God and Cosmic Evil

10 04 2008

Origen seemed to have gotten around the problem of taking Genesis literally by suggesting that the Fall did not happen in physical history, but proposed (based upon his Platonist studies) that in the beginning God created all rational creatures (souls) and that the Fall happened prior to when souls took up physical bodies. Origen then also proposed that wickedness would eventually be destroyed through the slow process of purgation. Over countless ages eventually all rational beings would be reconciled to God.

I’ve heard some claim that Origen denied a bodily resurrection, however in my own readings of Origen it seems he does believe in the resurrection of the body in his system. Unless I’m reading it wrong, but he basically says the same body that is buried rises again, which is standard Christian teaching.

Two things for me, however, is that:

A) I don’t view Evil as having any ontological reality, Evil doesn’t exist as such but is simply the deprivation of Good.

B) I don’t interpret the story of the Fall literally, I think it generally is intended to describe some sort of trans-rational concept for why we currently exist in a world where war, death, plague, brutality and suffering takes place.

In a Christian context the story of the Fall teaches us that while all of creation is good since it was made by the Creator, it is ultimately our own choices to live outside and without the Divine Love that, to view ourselves as our own divinity, that we engage in behaviors that are destructive–the story of the Fall also implicates that human choice ultimately has effect not just on humankind but the world at large.

Within a Christian narrative context the Fall establishes a bedrock by which to recognize the pain, suffering and brutality we observe in the world every day in contrast to seemingly intrinsic notions that there ought to be something better than this. It is human nature to see pain and ask, “Why?!” and while we’ve come up with various religious, philosophical and spiritual theories to answer this question, it’s still one that haunts us.

Nobody is free from the ghastly reality of suffering in the world, each of us is a witness and participant in it.

But for the Christian narrative of redemption it establishes a platform and context in which to view Jesus, who being God comes to participate with us in that same reality which we participate in daily. To bind Himself to us in our weaknesses and sufferings which culminates in His own destruction at the hands of the Romans on the cross.

Which is at the same time paradoxically defeat and triumph. Christ’s triumph is hidden beneath the visage of despair, the image of defeat is the paradoxical instrument of triumph and liberation and this is vindicated and manifest in Christ’s rising from the dead.

I’m not very interested in a literal Adam and Eve or tree of the knowledge of good and evil or talking snakes; I am however interested in recognizing the reality in which we now currently dwell–a world in which pain happens and people suffer and I make the conscious choice to both believe there must be something better, that there is an actual good, and that redemption is real and I choose to see that story of redemption as having really taken place in historical space-time in and through the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Which is why I’m a Christian, which is why I have hope despite what I see, why I can still say with confidence that Death is fundamentally unreal though I hear reports and witness deaths every day and am aware of that my own mortal frame will expire–but I choose to believe and have hope that this mortality is not the fundamental reality in the world but that the fundamental reality of the world is resurrection.

And it is in resurrection that I choose to view things as ultimately hopeful, and ultimately good and ultimately just. That things will be set right and that I can move in the world to live in such a way as to try and make things right in my own microcosm, by loving my neighbor and giving to those I encounter who need I can live out the kind of resurrection justice I believe will ultimately transform and transfigure the whole world when the same Jesus who died and rose will come again.

I can live in the hope that all people will eventually have peace, especially those who never had a chance or opportunity to experience even a small glimmer of peace. To believe that mourning really will become laughter, that tears of sorrow will become tears of joy, that hate will dissipate and only love will remain. Where oppression will no longer be, and there will be perfect freedom. Hope for a world in which swords are broken and turned into plowshares and spears become pruning shears. A world where lion will lay with the lamb, and a child can play without fear in the viper’s den.

Hell and Death will be no more, and all things will be reconciled and brought into the perfect and joyous life of God the gracious and loving Father of us all.

