books (Ladder of the Beatitudes, Praying with Icons and your book on Confession) and they were a great help to me as I was learning about orthodoxy. I have also found many helpful resources on your website. St. Maria of Paris was also very inspiring to me and I learned about her through you. So thank you and may God continue to bless all of your work for Him.
As I don’t want to pull away from the topic of these comments, might I ask you to send me a note. I’ll respond to you directly.
I appreciate you bringing this perennial “issue” to light. I think the initial reaction to the teaching that God is dispassionate among fundagelicals is the fear that liberal theology is creeping into the conversation. My wife’s (we are now both Orthodox converts) initial reaction to “The River of Fire” was one of animosity towards the notion that God is dispassionate. It is the kind of teaching that takes time to “sink in.” I suspect that at some level we hold on to the passionate and wrathful God because he vindicates our own anger.
I think you are quite right. The reality of a God Who is transcendant, and yet made Himself known in Christ, is a very new thing to many. I sometimes think a gentle dose of Dionysius the Areopagite, or at least Apophatic Theology 101, would help many. There was a time (and still occasionally) when I begin working with inquirers that I suggest that lay aside everything they “think” they know about God. I suggest it mostly because I had to do much the same both to shed my disbelief (the wrathful God was something of a source of atheism for me) and to slowly come to faith.
I think my first reaction to the River of Fire was one of relief – that many of the thoughts I had entertained about the atonement were not heresy, but, indeed, quite Orthodox. He still is too harsh on the West – but the unnuanced version of the substituionary penal model that one encounters in the South can make his bar-room swings at certain elements of the West rather bracing.
Some of the apophaticism that seems important to me is that people have never encounter any of the passions in anything but a disorder state. Thus all language – even sometimes about love – can be quite distorted, particularly when applied to God. We need to be changed into His image, not paint Him in ours.
Thanks for the comment!
re: “I think the initial reaction to the teaching that God is dispassionate among fundagelicals is the fear that liberal theology is creeping into the conversation.”
You identified precisely what I didn’t realize was pushing my buttons (buttons that apparently retain “reaction juice” that I thought or hoped was mostly gone in the two years since my conversion)
The message from the pulpit of my former (Episcopal) church, three Sundays out of four, was “God is Love.”
God is love. And thank God that is so. But in the Episcopal context, it was love-lite because the need for repentance wasn’t part of the conversation; it was, instead, carte blanche for discarding the uncomfortable or inconvenient parts of God’s revelation, those that interfered with human agendas (the Creed, Holy Scripture, Tradition, etc.).
Now within the bounds of Holy Orthodoxy, I’m slowly learning I don’t need to fear hearing that God is love. He is, God means what He means by it (and it’s not up to me to “get” it or not…the Truth remains, regardless), and it’s only in my sinfulness that hearing unmitigated proclamation of God’s love would bother me. Universalism is the heresy, not the love of God.
I think I feel a certain relief as well in reading “River of Fire”. I can ignore his inflammatory (no pun intended) statements about the West as well – for, though he is wrong to make the entire West his punching bag, the viewpoint he so vehemently attacks does indeed exist. I seem to run into it a lot in “Reformed” circles, especially on the web.
Anyway, I want what he says to be true. Indeed, I want to know that all will be saved in the end. I don’t dislike his conclusions – but I’m very uncomfortable about what he had to do to the scriptures to reach them. If we cannot trust the plain meaning of the scriptures, but rather must reinterpret even the words of Christ himself to fit the Church’s teaching, then how can the scriptures correct us when we go astray? Is the answer mere Orthodox triumphalism – “we never have gone astray”?
Another part of it for me is a conviction that the historical-critical method is redeemable. I’ve found this in the writings of N. T. Wright – a fresh reading of the scriptures that actually takes us deeper into the teaching of the Church and introduce us to layers of meaning we never expected. In the case of Wright, it’s pulling Protestants far closer to the teachings of the fathers, but in a roundabout way.
Anyway, these are my hesitations on reading the deeply compelling vision written in that fascinating paper.
it’s largely because of my reading Wright over the past 7 years that I am now an Orthodox inquirer. I came to a crisis point within Protestantism about 10 years ago, when I saw my received P. theology unraveling. About that time, a PCUSA pastor introduced me to Wright’s big books. Not wanting to be anything but a Christian, I wanted to know how Wright could consort with those Jesus Seminar people and read all the source docs they had read, and affirm orthodox teaching. I found out. As my theology became reconstructed through prayer, scripture study, discussions and reading Wright, I found places to land… though I thought I would have to be a “Wrightian” Christian among Protestants, because nobody, least of all the ECUSA, sadly, looked like what he was putting forth. Then the strangest thing happened: I kept stumbling into Orthodoxy, mostly via the internet but also meeting people ftf, and found that where Wright is (about 85% of the time-my estimate) is Orthodox teaching. It became comical. It seemed that every time I turned around, there would be Orthodoxy, smiling and waving at me. Since my head and my heart were already there, I figured I should take my body along too. I’m to be made catechumen in two weeks.
It was not teaching on theosis that caused me to do a double take and keep investigating Orthodoxy; it was this article. Though the author references Kalomiros, he paints a very big picture and draws together many threads without dissing “the west” so much. It was very, very instrumental for me.
As someone who has studied a foreign language to fluency, and having bugged Fr. Stephen about this by email, I think it would be helpful to explain the vocabulary “dispassionate”/”passions”. I think much confusion arises (for Protestants especially) because it seems we are being told that we should not have emotions, and that God doesn’t have emotions (How can we be made in God’s image and have emotions, and God not have them?). I understand what Fr. Stephen is getting at, but it has taken some time and help from other sources. It’s the translation vs transliteration thing; we have to make sure we’re all talking about the same thing.
