There is a tendency in our modern world to make things as simple as possible. We hide the complexities behind a keyboard (I don’t know how my computer works – or not very well) or we treat things that seem complex as unnecessary obfuscations. This same drive to simplify was very much alive in the 16th century as Christianity underwent reform in many places of the world.
Thomas Cranmer, the English Reformer, railed against the complexity of the service books required for a Roman Catholic Mass and managed to bring everything down to one small book. Every service required by a cleric could be found in the one Prayer Book, which also contained the book of Psalms.
Cranmer’s work was often outdone in other places – some eventually discarding the use of any book but the Bible. Following Martin Luther’s lead, the Scriptures themselves were limited to 66 books (discarding those Old Testament books which did not have a Hebrew original – the so-called “Apocrypha”).
This, of course, is not all of the story of the Reform. At the same time that services were being simplified, there were massive productions of new commentaries and works of theology. Thus there was both a simplification and a new layer of complexity.
As centuries have gone on, the drive to simplify has not disappeared. Frontier preaching in America had little place for complexity and the proclamation of the gospel became quite straight-forward indeed. A common tool in use throughout various religious movements in post-Guttenburg Europe, was the religious tract. Produced by the thousands and millions, these small summaries of the faith or of a point of doctrine were spread throughout homes and the streets and occasionally played important religious roles in religious movements (I’m not sure how much they do today).
How simple should Christianity be? Should it be reduceable to four spiritual laws or summarized in a paragraph or two? Is John 3:16 the perfect summary of the perfect faith? If you were shipwrecked on an island and could only have one chapter of Scripture, what would you keep?
I would like to suggest several principles that might be of help in thinking about such things.
1. Christianity is not an idea.
2. Christianity is not part of the religious annex of planet earth.
3. Reality cannot be simplified.
On the first point – Christianity is not an idea. I could say that it is also not a philosophy. It is a faith about how things (all things) are and Who God is, and what God has to do with us (or us with Him). It is thus a full account of reality, even though much of that account may remain unspoken. Christianity is either everything or it is nothing.
This leads easily to my second point. Christianity is not part of the religious annex of planet earth – that is, it is not a subset or comparment of something else. Since it is the fullness of reality in its truth – there is not a larger fullness (other than God) in which it may be contained.
My third point – reality cannot be simplied – may sound obvious – but we frequently live in simplified, digitzed, simulacra of the world itself. Given the choice between life on earth as we know it, and life in a holo-deck as pictured in the Star Trek movies and series – many people would gladly choose the holo-deck, some already opting for its current low-tech version in various games and such.
The invitation to another human being to embrace Christ as Lord, God and Savior is thus an invitation not to a religious hobby, but to the truth of the world as it is and as it shall be. Christ reveals reality in its fullness. Thus Christianity can never properly be a diminishing of human life.
Care should be taken never to diminish the faith – to reduce it to something less than all that is (and more). Glory to God for all things.
Wonderful post, Father.
One of my frustrations with Evangelical Protestantism was its constant truncation of ‘the Gospel.’ Especially in my work at an evangelistic summer camp, the “problem” was simplified: “Sin is the problem, Jesus is the solution.” The Gospel reduced to a marketing slogan. Five colored beads on a bracelet, a few Scripture verses thrown in for good measure.
I feel like Protestantism has lost so much, TOO much. There’s no understanding of what the Incarnation–or sometimes even the Resurrection! the list could go on–has to do with salvation. For most of Evangelical Protestantism, there’s no liturgical calendar, and the feasts besides Christmas and Easter are completely forgotten, and not understood.
It’s been one of the greatest joys of coming to Orthodoxy for me–finding the place where the “Gospel” isn’t truncated to fit onto a pamphelet, there’s no over-simplification–it’s all here. =] It helps me to see the larger reality I always knew existed, and was searching for. Thanks be to God for His faithfulness.
I think many Christians – Protestants included – hunger for more than they are given. It is possible, even common, for Orthodoxy to be lived in far less than its fullness. It is a struggle of the heart to want all of Christ and not to reduce Him to a religious figure.
Lutheranism (in my experience) is chock full of Gospel minimalism do to the negative two fold effects of Pietism and Rationalism. As more and more Lutherans begin embracing other Protestant groups, Liturgy and theology have begun to be further reduced and truncated to the least amount of complexity possible and yet still be considered “church.” The “me & Jesus” movement has truly decimated Lutheran ecclesiology.
The approach one must adopt to appreciate the fullness (and complexity) that Orthodoxy has to offer to Western, Consumerist, “Have it my own way” mindsets (like mine) is that the Church exists to change me – not the other way around. This is an increasingly hard sell in our current environment. However, more and more protestants continue to be dissatisfied with their ecclesial communities and are searching for that fullness (like me). So take heart and be encouraged! Orthodoxy is poised to help many more people enter the fullness of Christ and His Church.
Christianity must be simple enough that a small child can wade in it, yet at the same time be deep enough that an elephant could drown in it.
Eliminate mystery, in the real sense of the word and not as a mere place holder, and the door to rationalism is ajar. Virtually everything must be explained before it can be accepted.
And behold the wreck of contemporary Romanism. Priests are more “civil servants” of the Papal establishment than anything else with the Bishops as mandarins or worse as the first secretaries of the Vatican II ideological conventicles. The marriage of Romanism and (French) Revolution begot that pretended simplifying monster. One of the most palpable dangers of democracy: over-simplification by ruthless demagogues.
Ha, funny. I read my own comment above and thought – this too is an over simplification. Things are much more nuanced (hence more complicated) in reality, I am convinced of this. But I believe Father’s point still holds nonetheless.
Demagogues and other propagandists would always need to simplify things: Lenin’s and Hitler’s hate-inflamed speeches. Even the General de Gaulle after the War tended to follow this trend howbeit for reasons of national unity and reconstruction. The crowd requires this oversimplification so that its bestial spirit is unleashed whereas the Ecclesia has the indwelling of the Holy Ghost who constantly teaches her and infuses her with the Truth.
Fr. Andrew Louth has some very interesting things to say about this very topic. In his “Discerning the Mystery” he writes about the scientific method to knowledge (“reduce the subject matter to simple items which could be discerned clearly and distinctly”) developed and popularized during the Enlightenment period. He makes a very strong case that this method to knowledge and approach to truth was not only a break from tradition but that it is indeed the very destruction of the notion of tradition. This method is in full use today.
This way of attaining knowledge is certainly of great use to the natural sciences, but when applied to theology and faith the results have been disastrous.
I believe we all seek simplicity because we are finite limited beings. Since we can not comprehend reality with the imprecise instrumentation and analysis tools given to us by our Creator, we fashion maps and models of reality. These maps are often very efficient tools. They allow me to plan the most efficient route for an automobile traveling from Poolesville, MD to Oak Ridge, TN. But the highway map generated by Google is not the territory. No map is ever the territory, not even the very inadequate constantly evolving map of the Kingdom of God I hold in my mind at any point in time. Sometimes our limited maps, often created for a specific purpose, are misused and result in all sorts of horrific human behavior. The Reformation and the new set of maps and models it created, if not an altogether good thing, was probably an inevitable thing given the rise of the nation state and mercantile capitalism in the West. I seem to be less certain of my own maps and models than I was thirty years ago.
“the Scriptures themselves were limited to 66 books (discarding those Old Testament books which did not have a Hebrew original – the so-called “Apocrypha”).”
Should read that the scriptures were reduced to the Hebrew books extant in the Masoretic text. The Dead Sea Scrolls have found numerous Hebrew examples of the Deuterocanonicals, while the “additions” to Daniel and Jeremiah seem also to have been Ptolemaic translations from the Hebrew as well. I have yet to hear a good defnse of MT vs LXX. The LXX was, after all, good enough for the Apostles! Thank you for introducing it to us during Catechism.
Great post. As a Protestant, I’ve seen this oversimplification firsthand and even participated in it. It always struck me that if the Gospel can be reduced to 2 or 3 paragraphs, then why did our Father give us 66 (or more) books of the Bible? It almost seems wasteful.
The motivation I’ve seen for most of it has been a desire to see others “saved.” Within Evangelicalism, there is a wonderful passion for the safety of other people’s souls. Rallies, trips, events, etc. are organized to help other people enter into the Kingdom of God.
The problem, however, is that this passion ends up trumping everything else. It becomes the only pillar of the church. Thus, sacraments, doctrine, worship styles, ordinations, etc. become secondary. The result, of course, is the oversimplification you discuss. The upside is that many different Christian groups can work together to get people saved. The downside – a big downside – is the loss of doctrine, Scripture, sacraments, and reverence for God.
I think you nail it by saying such reduction is not even possible. This is great. I will be sharing with others.
Which LXX are you talking about? There were many different copies and versions, and not all of them contained the same books. This is one reason the Orthodox canon is different.
Also, not all the Scripture quotations were Greek in the NT. Some are more likely from a Hebrew text.
In short, the canonical issues are not as clear cut and easy as either side would like it to be. Church history is very complex.
Simplification is a also a modern trend in the way that everything is generalized to help make estimations about marketing. One of the most irritating phrases I have ever heard: ‘the average man/woman’. There is no average man/woman. There is Me, there is You, and Mary and Heather and George etc and we are all unique. In this world, created by God everything is unique, human beings even more so. Simplifying Christianity is, in my eyes, the very same thing like treating two people as an ‘average’ rather than as unique persons.
The issues of the Canon were a largely settled matter in the Church. The Reformers lacked the authority to open up again, it seems to me. They abrogated the right of an Ecumenical Council and created an artificial rule for the Canon. Though complexities remain, a number of errors of the Reformation and its aftermath might have been avoided had the LXX texts remained. For instance, there are texts in Wisdom (or another text – I’m away from my references) in which the reasonable role played by a physician is upheld. I think of the number of children in many of our extreme modern sola scriptura churches who could have had reasonable medical care instead of the insistence of their parents that healing must be miraculous, etc.
I wonder if what you are describing also yields an “average God.”?