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That They Might Be One

26 11 2007

After Paul’s escorts had taken him to Athens, they came away with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible. While he was waiting for them in Athens, his spirt grieved at the sight of so much idolatry. So he began to engage in discussion with the Jews and converts to Judaism in the synaggue, and also daily in the town square with whoever happened to be there. Even philosophers among the Epicureans and Stoics engaged him in discussion. Some asked, ‘What is this scavenger trying to say?’ Others said, ‘He sounds like a promoter of foreign gods,’ because he was preaching about ‘Jesus’ and ‘Resurrection.’

They took him and led him to the Areopagus on the Hill of Ares and said, ‘We would like to hear more of your ideas. For you bring some strange notions to us; we would like to know what they mean.’ Now all the Athenias as well as foreigners residing there used their time for nothing else but telling or hearing some new philosophy or idea.

Then Paul stood up among them at the Areopagus and said: ‘It is very clear to me that you Athenians are in every way a very devout and religious people, for as I walked around examining your shrines, I even discovered an altar dedicated to ‘An Unknown God.’ This, whom you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and all that’s in it, the Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands, nor is He served by human hands as though He were in need of anything. Rather it is He who gives life to all and breath to everything. He made from one the whole human race to dwell on the entire surface of the earth, and He fixed the ordered seasons and the boundaries of their influence, so that people might seek God, even perhaps groping for Him to find Him, though He is, indeed, not very far from any one of us. For “In Him we live and move and have our being,” as even some of your poets have said, “For we too are His offspring.” Since therefore we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine is like an image fashioned from gold, silver, or stone by human art and imagination. God has overlooked the times of ignorance, but now calls all people everywhere into repentance because He has established a day on which He will “judge the world with justice” through the man which He has appointed, and He has provided confirmation for all of this by raising that same man from the dead.’

When the philosophers heard about the ‘resurrection of the dead’ some began to mock Paul, but others said, ‘We would like to hear more from you about this at another time.’ So Paul left them. Some did however join him and became Christians, among these was Dionysius, a mamber of the Areopagus, and also a woman named Damaris, and others with them.” – Acts 17:15-34

This is perhaps one of my favorite sections of the Acts, partly because I find philosophy fascinating (Socrates and I are homies), partly because I find Paul’s ability to so readily integrate himself into a group of thinkers very different than his own, partly because I think this is perhaps one of the best sermons given in the Acts, and lastly (and most relevant here I think) in part because it shows the disparity within the clash of metaphysical ideas.

One the one hand you have the Greeks who have their own long and ancient tradition, and on the other you have the Jews who likewise have a long and ancient tradition.

Here Paul is mediating between two very different worlds, the Hellenic and Hebraic. These two worlds have very different metaphysical conceptions of reality.

It demonstrates the unique world-stage in which Christianity was born, and the tug-of-war between Athens and Jerusalem which has forever shaped the course and core of Christianity down to this very day.

On the one hand there is Jerusalem, center of the Jewish world, center of the Hebrew way of life, home of the Temple. This is the home of the Prophets, this is Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Solomon and Elijah. Home of prophecy and revelation.

On the other hand there is Athens, center of the Greek world, center of the Hellenistic way of life, home of the Areogapus. This is the home of the Philosophers, this is Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, and Zeno. Home of philosophy and pursuit of knowledge.

In typical Pauline style he seeks to mediate between the two. He is amongst philsophers here, the top thinkers in Athens, specifically here are students of Epicurus (Epicureans) and Zeno (Stoics).

I think that what amazes me about Pauline thought, what makes me love the Apostle Paul as a theologian is his vision. Paul’s Christianity is not radically different than what the Apostles had been teaching up to that point, but it does have a scope of vision that is unbelievably broad.

Prior to Simon Peter’s (quite literal) vision while meditating on a rooftop, the followers of “The Way” were quite content conceiving of their religion as little more than a new way to be Jewish. Theirs was very much a Jewish religion, and was exclusively for members of the Jewish religion. There was some idea of reconciling disparate groups, however. For example no one particular sect of Judaism was plucked from the consortium of Jewish sects of the period, whether Pharisees, Saducees, or Hellenic Jews it was all the same: The message of Jesus as Messiah. Indeed there may have even been this idea that, per Jesus’ peaceful interactions with Samaritans (the woman at the well in John ch. 4) and His use of the “Good Samaritan” in the parable that is so-named, that these early followers of “The Way” were to help mediate between Jews and Samaritans and bring them together in unity of faith under the Messiahship of Jesus.