Tried to make this as short as possible- forgive my many words.
I don’t think it’s an Orthodox triumphalism. But it is similar to St. Irenaeus’ Apostolic Hypothesis. A fundamental framework, believed by the Church, by which it interprets Scripture. Without such a framework there can be no interpretation at all. For this, read Fr. John Behr. There simply cannot be a “plain meaning” of the Old Testament and the New that are reconcilable without some sort of Marcionism, or Dispensationalism. It is obvious that the NT uses a radical reinterpretation of the OT (eg. the prophecy of the Virgin Birth) as canonical and authoritative and that would not be possible except for an Apostolic Hypothesis directing the work. N.T. Wright is a great guy. But the historical critical method only works when used by nice guys. In the hands of most interpreters, it is not a tool of faith. I agree that it can have helpful uses. But there is literally a living Tradition in the liturgical life of Orthodoxy that “reads” the Scripture. An Orthodox Christian can never divorce himself from that reading. It is the faith as it has been delivered to us.
The article by Anthony Hughes that you reference is excellent – I commend it as well.
How can Divine Justice protect God’s children? Sending the man to hell who killed my aunt does nothing for my aunt. She does not need to see her murderer tortured. It is useless. Only love and mercy are of any use in the end. Read more Dostoyevsky.
I do agree with Dana. However, not just N.T. Wright, but a lot of those whom I’ve found helpful among Protestant scholars and authors from this century actually say an awful lot that I’ve discovered is very similar to Orthodoxy in a lot of ways. It’s curious, really. I think some of them are aware or have grown aware of the similarity. Others I’m not sure are. Neverthless.
For me, the interpretations and understandings that are more Orthodox turn out to be the only ones which have ever ‘stuck’ for me, even at times when I thought I was the only one in the Christian world who understood things that way. (In those times, I kept my mouth shut, but didn’t change what I believed.) I tried on a lot of the different modern Protestant beliefs early in my Christian journey, but they almost immediately deconstructed for me. They had no legs.
I suppose it’s not surprising that I ended up with so many Orthodox beliefs. I came into Christianity with an interest in history, especially ancient history, and a long history of at least trying to deeply explore any religion or spirituality into which I journeyed. So I naturally read the ‘Fathers’, even I didn’t at first realize that’s what they were. I’m not sure you can truly read them broadly without picking up an awful lot of Orthodoxy, at least if you haven’t already been shaped to automatically read everything they say through a particular lens.
“How can Divine Justice protect God’s children?”
Father Stephen, I think most of us are prepared to say that you are very right about the nature of Hell. I think most of us are thinking about acts of protection and defense in this life. Think of the destruction of Sodom, for instance, or any instance where God brings down the proud and exalts the humble.
By the way, it’s interesting to me that the view expressed by the River of Fire bears an uncanny similarity to C. S. Lewis’ “The Great Divorce” as well as the scene of the dwarfs in the “barn” in “The Last Battle”.
I would be interested to hear an analysis of the ways in which Wright is Orthodox in his teaching. A few things come to mind:
– christological reapropriation of OT
– understanding the “justice” of God as essentially restorative – God’s “putting the world to rights”
– seeing resurrection and new creation as the trajectory of God’s salvation – not the destruction of the world but its transformation
– seeing theosis as the core vocation of humanity, so that “the more godly we become, the more truly human we become”
– understanding the cross to be the defeat of evil and death
– seeing the scriptural “portraits” of God as “icons”
The idea of Divine Justice protecting God’s children as in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah simply will not wash. They have not been protected in such a manner. Indeed, if there had been a couple of more righteous men in Sodom, it would have been spared. God certainly preserves us – though I prefer the Septuagint phrase, “with a secret hand.” Justice, as most people understand it, is so completely lacking in the world, that it is not a defense of the Christian faith, but an argument against its truth. I do not think it a useful category, nor did St. Isaac the Syrian.
Do you then disagree with Kalomiros here? Or do I continue to misunderstand – as I so often do?
However, there are punishments imposed upon us by God, or rather evils done to us by the devil and permitted by God. But these punishments are what we call pedagogical punishments. They have as their aim our correction in this life, or at least the correction of others who would take a lesson from our example and correct themselves by fear. There are also punishments which do not have the purpose of correcting anybody but simply put an end to evil by putting an end to those who are propagating it, so that the earth may be saved from perpetual corruption and total destruction; such was the case in the flood during Noe’s time, and in Sodom’s destruction.
If Kalomiros is right to speak of God acting in Sodom to preserve the rest of creation, then would this not be “Divine Justice protecting God’s children” – as long as we take justice to mean “working toward setting the world right”?
We would be in agreement on this one. Yay!
One way this is said in Orthodox prayers is that “all things are for our salvation.” That would include the Sodomites as well. God wills the salvation of all, not that all will accept it. Thus I can accept that God intends nothing but good for me in all things, despite what others may intend for me and the evils they do to me. God is not the cause of evil.
The “corrective” sense of “punishment” is certainly upheld quite clearly in Scripture (“chastisement”) and in the Fathers as well. I’m cautious about tangling it up with justice because justice has been so abused. I don’t use the word much if at all because it’s usefulness has largely been destroyed by those who used it incorrectly.
that’s a great list, more than I could come up with on the fly…
I would add:
-seeing the possibility for hope for the eventual restoration of all people after the Judgment;
-understanding Paul’s use of the term “the Law” to indicate (maybe most of the time?) the culturoreligious markers of Judaism. Kevin Allen has recently done an interview on AFR with a retired seminary professor who articulates this point;
-portraying Jesus as the Representative Human who unites humanity with God. Wright does not go into explicit detail about this, but it was clear to me in his writing about Jesus, before I knew much about Orthodoxy.
