The Death of Christ and the Life of Man

0915-olsorrowSeveral years ago, someone wrote and asked, “Why did Christ have to die on the Cross?” It is the question that prompted this article. Recently, we have been having a discussion regarding the atonement within the comments section of the blog. I have pointed out that the notion of Christ being punished by the wrath of God for our sakes is not, in fact, found in the Scriptures. Sin is not a breaking of the rules. This article, a reprint, covers some very basic ground about classical Orthodox teaching on the death of Christ, the nature of sin, and the meaning of salvation. I hope it is of help to readers.

Preliminary Thoughts

Part of the information accompanying the question was the experience (of Mary K) with teaching on the atonement that centered largely on the wrath and anger of God. (I paraphrase and summarize) We sinned  (both ourselves and Adam and Eve) – God punished us. God sent Christ whom He punished in our place. Now through faith in Christ we can escape the punishment we deserve. Along with this were a number of questions about the blood of Christ. How does it cleanse us from sin?

Of course such a question could be the occasion for a book. As is, it is the occasion for an answer of readable length (barely). Readers who feel that more should have been said about one thing or another are asked for patience. The heart of things, it seems to me, has to do with the primary images used to understand both what is wrong with humanity and creation (sin) and what it is about Christ that saves us and heals us (His death and resurrection). If there were only one way of speaking about this or thinking about this, then the question would not have been asked.

The truth is that Scripture, including within the work of a single writer, uses many images to describe the reality of what Christ has done. Some of those images are simply useful analogies or metaphors, others seem to have a more “literal” character about them – though nowhere do we find a definitive account that sets all others aside.

I want to also add a preliminary word (for our questioning reader) about the language of Scripture. Though many Christians would agree that the words of Scripture are “God-breathed” (inspired), this does not mean that every statement in Scripture is to be read literally. There are many things that are read figuratively, metaphorically, and otherwise. That is to say, the Scriptures cannot be read without help and a guide. This has always been true. For this reason the Scriptures, when read in a traditional Christian manner, must be read with Christians who themselves have been taught to read them in a traditional manner.

In this matter, you will find great diversity among Christians, for the interpretation of Scripture has been a major point of division between Christians for almost 500 years. Much of what was described in the background to the question that was posed are examples of modern, fundamentalist Christian interpretations (of which there are a variety). What I offer here is the general understanding of Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

The Problem

What is wrong with humanity, and creation, such that we are in need of anything from God? What is sin?

At its most fundamental level – sin is death. For the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). The fact that we die is not a punishment sent to us from God but the result of our having broken fellowship (communion) with God. God is Life and the only source of life. Created things (humanity included) do not have life in themselves, it is not something we have as our possession and power. Rather, life is the gift of God. It is not just our life that is the gift of God – but our very existence and the existence of all that is. God is our Creator. The Scriptures say, “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

Genesis offers us the story of Adam and Eve in which we hear described their disobedience from God. He had warned them: “Do not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Many early commentators on Scripture were careful to note that God did not say, “In the day you eat of it I will kill you,” but “in the day you eat of it you shall die.” Rather we are told: “God did not create death, nor does he delight in the death of the living” (Wisdom 1:13).

St. Athanasius explains that when humanity chose to break its relationship with God (through disobedience) we cut ourselves off from the source of life. However God did not take life from us (He does not take back the gifts He gives) but we removed ourselves from it. And so we die. We not only die physically, but we have a process of death at work in us. St. Paul speaks of this process as “corruption.” This movement away from life and towards death and destruction reveals itself in the many broken things in our lives. We hurt and kill each other. We hurt and destroy creation. We are weak and easily enslaved to powerful things such as drugs and alcohol. We are dominated by greed, envy, lust, anger, etc. We cannot help ourselves in this matter because we do not have life within ourselves. Only God can give us the true life that alone can make us well.

The Answer

Above all else we should remember that “God is a good God and He loves mankind” (from the Orthodox dismissal). This we hear clearly in Scripture: “God is love” (1 John 4:8) and “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

We hear this echoed in the words of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom:

You [God] brought us into being out of nothing, and when we fell, You raised us up again. You did not cease doing everything until You led us to heaven and granted us Your kingdom to come.

This good God who loves mankind is not an angry God. He is not a vengeful God. He does not will us harm or punish us for our destruction. Though the Scriptures use these images, the Fathers of the Church have been consistent in understanding that this language is figurative and should not be understood literally. For instance, St. Anthony says:

God is good and is not controlled by passions. He does not change. Now someone who thinks it reasonable and true to affirm that God does not change, may well ask how, in that case, it is possible to speak of God as rejoicing over those who are good and showing mercy to those who honor Him, and as turning away from the wicked and being angry with sinners. To this it must be answered that God neither rejoices nor grows angry, for to rejoice and to be offended are passions; nor is He won over by the gifts of those who honor Him, for that would mean He is swayed by pleasure. It is not right that the Divinity feel pleasure or displeasure from human conditions. He is good, and He only bestows blessings and never does harm, remaining always the same. We men, on the other hand, if we remain good through resembling God, are united to Him, but if we become evil through not resembling God, we are separated from Him. By living in holiness we cleave to God; but by becoming wicked we make Him our enemy. It is not that He grows angry with us in an arbitrary way, but it is our own sins that prevent God from shining within us and expose us to demons who torture us. And if through prayer and acts of compassion we gain release from our sins, this does not mean that we have won God over and made Him to change, but that through our actions and our turning to the Divinity, we have cured our wickedness and so once more have enjoyment of God’s goodness. Thus to say that God turns away from the wicked is like saying that the sun hides itself from the blind.

There are many Christians who would handle Scriptures in a different manner – but I think they do not listen to the fathers of the Church and interpret Scripture according to their own opinions. In this, I think they are in error and should not be listened to.

This good God, the only Lord and giver of Life, had compassion on us when we fell away and became subject to death and corruption. In His compassion He sent His only Son who became one of us – taking our human nature upon Himself. Uniting us to Himself, He lived a life without sin (for He is Life), and taught us by word and deed the goodness and kindness of God and to become like God by loving even our enemies.

His love was so great, that He extended that love beyond the grave. He accepted death on the Cross, suffering the hatred and evil doings of those around Him.

And here, as we approach Christ’s death on the Cross, it is appropriate to ask, “Why death?”

