God With Us

Popular New Age thought postulates that everyone has a “god within.” It’s a pleasant way of saying that we’re all special while making “god” to be rather banal. But there is a clear teaching of classical Christianity regarding Christ-within-us, and it is essential to the Orthodox way of life.

We should not understand our relationship with God to be an “external” matter, as if we were one individual and God another. Our union with God, birthed in us at Holy Baptism, is far more profound.

“He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.” (1Co 6:17)

God does not “help” us in the manner of encouraging us or simply arranging for things to work out. Rather, He is in us, working in union with our work. The mystery of ascesis (the practice of prayer, fasting, self-denial, etc.) only makes true sense in this context. Those who look at Orthodoxy from the outside often accuse us of practicing “works-righteousness,” meaning that we believe we can earn favor with God by doing good works. This is utterly false. God’s good favor is His gift and cannot be earned.

However, the Orthodox life is similar to the life of Christ Himself.

“Truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.  (Joh 5:19)

and

“Truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. (Joh 14:12)

The “works” that a Christian does, are properly done in union with Christ, such that the works are not those of an individual, but of our common life with and in Christ. When we fast, it is Christ who fasts in us. When we pray, it is Christ who prays in us. When we give alms it is Christ who gives alms in us.

And we should understand that Christ-in-us longs to fast. Christ-in-us longs to pray. Christ-in-us longs to show mercy. The disciplines of the Church are not a prescription for behaving ourselves or a map of moral perfection. Rather, the commandments of Christ (as manifest in the life of the Church) are themselves a description, an icon of Christ Himself.

 Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” (Joh 14:2)

Dumitru Staniloae notes:

At the beginning Christ is, so to speak, buried in the commandments and in us, in the measure in which we are committed to them, by His power which is in us. By this collaboration we gain the virtues as living traits; they reflect the image of the Lord, and Christ is raised even brighter from under these veils. (Orthodox Spirituality)

This way of “union” is the very heart of Orthodox faith and practice. Sadly, much of Christianity has created an “extrinsic” view of our relationship with God and the path of salvation. In this, God is seen as exterior to our life, our relationship with Him being analogous to the individualized contractual relationships of modern culture. As such the Christian relationship with God is reduced to psychology and morality.

It is reduced to psychology in that the concern is shifted to God’s “attitude” towards us. The psychologized atonement concerns itself with God’s wrath. It is reduced to morality in that our behavior is no more than our private efforts to conform to an external set of rules and norms. We are considered “good” or “bad” based on our performance, but without regard to the nature of that performance. St. Paul says that “whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” Only our lives-lived-in-union-with-Christ have the nature of true salvation, true humanity. This is the proper meaning of being “saved by grace.”

…for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. (Phi 2:13)

and

You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1Jo 4:4)

and

To them, God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Col 1:27)

There is a second part of this mystery (Christ in us) that presses its importance upon us. This is the suffering of Christ within us. Fr. Staniloae writes:

Jesus takes part in all our sufferings, making them easier. He helps us with our struggle against temptations and sin; He strives with us in our quest for virtues: He uncovers our true nature from under the leaves of sin. St. Maximus comments: Until the end of the world He always suffers with us, secretly, because of His goodness according to [and in proportion to] the suffering found in each one.

The Cross recapitulates the suffering and sin of humanity, but it extends throughout the life and experience of all people. It is the foundation of Christ’s statement: “Inasmuch as you did it [did it not] unto the least of these my brethren, you did it [did it not] unto me.

The hypostatic union of the person of Christ extends into the life of every person. There is something of a perichoresis or coinherence in our daily relationship with Christ.

And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. (1Co 12:26)

This must be given  the strongest possible reading. If any one of us suffers, Christ suffers. There is no specific human suffering to which Christ is alien.

It is the moment-by-moment pressing into this commonality (koinonia) that is the foundation of Christian existence. It is the point of Baptism (buried with Him). It is the point of the Eucharist (“whosoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him”). It is the point of every action and thought.