I have a theory (which is still being tested) that if, in the bookstore, there are loads of books about that which you’re struggling with, it’s best to not read any of them and work on your problem yourself. For instance, the “self-help” section sign might rather point you to /your/ self than to any of the books in the aisle. Because if you start reading, you’ll never stop and will likely get more confused and more cluttered before you chuck the books to just focus on you. Then again, if you’d actually read a lot of books before looking at your own problem, maybe a cumulative knowledge of what a bunch of other people have already done will help you. Maybe you can then simplify and “get it” and move on.
So I look at the bookstore aisles on Christianity and Biblical interpretation and Catholic thought and and and… you can drown for months in these books. In the end, however, faith gets very simple. But I think it only gets simple after it’s been confused and cluttered. Pushing through the cluttered stage is the hardest, and it probably is the point at which some leave the faith out of frustration. Getting bogged down in church politics or history or Biblical hermeneutics or the role of women or the “why”s and “how”s of sacraments…. it takes something to push you off that stuff. And that stuff winds up not mattering at all.
Faith has to be simple enough for me to rely on it no matter where I am, what I smell, who I see or how much time I’ve got on my hands. On the desert island, all I would be able to rely on is being a child of God. Christianity starts and ends at the cross. You can’t have to study and philosophize and get advanced degrees in this stuff to have faith. I know of nothing more egalitarian than Christianity. The moment the faith is used to rank or exclude people, we have to be suspicious. Flip side: when Christianity is reduced to platitudes and cheap grace, it isn’t faith at all.
Next to all of the other comments, I realize this one is much less theological. Barely even two cents worth.
Good comment. I think the simplest thing I do is prayer, and yet potentially that which has the greatest fullness. There is a paradox here that I have not stated. Your thoughts move towards that important point.
All of the sources that I have seen quote the number of “85-95%” of OT quotes in the NT being from the LXX.
In some way, I feel your message was a simplification itself toward Orthodoxy. And Protestant “Orthodoxy” is much more than the American form! I have myself returned to an Anglican place of Augustinianism. Though, I do follow the regal nature of the Father in the Trinity of God (Eastern). But, having said that, Augustine’s more psychological theory of the Godhead – the Father loving the Son, and the Son the Father, and the bond or person of that love being the Holy Spirit, to be very profound. And the Spirit of God proceeds from the Father, but also thru the Son, at least with the Incarnation and fulness of Redemption.
Fr. Robert (irishanglican)
A page in the book (“Churches: Explore the symbols, learn the language and discover the history,” Brittain-Catlin, 2008) covering British churches, demonstrates this tendency to find virtue in simplification reflected in archetecture. Opposite a picture of the altar of St. Paul, Bow Common, London, is the heading caption: “The people’s brutalism: a new architecture for a new way of worship.” This caption was NOT meant as an insult. This Catholic church, was described on p.214, with the following: “…the austere nature of the other fittings reinforce rather than distract from the act of communal worship.” The architects, described as a ‘rebellious’ Roman Catholic, a High Church Anglican, along with the vicar, a Marxist,
produced a cold and industrial interior truly reflecting the “people’s brutalism.”
Sorry – mistyped architecture!
A common drive towards simplification, historically very popular, has been the various forms of iconoclasm. It’s as if there was a fear that all those stars in the universe out there would distract from the glory of the sun, and set about getting rid of stars. Perhaps that’s a silly analogy – it seems apt to me.
Not sure of your first point. Didn’t mention Orthodoxy in the post. It’s hard to see how the description of the faith as including everything would be a simplification unless the multiplication of denominations is somehow mistaken to be a greater expression of the fullness of the faith – then I would disagree and I would see your point.
“A Simple and Spiritual Life is the only Life that will survive”…….
Peace, in spite of the dis-ease(no-peace) that is of this world and it’s systems of religion, for “the WHOLE(not just a portion) world is under the control of the evil one” indeed and Truth……. francis
Prehaps not, but your somewhat soft attack on Luther and the Reform of the Church, is certainly coming from your place in Orthodoxy. Luther did not like the Apocrypha because of what Rome had done with it. But the Anglican Church has used it more correctly. And as I said, there is much more to the place of Protestant Orthodoxy, historically and theologically. The modern Barth, etc. Not to mention the better Calvin studies in the past several years.
Thanks for hearing that it was a “soft” attack. I used Cranmer because I am most familiar with his work. Luther was less reductionist than many. But the reductionist impulse remains within all the various branches of reform. It’s presence in the liturgical movement of the 20th century is quite notable. There are good things being done in many places. But it is not the good of an embracement of the fullness of the faith. I do not think that this fullness can be restored by mere study or even intention. It is an inheritance and has to be delivered as a Tradition. I don’t know where anyone would look for that fullness other than Orthodoxy.
Indeed, there have historically been several significant borrowings by the West from the East that have been true enhancements.
Protestant Orthodoxy is largely an intellectual position, not a way of life. It is an ideological commitment. I respect it (it’s certainly better than Protestant heterodoxy). Nonetheless, it’s a fairly abstracted matter, in my experience (I studied with some Barthians at Duke).
I’m not sure why, but reading this post reminded me of something written by Maria Skobtsova, one of my favorite modern saints…
“It is all clear to me now, either Christianity is fire,
or there is no such thing.
I just want to wander through the world, calling,
‘Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.’
And to accept it if people revile me
and say all manner of evil against me.”
I do like the Book of Common prayer very much, and it was the mainstay of many generations of pious Christians in the West until recently.
All in one book? Well, even us Orthodox can almost have it “all in one book” as my copy of the Synekdimos demonstrates. A pretty bulky little volume, still able to be hand-held, and containing just about every service I’m likely to go to (altho it’s 100% Greek).
I do understand what you are saying. Indeed the radical reformation with the antibaptists really hurt the church for sure. But when we look at Luther, and then later Calvin, they were seeking to reform the catholic church. And this can only be the legacy of the real reformation, i.e. ‘always reforming’ by both Scripture and the Holy Spirit. The idea that the Scripture reforms and renews the Church, etc. And this can only happen within the whole universal and Catholic Church! We need each other, real historic bodies and people of Christ.
We have taked about “Tradition” in the past, but even here.. it must be held within the Breath and Word of God. I too would bow to much of the Ecumenical Church Councils, especially Nicaea, Ephesus and Chalcedon. But even here, they are sort of a fence around which we guard certain important truth’s.
Orthodoxy is rich, historic and beautiful! But often still tied to its ethnic places. No group of Christians can get away from this reality either. We must deal with our history and expression In Christ.
It appears to me that there is a reform and renew in the Churches of the Reformed, Anglican to Independent. Of course there is no infallibility, just a human and pilgrim church. But seeking to stand under the Scripture and the Lordship of Christ. Hoping and praying for the Spirit of God to touch and lead! (Eph. 2:18) Is not this part of the real ecclesiology and fulness? I would hope that any intellectual Christian thought, that is real and profound, would help to enrich to life of the Church!
*enrich the life of the Church!
A concomitant reductionism is that which arises from Latin scholasticism in its relentless quest for the “essences” of things, resulting in what Fr Schmemann called an “alienated theology” of minimal conditions. At the same time, in response to Asiaticus’ observations, Roman Catholicism requires an endlessly-burgeoning load of theoretical apparatus to sustain the impression of “realisability” – or as Hithchock put it, “My theory is good – it’s the facts that are misleading”.
Do you accept online donations?
I have read my share of Fr. Schmemann too, the quote and context would be nice? I am not really Latin, though I do like both Augustine and Tertullian. Sadly the lack of Tertullian in the East (as Augustine) is far too real. I wonder if you have read Eric Osborn’s fine work: Tertullian, first theologian of the West? First paperback edition 2003, Cambridge.
The part I like very much are Tertullian’s Antitheses in God. Tertullian found paradox and antithesis everywhere. “The two attributes of goodness and justice together make up the proper fullness of the divine being as omnipotent” (Marc. 2.29.1) Second, the world is immature and embraces a conflict of opposites.” Tertullian loved paradox, which was never a mere game however. But the search for truth.
It’s a thoughtful and kind question – but wordpress does not run ads or do donations. St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge TN is the parish I serve (it has a website) and would welcome any donations anyone sends. I am supported by St. Anne and would never want to derive profit from my work online. May God bless your thoughtfulness!
Thankyou Father Stephen,
I found the website but i couldn’t find where to donate.Is there somewhere on the website or do you have a paypal address or other method?
Irishanglican, let me suggest that the closest one could come to a sum of Schmenann is to say that Christ became our sin and is Himself our food or sustenance until the end. In these simple gifts both His person and His love are revealed to all mankind for the taking.
He also, I think, would say this is all the theology we need. The act of a saved person is liturgy, or praying and singing, with other Orthodox Christians. This is simple and it is also every thing that matters.
I’m sorry. I did not quite understand. The parish does not have online donations either. Donations have to be by mail (check) to the parish mailing address:
St. Anne Orthodox Church
560 Oak Ridge Turnpike
Oak Ridge, TN 37830
I have been reading all your commentts. You make it seem so hard to be a Christian. What happened to just believing in God and Jesus and all that He has done? I am now afraid to try to find a chuch because it sounds to hard.
Christ in the gospel makes being a Christian sound hard: “Whosoever would be my disciple, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”
But we do this one day at a time, one step at a time and grace makes it possible.
There are plenty of places that will speak only of “believing in God and Jesus and all that He has done.” But this can also be a reduction of the Gospel, and a reduction of the fullness of the life God has given to us. It then is, in fact, not actually believing in all that He has done.
It is not an easy thing to be a Christian – but it’s a sometimes hard thing that is worth doing.
Marriage is a hard thing – when done well – but worth doing. If simplified into “whatever happened to just loving someone” – it would have the same effect. Marriage is no harder than loving someone – but it’s just that hard.
Being a Christian is no harder than loving the Lord your God, with all your heart, all your mind and all your strength, but it is also just that hard. But it is not something we do alone. God, by His grace, makes it possible for us to do what we could not do ourselves (this is salvation by grace).
Christ makes it possible for us to have a true, living relationship with God. He also makes it possible for that relationship to be lived.
