Thursday, June 21, 2007

God's Wrath and the River of Fire

An "Orthodox" named Kalomiros wrote something called "The River of Fire", basically a polemic against "Western Christianity", claiming that we worship a vengeful, hateful god. His views are popular among converts to Orthodoxy. His views are not really orthodox, which is why I placed that word in scare quotes. In fact, he was not in fellowship with the "official" Orthodox jurisdictions. His views though, are also similar to many skeptics' and even "liberal" Christians' views of evil, and God's solution to it in Jesus Christ.

But why do men hate God? They hate Him not only because their deeds are dark while God is light, but also because they consider Him as a menace, as an imminent and eternal danger, as an adversary in court, as an opponent at law, as a public prosecutor and an eternal persecutor. To them, God is no more the almighty physician who came to save them from illness and death, but rather a cruel judge and a vengeful inquisitor.

You see, the devil managed to make men believe that God does not really love us, that He really only loves Himself, and that He accepts us only if we behave as He wants us to behave; that He hates us if we do not behave as He ordered us to behave, and is offended by our insubordination to such a degree that we must pay for it by eternal tortures, created by Him for that purpose.

Who can love a torturer? Even those who try hard to save themselves from the wrath of God cannot really love Him. They love only themselves, trying to escape God's vengeance and to achieve eternal bliss by managing to please this fearsome and extremely dangerous Creator.

Do you perceive the devil's slander of our all-loving, all-kind, and absolutely good God? That is why in Greek the devil was given the name of διάβολος ;the slanderer."


We fear God because we know deep down our deeds are evil, and we know what we deserve and that his wrath is upon us because of our evil deeds. This does not, however mean we worship a god of wrath out of fear, as some say. I understand that he gave this speech at a youth gathering; if that is true he gave a very distorted view of Western Christianity. This is the same fear we would have of a policeman who pursues us if we commit a crime. So, in a sense we do "hate" God, before we are reborn, because we run from the light as our deeds are evil. But Dr. Kalomiros leaves it at that, and in whom we know that God does indeed love us. This is a perfect example of a one-sided critique, which he, and some skeptics and liberals, use.

But God's wrath is real, he is a God of love, but he is also judge, and he will prepay us for all pour sins.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. (Romans 1:18-23, ESV)


We are in open rebellion against the King of the Universe, and we [b]know[/b] this, because we can perceive his power and divine nature. What would be the conclusion of rebellion against an omnipotent being? That he will set things aright, and we know we cannot stand against him.

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. (John 3:19-20, ESV)


IOW, we fear God's judgment [b]because[/b] we know what we deserve, because we realize our unrighteousness--they are not logically separate as Dr. Kallomiros makes them out to be. We "hate the light" [b]because[/b] we know our deeds are evil. God is not any more a menace than a police officer is a menace to a fugitive from justice. Depending on one's relationship to the law of the land a policeman is either a helper or a "menace". Suppose you are stranded on a dark and stormy night and a police car comes along--you will likely feel relief. Now suppose you have a dead body in your trunk and a police car comes along--now you feel terror, you may even curse the police and hate them because your deeds will be exposed and you will receive punishment—not because of any quality of the policeman but because you know a severe "judgment" is coming soon. And why shouldn’t you feel terror at the prospect? It is not unloving for a police officer to arrest or even kill a fugitive who endangers others--it is in fact his calling or vocation. In the same way, God is not "menacing" sinners, he is acting justly and we know what that justice entails. The sinner knows what is coming and in his sin curses God--even though he knows he deserves what he has coming. But is God's wrath a sinful type of wrath, e.g. "I didn’t get what I demand so I am angry”? No, his wrath is because of his justice, and God's justice seeks to set everything right. Justice rewards evil with punishment, but it also rewards good with glory. So, what is unjust is the subject of his wrath, and those who are unjust fear his wrath, as they should.