It is the life of grace.

 

35 comments:

  1. ” There is no specific human suffering to which Christ is alien.” This is a comforting thought. I have been struggling with resentment lately, and to think that God is suffering with me is comforting.

    Often I wonder why I am not more conscious of this union. But I think that I have over-identified my conscious self with hyper-vigilance. I am always standing guard on the outside denying and permitting entry, and less aware of what is within.

  2. Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for this article.

    This is a question I’ve wondered about for some time: what is the difference between (1) the divine breath / divine image, described in scripture and granted to every human being, and (2) the divine spark / god within posited by other belief systems? Are these two descriptions pointing to the same reality, or are they somehow distinct?

    A related question also is this: is the experience of Christian conversion (metanoia) simply an unearthing and coming to grips with a reality already present within us, i.e. the divine breath / divine image at our human depths? Or, is this experience of metanoia the reception of a new ontological reality, not present previously but exterior to our unbelieving life?

    I suppose I ask these questions in the context of statements in the Philokalia, where it’s said, if we would only look inside, to the very depths of our being, we would find heaven and all things divine. Thanks again.

  3. ” . . . the moment-by-moment pressing into this commonality (koinonia).” I had not thought about this beautiful word, “koinonia,” in a while. I love your description that it is a “pressing into commonality” . . . . Lent has become a time for me to focus on community, on traveling this journey with others, as much or more than focusing on “personal” spiritual growth. Press on. Thank you.

  4. I find a lot to appreciate in this entry, Fr. Stephen. One of the primary causes of the atheism of my teenage/20s years, I think, had to do with the kind of external transactional Christianity I was acquainted with in American culture. Much of it seemed to me all about how to ‘get’ something you wanted out of God, requiring him to ‘get’ something out of you in return. And the people I was aware of who were believing for something through prayer were just kind of endlessly trying different techniques to connect to God to limit suffering or cure something or feel something they wanted to feel. And while I didn’t blame them, it all just kind of had a farcical aspect to it, I’m sorry to say.

    Two resonant lines came to me reading this post. The first was one of the passages in the gospels which has in these last couple years given me the greatest sense of clarity:

    ” And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:
    21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”

    …and this George MacDonald line which stopped me dead in my tracks a year or so ago:

    “The Son of God suffered unto death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like His.”

    These meditations gave me a bit of hope that there was something deeper to the religion of my childhood…not some kind of mysitcal self-help for suffering avoidance, but a way of looking deeply into one’s heart to find an intuitive light and love which is primary.

    It is very gratifying to realize these supposedly “clever” intuitions I may have had about reality have actually just been discussed and written about by foundational teachers of Christian doctrine. It’s like stumbling down a hole and finding an beautiful underground city that has been running for thousands of years.

  5. Owen,
    I’m not sure we can ever answer a question about “other belief systems” in terms of Christianity. It’s sort of apples and oranges. There is, of course, only one reality. No doubt, we “feel after” God in various ways. But our faith tradition is rooted in revelation…so I simply rest in that.

    A quote from St. Macarius on your other question:

    The heart itself is but a small vessel, yet dragons are there, and there are also lions; there are poisonous beasts and all the treasures of evil. But there too is God, the angels, the life and the kingdom, the light and the apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasuries of grace—all things are there. St. Macarius (H.43.7)

  6. Just before I read this, I was offering spiritual counsel to someone and an image came to me that turned out to be a very important image in their life. I could not have known that – indeed that was God “in us, working in union with our work.” Indeed, the life of grace as you describe it so well.

  7. Fr. Freeman,

    This is the same logic for life in the Church. I was asking myself the other day why we always have liturgy on a feast day. Before I’d thought of the Calendar as sort of jumping in, to the movement of the Church, but now I see that it is union with the Church and its movement. Everything is union or disunion. I was just having this conversation yesterday with a Deacon at our Parish. Marriage is union, to the degree you move from union the relationship suffers. The mind and the heart are fragmented and need union. The what I want to do but I don’t and the what I don’t want to do but I do, are overcome in union. Union with life or death is the theme of the Bible. Our entire ecclesiology is built on union. Catechumens are united/union-ed to the One Holy… We unite to Christ and each other in the Eucharist, etc. All is union or disunion. The Trinity is one/Union.