There are many meditations on the death of Christ. Meditations that see Him as the Paschal Lamb sacrificed for us, as the “Serpent lifted in the wilderness,” and others. Here, temptation sets in and Christians seek to explain Christ’s death by comparing it to their own faulty understandings of lesser things. For it is not the shadow of things to come (Old Testament) that interprets the things to come – but rather the reality (New Testament) that interprets the shadow. It is Christ’s death that gives meaning to every type and foreshadowing and image of that death to be found in the Old Testament.

Thus it is more accurate to say that the Paschal Lamb in the time of Moses is like Christ’s sacrifice, rather than to say His sacrifice is like that which came before. As Christ said of Moses and the Prophets, “These are they which testify of me” (John 5:30).

One of the most common and helpful images in Scripture and the fathers of the Church is the image of Christ’s union with humanity. Christ became incarnate, taking to Himself our human nature. He became what we were, yet without sin. This union should be understood in more than a metaphorical manner. For Christ literally and truly became man. His humanity was not a new creation, but he took flesh “of the Virgin Mary.” He became a partaker of our humanity.

In becoming a partaker of our humanity, Christ opened the way for us to become partakers in His divinity. “For as He is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17). St. Paul uses this language as well in his explanation of Baptism:

Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall also be raised together in the likeness of His resurrection. Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that we should no longer be the slaves of sin (Romans 6:3-6).

This imagery is common in St. Paul:

I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. And the life that I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me (Galatians 2:20).

If you are risen with Christ, seek those things that are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For you are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then you shall also appear with Him in glory (Colossians 3:1-4).

These things only make sense because Christ has united Himself to us, and us to Him. We are united to His death and resurrection in our faith and in our Baptism. We become one flesh with Christ. We truly become a part of the Body of Christ.

And this goes to the heart of the answer to the question posed: why did Christ die? Christ died because we were dead. We were trapped in the lifeless death that is sin (which yields corruption and physical death as well). Christ is God who has come to rescue us from our prison of sin and death. He became what we are that we might have a share in what He is. We were created in the image and likeness of God – but our sin had marred us.

We did not inherit guilt and a legal penalty from Adam and Eve. We inherited a world dominated by death. In such a world we behaved as the slaves of sin and sought to live our lives apart from God Who alone is Life. God alone could rescue us from the place where we had confined ourselves. Christ enters death. Christ enters Hades and makes a way for us to follow Him into true life.

In our present life, this true life is made present within us in many ways. First, it is made present in our knowledge of God. “This is eternal life, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom Thou hast sent” (John 17:3). We know God and have a true relationship and communion with Him. We also have within us the power to overcome sin. This is sometimes manifest as obedience to Christ’s commandments, and, as God pleases, it is sometimes manifest as physical healing in our bodies (and miracles in creation – Romans 8:21).

If the same Spirit which raised Christ from the dead dwell in you, He will make alive your mortal bodies (Romans 8:11).

The true life of humanity is a common life. It is common in the modern world to think of ourselves only in terms of discreet individuals. But the Scriptures and teaching of the Church bear witness to a common life in which we all partake. Thus, what happens to one of us effects all of us. This commonality is also an important part of our spiritual life and our salvation. The Church in particular is the place where Christians live their common life.

This common life is also the place where we come to understand the references to “Christ’s blood” (since this was part of the question posed). His blood carries a number of meanings. It is His death, His “life poured out for us.” It is also His life given to us in the sacrament of His Body and Blood. His blood cleanses us – just as Baptism cleanses us – for His death destroys death and makes the whole creation new. There are many links between the image of blood in the Old Testament and Christ’s blood in the New. However, it is easy to become overly detailed about his connection and miss the larger point of Christ’s death – by which He destroyed death and gave us eternal life.

There are many voices across the Christian world. Taken together – they are a madhouse of confusion. Confusion and contradiction is the only result of those who listen first to one teacher and then to another. No one will arrive at the truth by such a route.

Instead, I counsel anyone to take up the life of the Church. Be Baptized (or otherwise received into the Church) and stay put. Listen to a godly pastor who lives the Scriptures and respects the fathers of the Church. Those who have built private empires and practice ministries that are in submission to “no one except God” are frauds and live in delusion. They are scandals waiting to happen.

No Church, including the Orthodox Church, ever exists without scandal. But that scandal can be disciplined. True teaching can be found and life in union with the resurrected Lord can be lived.

A Short Word About Wrath and Anger

These 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 the child 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.

[Of course, Scripture and the Fathers use the image of anger and wrath, generally with the understanding that such anger or wrath is an expression of an aspect of God’s love and not an effect created in God by our actions. A common example is the double aspect of fire – in which it is both heat and light, purification and illumination. Of course, the words “wrath” and “anger” are seldom used with such subtlety by many who preach or teach them and in so doing may be saying something that the Gospels do not teach.]

It is quite possible to give a very good account of the Christian gospel without the use of “wrath” and “anger.” St. John only uses the word wrath once in His entire Gospel. It is not an integral and necessary part of the theology of the Cross. To say that it is – is to make of an illustration and metaphor a matter of dogma. If you disagree, argue with St. John.

Conclusion

I pray that this answer is of help to the reader who posed the question. I also ask pardon of those readers who have been patient with me for the posting of this answer. It comes at the end of a busy week. May God give us all grace to hear the Holy Gospel.

59 comments:

  1. Thank you, Father!

    We did not inherit guilt and a legal penalty from Adam and Eve. We inherited a world dominated by death. In such a world we behaved as the slaves of sin and sought to live our lives apart from God Who alone is Life. God alone could rescue us from the place where we had confined ourselves. Christ enters death. Christ enters Hades and makes a way for us to follow Him into true life.

    Wonderful.

  2. Fr. Stephen….
    I realize I am a new comer to this blog. I feel I should explain alittle about myself before I ask my question.
    I was brought up a Baptist. About 20 years ago, Jesus came into my life. Within a year…..I lost everything I had, in my life, and without going into detail… let’s just say it was kinda a Pilgrim’s Progress beginning. Over these past 20 some odd years….here I am. By God’s good Grace.. I cannot stop reading and learning the Eastern Ortodox Way.
    Simply put….I feel blessed.
    So….without going any more with this, I would like to ask you, Fr Stephen….how do I explain to my friends and family about when we are sinning, how we separate ourselves from Gods presence, so to speak…..and when we (24/24) keep our eyes…..and heart…. on Him, and focus on not sinning (knowingly)…..The Holy Spirit works within us?
    I’m sorry if my words seem somewhat simple. I hope you understand my question.
    Thank you, and God Bless.