If you want to talk more, let’s move off Fr. Stephen’s comment string- email me at ldames at pacific dot net.
First off, pardon the length…
In your most recent post, you said:
“I was born into an angry world. “Jim Crow” South was full of anger. Whites were angry at Blacks and Blacks were angry at Whites. We were angry at Communism. We were angry about the Civil War. We were angry at poverty (especially our own). Others were angry at those who were angry and the injustice of the entire system.”
Thank you so much for this piece, which I think is very helpful to my understanding. You and I grew up in different worlds, I think. I don’t mean to offend by saying this, but it seems to me that just as many Baptists react strongly vs. any consumption of alcoholic drink, coming from cultures that have produced many bad experiences with it, perhaps many who have experienced such anger struggle to see it as a good thing, if moderated : ) (and get nervous when people like me *seem* all eager to say “being angry is OK, because Paul says ‘in your anger do not sin’”!) – or better, bound by a will which is unchangeable love for all persons.
The two pieces you posted (from Metropolitan Jonah and St. John of the Ladder) have much that I agree with (basically all – wonderful questions at the end of the longer piece), but of course, I think others like me, are mainly talking about the emotion of human anger as the reaction to wrongs and injustices towards others (and “in your anger do not sin”), not one’s self. I am in complete agreement with this piece as regards one’s self, but it is good to get beyond ourselves to of course!
So Luciasclay did a nice job of summing this up:
“I have decided it is one thing to forgive but there are certain things I must do to fulfill my charge to protect those who I have been given. Forgive but do not permit again. In my mind and heart I weep for how it must be. I have come to see it that sin does separate. Even when there is love and forgiveness.”
I think I am beginning to understand a little bit better the dispassion of God, although if you could point me to a really good piece, I’d appreciate it. Dana Ames helped me out a lot when she said:
“I think much confusion arises (for Protestants especially) because it seems we are being told that we should not have emotions, and that God doesn’t have emotions (How can we be made in God’s image and have emotions, and God not have them?). I understand what Fr. Stephen is getting at, but it has taken some time and help from other sources. It’s the translation vs transliteration thing; we have to make sure we’re all talking about the same thing.”
William also helped me much when he provided this quote from one of my heroes, Cyril of Alexandria:
“But let no one accustom himself to swear from hearing that God sware unto Abraham. For just as anger, when spoken of God, is not anger, nor implies passion, but signifies power exercised in punishment, or some similar motion; so neither is an oath an act of swearing. For God does not swear, but indicates the certainty of the event,—-that that which He says will necessarily come to pass. For God’s oath is His own word, fully persuading those that hear, and giving each one the conviction that what He has promised and said will certainly come to pass.”
So, I must take this dispassion stuff more seriously, to be sure. That said…
I appreciate that Wonders for Oyarsa found this bit in Kalomiros:
“There are also punishments which do not have the purpose of correcting anybody but simply put an end to evil by putting an end to those who are propagating it, so that the earth may be saved from perpetual corruption and total destruction; such was the case in the flood during Noe’s time, and in Sodom’s destruction.”
Wonders closed by saying:
“If Kalomiros is right to speak of God acting in Sodom to preserve the rest of creation, then would this not be “Divine Justice protecting God’s children” – as long as we take justice to mean “working toward setting the world right”?”
And you said that you were in agreement! With me too, then, I suppose.
But earlier you did say:
“How can Divine Justice protect God’s children? Sending the man to hell who killed my aunt does nothing for my aunt. She does not need to see her murderer tortured. It is useless. Only love and mercy are of any use in the end. Read more Dostoyevsky.”
…and I’ll admit, I think earlier I talked about divine justice protecting the little ones in this life and the next. What I was getting at there is that in heaven we are kept from those whom we would forgive in Christ but who would never accept such forgiveness and would eternally rage against us. They will continue to exist, as God – unlike us – does not “snuff out of existence” persons who don’t agree with Him – but we will be eternally preserved as they will be kept far from us – even as we would be eager to, like our Lord, stand by them forever, loving them, as the Lamb does (Rev. 14) (though they will not accept this).
Karen C said:
To understand these images otherwise reminds me of the illustration of the young child who is told by his mother, “Daddy’s going to be late–he says he’s all tied up at the office,” and who is alarmed by an image of his father with a gag and rope around him tied to his chair and struggling at his desk. He is relieved, but also disillusioned when his father comes home later safe and sound, and denies having been tied to his chair. Will such a young concrete thinker not think his mother is a terrible liar to have said such a thing? What on earth was she thinking by alarming him so?!
You also said at one point:
“I find it painful to hear God described in terms that border on blasphemy.”
Father, I don’t mean to pain you. Thank you for your great love for the people of God, and doing these posts. I pray that you and other Orthodox will be able to put up with me, a “literalistic” Christian… (Karen C: “this is not a battle that can be fought merely with words and concepts and ideas about what Scripture “obviously means” on its surface.”)
I agree with Karen C. that the cross is the ultimate weapon Jesus uses to defeat His enemies, the sword of the Spirit, even – but I still can’t say, like she does of the passages regarding the final judgment (particularly in Revelation):
“To understand these images otherwise reminds me of the illustration of the young child who is told by his mother, “Daddy’s going to be late–he says he’s all tied up at the office,” and who is alarmed by an image of his father with a gag and rope around him tied to his chair and struggling at his desk. He is relieved, but also disillusioned when his father comes home later safe and sound, and denies having been tied to his chair. Will such a young concrete thinker not think his mother is a terrible liar to have said such a thing? What on earth was she thinking by alarming him so?!”