    And again, what makes the Law external is Original Sin. In Catholic and Reformed theology, you are born again monergistically through the Church so the Church retains some role, maybe. But, because some of the Baptized fall away, there is deduced a double Election, one is entrance into the Church and another is unto final salvation. This eventually reduces salvation to something between God and you. God must extrinsically act as you would never cooperate. The Law and obedience are now properly extrinsic. This is why a Treasury of Merit ever existed though it is illogical. And why Protestants ditched it for Imputation of Christ’s infinite merit. Where was union? It would’ve solved all the puzzles? Union was now read in light of imputation. Union makes no sense with Original Sin. Union actually turns into something more of an equivalency. Union within the Trinity becomes more of an equivalency of Persons such that there is no distinction.

    I think Orthodox prayer shows union in quite obvious ways in that, our prayers are not full of information God needs, or that we need to unload, for God to act. They center on union.

    I believe if this theme was taught and reinforced regularly, the logic for Lent, for attending services, for praying, etc. – would change for the better – and actually be persuasive. Do I want to stay home tonight and relax or move towards union/experience union with Christ and His Family? That’s a better question than, “Do we have to go to liturgy again tonight?”

  8. A tendency I have experienced and seen in others, especially in non-Christian circles, is union as a static state. Union with Christ is a dynamic inter-communion. Repentance is the key. Thus Mt 4:17.

  9. Father,
    I love St Marcarius’ words on the heart.

    And your own words are helpful regarding our relationship to Christ and God.
    Prior to my conversion, I suppose had a rather unconventional relationship with God that had been internalized, which by grace unknown to me, allowed me access and experience closeness and circumvented some of the ways of being seen in other confessions. But I can also say I felt a constant yearning in my soul and heart, some vague awareness that there was some kind of depth that called to me.

    Christ suffering in us, bearing the cross of our lives, our existence in us, was not something I had understood then. But thanks be to God, I do now. He does not “look down on us from on high”, while we suffer.

  10. Thanks for this, Father.

    Speaking of union with the sufferings of Christ, I was able to go see “Man of God”, the life of St. Nectarios in the theater this week. Such a beautiful portrayal of the power of the indwelling Christ through a life wholly yielded to Him…My son went with me, and I was unsure how he would respond, since he’s not Orthodox. I need not have worried. He was obviously very engaged and moved. Glory to God!

  11. I’m glad this post gets us back to “the middle way” of Christian fundamentals. Great article overall, particularly the line about commandments being “an icon of Christ Himself”. One thing I got stuck on was the paragraph on “extrinsic”—I don’t think that intrinsic and extrinsic need to be opposing terms, only differing ones.

    I know the Kingdom in a heavily intrinsic way, as it “does not come with observation” and “is within you” (Luke: 17.20, 21). But the Church is heavily extrinsic, and in some ways part of the extrinsic image of the Kingdom. In 1 of only 2 places Jesus Christ talks about Church, He provides a method for discipline, binding, and even expulsion (Matthew: 18.15–18), which is quite an extrinsic—and even contractual—way of seeing! The epistles continue this theme, where much of the talk of Church is, in fact (and in contrast to Kingdom, cf Romans: 14.17), geared towards morality, behavior, and limits. So I don’t think either the intrinsic view or extrinsic view are wrong, but rather complimentary: just as the Son united divinity to humanity *without* confusion, I think we need the intrinsic understanding of relationship (ie, the Kingdom) as well as the extrinsic one (partly via Church) together, without losing either.