I pray God will give you courage.
I have been married for 30 plus years. And I do love God with all my hear,all my mind and all my strength. He has gotten me throught breast cancer. I kept hearing Psalm 46-10 the whole time I was going through treatments. But if I have to deal with all the theogoly and “legal” things you are talking about. I just want to be with God and Jesus and He with me.
The Scribes and Pharisees were the ones that complicated everything. Jesus made it simple. Very profound, but simple. As you can see from these posts, when the intulectual elite begin to discuss things many of the rest of us are left out.
Simple is a relative term. Algebra is simple to me, because I learned it, but not to many others. But what you say is true, none the less.
But what I think you actually mean is that there is a tentency to make things reasonable. That is the kind of simplification that we can do with out. And what looks to be complicated in Orthodoxy, all the feasts and fasts, and the many prayers, may not actually be.
“Love God with all your heart and your neibor as your self”, is pretty simple. Is it not? It’s when we try to put this into practice that we complicate things.
Just admit that Orthodox do make things needlessly complicated, sometimes. And let us eschew religious snobery.
And yet, St. Paul warns us about following the tradition handed down, keeping the teachings and doctrines, and not associating with those who do not keep them.
For these things martyrs and confessors suffered and died.
The issue isn’t that the doctrine must be precise, it’s that more people in this day and age seek to know all the doctrine. I don’t mean that elitist, believe me! (I’ve been warned about reading too many canon’s and such personally.)
Take today’s Saint, Pimen the Great. Here’s a saying about him:
“Once, a monk from another country came to the saint to receive his guidance. He began to speak about sublime matters difficult to grasp. The saint turned away from him and was silent. They explained to the bewildered monk that the saint did not like to speak of lofty matters. Then the monk began to ask him about the struggle with passions of soul. The saint turned to him with a joyful face, “Now you have spoken well, and I will answer.” For a long while he provided instruction on how one ought to struggle with the passions and conquer them.”
To be sure, he chose the simple route there, but he did that within the context of obedience and authority to Christ, and to Christ’s body, the Church.
I guess what I’m saying is that when some take it on themselves to become their own authority on law and scripture, the door is opened for things that frankly most of us don’t understand. Not because we aren’t smart enough, but because we lack humility and prayer. And I certainly count myself among these.
Forgive me if I offend.
Dusty Henry- I like what you said. Love God with all your heart and your neighbor as your self. God nows we are human beings, and we muck up things, so why make it more complicated ?
And the question remains, what does it mean to “just want to be with God and Jesus and He with me”? How is this accomplished and experienced? If you are the “sola scriptura” type, where is such a “just be with God and Jesus and He with me” taught in the scriptures?
Our Lord says in John 14:21, “‘He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.'” The Apostle John writes “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” (1Jn 5:12)
So how are we to keep Christ’s commandments and how are we to “have” the Son? Acts 2:42 says of the Apostles “And they were continuing in the teaching of the apostles, and in fellowship (koinonia – communion), and in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” And then, again, the Apostle John opens his first epistle with “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have gazed upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life– and the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and we declare to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us– that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, in order that you also may have fellowship (koinonia – communion) with us; and indeed our fellowship (konionia – communion) is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” (1Jn 1:1-3)
The Christian faith has never been about “just God, Jesus and me” – it has been about apprehending the “eternal life which was with the Father” and was “manifested” to the Apostles, that we might have communion with Him and, in doing so, with each other and all the Saints!
Please forgive me, a sinner!
And for those with a reductionist tendency – who determines when the reduction has been enough? On what authority or by what reasoning? Those who have reduced the “non-essentials” of the faith and tended to “reduce” themselves right out of belief in the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection of Christ and the Incarnation. What they have left is a Jesus as “example” and do good to others (though defining what is “good” is often difficult). Once you start stripping away aspects of the Apostolic faith because it is “difficult” or not “simple”, there is nothing to restrain it all being stripped away and you have no real argument against those who do.
I am not sure what your ad hoc argument really is? I am certainly no liberal or reductionist either. The better history of the Anglican Communion is both Catholic and Reformed! Via Media…seeking at least a middle way.
“seeking at least a middle way” sounds pretty reductionist to me!
All I know is that I believe in the Bible and in Jesus Christ. And where it says He stands at the door and knocks. I let him in my life. I believed in a personal relationship with God. But now after reading all what you people wrote, I am not so sure I did the right thing.
It might be reductionist to you, since you are perhaps taking the hard line (my term) of Orthodoxy? I have met plenty of this “Orthodox” type…but no thanks! Even Fr. Stephen is not “there”.
There is a difference between being simple and being simplistic.
When I was first introduced to Orthodoxy, what struck me was actually the simplicity of the Liturgy. At least, compared to the other churches I’d visited or been a member of (Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Baptist, Catholic), it seemed more simple to me.
I find it interesting that that the constant simplification of the faith in the West has not, actually, made things any more simple, but has made things more and more complex.
For me, at least, the idea that we never just take someone’s word for truth, but always check them against Scripture and all that led to a sort of constant study. You couldn’t afford to *not* delve into all sorts of doctrines, because if you didn’t you might get led astray.
Orthodoxy, however, is not so complicated, simply because it’s not reductionist. It is the fullness of the faith, but that fullness is not experienced by understanding everything. Rather, that fullness is experienced by living it. You don’t have to know everything to be Orthodox; you simply come to church. You listen to the services. Ask questions when it seems appropriate. Say daily prayers, and fast according to the schedule of the Church.
It really is simple enough that a child can do it. An unlearned peasant can become a Saint. It is simple because of its fullness, because it is not reductionist. Orthodoxy is simple because it does not sit around analyzing every little bit of the Faith to make everything fit together right and throw out what doesn’t fit and so on; we simply accept what we receive and run with it.
Not sure if I put that correctly, but I mean this as an encouragement to Pam. This is, at least, my experience.
The scriptures do indeed say that he who believes in Christ will be saved. And the same scriptures also say that the demons believe and tremble.
In that context, it seems clear that what you believe is more important than simply believing.
As I’ve said before, forgive me if I offend.
Fr. R, forgive me if I prefer the “better history” of Orthodoxy, which has preserved the Apostolic faith, that that of Anglicanism.
Pam, Hearing the Knock at the door and answering is a very important step. There are many steps to get to the finish line. Sometimes along the path we must carry a cross which could be physical, mental or both. All I know is that if it was not for the Church and it’s guidance I would not be able to follow this path and take any steps at all. I would never be able to get outside of my own mind without the help of others. I see all of the things in the Church as tools to help us reach our finally destination.
Oops, should have read “…to that of Anglicanism”.
I am not demon possed, I believe in God. But I do not understand all the thelogy and Laws that you talk about. So I guess thats keeps me out. All these stumbling blocks, that you put up. And its not about what just what I believe, I am the first to admit I DO NOT know it all. At least not until Christ returns.
I meant no offense…truly!
I don’t mean to sound “hard-line” (first time I’ve been called that, by the way), but is there any other way of reading that statement that doesn’t mean that commonality between traditions is the only thing that counts? And if that’s the case, isn’t that simply a matter of reducing everything down to a least common denominator?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those “anyone not Orthodox is going to hell” kind of folks. That’s just plain wrong (and sinful). However, there’s also nothing wrong with preserving the fullness of the faith and presenting it as such either.
Forgive me if I offend.
(And although I put this on every single post I make and it may seem flippant, I truly mean it each time!)
I never meant to imply that you were demon possessed. Please don’t think this! My point was that the content of what you believe is important, not simply believing.
And I don’t think that challenging someone to re-think beliefs is a stumbling block. This is what St. Paul did on the aeropagus, what St. Stephen did in Jerusalem, and what virtually every other Apostle and disciple in the New Testament did.
Beliefs matter! Clearly they mattered to the Apostles.
*sigh* I think I will gracefully back out of this conversation. I have no stomach for an argument, and I have no wish to be accused of becoming a stumbling block.
I ask your forgiveness, Pam.
That is why “you” have chosen Orthodoxy, but I have not. But, this is also a choice of so-called “traditions”. I believe the Anglican Church to be part of the always needed truth of Scripture…”always reforming” or seeking the reform and renewal of Scripture Itself!
I have no wish for an argument either. Because I would lose. All I want is a relationship with God, one that I can understand without all the LAWS and thelogy that you all want to put with it.. Sometimes the simlpe things for you are not so simple for other people.
Pam, it’s not “us” with the laws:
“For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.”
Just about the same argument! Using your logic, I could accuse you of adding to Scripture. But, note I do not. Again, it is more of a traditional thing for many Orthodox. As I have said, ethnic. So many ethnicity elements in much of Orthodoxy. But, what is really biblical and historical? This is a good question to me at least.
I believe the Lord meets us where we are. We should never use that as an excuse (not implying anyone here is).
To those much is given, much will be required.
Holy Tradition and scripture are so intertwined that attempting to isolate one will end up distorting both of them.
Note, for example, that to reconstruct the scriptures, often translators have to work with manuscripts that can sometimes be at odds with each other (such as the Vaticanus and Siniaticus codexes). Sometimes portions of scriptures are deemed to be authentic because they were corroborated by a quote from a Church father.
To reconstruct a full New Testament therefore requires some reliance on what traditionally was understood.
So, it begs the question: What are the scriptures? The scriptures are what the Church says were the authentic teaching of the Apostles (and therefore of Christ). They can’t even be reconstructed without this implicit assumption! Tradition is what preserves the scriptures. Not the other way around.
And I would think that the post-reformation “discoveries” of documents such as the Siniaticus and the Didache would bolster the claim of the Orthodox Church to have full fidelity with the Apostolic faith.
Just my $0.02. Again, forgive me if I offend.
Dear Father, bless! Well, this has gotten quite a thread going!