She puts it wonderfully, but it still seems too much for me… : ) Indeed, “Christ as ultimate Truth, before Whom all lives are laid bare” as she says, but I don’t believe so literally because I think “Christ needs to exercise some kind of violence to check the violence of sinners” (she goes on to say: “recall how on earth He passed on more occasion from the midst of those who intended to kill or harm Him without so much as a word…”) but because I take even the stories of judgment in Scripture (like Noah’s Ark, Babel, Jericho, book of Revelation) as pointing to a real objective, material judgment where Christ really does exercise wrath, although always asking “why will you [each individual being judged!] die” as He must reluctantly use force to keep His children safe…
So even here, I am even more “liberal” than Kalomiros, who again said: “There are also punishments which do not have the purpose of correcting anybody but simply put an end to evil by putting an end to those who are propagating it, so that the earth may be saved from perpetual corruption and total destruction.”
Again, thank you again for your service to all of us. May the Lamb give you the confidence and security of His love to make you bold for Him always!
To any who might respond to this, I won’t be able to look again until Tuesday night (u.s. – central time)
I’m beginning to get the sense that by “protecting” you mean secluding or placing in quarantine those who might torment others – i.e. put them in hell where they won’t bother the righteous anymore. Will they bother God? I would suggest that the righteous will not be bothered if God is not bothered, nor will the righteous be ignorant of their existence if God is not ignorant of their existence. I’m not certain how you imagine heaven and hell, but it sounds like it might be distinctly different from what we have in Orthodox teaching.
Dear Father, bless!
It sounds to me also a bit that Nathan assumes that those who reject God in the end might still have some real power to effect evil on others did not God forcibly constrain them. I don’t believe this is true–otherwise why do the demons flee His very Presence and tremble at His mere word? I rather picture that those who hate the light will be just trying for all their worth to avoid Him because it hurts to be exposed, and that “outer darkness” is basically a description of this self-imposed inner blindness.
Nathan, have you read C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce? It is his allegory of the afterlife, and I think he reflects many elements of a more truly Orthodox understanding of the nature of sin and how it separates from God in this work. It definitely suggests that something other than forcible violence on the part of God is what keeps evil at bay in the Kingdom. Anyway, what it shows is that the unveiled Presence of God (pictured in this book as a world that simply has more reality and substance to it than the temporal and earthly is simply a milieu in which the ungodly cannot act or thrive–it causes them pain and repels them because their own hellish appetites and inclinations change their being in such a way that renders them unfit to thrive there. C.S. Lewis might be good food for thought.
In light of the discussion of anger and justice/punishments, could you help me understand this from Joshua 24?
19 But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the LORD, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. 20 If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you, after He has done you good.”
I am not answering for Father Stephen, but my answer would be that the Israelites needed to understand the consuming fire that they were dealing with. This was not a god they could bargain or trifle with – a means to exploit for other ends. As for us, I suppose we could interpret it “spiritually” to refer to the absolute goodness of Christ – who will make our salvation total and will not leave an inch of sin or death unconquered. We cannot “serve” this holy king in the sense that we cannot fit the whirlwind in a bottle or contain his holy fire – we cannot expect to remain ourselves. His love will consume us, and cleanse us from even a hint of unrighteousness.
That’s my poor attempt at some solid orthodox revisionist reading of the passage. Obviously an absolutist literalistic interpretation of the words won’t work here – for he did and does forgive their and our transgressions and our sins. This is clear throughout the OT.
And then there is the danger to sound Orthodox, understand all the right things, but be removed from the life of the Church. Be careful!
This talk of protecting has dropped into my mind a question. How will God prevent me from harming others in Heaven?
Karen paints an image of those who do not accept God’s love as in a state of perpetual retreat (I suppose they would be so preoccupied with that that they aren’t able to do anything else, essentially effectively paralized).
But if I want to obey God here on earth and do so imperfectly, how will my desire to be with God be perfected? He doesn’t seem to stop me here in this life. I suppose it’s said that that which He allows me to do to others He allows for their spiritual benefit. But then my silly brain starts thumbing around about “free will” and other such constructs.
I remain perplexed, pray for me.
I don’t know David. But we’ll be fine. Don’t try to work it all out – you never can. Love God and seek Him. It’s about the sum total of what we have to do each moment.
I think it’s time I started obeying you instead of merely listening to you.
I’m not sure why that never occurred to me before. Forgive me.
I hold the view I expressed about hell quite loosely, I think (I don’t often think about hell for others – it is kind of painful) – and I regret sharing it because it really did detract from the substance of the conversation (I was happy that it seemed like there were a lot of viewpoints that were coming together) In any case, it is out there now at least, though I don’t want to hijack the post with this topic, so I will stop writing about it after this post… (and I will not be checking again until next Tuesday). You may be right that it is distinctly different from what is in Orthodox teaching – I would be open to hearing more about why this might be the case.
(I admit though, given the very, I believe wholesome desire, within Orthodoxy, that all will be saved somehow, is it not hard to hold this desire while simultaneously thinking that God, while standing in the presence of the damned [in Rev. 14] is not, in some sense, “bothered” that they are in fact damned? I know we could say that this is something that is true that we can’t understand, but I am curious to know why it is a person would insist that God would not be, in some sense, bothered by this [otherwise, are we not, in some sense, just pushing Kalomiros’ angry God into other realms?] Also, I don’t believe that God or the righteous are ignorant of their existence – I’m not sure why you would have gotten this idea).