  12. JBT,
    Thanks for your thoughts. I disagree viz. your observations on extrinsic and intrinsic. Even those things geared towards morality, behavior, limits, etc. are best understood with a primary view to their instrinsic character. The distinction between extrinsic and intrinsic is fairly classical – as another manner of speaking about a juridical approach (extrinsic) versus an ontological approach (intrinsic). The history of the juridical approach is permeated by problems and confusion.

    Thus, I prefer the article as it reads.

  13. JBT, I understand your point, I think. All I can say that the longer I am Orthodox, the less I see any “extrinsic” element at all. The icons, the Sacraments, even the gathering are, as part of the Kingdom of Heaven. While there are physical manifestations, none of them are truly extrinsic in the way I understand the term.

  14. JBT,
    I do not think of things, such as the Church, or our relationships, etc., as “extrinsic.” I think I’d have to do a whole separate article to explain how I am using the term. I would suggest just letting it rest.

  15. Fr. Freeman, JBT,

    Isn’t the Church extrinsic until you are brought into union? After, it is not extrinsic it is based on union. We are Christians ontologically following Baptism. To the degree we stay in union the relationship stays intrinsic and, in some ways, always does regardless. Excommunication is the formal acknowledgement that the union has already been severed due to persistence in non-unity. Heresy is coming out of union with the Church whose head is Christ. The image of the Olive Tree is one of union, but branches can be broken off due to unbelief. The means of Grace are intrinsic for the believer and extrinsic for the unbeliever. Since the article is about the life of the believer grafted into the Church (and I suggest, Church is much more ubiquitous than in Church discipline examples), intrinsic is the way to speak of it or maybe familial. I find it hard to think of a good word. Hypostatic? Theanthropic? Does Grace or the means of Grace come to you from without or from within (not yourself by yourself) the Church. I think there are massive implications for the imagination that God’s main way of communicating with us is from the outside in when it is really from the inside out. Thinking of the Church as extrinsic following Baptism is likely to make Law an end in itself. Do we fast for instance in order to keep a law, a good law, or for union with God and man and with ourselves internally? Are we moral for the sake of a law, a good law, or for love?

  16. Matthew,
    I’m not comfortable with using the intrinsic/extrinsic distinction with regard to boundaries of the Church/grace, etc. There’s Orthodox folks who do use that kind of distinction (in a sort of Cyprianic approach). I think of it as too static. Several thoughts are key for me:

    1. Nothing can exist apart from grace. “In Him we live and move and have our being.” (remembering that “grace” is the “divine energies” and is God Himself)

    2. We frequently speak as though we were without God, or God is external to us – etc. But I think this can become misleading, very quickly

    On the one hand, there is nothing that is “outside” Christ. And yet, there are aspects of our lives (say in an unbeliever, or sinner) that are lived in opposition to Christ. We are “baptized into Christ” – which describes a clear dynamic with regard to Christ-in-us, but I think it becomes problematic if we become very mechanical about the whole thing. I’ve seen some very strange things said about Baptism – a kind of mechanical approach to the sacraments.

    At its worst, you can wind up talking about things in a way that only the Baptized can be saved (and this is not true). Or, saying that Baptism doesn’t matter (this is not true). Or, that the salvation of the unbaptized is, essentially, a juridical matter and not ontological (which is not true).

    I have found Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s maxim on the sacraments to be helpful (even though it plunges it into a deeper mystery):

    “Sacraments do not make things to be something they are not. It reveals them to be what they truly are.”

  17. Father, would it be accurate to say that Sacraments reveal and confirm the holiness of the creation and the intra-connecting Divine in all as in the prayer:
    “O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth who art everywhere present and filling all things. Treasury of good things and giver of Life: come and abide in us and cleanse us of every stain and save our souls Oh Good One! “

  18. Michael,
    In some fashion. St. Paul said, “To the pure, all things are pure.” Titus 1:15 So, with Christ, everywhere He went, it was the Kingdom of God. Nothing is the “Kingdom of God” in and of itself – but only in and of Christ. But nothing has to be added to a “thing” or a “place” for it to be the Kingdom, for Christ is always, “everywhere present and filling all things.”