To Pam I wanted to say, no sincere attempt to trust Christ is going to be rebuffed by the Lord. Having been a Christian some decades now (though Orthodox only a couple years), I can say the Lord has been faithful to guide me and reveal Himself to me as I have been able to receive from Him (i.e., in a limited way because I am sinful and easily mislead by wrong teaching). I also can say I love the Lord (in some weak and faltering way), but as much as I desire to obey the command, I know I do not yet love Him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength! Even the greatest Saints in the Orthodox Tradition would say they were only beginners in this respect, though from a human perspective, their lives gave abundant and even miraculous evidence of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (in contrast to mine!). True encounter with God provokes a response of extreme humility. I think of the story of Job in the OT, where Job found all kinds of ways of justifying himself to the Lord until he encountered Him face to face. His response Job 42:1-6 is one of abject humility. This is the mark of someone who truly knows God in an experiential way.
As Orthodox, we don’t need to understand all the ins and outs of philosophical theology, nor the complications of the Liturgy in order to experience and benefit from the Reality they each point to. We do need to come into real contact with the Reality to which they point, however. We do that with certainty by participating in the life of the Orthodox Church as one of her members. Christ is Present by His Holy Spirit everywhere, so even those outside the Church may encounter Him (as I did even before I became Orthodox), yet His Presence is a constant and certain thing in Orthodox Liturgy. It’s not important to understand all the intricacies of Church history and theology, but it is important and life changing to participate in the life of the Church, and there to encounter Christ in His fullness (i.e. as He truly is, not necessarily as we imagine Him to be).
Pam, I know of many Orthodox Christians in my own parish, who worry and speak little of theology, dogma and rules. They are faithful and loving and the first to share a meal or their time. These people are committed to Christ and His Church and are not complicated but they do not reduce the faith to a set of principles or ideas either. They are examples of simply living a faith which has been handed down to them. Not everyone is a theologian and needs to grasp technical language and true theologians seem to know God first and speak second. The Church officially only recognizes three individuals as theologians. I have been Orthodox for about three years and do not find it all that complicated. Sure there are a lot of words but they are all repeating the same thing. I am glad for the daily reminders.
Karen and Stephen,
Thank you for your words of sanity, and a reminder for boneheads like me to tone it down! 🙂
Pam: What they said!
The rules and theology are the ideal case…..and none of us have them perfect!
Have a blessed day!
I think I can speak for many historic Anglicans, and one thought and verse comes to mind…”For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil.1:21)
Indeed to love Christ Jesus is everything, and without this is nothing or negation! If we truly love Him, who loved and loves us, we will be inclusive of our blessed Triune God: the love of the Father for the Son, and the Son for the Father, and the bond or “person” of that love the Holy Spirit! And therein we can love also!
Thus, to “die” both of ourselves (the I) and then physically, will be final blessings, and then “see” Christ in glory!
Fr. Robert (Anglican)
Stephen, thank -you. I try to be like those people in your church. I wish things could be explained easier, but then we get back to what started this. I have been to the Episcopal church and the Baptist church and they each say the other does it wrong. The Episcopal church says it O.K. to marry same sex couples, other say it is wrong. Why does it have to be so hard to just believe?
On the contrary, I think we’ve succeeded in making Christianity very complex. It now means many things to many people. Jesus Himself simplified it- restoration of the relationship between God and man. Check out John 17:3, ” This is eternal life, that they might KNOW thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” If Christianity is Jesus’ creation, we must appreciate why He stepped out of glory to our realm. He said in John 6:38-40;
For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will
but the will of him that sent me.
And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of
all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but
should raise it up again at the last day.
And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one
which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have
everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.
Whenever I read the New Testament, I’m at lost as to what to make of the Christianity of this generation. While knowledge of all sorts of things has increased, the conduct of most people who profess Jesus Christ as Lord gives cause for serious concern. I’m not being judgmental. The light that’s in most of us is so dark that the devil’s just smiling to the bank everyday. We make merchandise of men by preaching a perverted gospel that presents God as a means to our ends. Where Jesus emphasized relationship with the Father, we push for self-actualisation. We substitute the gospel with motivational chats that encourage men to pursue gain instead of godliness. We should cry out to God to deliver us from our whoredom instead of wasting our time arguing about irrelevancies.
PS>>>I think I can say, I am closer to YOU, “Orthodox”, than you are to me (Anglican Reformed). In that I too love Mary as Theotokos. And follow at least, the Councils of Nicaea, Ephesus and Chalcedon.
I realize too, as I did before, that this is an Orthodox blog. Thank you for letting me (an older Irishman) come aboard for a bit.
In that case, let us say: Most Holy Theotokos save us!
Glory to God for the desire and passion to know Him better, and for the faculties to seek Him, and for the gift of speech to draw us together!
Fr. Robert: Have a great day!
i am certain that my question matters to no other but myself, but, is this a repost?
i didn’t see any reference to it being such, but i am certain that i have read it before.
I (as others) call this sad generation, the land of Postmodernism! We in the West, as you too in the East have been hit hard by this “culture” that seeks to teach the secular world and the Church, but again sadly it leads to nothing and negation!
As Christ said, shall I found faith on the earth when I return?
Yours in Christ,
And the most complex statement of the week goes to….. Fr. Robert:
“I think I can say, I am closer to YOU, “Orthodox”, than you are to me (Anglican Reformed).” 😀 😀
I have no idea what that means, or how that would be possible. Simple mind that I am. If we stand 3 feet apart, well, that is 3 feet from me to you….and 3 feet from you to me.
Pam, good morning! I have enjoyed reading your posts in this thread. Thank you for your involvement in this discussion — you have much to offer. I am like you. In fact I joked with our Priest recently that if there’s going to be a “test” before we can be baptized in the Orthodox church (we are currently catechumens), I’m going to probably answer, “Father, it’s a great mystery” to many of the questions! (Orthodoxy is big on faith being a mystery).
But we do have to admit, if we look at the Bible and church history, that faith is more than “just Jesus, God and me,” you know? And for me I had to ask, “Okay, so what? How do I know *what* else?” Like you I saw that many of the beliefs in the different sects of protestantism were diametrically opposed. So where does one go? For me, and my husband, we believe that the Orthodox church is the oldest expression of the Church there is — that the same God who worked through the early church fathers to bring us the Bible also worked through those church fathers to bring us the Church’s Holy Tradition.
Our faith is no longer just about our *minds* — about understanding, or taking notes, or listening to a sermon and processing it. It involves ALL of us — every part of us. My husband often says, “I’m so thankful now for a church that *requires* something of us” (in a thankful sort of way, not an earning it sort of way). Since we started attending an Orthodox church earlier this year, the Church has become our LIFE — its songs, prayers, cycles and feasts are something to be entered into with our very being. This is so much “more” Christianity than sitting through a weekly service, trying to fit in a quiet time, remembering a Scripture in appropriate situations, etc. I was a Protestant for 23 years and am SO thankful to be on the path (finally) to becoming part of the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic” church of the New Testament.
Darla. Karen, thank -you.. I want to find a church that will help me to get some of this. And to be a part of a church that does not keep trying to change to fit into todays idea of things. I am not sure what the Orthodox church requiments are tho, to go to your church.
Sea of Sin
My point was, that I am in dialogue on your blog (Orthodox), and would appreciate and share your history, more closely than you would mine. For I like Augustine and Tertullian (mentors both for me), but not no doubt for you, etc. Not to mention Sir Calvin!
(PS..I always sign my blogs, so I know I have spoken it. I have had posers to my name, strange I know?
Pam, you are right. It can seem pretty confusing when there are different beliefs out there that contradict each other. What to believe? They can’t all be right? I can only speak from experience in saying that the Orthodox Church has given me a place to rest and to begin to learn how to approach God. The Church teaches prayer, fasting and almsgiving as a way to transform our lives. This is nothing new and it is quite scriptural. It doesn’t get complicated until we begin to rationalize the commands of Christ and the teachings that have been handed down from the apostles. Fr. Stephen has a post that was helpful to me entitled “What little we know-It is enough” from July 28th. This made sense to me. Anyway I believe that this comment area reveals the weakness of this format. We are dealing with real people in real life situations, many of whom have questions and pains that can not find their answers on a blog. It can help but at some point the discussion must be face to face with someone of cares. May God bless you in your journey. You have my feeble prayers.
Pam, the “requirements” are loving God and wanting to be a part of His body! 🙂
At the same time, a first visit to an Orthodox church can be a little surprising to some. I highly recommend this article: http://www.antiochian.org/node/16963 …. it’s called “First Visit to an Orthodox Church: 12 Things I wish I’d known.”
I keep thinking about the “just Jesus, God and me” thought; the idea that this is the most “simple” form of Christianity. Most Christians would also put “and the Bible” in there (in fact you mentioned this above). I think in Orthodoxy, “and the Church” has been irrevocably added (my descriptions are not usually all the way right, please forgive). The Church is God’s body on the earth; it has to be part of our Christian experience, you know? In a profound, powerful way.
Stephen, Thank-you So MUCH. I wil try to find that post from July 28th. And I do not believe your prayers are feeble. Prayers are what God hears from us. And I truly hope he hears yours, so that he will help me. I will have to look for a church in my area.
Pam, I made a post, but because it had a link in it, that post is awaiting moderation. So I’ll copy/paste rest of the post here so it’s available now (I have to leave, and didn’t want to leave this hanging). Father Stephen, feel free to delete *this* post when the other one gets posted. Thank you.
Pam, the “requirements” are loving God and wanting to be a part of His body! 🙂
At the same time, a first visit to an Orthodox church can be a little surprising to some. I highly recommend an article called “First Visit to an Orthodox Church: 12 Things I wish I’d known.” You can Google that title, or visit the Antiochian (dot) org website and find it there.
I keep thinking about the “just Jesus, God and me” thought; the idea that this is the most “simple” form of Christianity. Most Christians would also put “and the Bible” in there (in fact you mentioned this above). I think in Orthodoxy, “and the Church” has been irrevocably added (my descriptions are not usually all the way right, please forgive). The Church is God’s body on the earth; it has to be part of our Christian experience, you know? In a profound, powerful way.
You mention the “many ethnicities” of the Orthodox church. May I comment in a sort of tongue-in-cheek way that the Anglican church is ethnic, too? English is just as ethnic as Nigerian or Peruvian. Just because we share in a majority ethnicity does not make that ethnicity normative.