“otherwise why do the demons flee His very Presence and tremble at His mere word?”
Why could the devil stand in God’s presence in the book of Job? Karen, I have read The Great Divorce. I think it is interesting – and an interesting theory – but I don’t see it as necessarily representing the truth on this subject.
Well good we got our opinions out of the way! 😀
Kalomiros and Orthodoxy do not teach universalism. To say that God is good to all is a statement about the love of God. It is the refusal to accept that love that “creates” hell, if you will. I would not go so far as to say that God is not “bothered” by such refusal, but how could He love us more than He does? But I think the refusal of such love does not change the love or His mercy (or joy, etc.).
There is a minority of about two among Orthodox fathers who hold the idea that this unrelenting love of God eventually triumphs over all, but it is only held as a private thought and may not be taught as the faith of the Church. It is one of the things we do not know the answer to – because it has not been given us to know. So I’m back at my level of ignorance.
Dear Father, bless!
Forgive me, I just need to vent a little! I just caught a brief snippet of a popular evangelical pastor’s message on the car radio while dropping my daughter off to school (I like to listen to news updates on this station, but don’t generally listen to the preaching aired there for reasons that will be obvious). He has been preaching on the book of Jonah. He asked the question about why Jonah got a second chance when he so blatantly disobeyed God, and he referenced another OT passage where God’s prophet was slain by a lion after he had disobeyed God’s commandment to fast (in 1 Kings 13). In this preacher’s own words, “Why didn’t God KILL Jonah? He DID KILL the prophet [in 1 Kings 13]?” (My emphases.) . . .
Nowhere in these passages could I find a reference saying that God said “I will kill you” to either of these prophets. God’s prediction of death for disobedience (according to His foreknowledge) is not the same as saying He will kill in punishment! No wonder people with Protestant backgrounds in this country are confused when this is the way Scripture has been read and taught to them! When this is the way “Christ” is preached, it’s no wonder those like Jim (another of your readers) have such a hard time understanding the Bible’s real message.
I guess the bottom line is keep doing what you’re doing, Father. It is so needed!
“Humility relies on the capacity to see myself objectively, that is, impartially and disinterestedly. And so on.”
Forgive me, Sam, but to be honest I find within myself no capacity for humility inherently arising from my ability to conceive of myself and others as “object.” I find my self image is hopelessly bound up in my passions such that impartiality is a practical impossibility. There is only one thing that has ever allowed me an instance of true humility, and that is an utterly gratuitous gracious movement of the Holy Spirit that pulls back the curtain of my flesh for a moment such that I catch a glimpse of Christ. Then I am in that moment truly humbled. Otherwise, I am all pride and egocentricity disguised as much as possible so as not to offend my neighbor, or I am despairing and full of shame because of my obvious inadequacies.
I don’t find theoretical knowledge and discussions of how humans *can* be righteous in their “indignation” terribly convincing in view of my own experiences of human anger–in myself and others. I’m not schooled in theology or philosophy as academic disciplines, and theory as such doesn’t interest me as much as what actually touches my spiritual life. My academic background is in psychology. From that vantage point and from a biblical perspective, it seems to me, anger in itself as an emotional reaction to the perception of evil in oneself or someone else is not necessarily wrong. It can be one sign of a healthy conscience, obviously. *How we view our anger, and anger in the active sense, is the question here (and, by extension, how we may imagine God is in His “anger”)*.
We live in a culture saturated with messages calculated to fuel our anger and energize our activism against various (usually binary) perceived evils. Usually, this manipulation (by political forces in media, etc.) just leads to the perpetration of more evil by those who are angry in the (in their own minds) righteously indignant sense. Looking back on the Civil Rights movement, it seems to me the most powerful protests are not the angry ones, but the peaceful, self-sacrificing and resolute ones.
A study of the psychology of anger as emotion shows that anger’s expression (or indulging one’s anger) typically serves as a self-protective cover for other more deeply painful and disturbing emotions, such as fear, grief and shame, and which will prevent the exploration and healing of those deeper wounds if we aren’t willing to confess and let go of the anger in order to deal with the underlying, more vulnerable and powerful emotions. Grief and shame in the face of injustice and evil indicates a deeper response to God and His truth it seems to me than does anger.
Your comment reminded me that we humans always suffer from a degree of delusion, whether in our perception, or our reasonings, and it’s wise to maintain humble awareness of this and endeavor to submit to the wisdom of the Church. Knowing the (practical) impossibility of objectivity for an individual in this life ,is often wiser than trying to be objective while forgetting this impossibility. It’s not just that we haven’t a pure enough heart to see, (which is the main point indeed) it’s also that we are living inside a space-time continuum as miniscule parts of it, currently engrossed (even those Saints who have had ‘cosmic’ experiences of Grace and who have beheld the vastness of ‘Heaven and Hell’ revert back to this inevitability) in an unavoidably temporal and spatially circumscribed ‘dwelling’. Even holy people have a (tiny) portion of delusion as individuals according to Fr Sophrony, while it is the Church as a whole, alone, that is completely delusion-free.
All the more reason to be humble.
Dino, great point. There is no substitute for the mind of Christ as traditioned to us within the Church.