    I suppose there’s something of a paradox in all of this. It is the nature of the Kingdom, just as it is the characteristic of God, not to impose itself on us. We are left free to ignore the Kingdom of God, just as we are free to ignore God. But neither action makes the Kingdom or God go away. They remain, but we enter into a state of ignorance that could be described as “delusion.” All of us are in delusion to a lesser or greater extent in that we are ignorant of God to a lesser or greater extent.

    But this is not a comment on God – Who is everywhere present and filling all things.

  19. Personally, the only roadblock to the Kingdom I have found is the hardness of my own heart. Even with the smallest movement toward repentance the joy of the Kingdom begins to manifest in ways I can experience. Still, really easy to fall back on the old ways because they really are not that far away.
    God forgive me and may His Grace redound in each heart.

  20. Owen, Dee

    For some reason the words of St Macarius spring to mind each and every time I hear verse 25 of psalm 103 in the vespers: “So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts” and I instinctively cross my heart.

  21. Fr. Freeman,

    I don’t disagree with you. And I don’t think that saying believers are outside of Christ/The Church is an automatic statement about their salvation. Ephesians 2:12 comes to mind, “12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” This with Acts 2:27, “that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us,” I think these form a balance. I tend to think of everything Incarnationally or in “union” language. When someone is Baptized, yes part of them goes away, but something is added via union. The logic for Paul, that union with unbelievers or even prostitutes or eating food sacrificed to idols, introduces an unwelcomed union. The “what has Athens to do…” follows the same logic. Even refusing to mix fabrics in the OT was to reinforce this idea. Certain things don’t belong in union with each other. Touching death was union with it though it was temporary. But the greater concern was the disunity or chaos brought in when this union theme was violated or ignored.

    I don’t think of it as mechanical, though maybe some could. There is a dynamic. When I sin I lose intimacy with God though God never moved but because I moved. When I am close to God or like the Prodigal in his right mind, I go back to where the Father always was. But the Father runs. So, I don’t see how union or seeing things as extrinsic/intrinsic really endangers anything. As to your quote, I think that’s the same point I’m making. When union overcomes the chaos the real reality is revealed. Or when union completes the teleology, the analogy goes away and direct experience takes its place.

    I’ve read that quote before and some take it to mean that the Bread and Wine (ordinary bread and wine) were always the Body and Blood of Christ, but the Sacrament reveals them to be what they always were. And here I think we’ve gone too far. The analogy is there, but it is not a 1:1 comparison. Bread and wine need united to Christ’s Body and Blood by the operation of the Holy Spirit, incarnationally, not mechanically, for the sacrament to be the Sacrament. Bread and wine are sacramental on their own since God made them and nourishes us with them, but there is a qualitative difference. If we wish to reject the New Age/Pantheistic notion of equivalency, you need a difference. You retain the analogy, but it is not identical.

    I think, if someone took the quote to mean, everyone is really a Christian at heart, it just needs revealed – sacramentally – in the sense that they already are Sacred Space/Temples of the Holy Spirit – they just don’t know it yet (which I could see in someone with Universalist tendencies) – then we are on the verge of pantheism, and New Age “god in you”, “divine spark”, territory, and most of our practice would turn into symbolism for something that already existed. Much like the Baptist idea of Baptism as a wedding ring, the “outward sign of an inward experience.”

    I think ignored by the people who go that route is that teleology doesn’t mean you’ll reach it. Not all bread and wine become the Eucharist. Not all people “unite themselves to the One, Holy, Catholic…” That would be the end of the story for them if it weren’t for some clues in the OT and NT that Gentiles have a law/obey the law, were meant to feel their way toward God, etc. I think there’s good reason to think, not due to judging God, but Biblically and in our Tradition, to be hopeful without becoming full blown Universalists and then reading that back onto topics such as these. I’m still wondering if Annihilationism is anywhere in Orthodox tradition.

    If you think I’ve gone wrong somewhere, please let me know. Thanks for your comments.

