I just ran across this article from orthodox press. I think we will recognize some ideas in it from both sides of some theological fences, as well as some interesting reflections on where some of those ideas came from. I have never read an article like this in which both Origen and Augustine were criticized. I found some things to agree with and some to disagree with; in the end it is clearly not universalistic, but it is a very interesting take (mostly “Arminian”, at the end of the day) on what justice, judgment, heaven and hell “actually” are in light of God’s love; A love which does not change and which no one can escape from. I think I spotted some inconsistencies, but I’d love to hear what y’all think!
Thought I would post some of the sections and some comments on the sections, to break it down a bit and perhaps make it easier for people to comment.
As presented at the
1980 ORTHODOX CONFERENCE
sponsored by St. Nectarios American Orthodox Church
A reply to the questions: (1) Is God really good? (2) Did God create hell?
- In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
"Reverend fathers, dear brothers and sisters:
There is no doubt that we are living in the age of apostasy predicted for the last days. In practice, most people are atheists, although many of them theoretically still believe. Indifference and the spirit of this world prevail everywhere. What is the reason for this state? The reason is the cooling of love. Love for God no more burns in human hearts, and in consequence, love between us is dead, too. What is the cause of this waning of men's love for God? The answer, certainly, is sin. Sin is the dark cloud which does not permit God's light to reach our eyes. But sin always did exist. So how did we arrive at the point of not simply ignoring God, but of actually hating Him? Man's attitude toward God today is not really ignorance, or really indifference. If you examine men carefully you will notice that their ignorance or indifference is tainted by a deep hate. But nobody hates anything that does not exist. I have the suspicion that men today believe in God more than at any other time in human history. Men know the gospel, the teaching of the Church, and God's creation better than at any other time. They have a profound consciousness of His existence. Their atheism is not a real disbelief. It is rather an aversion toward somebody we know very well but whom we hate with all our heart, exactly as the demons do. We hate God, that is why we ignore Him, overlooking Him as if we did not see Him, and pretending to be atheists. In reality we consider Him our enemy par excellence. Our negation is our vengeance, our atheism is our revenge. 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.**"
Ok, so far, this looks like how one might start out a universalistic-leaning message. Our problem is our perception of God.
"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**."
So, our perception of God as an eternal torturer (ECT paradigm) is the cause of our misperception, loss of love toward and hate of God…
"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 DIABOLOS, "the slanderer"."
"But what was the instrument of the devil’s slandering of God? What means did he use in order to convince humanity, in order to pervert human thought?
**He used "theology". He first introduced a slight alteration in theology which, once it was accepted, he managed to increase more and more to the degree that Christianity became completely unrecognizable. This is what we call "Western theology**"." :laughing: :open_mouth:
Hmm. I dare say he’s on to something…
"Did you ever try to pinpoint what is the principal characteristic of Western theology? Well, its principal characteristic is that it considers God as the real cause of all evil. What is evil? Is it not the estrangement from God Who is Life? 1 Is it not death? What does Western theology teach about death? All Roman Catholics and most Protestants consider death as a punishment from God. 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 the death" as "If you eat of the fruit of this tree, I will kill you". Some Protestants consider death not as a punishment but as something natural. But. is not God the creator of all natural things? So in both cases, God — for them — is the real cause of death. And this is true not only for the death of the body. It is equally true for the death of the soul. Do not Western theologians consider hell, the eternal spiritual death of man, as a punishment from God? And do they not consider the devil as a minister of God for the eternal punishment of men in hell? The "God" of the West is an offended and angry God, full of wrath for the disobedience of men, who desires in His destructive passion to torment all humanity unto eternity for their sins, unless He receives an infinite satisfaction for His offended pride."
Hadn’t thought about it quite in those terms, but I definitely see where he’s coming from. Here we have the notion of God as originator of evil and death, and the notion of an offended, angry and wrathful God. This all sounds very familiar.