Peter’s vision, and Paul’s subsequent work changes the scope. It’s a radical change in emphasis and vision of what Jesus came to do and who Jesus is in relationship to all humanity.

In truth Paul’s visionary conception of Christianity is nothing more than taking Jesus’ own teachings to their inevitable conclusion. That if Samaritan and Jew are, in fact, neighbors; if a Roman Centurian can have faith, if there is–indeed–no reason for any barriers to exist between people; then God has indeed done something truly magnificent and tremendously gigantic in the sending of Jesus.

It’s precisely from this radical vision of seeing all people as part of a single people, rather than dividing them up into tribes and various other affiliations. Rather than seeing ‘Jews’ and ‘Greeks’ and ‘Barbarians’, rather than seeing ‘Circumcised’ and ‘Uncircumcised’; rather than seeing ‘slave’ and ‘freeman’–all these categories cease to function with any meaning in Paul’s vision. In Christ God has done away with all these lines of demarcation, that is why Paul, in Galatians, says, “There is therefore no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) It’s why in Colossians he writes, “Here there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, Barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all.” (Colossians 3:11). In Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians he writes, “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far away have become near by the blood of Christ. For He is our peace, He who has made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through His flesh, abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims, that He might create in Himself one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile both with God, in one body, through the cross, putting that enmity to death by it.” (Ephesians 2:13-16).

There is, in Jesus, a new way of being human, a new kind of existance. The former way is full of division and bitterness, war and hatred, enmity and tribes trying to exterminate each other. Paul sees in Jesus a call from God toward something new, something which had always been predetermined by God for the world, but which was a mystery hidden in the past and only in the present coming to light. This mystery is the Church (Ephesians ch. 3), which hidden in God from time immemorial, has now come to light through Jesus Christ.

That Christ, who being a New Adam has set forth to establish a new humanity bound and interconnected with His Person. Through His death and resurrection Christ has overcome and destroyed the “powers and authorities” (i.e. sin, death and hell). Being now released from all bondage through the victory of Christ mankind is now free to enter into new life in and with God through Christ who is the Mediator between the two–being the very embodiment of God in human flesh–and this new life is unconditionally given to all as an act of God’s unwavering generosity. Entering into the Life of God through Baptism, by which we are bound to the same Christ who was crucified and resurrected, we become participants in that same mystery of victory as Jesus and become inexplicably interwoven into the tapestry of His own bodily life. Therefore the Church–that community of baptized Christians–is properly called the body of Christ. If, thus, we are inexplicably bound, bodily, to Jesus we are therefore participant sharers in all that properly belongs to Jesus. All which is the unique property of Jesus is therefore the unique property of all who are, in mystery, bound to Jesus: Thus it is the Son of God who gives right for all others to be called children of God; if Jesus suffered we too shall share in His sufferings, since Jesus rose from the dead we too shall rise from the dead. If Eternal Life is His, it is ours too. The “evidence”, or rather the pledge of God to us that this is true is that we have the same Spirit in us that was in Christ Jesus, namely the Holy Spirit–“If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11)

This Church, this community of baptized, is the very organic–if not very mystical–body of Jesus Himself; and it is a new way to be human in the world. A way of being human that is organically and inexplically connected to Jesus Himself in all respects, and in which all people of all walks of life are brought together in the peace of God. This Church is destined toward a purposed future, where death will no longer have any power, for at the end of the age there will be a resurrection, and all who ever died will be brought back to life, vindicated by God and experience, in full, the victory of God in Christ who is the “firstfruits of those who have died” (1 Corinthians 15:20).