  3. Wonderful posts and discussions Father Freeman!!
    I am currently reading “The Life in Christ” by Nicholas Cabasilas (14th Century) and in the First Book he uses the #10 is titled “The Ransom Christ has paid for us”. I saw one review someone had posted on Amazon stating that Cabasilas was not shy talking about Christ paying the ransom for us. What is very different from the Western theory of the Atonement is that it is clear that Casabilas is talking about our inability on our own efforts to pull ourselves out of the vicious circle of sin, alienation and death, and that Christ freely gave His life to break this cycle. The idea of ransom here is more the image of one who jumps into the waters to save a drowning man and gives his own life so that the other may live, not of penalty that must be paid to appease an angry God. The Other gives his life so that we may have true life free from being trapped in the vicious circle of sin, alienation and death – an action that is done freely and only out of love.

  4. A Byzantine Catholic and I were trying to explain to a fundamentalist about the atonement once. He kept saying that since we thing we are to die with Christ as the scriptures say, then we cannot claim Christ died for us. And we were having an effort trying to show this guy that “for” does not mean “in place of”.

    This particular Byzantine Catholic though told me he was actually an Islamic convert to Melkite-Greek Catholicism. Since he was Arabic, the largely Arabic ethnicity felt homely to him. But it was largely this particular view of the atonement that attracted him to Christianity in the first place.

  5. Thank you Father, this post will be an excellent primer to use when in discussion with Catechumens, Inquirers and with those who merely seek to know what we are about.

  6. The Orthodox view of the atonement translates much more readily into other cultures as well and is a much more effective Evangelistic message. It is truth all human hearts can recognize: “Greater love hath no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends.”

  7. Well also the Orthodox view of the atonement also makes better sense of the scriptural passages. It seems a disaster that it became exclusive to Eastern Orthodoxy over the years but thankfully more and more of the Popes are becoming influenced by Eastern Catholic teachings which coincide with the Orthodox teachings on these issues.

    Of course, penal language I’ve become more comfortable using with qualifications. I prefer in most instances though to drop penal language at all. For instance, I have no problem saying Jesus was punished for our sins. Death seems to be a punishment and he was executed in accordance with Roman law. So of course he was punished for our sins. But this does not mean that his punishment meant that we weren’t supposed to join him in his death or that he died in our stead. (St Thomas Aquinas speaks of punishment in the sense of Jesus’s death as medicinal–the only way Jesus could be punished for us.)

    Protestant theology made a goof-up when they decided that punishment was meant in regard to the court of Heaven. If Jesus died in our place, what to make of all the passages saying we ought to die with Christ?

  8. Most cogent statement: Sin is not a breaking of the rules. Yet I have a lifetime of Sinners in the hands of an Angry God. Then I think of Christ at the well with the woman who had 5 husbands and Christ told her to go, sin no more. Did she? What about the woman who was raped? Did she commit a sin? I am really trying to understand what is a sin.

  9. Janis,
    You’re asking the question in terms of rules. Sin can have that as a certain aspect. But in Orthodoxy, we also pray to be forgive for sins that we have done voluntarily or involuntarily. What’s an involuntary sin in legal terms? There’s no such thing. When you think about sin, don’t think about it in legal terms. Set that completely aside. Use a different image. Think of sin as like this burden you carry around and can’t figure out how to lay down. Maybe you picked it up, maybe someone put it on you. The rape victim has absolutely no guilt for what was done to her (legally). But she may carry a crushing burden of shame, anger and sadness. That, too, is “sin” but not in the legal sense. It’s just an active process of death at work in us that is destroying and from which we need deliverance.

    The forgiveness of sins (by Christ) is the loosing of bonds, the breaking of chains, the cancellation of debts, the smashing of the gates of hell, the drowning of the Pharaoh, etc.

    Everybody thinks the “go and sin no more” (to the woman taken in adultery, not to the Samaritan woman at the well). Everyone reads it and thinks, “He means, Don’t commit adultery again.” It certainly means that, but it is so much larger. We don’t know the whole of the story. She alone can understand fully what He meant.

    “A” sin is a particular instance or occurence or manifestation of the thing we call “Sin.” Sin is death. Think about death in all of its metaphorical richness. It is disease. It is rot. It is a movement towards non-being. It is darkness instead of light. It is what holds us in darkness or makes us seek it out. Sometimes it seems to have its own power. It is mysterious (“the mystery of iniquity” is one of Paul’s phrases).

    Hope that’s of use.

  10. I actually just read St Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love this week–very apophatic for a Medieval mystic. She talks fully about how in her visions she never sees sin. To God, sin is regarded as nothing and has no existence. Which is not to say she does not believe in sin. God’s attributes of mercy and forgiveness do not show up either. Except in visions where something is contrasted with nothing. Because sin is nothingness.

  11. Father and everyone,
    If God is good and the source of life, how are we to interpret passages in the OT where God commands His people to kill? Is there another blog or resource anyone can point me towards? I feel like these passages (1 Samual 3:15, Numbers 21:3, etc.) are uncomfortable for many Christians, for good reason.

  12. Thank you so much, Fr. Stephen. You have no idea how much help you have been to me recently, especially during this Lenten season.

    This explains SO well what I was trying earlier today to explain to a new friend. I will probably just send him here if he asks further. 🙂

    One thing – I am not sure if it’s a typo or not? In the paragraph above “The Answer” it says: This movement away from and towards death and destruction reveals itself in the many broken things in our lives.

    I want to read it as “away from life” but I’m not sure if you meant that, or if you meant away from and towards death. A small thing, but I thought I’d ask, just in case. Thank you. 🙂

  13. Father Stephen, thank you for elaborating on this topic differentiating the Orthodox concept of salvation from what is typically heard elsewhere. It is particularly pertinent to me as I near the time of my own Baptism and is balm to my sore heart. Please forgive this long comment hopefully it might be helpful to someone reading your posts.