He also fails to see that we see God as our Savior only when we are enlightened by the Holy Spirit. If we look at nature alone, without the enlightening of our minds by God the Holy Spirit, we perceive God is powerful but we also see a lot of suffering along side beauty and love, and so once again we fear our Maker--all due to our sin. For example, it is only through faith we can see salvation in Jesus' work on the cross--the "Greek" cries foolishness! Also, we cannot be subject to God's will at birth and so we are all condemned as sinners. When we are terrified by our punishment for our sins we cling to the cross, where we see God giving his own life for us so that we may be with him in fellowship forever. There is sweet forgiveness, new life and rebirth. This is what Dr. Kollimiros always seems to miss. In Lutheran terms it is 100% law with no gospel at all. As I said, one sided.

You see, the devil managed to make men believe that God does not really love us, that He really only loves Himself, and that He accepts us only if we behave as He wants us to behave; that He hates us if we do not behave as He ordered us to behave, and is offended by our insubordination to such a degree that we must pay for it by eternal tortures, created by Him for that purpose.


Where have we said God only loves himself? God gave his Son only out of unselfish love for us--he did not need to do that and he was within his rights to destroy the whole race. Instead he showed his love in Jesus Christ. I see a pattern here where Dr. Kalomiros talks only about the law and never the free gift in Jesus Christ. Without that balance he will never understand Lutheran (and I daresay Roman Catholic) theology--he will always be squinting at what he sees and drawing conclusions from his limited perspective. Without the forgiveness of sins God would punish us all for eternity; hence without that God is indeed someone to fear. however, at the foot of the cross we can see God's love for us. The Son condescended to come down and become flesh for our benefit, he shed his glory for us, soiled himself as a helpless child, subjected himself to being executed by the very people he came to save. That is love--an unselfish and perplexing love.

Who can love a torturer? Even those who try hard to save themselves from the wrath of God cannot really love Him. They love only themselves, trying to escape God's vengeance and to achieve eternal bliss by managing to please this fearsome and extremely dangerous Creator.


"Who can love a torturer?" This question can be turned around on the Dr. Kalomiros too--why does God allow people to be created if it is better for them that they were never born?

Regarding saving ourselves, no Lutheran says we can save ourselves; a complete misunderstanding of what and who he is speaking about! His psychoanalysis is also off--I don't only "love myself" and I approach my Savior in joy, and NO ONE HERE HAS EVER said that what we do in any way earns God's pleasure, we are all unprofitable servants, who actually fail quite often and so have to return to the foot of the cross, to our Baptism and receive his precious body and blood for renewal and refreshment.

What is evil? Is it not the estrangement from God Who is Life? Is it not death?


Evil arises from the privation of good. It does not have existence--it is always parasitic. This is the historic Western doctrine, as far as I know.

What does Western theology teach about death? All Roman Catholics and most Protestants consider death as a punishment from God.


Death arises from sin. God also punished people with death for sinning. As God himself said to our first parents "If you eat of the tree you will die".

God considered all men guilty of Adam’s sin and punished them by death, that is by cutting them away from Himself; depriving them of His live giving energy, and so killing them spiritually at first and later bodily, by some sort of spiritual starvation. Augustine interprets the passage in Genesis "If you eat of the fruit of this tree, you will die" as "If you eat of the fruit of this tree, I will kill you.


That God kills people is well attested to in Scripture, in the first place. But Lutherans certainly don't believe we are guilty of Adam's sin--we are guilty of our own sins. What we get from Adam is that separation from God, that will turned in on itself so that we do sin. So once again I think he betrays a woeful misunderstanding of Western Theology, and unfortunately these ideas are not limited to Orthodox converts, but are pretty common in our society. When I hear this, all I can do is say that the same God that is accused, became man to save us, and not because of any necessity, bit just because he loves us. no one can really say that such a God is merely a god of wrath who is to be feared. In fact, the gift of salvation is such a "surprise" that Jew and Greek stumble on the cross.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