In a sense true Christianity is always foreign; the Kingdom of God is not my country, I’m only in the process of acquiring citizenship. The process is sometimes strange and uncomfortable. If it never were, if my life of faith dovetailed with my culture perfectly, I’d suspect I was on the wrong way.
We must be certain that the Middle Way is The True Way. The True Way may or may not be the “middle” one at any point in history, as cultural currents swirl in one or another direction around it.
May God guide us all, sinners that we are.
“But, note I do not. Again, it is more of a traditional thing for many Orthodox. As I have said, ethnic. So many ethnicity elements in much of Orthodoxy.”
This is something of strawman – there is nothing “ethnic” that is essential to the faith (see, for example, Sts. Cyril and Methodious or Sts. Innocent and Herman of Alaska) nor is there anything “ethnic” about holding on to Apostolic Tradition.
I am neither Greek, Slav or any other historically Orthodox ethnicity but God, through His Grace, drew me in to His Church.
Glory to God for all things!
You would be correct, but the Church of England.. thus the Anglican Church has always been historically English or British. I am myself an Irishman born in Dublin (1949 by the way). But I was educated at Manchester and Cambridge.
If both the American Churches, and we in the UK have not seen the blessings of the evangelical revival, the use of the KJV, plus the Tractarian and Anglo-Catholic movement etc. Then we are simply ignorant! God’s use of Great Britain in Christianity is both history and providence!
Not to mention the Irish Articles, by James Ussher for a convocation of the Episcopal Church of Ireland, and ratified in 1615. They were replaced 20 years later by the Thirty-Nine Articles.
No this is no mere “straw” man, I have seen this myself! There are just too many ethnic differences. Roman Orthodox, etc. The French schools, etc. Look what happened to Bulgakov!
*That should have been Russian Orthodox sorry!
Sorry I missed your thoughts, busy day for me (blogging and e-mails). Thanks for your simple thoughts as to Fr. Suhmenann. But, he can get very deep when he wants (wanted to..RIP, died in the 80’s).
Theology is complex. God is simple.
Theology is complex because it is hard for the created to understand the Uncreated. The Infinite cannot be comprehended by the finite. Therefore in our crooked and fallen minds we try to imagine God in many complicated ways that lead nowhere.
God is simple because He simply IS, as he revealed to Moses. reaching to this simplicity is only done, as very well pointed out Fr. Stephen through prayer. Only the presence of God achieved through askesis and prayer cuts through the complexity of our fallen reason and reveals the simplicity of God.
We try to reach God through reason when in fact He simply reveals to us through His very presence
Pam, I pray you can find a welcoming Orthodox parish to visit with an understanding Priest (and congregation). That is the best way to learn. Orthodox parishes are not perfect–they are full of sinners as are all churches, but this is the environment we are given in which to work out our salvation no matter where we worship. What the Orthodox Church has to offer is an unbroken link of continuity with the Living Apostolic Tradition in the gospel as it has been lived out, tested and found true by generations of Christians from all times and cultures. You can bet that they won’t be shifting with the winds of contemporary cultural whims, such as embracing same sex “marriage,” etc., any time soon, but likely neither will there be harsh ostracism of sinners struggling with same sex attraction or a singling out of this sin as greater than all others that you might find in some religious circles. In Orthodoxy, as in Scripture, the only unforgivable sin is that of refusing to forgive another.
“When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard teaching; who can listen to it?”. . . “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” ~ St. John 6:60, 66-69
Pam and Everyone,
I have been making hospital visit today and have not had a chance to glance at comments (nor will I have much time this evening as well). Pam, saying yes to Christ is indeed simple and should not be complicated by rules, etc. You are quite correct. But there are many things in any Christian culture that are important. Orthodoxy is 2000 years of Christian living – a very rich inheritance. But for any Orthodox Christian – following Christ is still about following Christ. All of the richness of our inheritance serves that single purpose. In this it is simple. If discussion about many of the aspects of the Christian life makes things seem too complicated then don’t let the discussion distract you from Christ.
There are things in such discussions that are and can be important – if not for all – then for some. May God keep you and help you to follow Christ.
We have discussed these matters before. I understand the ideas of sola scriptura and of semper reformanda. I simply do not think that have delivered on their promises and that they are “late comers” to the Christian scene. For instance, why the first four councils and not all seven? And yet accepting Reformation tradition which has no conciliar authority? But I don’t mean to pick an argument – just to say that it is not quite convincing.
There is a vast reformation occurring today – affecting Anglicans and others in one direction and yet many others in another. Some of those directions would seem to be serious departures from the Christian faith. I pray for all that we be faithful and that God keep us.
Yes, we have been over this ground somewhat before, As I have said, I think I am closer to you Orthodox, than you are to me..Anglican. We do have much in common, thanks be to God! But one of the areas that I just cannot accept in Orthodox doctrine and theology, is your lack of St. Paul’s doctrine of the imputation of sin! Without this, we simply cannot begin to understand the depth of sin, in ourselves, and then this fallen, broken world.
Yes, quite simply but I hope profoundly, I have returned to an Anglican Augustinian place. And as I have said, with the help of both Augustine and Tertullian for certain (over scripture). As I mentioned, a constant beating on sola scriptura and semper reformanda, really only supports their strength and truth! We really only authenticate any history or theology with the Scripture! Even the Creeds and Councils, are in authority because of the Old & New Covenant…Judeo-Christian revelation. Here, often Orthodoxy is weak theologically because of their lack to understand and use the OT witness and covenant properly. Of course this is my opinion, and not at all a personal attack. I do love much in Orthodoxy as I have expressed!
Again, thanks to let this older (60 this Oct.) Irish-Anglican read and comment on your Orthodox blog. As I said before, you have good people on-board!
Fr. Robert Kelly…
Thankyou Father Stephen for your blog.
I have many questions if anyone could answer.
I am a catholic by birth but family mainly attended on holidays-easter,Christians etc.To make appearances-that sort of thing.
Being of croatian background i think my parents as children were taught about angry God that you fear and that would burn disobediant in hell so that is the only memories i have being taught about God as a child-theres a tyrannical God in the sky that you have to be afraid of & do right thing or he’ll punish you with fire.
I think these teachings influenced my families disinterest in religion & attending church.
Apart from that my main teachings about jesus/God have come from reading the bible with my sister & reading things online from i guess would be charismatic/non denom/pentacostal type churches & occasionally attending non-denom churches mainly because i need miracles healing for an illness that human/medical means cant help & there is no hope for me-and these are the churches where miracles seem to happen.
I was attracted to them because in catholicm miracles dont seem to happen or people are told to suffer with Christ but i really really would liked God to take this away from me so i could have normal life so i started reading about those types of churches that have healing nights etc.
Sorry i’m babbling-my question is can anyone say in simple words why Jesus came,why He had to die,how he became sin etc
I feel some people dont even know why Jesus came & died-or at least i don’t
From what i’ve read i could only understand they say because Adam & Eve sinned therefor as blood ancestors we also have ability to sin & God is very angry but because He loves us sent Jesus to be whipped,punished & killed instead of us to appease His wrath because He’s holy & because Jesus did that for us we should accept this gift & believe & repent & if we don’t we are rejecting Jesus in turn making God very angry & then he will put us in the fire to burn(or we put ourselves theres/chose to go there as some Christians would say)
This doesn’t make sense to me
Could anyone tell me clearer why Jesus came and had to die etc please?
I also don’t understand when they say Jesus had to die & shed blood because only with blood-shed can sins be forgiven because Jewish say that blood didn’t have to be shed but that they gave offerings to God of something that meant alot to them as a sacrifice but that shedding blood wasn’t needed for forgiveness so i can’t make it add up.
Re:Inemesit Emmanuel post
I am uncomfortable with words like whoredom.I know that word can be used to mean mixing something Godly with something ungodly or “selling out” or something like that but it confuses me & makes me uncomfortable.I’ve heard some Christian women say things like “we shouldnt dress like whores” or ‘thats skanky” etc & i get confused & think to be a Christian do i have to say things like that?I really don’t want to.
On one hand we’re told to become more like Jesus & be loving,kind & love your neighbour but on the other hand we have words like whoredom.Even in the bible theres words like whore & whoredom so its confusing-are we meant to be loving & caring or are we meant to use words like the above?
I think Christianity is already too complicated.Maybe the question is how sincere should Christianity be?
Your question is simple – but profound – for it is the very heart of the Christian faith. I will post an answer – but will probably do so as a posted article in the next day or so. It is a most important question.
My prayers are with you all – and I ask your prayers for me – I am having a very full week locally and would be grateful for the prayers of others.
Mary K, not to belittle your thoughts but my 6 year old daughter has had many of the same questions. She has watched one of her brothers suffer his whole life and wonders why God could not make another way other than death. It is difficult at best, to teach a child how to believe that God answers prayers when the only prayer they have seems to go unanswered. It is often when we encounter the questions of a child or go back to the root questions that we see how inadequate our answers become. I believe, after trying to explain things to my child, that if the answer is not good enough for her than it is not a satisfactory answer at all. Sometimes I think that children are asking the right questions and they are also willing and ready to let their pain be transformed. It is no wonder why
woops… accidentally clicked on submit.
It is no wonder why Jesus loved the children so much. Just some thoughts from experience.
Thankyou Father Stephen and Stephen w
Mary K, I’m sure Fr. Stephen will have some good thoughts for you, but your questions hit close to home for me as well. Such distortions in teaching about God as vengeful, needing to punish Jesus on the Cross for our sins, etc., are what drove me from evangelicalism into Orthodoxy. (Orthodoxy does not teach this view of why Jesus had to die.) Also, I have a close family member who has been disabled by mental illness virtually all of her adult life, so I am not a stranger to the suffering that chronic illness brings.