    My earliest memory (I was about 8 years old) of what I was taught and called a ‘Christian’ belief was about the wrath of God. My interpretation at that age of what I was told about Christ was based on the following experience: Specifically it was my personal experience of parental punishment (in those days it was ok and even encouraged to whip kids). My younger brother was about 3 years old and I was about 5 years when he did some mischief for which my parents found it difficult to believe that he did it. And despite my protests, I was blamed and punished. The experience of the punishment didn’t cause me to become resentful of my brother, as he was doing what little kids do. But I was resentful of receiving punishment I didn’t deserve and I transferred that resentment to my parents as being ‘unfair’. Now to a child this correlates to Jesus begging God the Father in the garden of Gethsemane to not be punished for someone else’s misconduct. As I was a kid and the memory of being punished for something I didn’t do was relatively fresh, I could relate. But what happened to Jesus? He was punished anyway submitting to the unfairness of His Parent as ‘good’ kids ought (or have to despite their protests). God the Father wasn’t fair, at least not to me. But according to what I was told, Jesus ‘took the punishment’ instead of me.
    And what was the punishment due to me? As I was a kid, what I understood was that I was going to be punished for the piece of apple Eve ate. Again not fair! I didn’t do it! But because she did what God the Father told her not to do we’re all going to be punished. Again this reminded me as a kid of when both my brother and I said “not me” when asked the ‘who done it’ question after some mischief. In this second circumstance we both got punished. I believe I might have been the culprit though and regretted my brother getting punished with me. And so my little brother suffered because of my wrongdoing as I and the rest of humanity must suffer from Eve’s wrong doing. “Bad Eve!”

    Thank God for His Mercy that I was given a kids’ microscope at about this age. This was my own means of physically looking at things more deeply, and in the practice of doing that, helped me to look at almost everything more deeply. Through the grace of God and I can see in hindsight how I was given the means to escape the madness of what I was taught about Christ and God at an early age, through science. Science was the means I used to be able to bracket mentally the story I was taught into a framework similar to the story I had been told about Santa Claus albeit with a sad ending, the Cross rather than the Resurrection.

    Across my life (I’m now 61 years) I would go to the occasional church service of various different Protestant and Catholic faiths, invited by friends or extended family and come away thanking God (although without attributing God to any religion) that I was a scientist, for science seemed to me to have been my own means to escape what looked like hell on earth (the Christianity as I knew it). How little did I know however, the depth of that Truth until about two years ago. I’ve mentioned in a previous post that it was through a deep exploration of the nature of our reality in physics and chemistry that finally brought me to explore the theology of the Orthodox faith. There I found a Salvation I could relate to, “God is Love and Life”. Yes through my training in physics and chemistry, I get this, thank God, and the Gospel in physics and chemistry at the atomic and molecular level is every bit as beautiful and life and love affirming as the words we find in the New Testament. Thank God through the help of my spiritual father and the Life and Tradition of the Church I can read the Scriptures differently now. Glory to God.

    Just today in reading Dean’s comment in the previous post, a memory came back to me when I asked myself today why did I even think to look into Orthodox theology in the first place to understand something important to me in physics and chemistry? In hindsight I have a memory of being sent to the Pribilof Islands to provide a pedagogical workshop in chemistry to the teachers there. The population is predominantly Aleut and Russian Orthodox. At the end of the workshop I was invited to come to their Paschal services, which if my recollection serves me, might have been delivered in Slavonic (a different language anyway). Also I witnessed prostrations in a Christian service for the first time. The entire atmosphere was indeed different and perhaps this was the hidden Pearl that re-emerged for me when I decided to explore theology to understand phenomena I was studying in physics and chemistry; this unworldly experience that hinted that, here, was a Deeper Well worth exploring.

  14. I just read the post from Dee, and it reminds me of the first time I walked into a Russian Orthodox Church. I had absolutely no idea what was going on. Even now, I don’t have it figured out.
    But one thing I do remember when I first walked into that Russian Orthodox Church in Salem, VA…… I knew, somehow, I was home!
    Truly….Amazing Grace…..and I enjoyed this post from Dee very much.

  15. If God is good and the source of life, how are we to interpret passages in the OT where God commands His people to kill? Is there another blog or resource anyone can point me towards? I feel like these passages (1 Samual 3:15, Numbers 21:3, etc.) are uncomfortable for many Christians, for good reason.

    Chris, one must take some care in understanding OT passages of this sort. One the most important things is to remember that they are always to be understood through the Cross. By this I mean to point out that God’s work in any of these passages is not complete except in the Cross of Christ. Death is trampled down “by death”; it is not an ending (which is the tragedy usually implied by people pointing out those passages).

    I will let Father and others elaborate and answer further as they can explain far better than I. Blessings!

  16. Well said Father. You did say, “We were trapped in the lifeless death of sin (which yields corruption and physical death as well). ” Other than this sentence the paper is well written and I find no fault or disagreement with my reading of the Fathers. But, in this sentence, “lifeless death of sin” might indicate to some that sin dies and I think that you mean that “We were/are trapped in the lifeless death as a result of sin . . .

    I don’t know if I am reading the sentence correctly, please correct me if I am wrong.

  17. Does the Orthodox Church have a concept of mortal sin and venial sin like the Catholic Church?

    In writings of St. Catherine of Siena, it is written that because sin is offense against God, Who is infinite, punishment must be infinite in duration. But God doesn’t have “emotions”. Is this part of Divine Justice where we condemn and separate ourselves, not God? (Since it’s a private revelation, it’s not dogma, but she is still considered a Doctor of the (Catholic) Church so I have to believe there’s something there.)

    Why can’t we force ourselves to not sin? We know the consequences of sin and how it robs peace and joy and only brings grief and destruction. So why can’t we stop?

    I know sin is nothing but a mirage that I fall over a cliff to obtain, yet I keep falling for the same delusion. It’s quite pitiful…

  18. Sin is death. GOD IS life. If I live my life, with God, there IS life. There IS Love.
    I can’t imagine a life without God. I cant imagine a life without Love.
    I also have great compassion for those who do not. They are the ones I pray for with all my heart and soul.
    A “lifeless death”….. words for contemplating.
    Sin is lifeless….Sin is death……
    I’m going to read this article….. awhile longer, I’m sure.
    Many thanks….Fr Stephen.

  19. “Death of sin” still reads like it is sin that is doing the dying, if the reader does not see the phrase already knowing the context.

    How about “the lifeless death that is sin”?

  20. I appreciate much of your emphasis on the love of God, and I’d never want to think God’s wrath is an attribute of God that indicates some kind of passion overtakes god.