Serge, I believe there is a lot of truth in what you say. Truth/reality is not relative to my merely subjective take on what that is, but a lot of modern people have been conditioned to believe that it is. On the other hand, we have also received in the West a philosophical inheritance from the Enlightenment that tempts us us to reduce spiritual discernment and the process of theosis to critical, logical thinking (discursive reason) based on logical propositions taken from philosophy and Scripture (or the Fathers) and moralism. Just as psychologism attempts to reduce human history and logic to explanations purely on the psychological level, modern rationalism’s influence on some modern strands of Christian thought means many modern Christians tend to presuppose our capacity for logic applied to the data of revelation (i.e., the Scriptures and the Fathers) is sufficient for discernment and salvation if we would only apply our (merely human) reason. (Perhaps the Palaamite controversy has some relevance to this continuing tendency in the West.) What is missing from this equation it seems to me is the Grace of the Holy Spirit found in its fullness only in Christ’s Church. Christ’s call (and our mode of being in the Church) appeals not only to our capacity for logic, but also speaks clearly to our needs as whole persons. It seems to me we need to move beyond the arguments and opinions we too often unwittingly substitute (especially with those we want to persuade of the truth of the gospel) for a real encounter with Christ. I am not one for whom the settled dogmatic and moral teachings of the Church are up for grabs, so I have found gaining even just a little deeper psychological self awareness is usually a step in the right direction for me and most of those I know of similar conviction.
I don’t know what sources you are drawing on for your criticism of psychologism and the assertion of some kind of unaltered rationality. It’s a strange mix, but seriously misuses Maximus, et al. I have not asserted that we are incapable of any good. But you seem to posit some sort of natural power of the “intellect” (so-called) that seems more like modern rationality than anything else.
It is not human objectivity that is at work in the saints. It is the grace of God and the healing of the nous. Again, objectivity is a word that finds no place in the Tradition. It’s a fine example of 18th century Enlightenment thought. Better suited to John Locke than to the Fathers. Indeed, the word objective and objectivity in the sense you are using them, do not appear until the early to mid 1800’s.
Your practical suggstions about “bearing a little shame” have been very helpful to me. Could you also give a few general suggestions on how to deal with anger practically?
My shame is more damaging to me on a daily basis, but I am more afraid of my anger above all. This is because I myself am the immediate victim of my shame if it gets out of control. However, if my anger gets even a bit out of control, the immediate victim could also be someone else. I am always afraid that someday, I am going to speak or act violently to someone who has wronged me [and of course, in my mind, I am always innocent! 🙂 ] and the Lord will then withdraw his presence and grace (which are already undeserved, as it is) from my heart.
On thinking about this topic, based on the writings of yourself and others, this is what I have come up with:
1. Pray the Jesus Prayer regularly and daily and participate in the Sacramental life of the Church.
2. Guard the heart and don’t let the flame of humility burn out. (I think of the famous scene in the film Nostalghia by Tarkovsky)
3. Make myself responsible for the sins of all (a la Dostoevsky).
4. Accept that ultimately only Christ will heal me of anger and other vices, through participation in the sacramental life of the Church, and not on my schedule.
5. Place myself below the person I am angry with and beg the Lord to have mercy on both of us.
6. Try to “forgive at a distance” by asking God not to hold this agains them on the Day of Judgement for my sake.
The above points seem very good when I think them up, but very often, just a few minutes after I have prayed and made some of the above resolutions, something happens to provoke my anger, and all the above resolutions don’t manage to prevent the bilge of anger rising up within me, and very often I speak in anger before I can stop myself. So I often find myself withdrawing from others who have provoked me so as to not speak to them in anger. But this does not always work out well.
Also, I am ashamed to admit, my propensity to anger seems to be directly proportional to my feelings of sensitivity, which are in turn created by a sense of vulnerability due to lack of success in my work life. This, of course, is because I have slipped into the “Two Storey Universe” way of thinking by desperately trying to clutch at some straws of status, and professional prestige in my work instead of viewing everything in this world with a sacramental outlook.
I guess I just have to accept the fact that I am really so broken as to be always at risk of causing lasting wounds to others through my anger, and I should depend on grace from the Holy Trinity the Blessed Virgin, and the communion of Saints in each and every moment of every day. I probably also need to admit to myself that in this life, there’s never going to be a day when I can say to myself, “Ah, now I have acquired the virtue of calmness and cannot be provoked to anger by any external action or internally replayed memory!” I suppose this is what “sitting with anger” looks like.
I would be very glad for any practical suggestions or spiritual exercises you could point out.
(As I am a very long-time reader but don’t post often, a little refresher on my background: I started strong in math and science (reading Feynman’s QED in middle school and attending (and placing in/winning) many competitions up to the international level) and later picked up computer science and engineering strongly (doing the CCNA program in high school, for instance). But I’d always been very serious (and curious!) about Christianity so, after converting from my childhood Restoration-movement church to Orthodoxy, I gave all that up and switched to majoring in philosophy/theology. Thus, while I am certainly not claiming to be an “expert” in any particular field, I have an understanding of both spheres, the physical (dealing with everything from the scientific method to the “purer” math) and metaphysical, if we want to separate them out as such. So what I am going to say is not in ignorance of or simplistic knee-jerk reaction to logic, or Enlightenment philosophy, or any of the other disciplines and studies that have been mentioned. But take that as you will.)
The fundamental issue that we’re coming up against is the nature of truth. Orthodox Christians hold, very tightly, to Christ. As it is written, “Jesus said to him, ‘I Am The Way, The Truth, And The Life’.”. We believe He *Is* Truth, not that He merely knows some truth, or teaches some type of factual information better than other teachers. And when we talk of Truth setting us free, we don’t mean some bits of human knowledge giving us insight and figuratively freeing us, but *Christ* Himself illumining us with *Himself* (and not, yet again, more bits of human knowledge, though those may indeed come) and freeing us in every way, including very literally. We do not come to know Christ by stepping back from Him, but by entering into communion with Him. In fact, stepping away from Christ is the very definition of sin!