I can understand your interest in Protestant groups that advocate miraculous healing, given your situation. I spent at least 10 years in a Pentacostal denomination myself. You should understand that Orthodoxy certainly doesn’t rule out the possibility of God’s miraculous healing (and quite likely, though this is not emphasized, God intervenes quite frequently to heal through the prayers of the Church). Just as frequently, where physical healing doesn’t occur, God nevertheless sustains and comforts His people. It seems to me the most important thing is being able to receive God’s love and be in communion with Him, no matter what one’s situation. Distorted understandings of God’s motivation toward us and the reason for Christ’s death are a significant impediment to that, so I pray you will find the answers you seek. It is a central teaching of Orthodoxy regarding the reason for the Incarnation of the Word (Jesus)–including His suffering, death and resurrection–that “what is not assumed is not healed.” The understanding is that God in order to heal us had to, in solidarity with our fallen condition, unite Himself with us, including our death, in order to heal us. In the Orthodox view, Jesus isn’t taking the punishment of an angry God on the Cross in order to appease God (this notion blasphemes the merciful nature of God from an Orthodox perspective): He is enduring the punishment intrinsic to sin (and of sinners) in order to reconcile those sinners to God (i.e., to change the disposition of the sinners, not God). Father Stephen has a very good post “The Wrathful God” that would likely be helpful. The online paper at this link, though it is quite long, may also be helpful: http://www.home.messiah.edu/~rcollins/AT7.HTM
I’m really sorry your family member is suffering from a mental illness.Its a horrible things on so many levels-the suffering from the illness itself and also societies perceptions,judgements,treatment,assumptions.Also the sometimes undignifed treatment/dehumanisation by people in the medical profession.
I pray God hears my prayer and heals and helps her.
Thankyou for praying for me.Its hard to not have that image of God becuase the bible says He has wrath and all the “smiting” in the bible i have with long detail about how peoples carcasses were torn into after God brought His judgement etc.
Also articles like the below confuse me because on one hand the man who wrote the article is saying that people should have contrite,tender & not hardened hearts & be spirit led & not soul led & it appears to make sense to my unlearned brain but he also promotes speeches like “sinners in the hands of an angry God” and says Gods wrath is coming soon etc.Its confusing to me because my mind thinks “if this man has contrite & tender heart & is being led by Holy Spirit then maybe God is this way?”
Thankyou for link also.Sorry i couldn’t make it work for some reason
“Could anyone tell me clearer why Jesus came and had to die etc please?
I also don’t understand when they say Jesus had to die & shed blood because only with blood-shed can sins be forgiven because Jewish say that blood didn’t have to be shed but that they gave offerings to God of something that meant alot to them as a sacrifice but that shedding blood wasn’t needed for forgiveness so i can’t make it add up.”
The point of shedding blood and “sacrifice” is not a matter of punishment. Those things occurred in the temple entryway, and the point is to put off sinful and dead things so that we can enter into the very presence of God, joining his grace-filled presence in the holy of holies. It is an ontological fact that we are judged by our actions and we even bear the sins of others and the corruption it has caused in our very being. Unfortunately these consequences pass from one generation to the next – it corrupts all of creation, making every thing God created suffer under it’s terrible “judgment.”
The necessity of sacrifice, like all things, can only be understood by looking at Christ. It was necessary for Him to suffer, to die, to sacrifice himself on our behalf since His mission was to undo the awful consequences of sin upon mankind and embrace us in His life. He died to slay the power of death, and he transformed it into our salvation because in death we join in His life (i.e. baptism). He thereby shut the mouth of our accuser, stealing back from our accuser the last word about our future and hope. Death was indeed a necessity. His death. Please do not associate it with any notion of anger. Our death can be an offering to Him, and the final triumph of the cross where His glory can be revealed just as Christ revealed the Father’s glory on His cross. God’s only motive is love. He is Love. If He holds anger toward some for their deeds that’s his business, but be assured that He does so like a parent – to chasten His child in love.
Hi Mary K, sorry about the outdated link. I found the new online address for that paper. Here is the new link–hope this helps: http://home.messiah.edu/~rcollins/Philosophical%20Theology/Atonement/AT7.HTM
Mary K, here also is the link to Fr. Stephen’s post on “God’s Wrath.”
Dear Mary K: I am a newcomer to this blog but I feel very moved by your post. I look forward to what Father Stephen will say when he has time to respond.
In my own understanding: God is a Mystery, and who he is transcends everything that we think we know and everything we say about him. Human language is very limited, and it truly cannot describe God, and so when people say God is angry, wrathful, sad, even when they talk about God’s love, much of what it said falls short of the truth. Even Holy Scripture, which we believe God gave to us, is limited, because it was written by God’s creatures. (We do not believe our Scriptures were dictated by God or an angel of God, as Muslims believe the Koran was dictated to their prophet by an angel.)
The idea that Jesus had to die to appease God’s wrath at sinful humanity is only one formulation, one theory of why the Incarnate God suffered, died, and was resurrected. I, personally, am unable to believe this theory: the God it envisions seems very narrow-minded, very cruel, and too much, frankly, like us. It may be that we will never truly know here on earth why God chose this path to redeem us. I suspect that we, as created beings, would not be able to comprehend what lies behind the mystery of our redemption.
I believe that God loves us, that God is not “angry” with us. I believe we should strive to love God and to love and serve each other, because we are all God’s children. I believe we should not judge, because we are all sinners, but that we must forgive, as we are forgiven. I believe we must trust God even in our pain.
I hope I have not made your search more difficult by these comments, and that I have not caused offense to anyone in what I have said.
Reading and contemplating the posts here I can say that the Christian faith is radically simple while the consequences of that faith are almost infinitely complex. Once a person opens his/her heart to God and the person of Jesus Christ–everything changes. It is a monumental and ultimately futile task to describe the nature and extent of those changes and the effects of faith.
It is simple to say and even believe that in Jesus Christ God was made man–fully human and fully divine. However once someone accepts that reality our understanding of our own nature and the inter-relationship we have with every other living entity and created thing changes.
There are people who have a seeming irresistable urge to understand and descibe the nature of such changes, the essence of the experience of union with such an ineffable love.
There are others who are able to accept simply that the change has occured and work on living in the new reality to the best of their abilities and to the extent of the gift of grace they are given sharing their faith by their actions.
Saints are in both categories and hypocrites in both categories. We ought not to trouble one another or be confused by one another, or envy one another but rejoice in one another.
It is after all the transformation by the grace of God that we both seek, the forgiveness of sin and the healing of our souls and the life in the Kingdom together.
Thankyou everyone very much.
Thankyou Karen for the great links.
I’ve only read part of the online paper by Collins so far.With the example about the prodigal son i think that people who believe that Jesus was our substitute for Gods wrath/punishment say that God had to do this because Hes Holy but for humans we can just forgive each other(eg father & son) because we all have sin but God couldn’t just forgive,he had to punish & wrath be appeased & divine justice be done because He’s Holy & without sin.
Its hard to know what to believe because bible does talk about Gods wrath but at the same time why would Jesus then bother telling the story about the prodigal son in first place if it had no relativity to God and us
What does “it is an ontological fact that we are judged by our actions and we even bear the sins of others and the corruption it has caused in our very being” mean?Does that mean that we are punished for adam & eves sins like in punishment for original sin or does that just mean we bare the consequence but arn’t punished for them like for example a baby might be born disabled because his/her mother drunk alot during pregnancy so the baby suffers the consequence of mothers sin(gets disabled or blind etc) but isn’t responsible for them or being punished for them.
How did Jesus dying slay the power of death and also shut he mouth of our accuser?
Don’t all Christians believe that the bible was dictated by God/Holy Spirit breathed?Or at least thats what i’ve been taught
I don’t understand sorry.What does it all mean especially “Therefore, the correct view of substitution is that it is representative, but only In Christ”
Finally, “the great word of the Gospel is not ‘God is Love’,” it is that “Love is omnipotent forever, because it is holy.”
I ask patience of readers – I am working as I can on what would seem to me a helpful answer to Mary K’s very heartfelt question. I appreciate your patience and the respectful refrain from anticipating that post. It winds up as more confusing than helpful. This is especially true in that such an answer does not need to be the rehearsing of too much theological jargon, which Mary’s responses make clear. But patience, please.
Thankyou Father Stephen
You asked, “what does “it is an ontological fact that we are judged by our actions and we even bear the sins of others and the corruption it has caused in our very being” mean? Does that mean that we are punished for adam & eves sins like in punishment for original sin or does that just mean we bare the consequence but arn’t punished for them like for example a baby might be born disabled because his/her mother drunk alot during pregnancy so the baby suffers the consequence of mothers sin(gets disabled or blind etc) but isn’t responsible for them or being punished for them.”
The later is correct; it’s precisely what I mean. Sin, an irrational wrecker, is woven into the fabric of our being and relations with others. Of course we all sin, but we may not be guilty for all the sins that we bear. Christ bore all sins without guilt, and He’s the only one who, by doing so, could change the effect of sins upon his creatures. If Christ wanted to punish he wouldn’t have been so lavish in his mercy to take all sins on himself out of love. He would have created an accounting system to dole out remission. Fr. Thomas Hopko at has an excellent lecture series on CD from SVS Press titled “Sin: Primoridal, Generational, and Personal.” I recommend it.
“How did Jesus dying slay the power of death and also shut he mouth of our accuser?”
I’m certain that Fr. Stephen can answer this better than I can. Let’s see what he says and if he doesn’t address it I’ll try to provide a worthy reply.
Could anyone please tell me do these verses mean that God has wrath towards us which Jesus appeased with His righteousness?I wish it wasn’t true but i cant see them to mean any other way
4Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
Does this verse mean if a person tries to please God by works instead of faith on Jesus that they are more indebted to God?but if you can be indebted wouldn’t that support the theory that Jesus died in our place because the word debt i cant make that add up with any other theory of Jesus coming here and dying etc
15Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.
Does this suggest people-jewish? under the law were under Gods wrath but only by believing on Jesus are we covered from Gods wrath.
I get confused because this seems to point to the beliefs of those sermons like sinners in the hands of an angry God again
and this similar passage
25Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.
9Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
10For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.
Does this passage clearly suggest that Jesus blood shed did save us from Gods wrath?
