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.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Our Bodies are not Shells

A question was posed:

If the dead are already in Heaven or Hell , what is the point in the Resurrection??
Why be dragged down from Heaven, stuck in a body, judged and then sent right back?

Interesting question.

My crack at an answer is that our bodies are an integral part of who we are--so if "I" am apart from my body, in an important sense "I" am not really there--"I" am incomplete. God saves persons, not just souls.

I have heard a lot of Christians refer to the body as a sort of shell. That is more of a Greek, and possibly Gnostic (Gnostics are the "knowing ones" who have access to hidden "knowledge" which is not apparent to the fleshly), way of looking at person hood.

We can see the idea of the body as a shell or incidental in the idea of two or more people who want to be spiritually united--two "soul mates", whether man-woman, man-man, woman-woman, or possibly man-man-woman-dog etc. All that matters is that the individual realizes his potential, his divine spark within, and can share that with another enlightened Gnostic. The concentration on "spiritual" union apart from the physical is, unfortunately, a characteristic of our age. The idea is we should not get hung up on the physical equipment because those don't define the person, it is as if we defined a person according to the socks he wares. This strikes me as very similar to the way Gnostics looked at the body as accidental to the divine "spark", which is awakened by the esoteric gnosis imparted to the individual through various means, such as aestheticism or libertinism. This knowledge is esoteric because it has little to nothing to do with what any words actually say--words are mere vehicles for the individual to awaken the spark inside.

Such ways of thinking are antithetical to the doctrine of the resurrection, because for Christians, the body does indeed define the person, along with the soul. Revelation is not esoteric, it is a matter of history--"suffered under Pontius Pilate", the Scriptures, a Church composed of actual people, flesh, bones and souls. So even someone with little or no "knowledge" can be a Christian when his body and soul are washed together in the waters of Baptism, because in the waters of Baptism we are washed with God's Word, made his own, justified and born as a new creature, one who obeys God out of love and not fear as we did before.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Some questions about the Rosary

I have some questions, and I think they are serious ones, regarding Marian dogmas. I came across this on the Internet and I found it, well, disturbing.

Quoth an RC apologist "You do know that the mysteries that you 'focus' on are the life of Christ as seen through the eyes of Mary?"

Now this is interesting. I find it difficult to focus on things seen through the eyes of another, because I cannot really see things through the eyes of another. I may be able to empathize, but I will always be one space removed from the one through whose eyes I try to see. Such a mystery has no promise associated with it, and is a bit Gnostic feel to it.

What I can focus on is the objective, hard facts of what God did through St. Mary--the Incarnation and all that followed from it. This event is revealed to us and it is truly mind-bending to meditate on the Incarnation. As Luther wrote:

All praise to Jesus' Hallowed name

He whom the world could not enclose
Doth in Mary's lap repose,
He is become an infant small,
Who by His might upholdeth all.

I can also focus in the mystery of Holy Communion--in Holy Communion I hear the words of Christ, that his body and blood are given to me for the forgiveness of my sins. I contrast this with attempting to see the through the eyes of another, and that promises are connected to this. I submit that these promises are pure speculation at best, and blasphemous at worst, and as a Lutheran I contrast this with the more tangible, explicit mysteries of the Gospel and the Sacraments.

Having spoken with several Roman Catholics about this, and thus having heard their explanations, it is still true that I find these things disturbing--not out of any anti-Catholic animus, but because these things simply sound wrong and they sound like they place our attention on someone besides Christ himself, who we receive in the Sacraments. I offer the following in the hope that a coherent explanation can be given, for the life of me, I cannot see how one can be given. The following is so foreign to a Jesus-centric approach to theology that I just cannot seem to bridge the two:

The Fifteen Promises of the Virgin Mary to those who recite the Rosary

(Revealed to St. Dominic and Blessed Alan):

1) Whoever shall faithfully serve me by the recitation of the Rosary, shall receive signal graces.