    I still guess I might be one of the people “who shouldn’t be listened to” but I find the assertion that Genesis 2:17 is not a judicial threat highly questionable. The literal phrase “dying, you shall die’ is a Hebrew intensification with a doubled verb, and the same form is used 23 times in the 5 books of Moses to declare a particular penalty of death for violations of God’s Torah. Other examples like Genesis 26:11 and Exodus 19:12 also seem to have a judicial quality as well. And while Wisdom may say that God did not ‘create death’ (death is a decreation in some ways), in Deuteronomy 32:39 God says through Moses:

    “‘Now see that I, even I, am He,
    And there is no God besides Me;
    I kill and I make alive;
    I wound and I heal;
    Nor is there any who can deliver from My hand.”

  21. Dee St. Herman,
    I loved reading your story and thank you for sharing it.

    Rev. Freeman, thank you for your post and giving us the Orthodox understanding and presenting it here in writing. I personally appreciate it very much and find it affirming and helpful.

  22. MN
    There is a notion of a “sin unto death” (as in St. John’s Epistle). But generally, no, Orthodoxy does not think of mortal and venial sin. That is largely a legal construction and Orthodoxy is decidedly not legal in its treatment of the faith.

    Why do we keep on sinning? Well, for one, you’re not as free as you might think you are. We’re broken.

  23. pdugg,

    Who is the doer of the verb? The subject is you. It is the person who is doing the dying. They are the actor…not God.

    The Torah was instituted to make us aware of sin as death…not to condemn to death as a punishment. Paul tells us that it was “sin, seizing the opportunity through the commandment, deceived me, and through it killed me.” Therefore, it is not God or the law which killed …but sin….which is the deception of the Devil.

    Paul vehemently declares that the law is good…and that the law does not bring death. “Did that which is good, then become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it (sin) used what is good to bring about about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.”

    Appeals to the OT s you have is against the clear teachings of Paul who teaches that sin deceives and brings death. Who holds the power of sin and death and deception? (Heb 2:14)

    The only thing highly questionable is how you are trying to interpret the Scriptures. And I don’t mean that to be mean…it simply flies in the face of the NT witness.

    Death is the enemy of Christ – pure and simple.

    “For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death.” (1 Cor 15:26)

  24. Interesting. Because St Athanasius also said “When this happened, men began to die, and corruption ran riot among them and held sway over them to an even more than natural degree, because it was the penalty of which God had forewarned them for transgressing the commandment”

    Are you saying a penalty for transgressing a command is not really construed as a punishment?

    “And there is no God besides Me;
    I kill and I make alive;”

  25. pdugg
    Imagine life being like a table lamp, plugged into the wall with the light being on, representing life. If you pick up the lamp and walk away from the wall, you will reach the end of the cord and if you keep walking the cord will pull from the wall and the light will be extinguished… it is dead. You are told to stop because if you continue, you will lose the light (die). Is that a warning or a punishment? As He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, if we walk away (sin) we will cut ourselves off from Him, the source of Life and die. He tells us to stop and we ignore Him. Is He threatening us with punishment or warning us of our folly?
    When we are inculcated with the forensic understanding of salvation, we see that as punishment. When we are raised into the mind of the Early Church and hence Orthodoxy, we see salvation as healing from our self inflicted wounds. There in lies the difference.
    One can interpret the verse you quote: “I kill and make alive” forensically and see punishment or we can see it in the factual way, meaning that God has the power of life and death. Plants and animals die and it is rare to view that as punishment. Only when we have a forensic mindset do we interpret verses such as this in a jurisprudence manner.
    Consider the following. Jesus Christ is fully God and He Incarnated in human flesh. We can only understand things that are in our world and can be described in human terms so the Lord came in a way that we could grasp. We can safely assume, therefore, that He acted in His Divine Character through all His words and deeds. Ask yourself, did He kill anybody especially on His day of crucifixion? Did He seek revenge against the one who slapped Him or those that spit on Him? Forensically, we would expect there to be a punishment, but He prayed for their forgiveness.
    A forensic description of God is a God that cannot forgive and yet demands that we forgive. If our offense is so odious to God, why would He even bother with us? Why would He empty Himself, descend to earth and be subject to the violence of His own creatures? The forensic view of God is laced with contradictions and irrationalities. Why would God so love the world that He cannot forgive?
    In my Seminary studies and ministry as a Protestant Pastor these contradictions kept sticking in my throat. I went looking for the answers and I found them…in Orthodoxy. God loves us, forgives us and came to seek that which is lost and rescue us from our self inflicted wounds, wounds unto death. He emptied Himself and suffered in the flesh for us so that He destroyed Death and freed us from our own folly.

  26. Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it (sin) used what is good to bring about about my death

    An enlightening statement. As God works through all things for life (our good), sin “us[es] what is good to bring about my death”. The dichotomy could not be more clear. Thanks for this!

  27. Are you saying a penalty for transgressing a command is not really construed as a punishment?

    You seem to be implying that God is doing the penalizing. I believe that what is being said by others is that God is warning them [us] of the consequences of “transgressing a command”, not causing the consequences.

    Something like the stove illustration that is often used: a parent warns a child not to touch the stove or they will be burned. The child does it anyway and is, as the parent stated, burned. However, the parent did not burn the child or cause them to be burned. It was simply the consequence of their action. The parent loves the child; they would not cause such a thing. But the child is free to test their boundaries and causes their own problem by doing so.

    “[T]he penalty of which God had forewarned them for transgressing the commandment” was not a penalty God caused or meted out upon them.

  28. Thank you Fr Stephen for the wonderful article!

    Roman Catholics and Protestants see the relationship between God and man judicially. God is the judge, man is the criminal. The Son of God takes the sentence upon Himself, therefore God forgives man. Orthodox faith sees the relationship therapeutically. Man is sick (sin and death are consequences of the sickness). Christ is the Great Physician. As a man He dies and rises to life again. Through God’s participation in humanity, the Son of God heals the sickness and restores/divinizes human nature, destroying the power of death.

    “The Word of God came in His own Person, because it was He alone, the Image of the Father, Who could recreate man made after the Image. In order to effect this re-creation, however, He had first to do away with death and corruption. Therefore He assumed a human body, in order that in it death might once and for all be destroyed, and that men might be renewed according to the Image [of God].” St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation

    If the relationship between God and man takes place in a courtroom, then what’s the use of it for human nature? It’s good to know that I am forgiven but what’s next? I am still a sick man, suffering from my sickness: sins, passions and death. Besides, it’s not fair to be judged for someone else’s deeds.