To be honest this has now put more doubts in my mind like if this passage plainly states through Jesus we are saved from Gods wrath then i also start thinking whether burning hell fire is real too.Also then i’m wondering if Jesus is God(trinity) or seperate because it doesnt make sense for God to die for use to save us from Himself.
It seems like there is a sort of legal contract that Jesus covers us for because the crime of sin is so heinous to God and we dont realise it?At least thats what i read somewhere.
Its hard for me to think of God as Loving and safe with all this.
Its all quite confusing to a beginner like me
Thankyou very much
There is a way of reading these things that is not quite as literal and understands God’s wrath in a different way. If they had the sort of meaning you understand – it would be quite upsetting to me as well.
I’m still working on the article I’ve promised. I think it will help.
Thankyou very much Father Stephen
The Cross and Death of Christ must have some sense of the judicial aspect. With many scriptures that point in that direction. “The just (righteous) for the unjust (unrighteous), that HE might bring us to God.” (1 Peter 3:18) Also, (1 John 2:1-2 / Rom. 5:9-11). But in the end, it is better to experience the Atonement than to understand it. For in reality it is the “fact” of the Atonement that saves, rather than our understanding of it. But as Forsyth says: “It was penal in that it was due to the moral order of sin.” But it was not penal in the sense that the Father deliberately punished His Son. But we can say Christ’s death did three things…It defeated Satan, rejoiced the Father, and set up in humanity the Kingdom of God!
PS Fr. Stephen, let me share a great Anglican statement as to souls and direction: ‘ALL great direction of souls is at once traditional in doctrine and original in application.’ ~ Evelyn Underhill
Actually, Fr. Robert, I would agree that there is “some sense of the judicial” in the Cross and Death of Christ. However, I do not think that judicial sense is well used or interpreted in our modern age. We have both a highly developed and deeply warped sense of the judicial (particularly in America). It is a deeply abused image as it is popularly used, often reduced to caricature. It rarely has any sense of what “judicial” would have meant at the time of the NT. Thus NT Wright, to cite an Anglican, is among those who have been revisiting the typical Protestant interpretation of these things, and doing good work.
I simply think it is a minor metaphor, greatly overdone in the last number of centuries in comparison to the first 1000 years. I will except Tertullian, but he was a lawyer who became a heretic. 🙂 I’m not sure his early use of theology served him so well.
There are far more dominant metaphors and images – most especially that of exchange and participation (koinonia). That “God made Him to be sin who knew no sin, that we might become the righteousness of God,” for instance, is not at all judicial in my understanding, but rather a matter of God’s taking our condition upon Himself, that we might take His upon us. Not imputed, but participated. If koinonia were translated correctly in more English Bibles, more people would see how utterly dominant a word and concept that it is. St. John’s gospel is replete with examples. Indeed, I think one would have a hard time finding a judicial metaphor in St. John. I also think that St. Paul must be read with St. John by his side (et cetera).
Underhill- good quote.
We are close here! My concern would be more about God’s nature and His total “passion” or wrath – here in the Greek the idea is in the animus, the working and fermenting of the mind. Here God’s mind is both holy and pure, and thus His passion, “wrath” or hatred of sin! We can see this in the heart & mind of God in the OT. Also, Christ had a profound hatred of sin! (Matt. 23: 32-36 / John 8:21-24).
Here again we have hyperbole, but the language still points to God’s very profound hatred and passion or wrath of and toward sin. Here is the very moral for which Christ died! Let me quote Evelyn Underhill again, ‘Love is a grave and ruthless passion, unlimited in self-giving and unlimited in demand.’
Thanks to let me share.
Sincerely In Christ,
Fr. Stephen, you said “a matter of God’s taking our condition upon Himself, that we might take His upon us.”
Reading this I recalled that once Bp. Kallistos said something to the effect that, any view of salvation that requires God to change is wrong. He does not change and does not need His wrath or anger mollified. He takes our condition upon Himself FOR US. His “anger” and “wrath” are not at all what we often imagine, that God is a killer who’s glad to punish sinners and be rid of them.
Thanks. Glory to God for all things! Indeed!
I think that to speak of God’s hate and wrath, even towards sin, is, at best, a metaphor. If such words have any substance with regard to God – it is not anything we understand or comprehend. However, we know very much about the distorted thing we call hate or wrath and it works us no good at all (“the wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God”). I have only seen it do harm in the hands of preachers and warp the minds of believers. Better to read St. Isaac of Syria and be done with such imagery. It is worse than useless.
In the hands of many it has passed being a metaphor and become a full-blown heresy, or blasphemy, saying things of God that are not true.
I know it’s stock-in-trade for many preachers but, as I’ve said, not to any good effect – and to great ill effect. It is the breeding ground of atheism.
I can assure any reader that if they personally “hate” sin – it’s a darkness in their soul. I’ve never seen “righteous anger” in any human being. Understand the theory – but I’ve never ever seen it. Christians need to give up the notion, at least as regards our own selves.
It’s theoretically alright to speak of “pure” hatred, etc., but I have no idea what that means or what it would look like. Christ even showed mercy towards demons (allowing them to enter the Gadarene swine).
Fr. Stephen – I truly appreciate your insight about the wrath of God/anger of God. It has truly enlightened my understanding of God’s grace, as indicated in the parable of the prodigal son/Loving Father.
How do you understand the event from St. John’s Gospel of our Lord “cleansing” the Temple? “In the temple He found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And He poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And He told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” (John 2:14-16)
Is this anger at sin or something else? Thank you for your wisdom.
Thankyou Father Stephen,
It is the breeding ground of atheism.
I guess those Christians say Christians are meant to be righteous and hate what God hates and hate sin/our hearts and that Paul(i think?) said to do that.
Like this womans blog below confuses me because she says she follows everything biblically and has developed a righteous anger and heartbreak when she hears other women sharing a “watered down” version of the bible.
Is righteous anger really righteous?Is it a different type of anger from normal(darkness in the soul) anger?Would bad anger be like angry at someone like a reaction which caused conflict and/or hurt feelings whereas righteous anger might be sort of like a indignant outrage like at something that dishonered God like not preaching His full gospel or for example at jail system if there were people who set on fire disabled child and shown no remorse and got off without any incarcaration time and laughed about it?
Would anger/uprising at criminal system in a situation like that be considered righteous anger or is that from darkness in the soul too?
This woman in the blog also talks about how in hell a persons body will be eternally torment and tortured for ever.
These sort of teaching confuse/upset me about Gods nature but i worry must be true because she looks so joyful,health,pretty etc and talks about following bible to the word
I was also wondering if wrath was a large part of Gods nature then shouldn’t Christians become more wrathful as they grow spiritually because of becoming more like God/as being originally created in Gods image?
Also someone mentioned to me if the saved get reward of eternal life then what are the unsaved doing with it also burning in hell for eternity?
Maybe its just my understanding of the words eternal life is limited
Fr. Stephen, this was my reply to you over on my blog. I really would love to hear your counsel.
I’ve been a lurker on your blog and listener to your podcasts for a couple of years. I really respect and have been blessed by your writing on life and faith, liturgy and sacramental worship. The podcast where you talk about your father-in-law and the “Nevertheless” of the three young men is in my personal ‘canon’ of stories of faithful Christian living. So thank you for your ministry.
I meant no disrespect by pointing to your comment about Cranmer. I just think it was inaccurate and at the least an overstatement. The original BCP was a project in purification from medieval innovation rather than an innovation for simplicities sake. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for recent revisions.
At the same time, I totally get your point.
I’ve been a part of planting a church with the Anglican Mission in America – we have episcopal oversight from Rwanda. We are, as evangelical Anglican parishes go, on the higher end in terms of style. Our staff and clergy have been influenced greatly by the eastern tradition, particularly by the writing of Fr. Schmemann.
It’s interesting, many of the people who have joined our church have not been disgruntled Episcopalians. They have mostly been from some sort of evangelical, non-denom, Bible Church or Baptistic tradition. They come and stay because they encounter the presence of God in our services.
To that end, we’ve been diligent to teach about about the liturgy and the significance of the sacraments. We have an instructional eucharist once a year, we’ve written a little book describing the liturgy, we teach classes, etc.
What your post touches in me is an anxiety I often feel to make sure people know what they are doing. In light of your post, how directive are you in teaching your parishoners about the liturgy and sacraments? How important is it that they GET IT?
I only have time for a brief response this morning. Mary K, I think that those Christians who write about God’s anger and wrath – particularly if they claim to have “righteous anger” are in delusion. They know nothing of what they are writing about and they know even less about what is going on inside them. This is why it is important to be guided by and subject to the living Tradition of the Church and not just making things up as you go along and subject to nothing more than your own opinion.
There are terrible things in this world that are easy to hate. Even bad people can hate these things. Atheists hate these things. It does not take anything Divine to hate these things. True Christian spiritual life and true Christian devotion to God is measured in love, not hate. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is love.” (1 Jn. 4:7-8)
St. Silouan taught us (paraphrase) that “you only know God to the extent that you love your enemies.” For the Scripture is clear that “God is kind to the unthankful and the evil.” (Luke 6:35).
This is difficult even though we can see the truth of it. But the very difficulty should teach us that it is the commandment of God.
I believe Christ acted in the manner of a parable in the Temple as he drove the money changers out – and not because He was overcome by anger. If there were anger there, I still do not think it is something we understand, or that He did to offer us an example. I am impressed by the fact that more Christians want to follow the Temple Cleansing than want to follow the Cross. We are commanded to take up our cross and follow Him, not take up our whips and follow Him. Let God be God, and let us keep His commandments. We have no commandment in the NT to hate sin. We have a commandment to love our enemy. Let us strive to complete that commandment, then perhaps we can search and see if there are any others.
Thanks again for the note. It is both important and not important that people “get it” in liturgy. If the liturgy is true and God given, then God will give it to them. We should instruct, but trust that the liturgy is beyond the level of our instruction. It’s the only problem with various liturgies in the West (that they are too simplified). The danger is that we would indeed “get it.” Meaning, it would have lost its transcendence. God bless your work.