  22. Fr. Freeman,

    Last… David’s, “Where can I flee?” doesn’t negate what we’re talking about. The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. This is always true. There is no neutral place we can position ourselves where we are not either for or against Christ. So, yes, when we are brought into union willingly with God’s purposes it’s not that there are two different worlds, one where Christ rules and another where He doesn’t. Yet, Satan is called the Prince of this world, but this is a bogus claim on Satan’s part, and the meek will inherit the earth. So, there is more of something like non-zero integers. There is no zero point. There is movement away or towards – union. Moving away is disunion, but you’re still in God’s world. Aligning yourself with Satan is some negative integer, in God’s world.

    You’ve got me thinking…

    Hebrews 2:8 Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him

    I guess my question would be, in the Kingdom, will there be no differentiation between say (if this is a thing) ordinary food, and the Eucharist? No qualitative difference? Besides that, saying the Kingdom exists and saying it is fully realized, aren’t these different? The groanings of labor Jesus speaks of before the birth and joy after, these are two different moments. One exists, the baby/the fruit/the teleology but it’s not yet born. This is what is usually referred to as the “already but not yet”.

  23. Matthew,
    Good questions, viz. the Kingdom. There is an “already, but not yet,” aspect, though I think it’s not quite what we imagine that to mean. There is, I think, a kind of “objective” expectation on the part of many – and – they assume that because the Kingdom is “not yet” objective, that must be the meaning of the “not yet.”

    There’s a problem with “objective” knowledge. It turns things, people, etc., into “objects.” We are “trapped” by our objective reality. The fat man is trapped as a fat man. The tree is trapped as a tree, etc. Things have to be what they are as “objects” and then we have a sort of mastery over them.

    In the resurrection of Christ, we have something that seems to transcend “objectivity.” We have eye-witnesses of the resurrected Christ, some of whom, indeed, most of whom, do not recognize Him at first glance, or by merely “looking” at Him. He is not “trapped” or “circumscribed” by what we experience as “objectivity.” He does not exist as “object.” Doesn’t mean He isn’t there – it means that His “there” is not like the “there” that we take for granted.

    I’ve thought about this for a very long time and noticed that it’s only in the “personal” or the “Personal” that He is recognized. Mary Magdalen first thought Him to be the gardner – but then He spoke her name. In that speaking – she recognized Him. The disciples on the road to Emmaus recognized Him in the breaking of the bread. Etc.

    If you take that as the “paradigm” of the Kingdom (and I think it is) – we “see” many things but don’t see them because they’re objects for us. We see them be we don’t “perceive” them. I believe that every time Christ took bread, blessed, broke and gave it – it was His Body. In the feeding of the 5,000 in the 6th chapter of John, He delivers a Eucharistic homily – clearly pointing towards the meaning of that event. Bread cannot help but be the Body of Christ when taken up in the hands of the Bread of Life. It becomes what it is – or is revealed to be what it is.

    And, that bread, I think points towards the whole of creation – which was/is given to us as a means of communion with Christ. It is not a substitute for the Eucharistic gathering of the Church – but even that gathering reminds us that “all things come of Thee, O Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.”

    The same is true, I think, of persons. On when they cease to be objects for us and become persons (which happens by love) do we actually begin to “perceive” them. In all of these things, the Kingdom can be perceived, we can walk in it ever more fully, day by day. This is the testimony of many saints and it’s been a helpful meditation for me.

  24. Mathew, I by no means support “universalism.” What I am saying is that each of us is created in the image and likeness of God. When we sin, we forget that image and likeness. Repentance, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand is required for that image and likeness to be restored.
    Sacrament also us each and all to beging to re-enter that likeness in our own hearts. Repentance is the key that reopens our hearts.

  25. Dear Nikolaos,
    Indeed, what a beautiful connection you describe, which I had not made. I’m grateful for your observation because it enriches and deepens our understanding. There are so many layers and depths in our life in Christ. Thank you so much for this revelation!