"We fear God because we know deep down that our deeds are evil..." Do you really believe this about yourself? Or are you exibiting the false modestly that is so common among Christians? It is as if putting one's self down is a feather in God's cap, i.e "See how great God is, saving a turd like me?" I see the opposite. You insult God when you call creatures made in His image "depraved". I do not feel I am evil and deserving punishment from God. Quite the contrary. Sure I make regrettable mistakes and seek to learn to do better. But this just shows I have a conscience- it's a good thing. If these mistakes were truly my nature, there would be no reason nor any way to change. And I would not deserve punishment for acting as the sinner I was created to be. All the innocent shed blood in the world can't make a zebra into a horse. I was raised Lutheran. I'm glad you are happy with it but to me it is all very distasteful and illogical. Maybe you should study Orthodoxy and find something a little closer to Truth than Luther offers. As a descendant of Adam, you say you were originally separated from God. That is so sad. If true, one would never want to procreate. Let me ask you this...Do you believe God is omnipresent? If yes, then how can you ever be separate from him? Was it religion that caused you to imagine such a thing?

Edward Reiss said...

Anonymous,

First, I don't believe Orthodoxy is true after having studied it. It is far to beholden to philosophical notions such as the essence/energies distinction for example. Second, if St. Paul says the natural man cannot obey the law of God, I believe him. If you believe you can trust Christ apart from his bringing you back to life then I suggest you read the Scriptures more closely. If you call that illogical I will just charge you with placiung philosophy over God's revelation.

Anonymous said...

There is no use reasoning with you, at least not now. Maybe if I kill a bunch of Christians, get knocked off my horse, write a bunch of nonsensical treatises, then die and they(the "orthodox") discover those writings, label them as inspired revelation, create a set of dogmatic assuptions as a result... Maybe then you would take what I have to say seriously. As it is, you failed to even address my several simple straightforward questions to you.

Edward Reiss said...

Anonymous,

I am actually quite reasonable when a reasonable claim is put forth. Basically, if your argument boils down to "You are not Orthodox", all I can say is that I agree. I think Orthodoxy has some severe theological problems, which is why I am not Orthodox. This is why I don't take what you have to say seriously--it is not a serious argument to say that if I only knew enough about Orthodoxy that I would see the light because Orthodoxy is so much better than the caricature of non-orthodox you outline above. I don't buy your caricature and I don't believe several claims of EODoxy.

Anonymous said...

Consider a person who hates God, and anything to do with religion, and has done nothing but pursued his own self-centered desires all his life. It would be far more terrifying, and painful, to spend eternity in the fiery embrace of God's almighty and divine love with no escape, than to be far from Him.

Experiencing God's presence and His in-filling transforming Energies in glory or in torment, as Paradise or as Punishment, is the heaven and hell of the Bible. Not something God did to us, but rather something we did to ourselves. God unconditionally pours out His love on all, WHETHER WE WANT IT OR NOT, whether we are ready for it or not, when we enter the afterlife. This is why the Gospel or "good news" of Jesus Christ should be shared with all people, of all nations, in all tongues. For there is nothing to fear from God's perfect love, since love casts out all fear.

Filofei said...

Thank you very much for the enlightening as well as corrective article concerning one of the most prevalent yet heretical views in the Orthodox Church. Because of the ongoing change of the theological landscape of Orthodoxy as attested by recent spate of Darwinian evolutionism and the gnsotic attempt to spiritualize hell even in many traditional Orthodox jurisdictions, I'm now a solitary Orthodox Christian in exile.

As for the commonly-held notion that we Orthodox vehemently deny the Augustinian concept of Original sin, nothing can be further from the truth. The following is a quote from one of the Church Fathers, St. Anastasius of Sinai: “In Adam we became co-inheritors of the curse, not as if we disobeyed that divine commandment with him but because he became mortal and transmitted sin through his seed. We became mortals from a mortal…”

Anonymous said...

You may find this informative, "The River of Fire" Revisited: http://www.orthodoxchristianbooks.com/articles/207/“-river-fire”-revisited/ …

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