I am sadden by the fact that you did not let your blog see my last post? This is always somewhat dishonest to me! The blog should be what it is…an open forum. Could it be that I have made the better, or at least the more studied statement? Are you afraid to let my simple answer see the light for your people? I hope not? People deserve the benefit of real dialogue!
Always however.. In Christ,
Dear Father, bless! I don’t think it is possible for a merciful God not to hate sin (in some sense), since sin is what is counter to His merciful will and destroys His creatures. In analogy, right now my daughter has been sick with a fever for five days and apparently suffering from a respiratory flu. I hate her illness and what it is doing to her body and the suffering it is causing her precisely to the extent that I love her. The problem, as I understand it, is we as human beings are inclined to view sin not as a spiritual wound or disease (as does Orthodoxy), but as freely willed morally evil choices (which is merely a symptom of sin in its deepest sense) and consequently to judge and condemn the sinner willing his destruction to the extent that we see him as willfully bound up in his “sin” in this latter sense. And we are always better at noticing such sin in others than in ourselves! This latter sort of human hatred/anger gets very bound up in our understanding of God’s completely dispassionate “wrath,” which is an expression of His compassion in the same sense as my hatred of my daughter’s suffering and illness is an expression of my love for her. Does this distinction resonate with you?
So sorry. Yes, I moderated your comment. But I thought I’d correct a couple of mistaken notions. Comments on a blog are not an open forum, they are comments on a blog. Fora exist. There is an element of that in a comments section. But I write a blog. There’s no way I can run and moderate a forum, other than to the minor extent one exists here.
Comments on this posting have already well exceeded 100, a point in my experience where the posting ceases to be the topic and the comments become less and less relevant, however interesting they may be.
At some point (even to that of closing comments) I begin to moderate things so that the conversation can ease and we can move on to another post (which should be forth-coming today, God willing). Your comment was interesting in and of itself, but did not, it seemed to me to move the conversation any further or make a necessary point to the conversation.
It is easy for the conversation of the comments to soon be side-tracked. Those issues may be interesting, which is why other people also have blogs (so they can write what they want and let others comment on it).
It’s a finite world – and one that has been shrunken quite a bit for me this week by other responsibilities. Thus my reins have tightened on moderation. It’ll ease soon enough.
Yes, I am comfortable with that approach. But, already you are offering (properly) a nuanced understanding of “wrath.” It popular writing (such as I do here) I sometimes find it easier to not use the term rather than to spend the amount of time offering the nuance – though the topic has to be addressed repeatedly. When I write on it, it invariably has one of the largest number of comments. People are deeply engaged with this question.
I would go another step further and even say that “sin” does not exist (at least not with a proper existence). It is a “falling short of the mark” (hamartia) and deviation in our proper and true existence. Thus I’m not sure if we are not ontologizing sin (granting it being) when in fact it is not anything at all (ontologically speaking).
Does God hate nothing? Or is He angry at nothing? I think most of the language of God’s anger and hate are so tied up in the legal metaphor that it is largely useless to us as Orthodox Christians. When you read St. Isaac of Syria, there is pretty much a complete absence of such language, and yet you see no diminishing of the Christian gospel.
Simple question (for us all): Is it possible to give a complete and balanced account of the gospel of Christ without making use of the word anger or hate or wrath. I think it certainly is. Not that those words do not occur in Scripture, and are used in some of the images offered in Scripture. John’s gospel uses the word “wrath” once, but could have easily used something else (3:36). It uses the word “hate” or “hates” only in chapter 7 and there it is talking about the world hating, but not us hating.
Of course, Christ says we must “hate” father and mother – though that is so nuanced that a sermon is required to explain it.
On the other hand, the legal metaphor has spawned far more casual uses of hate and anger and wrath, raising such words to the place of root metaphors, and thereby distort the image of God.
There are words, I believe, that are so charged and dangerous, that they must be used seldom and only with caution and careful nuance. Hate and anger and wrath are generally only experienced in a sinful manner by human beings and most people are deeply wounded already by such abuse. Those who preach such terms are often engaging in spiritual abuse and should stop.
If someone who teaches or preaches the Christian gospel but cannot do so without reference to these words, then I think they need to stop and pray and see if there is not something fundamentally wrong with their understanding.
I’m not trying to edit these things out of Scripture – simply to say that they are abused by most who read them. Imagine you are explaining the gospel to a 4 year old. Will they misunderstand the concept of God’s wrath? I am rather sure of it.
I have not found adults to be that much more emotionally mature.
My challenge of these images (on the blog and in my writings) is, I hope, an occasion for other Christians, particularly Orthodox, to think carefully about these very powerful words. If we do that – then I’ll have done a little good.
Blessings on the feast!
I’ve heard it said before that to have righteous anger about a situation where one sins against another means that we are more angry on behalf of the one who sinned against the other.
A certain professor, who is the chairman of the philosophy department in a south eastern universty, also Orthodox, came and gave a paper at Auburn about the Essence/Energies distinction. He worked in physics before he delved into Theology and philosophy. Someone asked him before the paper: “what is the connection between physics and theology?”, he thought about it for a minute and then said “physics and theology are both wrapped in asking about the reality of the universe,” I loved that answer, it gave me a new perspective on Christianity that had always been on the tip of my tongue in my mind. this article seems to reflect that understanding of Christianity as well.
Thank you so much, Father. I have also remarked the large response you get to these posts, and I believe this is significant and reflects the vigor of the spiritual warfare going on around this particular distortion in people’s understanding of God–perhaps especially among those most likely to be in your readership audience. As you know, I agree with you wholeheartedly on this issue and just keep trying to think about how to best keep those engaged who most need to keep wrestling with it. I, for one, am tremendously grateful for your blog and its focus–it has been an invaluable resource and encouragement for me. (How interesting those statistics about John’s Gospel.) I pray more preachers of the “gospel” would recognize and heed your words below.
“There are words, I believe, that are so charged and dangerous, that they must be used seldom and only with caution and careful nuance. Hate and anger and wrath are generally only experienced in a sinful manner by human beings and most people are deeply wounded already by such abuse. Those who preach such terms are often engaging in spiritual abuse and should stop.
“If someone who teaches or preaches the Christian gospel but cannot do so without reference to these words, then I think they need to stop and pray and see if there is not something fundamentally wrong with their understanding.”
Thanks for the good words. I always enjoy your comments. The new post is up…almost 3000 words, and at that I felt as though I had hardly touched the topic.
Just ran across your site when googling for a quote and wanted to offer a (hopefully gentle) dissenting opinion to that of some of your other readers and posters. Thanks for your work. j
“Christianity is EVERYTHING for mankind, or it is NOTHING; either the surest VERITY, or the greatest LIE.”
So began my very first sermon after confronting (and, for the most part, answering) the first and most obvious questions that accompany even contemplation of a journey from contemporary Judaism to 2 Cor 5:17. The year was 1975 and since then there have been MANY sermons, Bible studies, devotions, marriages and funerals, each calling for my remarks to some audience. So, I understand to some degree the realities of trying to communicate the ineffable.
And, having had the privilege of two sets of grandparents, one Jewish, the other Catholic and headed by a strong, beyond ‘observant’, “Mass-every-day-of-the-week” Irish/German Grandma, I had some understanding of the contrasts in both the religions AND their practice.
Thus, I’m forced to wonder if, rather than over-simplification, i.e. rather than reducing the awe and majesty of The One to a mere shibboleth – as human worshipers ARE wont to do – some of my Protestant brothers, in the best Socratic tradition, are simply pointing out a trail and so allowing for personal exploration and discovery. Others, and I can’t help but think of my Grandma O’Brien, may prefer they be provided a destination, complete with attached full color topographical map and driving directions. In this way they are supplied all the answers, leaving no doubt.
So, at the risk of a legitimate claim of simplification in the extreme, whether one takes God at His word in Isa 1:18 (“Come let US reason together …”) or one takes the part of Timothy heeding Paul (2 Tim 2:2; “… things … heard from me … entrust to faithful men … able to teach others …”) the main thing is to keep The Main Thing (Jesus) the main thing (your focus.) If He is at YOUR center, appropriation of the Truth is a foregone conclusion (Romans 8:28-30.) At least, that’s MHO. j (Jude 24-25)
No doubt evangelization is a driving force for much of the simplification within contemporary Protestantism, as well as the Baptism of some questionable elements of culture. But it always runs the risk of making the faith into a “religion” rather than a way of life. But there are many pitfalls for us all. I wanted to offer a thought for our consideration.
Thomas Cranmer was instrumental in the translation and dissemination of the Holy Bible in the English language. Many martyrs gave their lives so that people could read the Scripture that the early fathers so treasured. The New Testament in my Orthodox Study Bible is the New King James translation.
The church in Europe was an all-encompassing religious, political and social structure. If the Reformation had not occurred, the Roman Catholic Church might still be the only church in the Western world. We are blessed with freedom–the very freedom we are enjoying here–that grew from that Reformation.
Yes, some have watered down or even done away with liturgy. That does not mean the absence of God. Liturgy praises God, it does not contain him. God is greater than the church, and can not be possessed.
There are good points related to the Reformation, no doubt. Forgive me, but it is too simple a read of history to justify the whole of the Reformation by greater availability of Scripture and “freedom,” or to cite martyrs of the Reformation. There were plenty of martyrs on the other side of the question as well. It is historically inaccurate to think of the Reformation as a popular uprising. In most cases (England in particular) it was not popular at all, but was the program of the state and the academics together and was put into place through great violence.
Nor can we assume that things we now have as a result of the Reformation would not have developed in another way. The violence and politicization of the Reformation have also left us with a dark side. We have freedom, but we do not know what to do with it (it is mostly mere license). We have the Scriptures but again without proper understanding.
Liturgy is praise of God, but it was and is the primary repository of the lived spiritual life of the Church. It is, if you will (especially in an Orthodox use) the Scriptures sung – and sung with understanding.
“Do not remove the ancient landmark which thy fathers have set” Proverbs 22:28.