    So, “Why did Christ have to die on the Cross?” I believe Orthodox faith gives the most distinct answer. The Lord died to share His Divine life with man. He destroyed death by His Resurrection. And through the Resurrection, Christ transformed our corrupted and mortal nature and united us to the source of eternal life, God.

    “Yesterday I was crucified with Him; today I am glorified with Him; yesterday I died with Him; today I am quickened with Him; yesterday I was buried with Him; today I rise with Him.” St. Gregory the Theologian – Homily on Pascha

    “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” 2 Corinthians 5:17

    Christ is the last Adam, the firstborn from the dead. Upon the Resurrection Christ transformed His material body into new and glorious form. Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, man doesn’t die for good. His death is temporary and his life is eternal. When the dead in Christ will rise, they will receive the same uncorrupted and immortal bodies of the last Adam. The ongoing, everlasting process of participation in the divine nature will be going on. Man will be moving from glory to glory, becoming more and more holy and God-like. BTW, such a man won’t be able to sin because he know what it means. It means to lose communion with God, the Source of life, and this loss leads to the sickness and death.

    As St. Theophan the Recluse says, “The chief end of our life is to live in communion with God. To this end the Son of God became incarnate, in order to return us to this divine communion, which was lost by the fall into sin”.

  29. PS Excuse my poor English. I think it’s better to say, “Through His participation in humanity, the Son of God heals the sickness and restores/divinizes human nature, destroying the power of death.”

  30. pdugg,
    Well. It is clear in Athanasius and in the Tradition that the “penalty” is not something God does to them, but something of which He warned them.

    I’m not a Protestant. It’s not a matter of stacking up verses and arguing them. The teaching of the Church is how Scripture is to be read. It’s possible to argue that Scripture could be read in a different manner – the Arians and all other heretics certainly have. But God is not a punishing God. He is not the author of death. Even the fires of hell are not punishing, but remedial. The ultimate outcome of the remedial fire of hell is subject to speculation, and not my point. But God has no need, nor interest in punishing. Sometimes, theology has to guide the reading and interpretation of Scripture. Or rather, theology always guides the reading and interpretation of Scripture. Bad theology makes a bad reading, and a bad God.

  31. I believe I’m not overstating the case when I say that what folks like Dee, myself, and countless others have suffered from the doctrine of substitutionary/penal atonement proves it to be truly a pagan doctrine, the doctrine of demons. God neither created nor creates death nor demands appeasement – He is all healing, light, and life! Glory to God for the Light of the Orthodox Faith!

  32. What is it about the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, which God made, and made good, that moves God to make a commandment about it, and warn about the transgression of the commandment?

    Is the commandment about the tree even a command, in you view? Could it be obeyed or disobeyed?

  33. Is “by the sweat of your face you will eat bread” a punishment meted out by God?

    Is “you shall eat dust” a punishment meted out by God? (I really hope the latter one is, since its rather strange if it isn’t.

    Thanks for the interaction. Food for thought. Its unfortunate that this will not be resolved by inspecting Holy Scripture.

  34. pdugg,
    That tree, is, ultimately the Cross (as is the Tree of Life). It was not the time nor the manner appointed for us to eat of that Tree. What that time would have been without the transgression is something we are not given to know. But in eating, they bring death upon themselves. At least one major father actually posits the fall to have been almost instantaneous to our creation. Again, patristic speculation.

    The Genesis story does not stand on its own. It has been incorporated into the narrative of the Cross. The only way to read it is with the guidance of the Tradition, because that’s where the story was incorporated in the first place. Almost nothing is actually settled by quoting Scripture, because Scripture is not self-interpreting. It is Holy Scripture – the book, of, for and by the Church. Anybody can use it, but not like an independent authority. What a Frenchman says about the US Constitution is moot. It’s not his document. The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are not the world’s document. For them, it’s just a collection of writings. For us, the Church, it is the word of God. Christ taught His disciples how to read (“opened their understanding”). That is not a universally, naturally available thing. That “understanding,” in Orthodoxy, is synonymous with Holy Tradition.

  35. pdugg,
    Not a punishment in the sense of retribution. It can be called punishment in the sense of remediation. But I don’t think it’s punishment, per se. It’s a description of what man’s life will be like in this world (outside of Paradise). This whole Western lore of “the curse,” is simply part of the forensic, legal metaphor that has come to dominate Christian thinking in some quarters. But it’s relatively late and not at all the dominant view in the Fathers.

  36. I cannot speak very eloquently on these matters but I am very appreciative of you giving the depth of teaching that is provided on this blog. I come back to it over and over again and find your words very enlightening. Thank you, Father Stephen.

  37. It is the focus on the Resurrection and Love of God that drew me to Orthodoxy, as well as reading the Lives of the Saints -such as Father Seraphim of Sarov or Grand Duchess Elizabeth – who have embodied this to such a phenomenal degree.

  38. “What a Frenchman says about the US Constitution is moot. It’s not his document. ”

    I disagree fundamentally. The constitution is a publicly readable document. If we were out of step with its text, it would be completely appropriate for us to listen to a frenchman calling us to return to the text. It may be difficult for him to get a handle on the text, but he may in fact do better at it then we do, if we have deformed our reading of it so much.

    Or perhaps the US has people living under its jurisdiction who have been told that they have no say in the life of the nation or in the political process. But they challenge this tragic misreading of the founding documents by calling its people to a true and just reading of the documents, and we realize that all of us are committed to life together under the defining text. And we stop saying that some people have no right to even think about or discuss the constitutionality of a law or practice.

    Clearly that won’t be convincing to you, but I’ll leave it at that.

  39. I disagree fundamentally. The constitution is a publicly readable document. If we were out of step with its text, it would be completely appropriate for us to listen to a frenchman calling us to return to the text. It may be difficult for him to get a handle on the text, but he may in fact do better at it then we do, if we have deformed our reading of it so much.

    Or perhaps the US has people living under its jurisdiction who have been told that they have no say in the life of the nation or in the political process. But they challenge this tragic misreading of the founding documents by calling its people to a true and just reading of the documents, and we realize that all of us are committed to life together under the defining text. And we stop saying that some people have no right to even think about or discuss the constitutionality of a law or practice.

    Clearly that won’t be convincing to you, but I’ll leave it at that.