  26. Fr. Freeman,

    Thank you for your words. I come back to thinking of the teleology or meaning. People are objectified until they are realized not as who they are now – where they are stuck – but for who they are meant to become. I cannot think of Image of God without its end/telos/logos. I was successful once in a conversation about abortion, saying, “If all mankind is destined to rule and reign with Christ as Saints in His Family, at what point would it be right to exterminate them?’ and the person was persuaded. I’ve thought often that anti-abortion apologetics fail a lot of the time due to Original Sin. There is no real potentiality in that view. You’re either evil or forced to be Elect. If a baby is aborted via Calvin it could be elect or damned, but likely damned. If it was Elect via some modification of Calvin, all babies, then going straight to heaven makes the abortionist and the extermination a grace. This is not to get into a conversation on abortion, just to point out this is clear cut example of how losing potentiality and teleology ruins Christian anthropology. A while ago I was in a Dollar General store picking up some drinks and I was wandering through and came by a woman who was very dirty, very unhealthy looking, oily hair, not pleasant to the nose, and began without thinking about it to judge her. A voice in my mind spoke up instantly and said, “I love her just as much as I love you,” and my judgment fell. Now, maybe that would have happened to me while I was still in my Calvinism, but I credit the Holy Spirit leading me to Orthodoxy. That voice is with me now and though I don’t always pay attention it is there.

    I do think often in terms of God correcting the imagination. One thing that hit me before coming into the Church was the knowledge that Pagans really did believe they fed the gods and maintained a reciprocal relationship (largely one of fear) through this caretaking. And it hit me instantly, that Christ turned this upside down. “You don’t feed me, I feed you.” But in relationship to John 6 it’s more, “You don’t need a free-food Messiah, you need the Life from the Source of Life.” Or, “The manna, where do you think that came from… and where do you think this came from?” They did want to force Him to be Messiah on their terms.

    So, I think there is great deal to gain by realizing the polemical nature of the Bible in correcting the imagination back to what already is/was. Much of the Bible is direct antagonism towards a false idea. The Father in the Prodigal Son parable instantly comes to mind. The Elder brother as a model brother comes to mind. It’s all upside down. When it’s put back the chaos is overcome and the true meaning of reality is revealed. The Father joys in the communion/union of His Family, the Elder brother is outside the joy of the Father.

    The first priority of preaching to me, is revealing reality as it is, and helping people feel the weight of it.

    I used to listen to a lot of Christian rock, still do some, but this song The Kingdom, has been helpful to me:

    I tell you the truth when I say that
    The kingdom is on the way, on the way
    I tell you the truth when I say that
    The kingdom is here today, here today

    I think I found it, an inspiration
    I can see a glorious nation
    It’s over there just above Zion
    And it looks like Jerusalem

    It’s on the way, the date is set
    It’s here today, but not here yet
    Can almost hear, can almost see
    It’s a banner caught upon the breeze
    Upon it is a Lion…
    Christ reigns now and don’t forget that
    The kingdom is not yet

    It’s getting closer to fulfillment
    But the kingdom began with the advent
    He is reigning through his people
    The first will be nothing compared to the sequel

    No more war, no more crime
    No more unemployment line
    And there is Christ upon His seat
    Where mercy, truth and justice meet
    And He will never falter

    And with one voice, we all will sing
    To the Prince of peace and King of kings
    His reign is everlasting

    I tell you the truth when I say that
    The kingdom is on the way, on the way
    I tell you the truth when I say that
    The kingdom is here today, here today

    The not-yet doesn’t mean not at all. Again back to the Hebrews verse:

    2:8b Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. 9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

    For me, this has been with some of the parables of the Kingdom, a more potent theodicy than anything else. The “at present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.” Not all are in subjection, and those who live in chaos in or outside the Church, are usually the cause of the chaos. The Kingdom is here/available but we will not cooperate while we are unhealed, while we fail to have selfless love. He tastes death that we no longer remain slaves to death and perpetuate the death cycle – He tastes death to bring us into union with Life transcending death.