When I pray the Rosary, I serve the Virgin Mary? I know that Mary is supposed to lead us to Christ in Roman Catholic doctrine, but isn't it better to trust things that actually lead us to Christ, like his words in the Scriptures, like his Sacraments? So much of Roman dogma and practice regarding the Virgin seems to operate like this, St. Mary does something which we normally would say Go does..

2) I promise my special protection and the greatest graces to all those who shall recite the Rosary.

The Virgin offers protection? Isn't Christ our refuge? Maybe a RC will say that she intercedes for us and so we will be protected. I, however, cannot see how this is an orthodox promise, as once again we are entreated to seek Mary's protection and not Christ's. And if she was interceding, why couldn't she say that?

3) The Rosary shall be a powerful armor against hell, it will destroy vice, decrease sin, and defeat heresies.

I suppose this could be construed as the prayers of the Rosary to God will accomplish this--except most of the prayers are to St. Mary--10 Hail Mary's to one Our Father. So it seems that somehow Mary accomplishes this, but I don't see how one may say that these prayers accomplish this given the structure of the Rosary.

4) It will cause virtue and good works to flourish; it will obtain for souls the abundant mercy of God; it will withdraw the hearts of people from the love of the world and its vanities, and will lift them to the desire of eternal things. Oh, that souls would sanctify themselves by this means.

God's word sanctifies, the indwelling of the Holy Ghost sanctifies. Given that, as above, most of the prayers are to St. Mary, this implies that St. Mary sanctifies too. Again, I find this disturbing and blasphemous.

5) The soul which recommends itself to me by the recitation of the Rosary, shall not perish.

Again, this seems to place St. Mary in the place of God. Eternal life is given to those who are in Christ--even if they never heard of the Virgin Mary.

6) Whoever shall recite the Rosary devoutly, applying themselves to the consideration of its Sacred Mysteries shall never be conquered by misfortune. God will not chastise them in His justice, they shall not perish by an unprovided death; if they be just, they shall remain in the grace of God, and become worthy of eternal life.

7) Whoever shall have a true devotion for the Rosary shall not die without the Sacraments of the Church.

8) Those who are faithful to recite the Rosary shall have during their life and at their death the light of God and the plentitude of His graces; at the moment of death they shall participate in the merits of the Saints in Paradise.

6 sounds a little like "Name it and Claim it". 7 and 8 are not objectionable on their face, except that it still seems the agent is St. Mary and not god.

9) I shall deliver from purgatory those who have been devoted to the Rosary.

10) The faithful children of the Rosary shall merit a high degree of glory in Heaven.

11) You shall obtain all you ask of me by the recitation of the Rosary.

12) All those who propagate the Holy Rosary shall be aided by me in their necessities.

13) I have obtained from my Divine Son that all the advocates of the Rosary shall have for intercessors the entire celestial court during their life and at the hour of death.

14) All who recite the Rosary are my children, and brothers and sisters of my only Son, Jesus Christ.

I do not believe the Virgin Mary can deliver from purgatory (accepting arguendo that it exists), that if we pray the rosary and ask things of her that she can give things to us, or tat we should propagate the Rosary in lieu of the Gospel of Jesus Christ--the two are not the same because the Gospel has as its center the person and work of Jesus Christ on our behalf, while the Rosary mixes in devotion to St. Mary, who to all intents and purposes seems to be able to do things God alone can do. Furthermore, as above, if this is intercession by St. mary, why didn't she say that?

15) Devotion of my Rosary is a great sign of predestination.
What about free will? :-)

Friday, June 8, 2007

A Zwinglian sees the light

Here is an excerpt from one man's account of his journey from a Reformed view of the Sacrament of the Altar to an Apostolic view. As a matter of fact, the doctrine of the Real Presence was key to his conversion to the Lutheran Church:

I never would have guessed that I would end up as an adult convert to Lutheranism. And I further would not have imagined how central the doctrine of the Lord's Supper would be to my conversion. My conception of denominations was typically evangelical. My understanding of Lutheranism was very vague. I respected the Lutheran church as the church of the Reformation, but I thought that my Presbyterian church had probably reformed things a little more completely.

