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).



This Kosmos

21 10 2007

When we read the New Testament there can be, sometimes, confusion over what the term “world” means. For example John 3:16 famously says, “God so loved the world,” and yet in 1 John 2:15 we read, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” What becomes more confusing is that in Genesis 1 we read that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” and after God surveyed all He had made He declared it all, “exceedingly good,” and yet in 1 Corinthians 4:4 it says, “In whose case the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, so that they may not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

Furthermore the Prophets speak of a future world where the lion will lay with the lamb, the lion will eat straw like the ox, the child will have no fear of playing near a viper’s den; and yet in the Gospel of John Jesus says to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36).

Does God love the world or does He hate it? Is God the God of this world or is Satan the god of this world? Will there be a future kingdom present in the tangible reality or will it be a spiritual existence?

The problem, I believe, is two-fold:

1) Many English translations render two Greek words as “world”, kosmos and aion. Which have very different meanings, and, in fact, neither mean (literally) the planet we call Earth. Kosmos means “order” and aion means “age”

2) In the case of the Greek, kosmos, the word has a long history of use as it developed layers of meaning through roughly five hundred years of Greek philosophy prior to the time of Jesus. Originally it simply meant “order”, and it was the opposite of chaos, disorder.

About six hundred years before Jesus, the Ionian philosopher Thales famously said, “The world [kosmos] is water.” Without getting too much into it, the earliest philosophers were deeply interested in what the world–the kosmos–was. In Sicily, the philosopher Pythagoras would, taking a different approach, said that the world–kosmos–was number; being interested in how the world was. The Ionians were interested in matter, the Pythagoreans were interested in function.

However what these two schools had in common was that there was, in fact, an order, a kosmos, that reality was an ordered structure, an orderly unity–some believed that the order was unitary (one thing) others said the order was many pluralistic (many things). So, for example, Thales said the world was water, everything was water, Pythagoras said everything was number. Democritus held that there were only atoms and void, Anaxagoras held there existed only mind and matter. Heraclitus would say that the kosmos is in constant motion under the power of the logos, the creative word, which was like a cosmic fire causing all things to be in perpetual motion. While Parmenides would say that there is no motion, change and motion are illusions, everything is absolute, being has always been and everything is perpetual being.

Through all this was an attempt to grasp what is and how is kosmos. What is the order and how is it ordered? Is it one thing or many, is it in motion or is it motionless?

From this concept of order–of kosmos–the conception of kosmos being “the world” developed, we are in the kosmos, the order, we are part of it. It’s from this idea that we speak of the universe as “the cosmos”–it’s all that is, and all that is an order–a kosmos.

So here is what I propose, that the writers of the New Testament were aware of these layers of meaning as the word kosmos was used in Greek. It could refer to “the world” as might understand it, as creation, the earth, moon, sun, the stars and all that is within them. It could be used to refer to the peoples of the world, but it’s most basic meaning was still “order”, and coulse be used in that sense to refer to how things or something is organized, ordered, or ruled. Thus we can speak of, for example, the Roman Kosmos, the Roman World, specifically the Rule and Order of Rome spread across the Meditareranean; including Roman government and power.

In this sense God can love–agape–the world (kosmos), showing His benevolent grace and compassion through the selfless act of sending His Son into the world. And thus Christians ought to imitate this by loving and being for the world through agape, service and self-sacrifice, loving our neighbor as we would love ourselves. And at the same time if any one loves–agape–the world (kosmos)–that is if they have affection for the way things are done, loving the present order and structure of authority spread across the world, with hate and war and oppression, if anyone loves these things, loving the order of how things are presently run–then the love of the Father is not in them. Because the god of this world(age)–aion–is the ruler which the world–kosmos–follows.

When the Prophets speak of a future age–aion–where peace exists on earth, with lions and lambs laying together, lions eating straw like an ox and children playing fearlessly around viper nests, this is true; and when Christ says that His kingdom is not of this world–kosmos–He is saying that His authority and dominion is nothing like the authority and dominion of the present order–kosmos. Christ’s kingdom has nothing to do with temporal, “worldly” kingdoms, His is not a kingdom led and governed by the sword, but goverened by the Gospel of Peace. His kingdom is not going to supplant Rome in any usual sense, He wasn’t about leading a zealous revolt against Roman occupation with swords and daggers; His was a kingdom removed from the present order, this present kosmos. His kingdom is above this kosmos, it is something different altogether, and altogether better, and altogether MORE dangerous to the kingdoms of the world and the present order than any insurrection could ever be.