    Got my caffeine in…

  27. Michael,

    I wasn’t accusing you or Father Freeman. My point is this, and hopefully I can make it without a lot of paragraphs, is that to think the real reality exists underneath the veil of sin/decay and is overcome by realizing what it already is, ignores that the world at present, is subject to death and decay. What already is (not talking about the life of the believer) needs life given to it. We could say it already has been given it, and that would be true, but is it appropriated? If a bill is passed allocating one million dollars for the improvement of roads filled with potholes, it is not appropriated until there is new asphalt. That’s not the best analogy.

    Christ wins over death, Satan, sins so that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Temples of the Holy Spirit are created, excluding none. True Humanity can get going. But to assume that already is the case and we just don’t know it, to me, assumes universalism. Adam, since he was meant to become – and whether you start with Adam or Christ makes no difference chronologically, means, Eden, Image of God, all of that, didn’t make him who he was meant to become on their own. Christ wasn’t automatically our HIgh Priest, etc. He became them. This has nothing to do with Christ’s divinity or eternality, those didn’t become something He wasn’t, but His humanity and His divinity together became our Sanctification, Hope, Salvation. Christ as the God man had a teleology that was in many ways the same as for us/Adam. Having a teleology doesn’t mean you’ll fulfill it. Assuming it’s fulfilled in everyone already, we just don’t know it yet, assumes the teleology is fulfilled apart from you. It’s monergism. And it’s monergism in the wrong place.

    Again, I’m not suggesting you, Fr. Freeman, or Fr. Alexander believe this, I was just thinking how to bypass the union/addition being necessary, you must assume the addition/union was either already there or natural to existence. If it is natural then I think we move into the world of pantheism which makes sense as it is deterministic and realizing/having Nirvana or some other enlightened experience of the true nature of reality as it already is/always was means seeing rightly. Creation Ex Nihilo is already out.

    The Bible seems to always portray Creation in terms of potentiality. Even the plants and animals or seeds, contain as a gift, with us, this potentiality for growth, development, etc. The Creation groans for the revelation of the sons of God/Adam(s). Sacraments then do show the true teleology of a thing, but it doesn’t mean the thing was the Sacrament before the addition or union of Christ to it by the Holy Spirit. Saying something is sacramental is different from saying its the Sacrament. One is analogous, one is the thing itself. Analogies are underrated. Analogies mediate Grace. Because they are not identical with the thing itself, does not devalue analogy. Food is necessary to survive. Heavenly food is necessary to live forever. Analogy without equivalency. If they were equivalent, all the Earth would be God. We would start wondering if we killed God when we stepped on a spider. When we say the Earth is the Lord’s, we don’t mean the Earth is the Lord.

    I tried to not use 4 paragraphs. Thanks Michael.

  28. On when they cease to be objects for us and become persons (which happens by love) do we actually begin to “perceive” them. In all of these things, the Kingdom can be perceived, we can walk in it ever more fully, day by day. This is the testimony of many saints and it’s been a helpful meditation for me.

    It occurs to me, Father, that this ties into your regular exhortations to “not be managers”. Management requires control, control requires objectification (to a man with a hammer, all things look like nails–the better to use the hammer on), and in objectification we cease to be personal or personified. It seems the desire to Manage is a movement away from God. Just my thoughts.

  29. Nikolaos – that reading of Ps 103 resonates deeply with me. The church has given us many words. And then, sometimes, we experience the Reality to which they dimly point, only to return to those words with fresh perspective. The heart is (apparently) labyrinthine, and yet Jesus said, addressing himself specifically to the Pharisees, “the Kingdom is within you.” Deep within the whitewashed tombs, there lies hidden Treasure! I thank God for this. When our Old Man dies, there He is—everywhere present and filling all things.

  30. Fr. Freeman,

    Don’t know if it’s Providence but the last episode of Lord of Spirits, Fr. Patrick Reardon’s Podcast, and today, the homily from Bishop Anthony all covered the themes we were discussing.

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