    I think the only real difference here is the understanding that to read Scripture in a “true and just” manner (to use your phrase) one must read it within the correct context. That context is the Church. Scripture is not subject to the individual reader; it is not to be cast in their image (as so much of society insists it must be to be “relevant”).

    It’s not that people have no right to read, discuss, and think about scripture. It’s that they have no right to place themselves over it and demand it meet their expectations.

  40. I am reminded here of C. S. Lewis’ wonderful parable, “The Great Divorce.” A busload of folks from hell visit heaven for the day, and the first thing they realize is that they are not real enough to enjoy heaven. The grass, for instance, hurts their feet because they have in a sense made themselves ‘less than real’ through their sin and lack of life with God.

    Reading this story a number of years ago was I believe the first time it hit me that God’s judgment is not so much about God pronouncing judgment and punishment on men and women, but God revealing to us what we have already done to ourselves.

    Nevertheless, the Holy Prophets, Apostles, and Fathers of the Church do indeed speak of God’s hatred for sin, his wrath and punishment of sinners. That is very much a part of our vocabulary and we would be remiss in our proclamation of the Gospel and deformed in our theology if we avoided it completely. The Orthodox Christian faith is a many-sided, multi-faceted thing, and we can’t always see, this side of eternity, how certain ideas fit together.

  41. The U.S. Constitution and the Frenchman is not the best analogy as the Constitution was formed within a mind that included much French thought. Indeed the best single commentator on the life of the U.S. immediately after the formation of our Constitutional Union was a Frenchman: Alexis de Tocqueville. He indeed saw many things which we have yet to come to grips with.

    That being said, the Bible is not, as the Constitution is, a public document formed by the logic and thoughts of men. The Constitution is not, contrary to the beliefs of some, given to us by God within a particular understanding of who God is, who we are and how we are to interact. It prohibits more than it allows as the writers understood that the passions of men given free reign always result in tyranny. Unfortunately, every attempt to interpret the Constitution since its inception has skewed in the other direction, but I digress.

    The Bible is not a Constitution at all. It is an instructional commentary of the revealed life of God to those who live in community with Him. It does describe the essential nature of that community. An essence that Protestants of this day and many others as well including may Orthodox choose to ignore. One simply cannot understand the Bible outside of a community that if formed in the image of Him who gave it. That image, as tarnished as we have made it, is the Orthodox Church.

    I do not say that with any hint of triumphalism as there are those who are not Orthodox who do recognize the reality of that community and the requirements to enter it, but that is largely done outside the official teaching of their faith in my experience.

    Life in the Church is simply not governed by Law. If it were, I would never have been allowed to enter, if I had been allowed in, I would not have been allowed to stay. I would not be married and probably be dead.

  42. Fr Stephen,

    Is not Christ’s becoming sin for us right in line with what Fr Andrew says here: the Holy Prophets, Apostles, and Fathers of the Church do indeed speak of God’s hatred for sin, his wrath and punishment of sinners?

    That Christ purged our sins (Heb. 1:3),
    accursed on our behalf by God the Father (Gal. 3:13),
    bore our sins in his own body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24),
    in order that we would be reckoned righteous (2 Cor. 5:21)?

    This is also very much a part of *our* vocabulary, and *we* (Reformed Evangelicals) would be remiss in our proclamation of the Gospel and deformed in our theology if we avoided it completely! 🙂

    If our hearts *are* right, what should prohibit our proclaiming the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27)?

  43. I do not deny the presence of the language of punishment. I have said that it is nowhere taught that the Father punishes Christ for our sins, nor that what happens to Christ is done to satisfy some requirement of God’s justice.

    It is also one thing, for example, to use the language of punishment without a careful parsing of what is being said. If we mean that God indeed uses suffering for the sake of the remediation of our souls, we may use that language. If, however, we mean that God willingly inflicts suffering in order to make us pay for something we have done wrong, it is false.

    I would contend that, based on many of the teachings of Reformed theology, the Calvinist heart is not right with God or man. You’ve got your mind right, daily justifying the sufferings of the damned.

    Again, the Scriptures you are using are being selected by a false “back-story” that is not the story of the Scriptures, particularly as given in the Pascha-determined gospel of Christ. I challenge Orthodox teachers to look carefully at what they say and consider the “back-story” that upholds it. There are many readings of the Fathers that are simply Calvinism in Orthodox vestments. I suggested earlier to a reader to ponder St. John Chrysostom’s Paschal homily. It is exalted to a unique position for a very good reason. Calvinism would have no place in its presence.

    I would add for Orthodox readers that the Church does not ask us to proclaim that homily in every single Church every Pascha and then place an asterisk beside it. There is no Calvinist asterisk in the Orthodox faith.

  44. Thank you, Fr Stephen, for your gracious reply.

    How then is Galatians 3:13 to be understood in the Orthodox way?

    Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.

    Thank you.

  45. Esmee, Loved your comments. I too love the Orthodox focus on the Resurrection. In my former life, as an Evangelical Calvinist, I came to realize that all of the focus was on the death of Christ. Certainly that’s a big deal to the O as well. But, in Protestant circles, with their view of substitutionary atonement, forgive me for even uttering this, but the Resurrection becomes a total after thought.

    I even once asked one of my church elders about this. I said “so since Christ paid the debt on the cross, what’s even the point of the Resurrection?” He paused for a bit, then said something like “well, He promised He would rise, so that’s why He did.”

    To call that an unsatisfactory answer would be a huge understatement.

  46. Hugh,
    Ultimately the curse of the Law is death. It’s curse is not something from God. It is what happens in the breaking of the Law, just as in the Garden. Note that Jesus in no way felt bound by a “curse” of the law when it came to a particular woman’s adultery.

    But the curse is death. The curse of those hanging on the tree is shame. He enters death for us. He “becomes dead.” He accepts the curse for us, “I did not turn my face from the shame and the spitting.” But God is not shame Him. God is not spitting on Him. The Father did not crucify the Son. Rather, the Son voluntarily goes to His death, into the curse, that He might bring us out of death and out of the curse. Death has no just demands. It’s just death. God did not create death. Death is an effort not to exist (the Devil was a murderer from the beginning). Christ does these things to rescue us.

    But He is not rescuing us from the Father, or from the Father’s justice, or from the Father’s curse. It’s that assumption you keep making that is not in the Scriptures, and is in deep error.