The Way of the Cross is a thousand times more threatening and dangerous to the world and its powers than a rebellion. One kingdom rising against another in war is simply more of the same, it’s the same kind of kingdom simply attacking another, they are ultimately the same kind of kingdom and under the same rule, the same order, the same kosmos. Christ’s Kingdom will ultimately decimate them all, not through sword and war, but through the ultimate destruction of the present kosmos, which St. Peter says, is “reserved for fire.” This is the Fire of God’s Presence, the Fire that burns and purifies, the burns away the chaff and the dross. The all-consuming fire that consumes everything, destroying that which is impure and leaving only the pure, which St. Gregory of Nyssa envisions will mean (at least) the potential for the salvation of all and the restoration of all–apokatastasis. It is this fire, after it has consumed everything, where God is all in all, and makes all things new, where St. John sees a “new heavens and a new earth”, in effect, a new kosmos. A kosmos ordered not under strife and pain, but ordered under love and grace, where every tear is dried, every life made whole, where the lion will lay with the lamb and the child play near the viper’s den.

Christ came to set captives free and proclaim the Jubilee of God (Luke 4:18) and it is within His very Person that the Kingdom of God is manifest (Luke 17:21), the one Proclaiming the Kingdom of God is near, and that it’s the time of change (repentance–metanoia). And this Kingdom is manifest through the Crucified Jesus who then rises from the dead. It is the Christ of the Cross who brings forth God’s Reign, and sets to ruin this present age and kosmos, establishing within it’s crumbling decay a new order, a new kosmos, found structured within His Ekklesia, His Church. While the present kosmos is crumbling in its own self-destruction, Christ having overcome it (John 16:33), and establishing a new world order within His disciples, gathered together as ekklesia–as called community–the new kosmos is being ordered, and will be finally and fully ordered at Christ’s Parousia, His Second Coming.

In this sense the Church is the microcosm of the Age to Come, or in Hebrew, Olam Ha’ba. It’s purpose is the continued ministry of Christ in the present world and age, it is the Presence of Jesus in the world operating under the power of the Promised Comforter–the Holy Spirit–within the Community of God (the Church) through the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. Through the incorporation of individuals into the Body of Christ, by the Grace of God, through the Mystery of Baptism (death of the old and birth of the new), and called into Communion–koinonia–at the Table of Jesus, i.e. the Eucharistic Supper where the Gathered partake of body and blood of Jesus in and under the elements of bread and wine; which both rekindles the memory of Christ’s Passion which is as much a present reality as it is an historical one, and calls one to meditate upon the fullness of the Coming Time, when all will be gathered with Christ to partake of the Wedding Banquet of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9).

The Church, therefore, exists in the present, with the crumbling of the old order and the dawning of the new to function like Noah’s ark, the only place of refuge against the diluge which is washing away the corrupt things of the present.

It is not a message of condemnation which the Church bears, but of reconciliation and peace. It is not with hellfire on her lips that she speaks, but of persevering grace and a call to come and partake. To welcome all and love all and accept all, with all the insurmountable love of Jesus Christ which is beyond all height, width, length and depth.

The present order is a dying order, the principalities and authorities, the powers and dominions, are a dying thing. A facade, and coming to an end. Many kingdoms and nations have come and gone in two thousand years, and many more. America will wither away and die and be replaced by another–these are beside the point. It is the order that is itself dying, whether manifest through Rome or Byzantium, China or the Ottoman Turks, Britain or America.

The powers that be are, by the light of Christ, not powers at all, but merely fabrications without permanence.

This kosmos is dying, it has been dying for two thousand years. It is self-destructive and self-destructing.

This is not “end-of-the-world” hysteria, because I’m not saying everything you know will come to an end tomorrow, or even a year from now, I’m saying it’s already been coming to an end for two thousand years and it may continue to be coming to an end for another two thousand.

The present reality, the present kosmos, is one that is ultimately unreal and without permanence, reserved for fire.

Christ has overcome the world, and by His loving grace has saved the world, so that the world can have eternal life in the Shalom–the Peace–of God. Unto the ages of ages. Amen.


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.