The Presbyterian church of my childhood was the perfect setting in which to become a convinced Zwinglian (follower of the Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli who held that Communion was merely symbolic) without knowing it. I had no knowledge of the ritual until my early school years. I remember sitting in church and seeing a table up front on which were engraved the words "Do this in Remembrance of Me." This was like "Jeopardy!" on a deeper level, begging the question, "What is this that we do in remembrance of Jesus?" The answer was, Communion. Instead of the more usual case where a person is aware of Communion and later asks, "What does this mean?", I was told what this action meant without knowing what this action was.

I was blissfully unaware that anybody denied this interpretation, except for Roman Catholics. Then, in college, I remember hearing Sunday morning radio where Catholic Mass was followed by a Lutheran service. Both the priest and the pastor preached from John chapter six. From that passage the priest taught that the bread and wine were the body and blood of Christ. Then I discovered that that Lutheran pastor was to preach on the same text. I couldn't wait until he provided the correct symbolical interpretation of the passage. But it never came. To my chagrin, the Lutheran pastor taught that in Communion we receive the body and blood of Christ. I was shocked!

I had never been told that only a minority of the early Protestants held to a purely symbolic view of Communion. I had probably heard that the Roman Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation was invented in the year 1215, as if before that everyone believed it was a symbolic memorial. Then I thought that all Protestants rejected the Catholic view in favor of the memorial view. It was only later that I realized that while Transubstantiation was a recent invention (as far as church history goes), almost everyone—Lutheran, Calvinist, Roman Catholic—held to some kind of belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament. Many of the early Protestants rejected Transubstantiation without rejecting the Real Presence.......

In a way that may not be understood by those who were not born evangelical, one fear occasioned by the Lutheran teaching on the Lord's Supper is the fear that to receive the Lord's Supper for the forgiveness of sins is to be saved by works. We perform an action and receive salvation in response. This is how I first understood the teaching. In one discussion, a Lutheran woman spoke of how we bring our sins to the Lord's Table and return forgiven. I thought this was odd. What would happen if you died on the way up there? (I know, this is the same question I asked of the Disciples of Christ view of Baptism. But it is a good question!) The difference is that in this case there is an answer. The woman knew her teaching. She assured me that my sins would be forgiven even then.

This did alleviate my misgivings, but I was still uncertain. The view did not violate known true doctrines. What I came to see, though, was how many other aspects of my Christian life in evangelicalism functioned in a similar fashion to the Lord's Supper. When I was aware that I had sinned, I had been taught to pray and ask for forgiveness. I was assured by the promise in I John that Jesus forgave when I confessed my sins. But I was also taught that I was already forgiven before I prayed. (Hence if I died before I prayed...) Yet I could not erase the passages that spoke of forgiveness following confession. The two truths had to coexist. The Sacraments were the same. They offered a forgiveness that most people who partook of them already possessed....

It is a common question asked among evangelicals whether or not they are in the will of God. The Lutherans can answer that question from another angle. "Yes, you are in the will of God," we can confidently say. "You are in his last will and testament. Knowing that he was going to die, God decided to have you written into his will. The legacy he left was his body and blood, along with all of the honors, rights and privileges appertaining." If we were to say this to someone, he or she might first think that we were guilty of a trick. We speak narrowly of a last will. Yet if God does not change, was not this his will all along? We have not skirted the question, but answered the deeper question that lay beneath it. We cannot place ourselves in the will of God through perfect obedience, for we are imperfect. To the extent that we fail, we must not trick ourselves into believing that this is mostly a matter of ignorance—that if we only knew the will of God we would do it. No, the matter is out of our hands. But God has placed us in his will, so that unworthy heirs though we are, we might receive life and salvation through the body and blood of his Son. Not only so. We know where to receive this gift: at an altar of a church that confesses that it has come together to receive the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins.
Hoc est corpus meum! Read the whole thing.