To dig a bit deeper into that point, there is no reality apart from Reality (i.e., Christ). Thus, the problem is not with relativism—at least when Christ is understood as The Supreme Center Of Relation; no, that is the very heart of the teaching of The Church! (And modern “relativism”, so-called, is just another form of objectivism, only differing in that is sets even more mutable things, like passing human thoughts and emotions, up as its objects of worship.) The actual issue is with objectivism, where we are told there are objects instead of Persons and, underlying it all, some privileged, “true” vantage point where can [try to] get to see it all “clearly”. But that brings us back to pagan necessity, which is merely a more ancient version of objectivism (and it was no less deadly and condemned by The Fathers)—after all, if God is seeing something objectively, then how does He know? We’re back to some higher truth, some higher force, some place apart from Christ that is “more real” or to which He also gives deference. And that is heresy, plain and simple (or maybe disguised and complex, as deep as this one goes). The only way out (to put it simply and disregarding the various epistemological rabbit trails for the sake of brevity) is to declare that something is true because of God Himself, but that brings us back to relativism, the teaching of The Church, which is being questioned here. Karen was right to point out the connection of all this to St. Gregory Palamas and the 9th Ecumenical Council, but it runs deeper than most people think. I would go so far as to say that the idea of objective truth is the *protoheresy*. Every heresy The Church has ever faced is rooted in it and/or reduces to it. Arianism, for example, teaches that Christ (Truth) is not Divine Person but a created object—wow! And so it is for everything from The Fall to the present day. I’ll leave the examples off at that because, on one hand, I don’t think it is particularly difficult to go through the list and spot objectivism and, on the other, it is very dark stuff—remember that real knowledge isn’t merely neutral facts, but communion, so we ought to be careful with this stuff.
One idea that was brought up that I do very much agree with is that if religion caters to everybody, including the lowest of the low and those who seemingly won’t repent, then it must lower itself down to that level. I completely agree with that, but perhaps not in the way you may think. It is actually the very teaching of The Church: Christ lowered Himself to the deepest levels of Hell, *not* out of necessity but out of *revelation* of Who He Is. If we try to avoid that, to “elevate” religion above “the masses”, the “unrepentant”, the “unsound”, and all the other categories, then we have already elevated ourselves above God *long* before that. And if we elevate ourselves above God, that most certainly is pride, meaning the very “sound mind” [in a factual, logical sense] which was spoken of and supposedly needed is already precluded! From another angle, a sound mind cannot mean one that is factually enlightened to a certain degree because that smacks of Monophysitism, where we end up confusing the human and Divine: if the Divine Is Unknowable In Essence, how is the mind going to “take it in” without Uncreated Grace (which is necessarily *a gift*, not earned through study)? So there we’ve got another heresy popping up on top of [potentially] Barlaamism, if that is the route we try to take—I wasn’t being hyperbolic when I noted they’re all connected to objectivism. The way out is to realize that a sound mind, while necessary, has practically nothing to do with IQ, the assimilation of facts, or “objectivity”. A sound mind is this: to be broken and humble before The Creator. Only in this, by being submissive to The Divine, can we participate in The Divine: there is no confusion of natures in this case, but real union. (And note, too, that brokenness is also a gift, not earned—sometimes we don’t welcome it, but it is certainly Grace!)
Once we have *that* kind of sound mind, we have true knowledge: Christ Himself. And He Is The One who shows us who we really are (for we are nothing without Him!) and gives us humility. There is simply no comparison to our brothers (or some “objective” standard) here, nor is there involvement of the gnomic will, if we want to bring St. Maximus into this—we can’t look at ourselves and make some gnomic decision between various options about how well we possess this or that virtue! How, then, does humility work? Not by comparison, but by union with Christ: He descended into Hell and it is through *that* humility that we can also partake of humility. Again, objectivity, discursive reasoning, and so on have nothing to do with it. This form of humility is even more uncomfortable, more…humbling for us because we can then begin to see who we really are, not by comparison, but directly. Discernment and humility and knowledge are thus completely *relative* [to Christ], which means that objectivity is not only not helpful, but actually the impediment to them! Perhaps this is why justice in The West (and elsewhere—I am not meaning to pick exclusively on “The West” here), even in its most ideal forms, is so perverse: it is based upon, quite truly, the opposite of discernment, humility, and knowledge. And maybe that is why objectivity so strongly needs anger and anger so strongly needs objectivity (and they in turn both seem to get along so well with “justice”): objectivity is completely irrational (i.e., completely against Christ, Who Is, according to St. Athenogroas in his Embassy[/Plea] For The Christians, “The Reason And Word Of The Father”), and what other passion so totally embraces and expresses irrationality in such a primal, carnal way as anger?
So I am very glad Fr. Stephen is holding the line here (which is none other than Christ Himself), for we as Orthodox really don’t have another one! How to break out the impasse, though? You can’t do it through logic, but must do it by faith. After all, even logic requires faith: how can you prove logic to be true? Only with logic! It is completely circular—you can say that logic is consistent with itself, which is certainly better than saying it contradicts itself, but that is hardly something to “write home about”. In the end, you only accept logic because you accept it *by faith*. So make the same leap for Christ. Come and see. And I don’t just mean come into a temple of The Church physically and see with your eyes. Come in with your mind—letting go of all these “at odds with the Enlightenment” ideas—and see with your heart. That is the only way in.