  47. Thank you so much for answering my question. You say that sin is death. Christians for years have been talking about going to heaven or hell as reward or punishment. How can this be if there is no mention of hell? I looked it up to find there are those who equate Christ with Noah, that the ark is Christ and Noah and his kin were escaping the wrath of God. The more I think about it, the more I don’t understand it. And then there’s the Tree of Knowledge, which was forbidden for the day you eat of its fruit, you shall surely die. Why would God put it there then? I thought knowledge was a good thing, knowledge is power, and so on. The nature of sin. That’s a hard one to get your head around.

    Yet at the same time, we live in such an evil world, with so much suffering and death–all of it caused by oligarchs and the government of the US. I can understand why the populace of Noah’s time were destroyed, along with Sodom and Gamorrah.

  48. Thank you for this wonderful blog. I am someone who (like so many it appears from reading the comments above) is on a journey from evangelical Calvinism (through post-evangelical liberalism) to . . . something else, something I find evident in everything I read about Orthodoxy. I appreciate the clarity and grace with which you write your posts.

    My thought on this particular discussion is that the fundamental division is between those who think that the problem is in God (an utterly holy God who cannot look upon our sin) or in us, (broken, lost people searching for the God who is our Life). It seems to me (now) that Paul settles it when he writes that ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself’ (2 Cor 5:19). I had read that many, many times before noticing that the object of the reconciliation is not God – it is ‘us’. God never needed to be reconciled. Jesus made this clear in his teaching too. The Father stood watching and waiting for the prodigal’s return. He was always ready for the son’s return and when at last the son came back he hugged and kissed him in welcome and joy.

    We are the ones who need reconciling to God. The cross works by fixing us (and the world), not God. The idea that God needed to vent some inner need to punish someone’s sin is an horrific, unbiblical idea.

    And this then makes sense of the resurrection; He entered into death (for us) in order to rise (for us). He entered our condition in order to conquer that condition and offer a new way to be human.

    But that’s not ‘Orthodoxy’. That’s really just New Testament teaching. I am living with a growing thrill and excitement to discover that it is also the teaching of the Orthodox church.

    Best wishes

  49. Fr. Stephen / Hugh McCann / Hugh Doyle,

    Just want to express appreciation for your comments back and forth to one another and sympathize in the struggle to come from the false gospel linked with calvanism to the fullness of orthodoxy, a great/hard/rewarding struggle indeed.

    I have been “away” from calvanism for long enough that it is not my immediate lens of interpretation when reading scripture (although when I came back to the church this was the case for a long time). Your comments on multiple of these blogs serve as a great reminder and encouragement to the fullness of Orthodoxy and how confusing of a journey it can be! Thanks for your humble hearts and great questions. And obviously, thanks to Father for his patience and understanding. Reading the conversations, I realize more areas where I miss the truth and have held on to twisted interpretations.

    I remember a couple years ago coming to the realization that EVERYTHING in our salvation was about unity with God, no other ‘transactions’ involved. Any time I heard another scripture I would try to interpret through this lens and it has been a great “first stepping stone”. I will continue to “stalk” your comments and be encouraged by your journey.

    Christ is Risen!

    Lee/George

  50. I am late to this conversation, so there may be no one left in the room, but I arrived here from a referral by Fr. Freeman in a more recent blog post. In all this conversation about death, I am still wondering about the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, the law of entropy (2nd law of thermodynamics) and the reality of some form of ‘death’ prior to God placing Adam in the garden of Eden, or at least prior to Adam & Eve’s taking of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil.
    Is it possible, Fr. Freeman, that the bad rap on death, decay and corruption is just the spin we sin-darkened humans have “learned” to put on things since our ancestor’s ‘eyes were opened’ by said knowledge?
    Can you point me to a Patristic source that discusses this in more detail? For instance, in Genesis 1: 29-30 where God designates plants as food for humans and animals, it would seem that at least some living things were subject to decay prior to “the fall”, as spoken of in Romans 8:21, and our Lord did describe kernels of wheat as dying as they “gave up their lives” to bring forth fruit in John 12:24. Surely seeds died in Eden to bring forth that food.
    And are the non-human animals subject to death now because of Adam & Eve’s sin? The skins of the animals that God provided the ‘naked’ humans gave their lives up also for us…a ‘type’ of Christ, yes?
    I believe God had a Plan from the very beginning, (better yet, from eternity) and that what DID happen there in Eden did not surprise God, nor did He have to have a Plan B.
    Death IS our enemy, but it’s no match for God and He in Christ has conquered it.(It never stood a chance.)
    His glorious plan… beyond our finding out….until He reveals it!
    By the way, Thank you for your wonderful writing and blog and for all the great comments they generate!

  51. Mark,
    Peter Bouteneff’s book on the fathers and the early chapters of Genesis is a good source.

    I can say, however, quite clearly, that Paradise and the world we live in are not necessarily at all the same place. St. Basil describes us as “falling into this world” from Paradise – in his Eucharistic prayer. The creation could very well have been subject to death from its very beginning in view of the coming Fall of man. We are not told that creation fell as a result of man’s fall (he is sent into a fallen world). St. Paul says that God subjected creation to the frustration of death and decay for the sake of human beings. People mess all of this up and get into trouble because they want a timeline of cause and effect which is utterly unnecessary – and was though unnecessary by a number of the Fathers. It can make for some very weird science when that is insisted upon.

  52. Thank you for the obliging reply, Father. I have ordered the book. Genesis studies were a particular interest of mine some years back when I was more easily irked by “young-earth creationism”. These days I am more careful about choosing my battles, but the weirdness you allude to I still find noisome…not to mention alienating to many thoughtful and needy seekers outside the Faith.
    I have never thought of Paradise as being equivalent to the garden of Eden, and I wasn’t sure at first that that is what you are implying, but a quick google search confirms that the identification exists, especially in the Old Testament and apocryphal sources. Somewhat less so in the New Testament and Church Fathers, it seems. But I am no scholar. I do appreciate your clear implication that we can draw no firm conclusions on matters which are not revealed to us. But I firmly believe in seeking, asking and knocking!
    As to a “fallen world”, I suppose one could say any creation of God would be fallen insofar as the created is below the Creator, and it is indeed subjected to frustration and corruption as our minds frame things. But then there will be a raising too! Glory to God!
    Thank you again for responding to my untimely inquiry. I continue to look forward eagerly to your posts and the dialogues that ensue!

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