"**What is the Western dogma of salvation? Did not God kill God in order to satisfy His pride, which the Westerners euphemistically call justice? And is it not by this infinite satisfaction that He deigns to accept the salvation of some of us? What is salvation for Western theology? Is it not salvation from the wrath of God? 2 Do you see, then, that Western theology teaches that our real danger and our real enemy is our Creator and God? Salvation, for Westerners, is to be saved from the hands of God!**"
Ah, here we have the fallout of penal substitutionary atonement, perhaps…
"How can one love such a God? How can we have faith in someone we detest? Faith in its deeper essence is a product of love, therefore, it would be our desire that one who threatens us not even exist, especially when this threat is eternal. Even if there exists a means of escaping the eternal wrath of this omnipotent but wicked Being (the death of His Son in our stead), it would be much better if this Being did not exist. **This was the most logical conclusion of the mind and of the heart of the Western peoples, because even eternal Paradise would be abhorrent with such a cruel God. Thus was atheism born, and this is why the West was its birthplace. Atheism was unknown in Eastern Christianity until Western theology was introduced there, too. Atheism is the consequence of Western theology. 3 Atheism is the denial, the negation of an evil God. Men became atheists in order to be saved from God, hiding their head and closing their eyes like an ostrich. Atheism, my brothers, is the negation of the Roman Catholic and Protestant God. Atheism is not our real enemy. The real enemy is that falsified and distorted "Christianity"**. :open_mouth:
Whoa, I hadn’t ever thought about that before. Atheism as the product of our own theology!
"Westerners speak frequently of the “Good God” (E.g., in France le bon dieu is almost always used when speaking of God.). Western Europe and America, however, were never convinced that such a Good God existed. On the contrary, they were calling God good in the way Greeks called the curse and malediction of smallpox, EULOGIA , that is, a blessing, a benediction, in order to exorcise it and charm it away. For the same reason, the Black Sea was called Eu xeinoV PontoV — the hospitable sea — although it was, in fact, a dreadful and treacherous sea. Deep inside the Western soul, God was felt to be the wicked Judge, Who never forgot even the smallest offense done to Him in our transgressions of His laws.
**This juridical conception of God, this completely distorted interpretation of God's justice, was nothing else than the projection of human passions on theology. It was a return to the pagan process of humanizing God and deifying man. Men are vexed and angered when not taken seriously and consider it a humiliation which only vengeance can remove, whether it is by crime or by duel. This was the worldly, passionate conception of justice prevailing in the minds of a so-called "Christian" society.** Western Christians thought about God's justice in the same way also; God, the infinite Being, was infinitely insulted by Adam's disobedience. He decided that the guilt of Adam's disobedience descended equally to all His children, and that all were to be sentenced to death for Adam's sin, which they did not commit. God's justice for Westerners operated like a vendetta. Not only the man who insulted you, but also all his family must die. And what was tragic for men, to the point of hopelessness, was that no man, nor even all humanity, could appease God's insulted dignity, even if all men in history were to be sacrificed. God's dignity could be saved only if He could punish someone of the same dignity as He. So in order to save both God's dignity and mankind, there was no other solution than the incarnation of His Son, so that a man of godly dignity could be sacrificed to save God's honor."
Here is the beginning, in this author’s opinion, of our misunderstanding of God’s justice. I think the bolded portion here makes a good point. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Brennan Manning: “God made man in His own image, and we returned the favor.”