God is utterly on your side. “The Lord will withdraw His presence…” nope. Since He gives Himself to us to heal us, and our failures are part of what needs healing, why would He withdraw the one thing we need for our healing just because we are not healed? It would make no sense. It’s quite the opposite: “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more…” (Ro 5:20). I think, on the other hand, that it’s very difficult to be aware of the grace and presence of God with the noise of anger or shame coursing through our head. But it is there. That’s why I say that when we fall, it’s best to dust ourselves off, get back up and give thanks.
The long slow healing of shame is just that – long and slow. It requires a growing trust and safety that allows for acceptance and vulnerability. That’s the “little shame” point. The little will gradually help with the lot.
Shame is the engine of anger. Anger, in most instances, (nearly all), is triggered by something that touches on shame. Patience, for example, means being able to bear a little shame over an extended period. Recently in prayer, as I was sitting with some of these things, well, actually, a lot of these things, the phrase that came to me as a gift was, “It was always ok.” It came as a peaceful acceptance of the various things and outrages that I’ve lived through – with the sense that God was always there and these things were not my destruction. It was a good morning.
When I sit with a little shame, remembered or present, (remembered is easier for me since it’s sting is not as great), I work at “comforting mys soul like a weaned child at its mother’s breast.” Doing that means speaking calming words and thoughts, just like you’re talking to a 3 year-old. My own thought is that the shame within us is pretty much a 3 year old – and will never be anything different. It’s not the place of reason – it’s a very different hard-wired neurobiological reaction. But it can be calmed.
Sometimes with certain allergic reactions in the body, they can become hyper-sensitive. It’s as though the reaction has been going on without relief so long that it takes almost nothing to trigger it. The same is true of shame. It can become so reactive that it takes very, very little to set it off. And usually, being “set off” is an anger event rather than a shame event. Shame is the trigger, but it comes out as anger. The transformation is almost instantaneous.
What is useful in this, is some calming of the soul on a daily basis – in your prayers. “Speak peace to Jerusalem.” Speak peace to your soul. Speak safety and calm and assurance of the love of God. Meditate on verses that speak of the good providence of God. You are not on a path of destruction. Salvation (the healing of the soul) is a long, messy business. And God is deeply involved in all the mess. The more that inner shame is calmed, the less sensitive it becomes.
But – don’t beat yourself up about failures and flares. Frankly, it only intensifies the shame. Speak peace to the failures and the flares.
You counseled NSP to meditate on verses that speak of the good providence of God. A verse from the KJV that has always done this for me is Ephesians 1:6, “…you are accepted in the Beloved.” Another is from Canticles 2:16, “I am my beloved’s and he is mine.” One other spoken to Zion, but as we are the Israel of God, I’ve always appropriated it as spoken to me also, “The Lord your God in the midst of you is mighty, he will rejoice over you with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over you with singing.” Zeph.3:17. I have always suffered from feelings of unworthiness, of not measuring up. When this shame burns in me and causes me to suffer or to break out in anger, one thing I do is to remind myself of these verses, to bear a little shame, to give thanks to God for all, then have a little tea (coffee!).
NSP….your words really hit home. All I can do is thank you for sharing these things. What little help this may be, I too understand.
Father…Your response was ever so helpful…a message of hope without downplaying the difficulties of our struggle. Thank you for pointing to ways we can actually confront our anger and shame. “It was always ok.” …such a simple message yet profoundly healing. He doesn’t have to say much, does He? Just one touch…..just knowing His presence. I think all the noise in our mind creates only fleeting moments of such “knowing”. And even in that, it is very obscure. Yet what He gives is enough to satisfy….only then to desire even more. Now that I have begun to ramble, I will stop here and give thanks. Thank you. Glory to God.
(Deep bow.) Dear brother, thank you so much! What you have explained are the deep convictions and concerns that have been churning around inarticulately in my gut provoked by certain of the assertions in this thread, which I have lacked the tools and knowledge to express. I receive your articulation here as a gift with profound gratitude.
If you have ever read it, this whole particular aspect of the discussion in this thread “rang the bell” of the temptation of the Green Woman (the Queen of Perelandra) in CS Lewis’ SpaceTrilogy, who represents Eve in her innocence before the Temptation in the Garden. With your observation about “objectivity” being in its essence the panheresy that underlies all heresies, this makes perfect sense. Isn’t this also the philosophy advocated by Ayn Rand? I just checked a link to the site devoted to her work and I see it is! How interesting that she is Russian-American in her background (as was that charlatan, Madame Blatovsky, who founded Theosophy, another pot of spiritual “fool’s gold” if ever there was one!).
The persons addressed in your last paragraph are all the same person changing identities. I have no idea why, but it violates the rules of the blog. I’ve removed most of the thread. Sorry about this.
A couple of corrections: I wrote “panheresy” that should have been “protoheresy”. Also, Helena Blatavsky (not Blatovsky) was Russian, not Russian-American.
Interesting that the commenter that provoked the discussion of “objectivity” was posing as more than one. Still, if only because of your response, it was very useful to me to make these connections
Thank you very much for your reply. In fact, your reply has illuminated a corner of darkness in my heart.
At the bottom of my darkened heart, I desperately wish for God to visit a heavy vengeance on all those who have “wronged me.” Having wished this, my conscience tells me that in justice, I should expect nothing different for myself if I deviate from the straight and narrow path. This seems to be the origin of the fear that “the Lord will withdraw His presence and grace from my heart” if I do wrong. Thank you for helping me realise this, Father.