The purpose and mission of this Church is to live out into the world the same mode of life which Christ lived, and to–through loving words and actions–invite all people to come in and dwell and to sit and be gathered at the same table of peace as we ourselves sit.

Thus whether by feeding the hungry, giving to the poor, taking care of the sick, widow and the orphan we are doing the work of God in the world; the will of God to be peacemakers and ministers of reconciliation. These actions have within them the very character of Christ, and thus in them God is, Himself, at work in the hands that feed, clothe, give, and help.

In contradistinction from an exclusive club with highly mystical and religious overtones, the Church understands itself as a mystical union of people of all walks of life, that is inclusive to all. It is, in this respect, a reunion and re-formation of human community, a re-bringing-back of people who have been dispersed all over the world back together into a unity of hope and community, bound together in the grace and graciousness of God through the Crucified and Risen Jesus. If through Adam all men have become many and divided, through Christ the New Adam all men are being brought back together into the unity of love. Through the old there was war and strife and corruption of power; through the new there is peace and grace and the eradication of corrupt power.

Therein lay the Christian conviction that death is dead and life has sprung up bodily immortal in Christ Jesus, who “in [us] is the hope of glory.” (Collosians 1:27).

-Jon





Why I can’t be a Docetist

21 08 2007

Jesus pooped.

-Jon





The Experience of God

19 07 2007

Halden over at Inhabitatio Dei wrote a very good post over the issue of whether or not Christ’s suffering means God suffers.

I recommend reading it.

My own thoughts on the issue are as follows:

I think there is a psychological aversion in the minds of many well-meaning Christians to the whole concept of the Incarnation. It’s not so much that they consciously deny it, so much as the implications leave a feeling of discomfort and uneasiness, an unsavory taste is left in their mouth. The idea that God truly joins Himself to human nature seems to make us feel that somehow God is lessened in the process.

I disagree, God is not lessened in the process, not even slightly.

My first comment is that the Incarnation doesn’t say that God stops being God in order to become human, but that God assumes humanity. He joins whatever humanity is to whatever He is (which is Deity), thus we speak of the union of Deity and Humanity. This does not affect God on an ontological level, it doesn’t violate His immutability.

More to the point, I disagree because I think a very strong case can be made that the Incarnation was never an “afterthought” in the Divine plan.

I think that may be the first problem we run into, thinking the Incarnation was an idea of God after the fact. St. Irenaeus of Lyons makes a case, in the second century, that the Incarnation had always been part of the plan.

What I think this means is downright radical.

It was always the intention and plan of God to assume flesh, to be joined to humanity. Irenaeus, in his Against Heresies, in my opinion, argues a powerful case.

Without getting into it too much, Irenaeus’ speaks of salvation occurring precisely because of the Incarnation, in the union of God and man Christ “undoes” what Adam “did”. Christ, the Second Adam, reverses the corruption of Adam in His own humanity. But Irenaeus makes another point, that the Incarnation was always intended, even had there never been a Fall, the Logos would have still “tabernacled” with us.

To this end, I believe, it can even be further argued that since all things were “created by Him and for Him,” that the Incarnation was always meant to be. More than that, Adam and Eve were created in the image of God precisely because God the Logos was to share in their humanity, and they in His Deity.

Thus Fall or no Fall, the Incarnation has always been an essential part of God’s purpose for creation. The union of God and man, of the sacred and profane.

What the Orthodox call “theosis“.

To what degree does this relate to the suffering of God in Christ?

I think it may mean that the experience of God’s assumption of human flesh, the act of God’s condescension into our world of human experience, is somehow reciprocally reflected in both God and man. God to man (since man was created in the image of God), and man to God (since God assumed human flesh and nature).

Without venturing too much further, I think it can even be appropriate to say that man experiences precisely because God experiences, that the very act of “experiencing” something, is, itself Divine, and has been reflected in humanity.

Conversely, man’s experience of suffering, of pain, of sorrow, all due to the Fall, is reflected in God because God, in assuming human flesh, enjoins to Himself what it means to be human.

Thoughts?

-Jon