IV (I have already pasted this first paragraph in another thread)
"This paganistic conception of God's justice which demands infinite sacrifices in order to be appeased clearly makes God our real enemy and the cause of all our misfortunes. Moreover, it is a justice which is not at all just since it punishes and demands satisfaction from persons which were not at all responsible for the sin of their forefathers 4 **In other words, what Westerners call justice ought rather to be called resentment and vengeance of the worst kind. Even Christ's love and sacrifice loses its significance and logic in this schizoid notion of a God who kills God in order to satisfy the so-called justice of God.** Does this conception of justice have anything to do with the justice that God revealed to us? Does the phrase "justice of God" have this meaning in the Old and New Testaments? Perhaps the beginning of the mistaken interpretation of the word justice in the Holy Scriptures was its translation by the Greek word DIKAIWSUNH. Not that it is a mistaken translation, but because this word, being a word of the pagan, humanistic, Greek civilization, was charged with human notions which could easily lead to misunderstandings. First of all, the wordDIKAIWSUNHbrings to mind an equal distribution. This is why it is represented by a balance. The good are rewarded and the bad are punished by human society in a fair way. This is human justice, the one which takes place in court. Is this the meaning of God's justice, however? The word DIKAIWSUNH,"justice", is a translation of the Hebraic word tsedaka. This word means "the divine energy which accomplishes man's salvation". It is parallel and almost synonymous to the other Hebraic word, hesed which means "mercy", "compassion", "love", and to the word, emeth which means "fidelity", "truth". This, as you see, gives a completely other dimension to what we usually conceive as justice.5 This is how the Church understood God's justice. This is what the Fathers of the Church taught of it. "How can you call God just", writes Saint Isaac the Syrian, "when you read the passage on the wage given to the workers? 'Friend, I do thee no wrong; I will give unto this last even as unto thee who worked for me from the first hour. Is thine eye evil, because I am good?'" "How can a man call God just", continues Saint Isaac, "when he comes across the passage on the prodigal son, who wasted his wealth in riotous living, and yet only for the contrition which he showed, the father ran and fell upon his neck, and gave him authority over all his wealth? None other but His very Son said these things concerning Him lest we doubt it, and thus He bore witness concerning Him. Where, then, is God's justice, for whilst we were sinners, Christ died for us!" 6 **So we see that God is not just, with the human meaning of this word, but we see that His justice means His goodness and love, which are given in an unjust manner, that is, God always gives without taking anything in return, and He gives to persons like us who are not worthy of receiving.** That is why Saint Isaac teaches us: "Do not call God just, for His justice is not manifest in the things concerning you. And if David calls Him just and upright, His Son revealed to us that He is good and kind. 'He is good,' He says, 'to the evil and impious'".7"
Well, he’s on a roll here. He continues:
" God is good, loving, and kind toward those who disregard, disobey, and ignore Him.8 He never returns evil for evil, He never takes vengeance. 9 His punishments are loving means of correction, as long as anything can be corrected and healed in this life.10 They never extend to eternity. He created everything good.11 The wild beasts recognize as their master the Christian who through humility has gained the likeness of God. They draw near to him, not with fear, but with joy, in grateful and loving submission; they wag their heads and lick his hands and serve him with gratitude. The irrational beasts know that their Master and God is not evil and wicked and vengeful, but rather full of love. (See also St. Isaac of Syria, SWZOMENA ASKHTIKA [Athens, 1871], pp. 95-96.) He protected and saved us when we fell."
I’m with the guy so far. I’m loving this article to this point. I think it’s interesting that he makes the point here that God’s punishment and correction are only for this life, and do not extend to eternity. This next section is where things begin to fall apart for me.
“The eternally evil has nothing to do with God. It comes rather from the will of His free, logical creatures, and this will He respects. 12”
Uh, hang on there a minute! You’re saying that eternal evil comes from our free will (which was presumably given us by His design), and this is a power or gift that He respects enough to allow it to cause eternal evil? I think a few passages of scripture would like a word with you.
"Death was not inflicted upon us by God 13 We fell into it by our revolt. God is Life and Life is God. We revolted against God, we closed our gates to His life-giving grace. 14 "For as much as he departed from life", wrote Saint Basil, "by so much did he draw nearer to death. For God is Life, deprivation of life is death". 15 "God did not create death", continues Saint Basil, "but we brought it upon ourselves". "Not at all, however, did He hinder the dissolution... so that He would not make the infirmity immortal in us". 16 As Saint Irenaeus puts it: "Separation from God is death, separation from light is darkness... and it is not the light which brings upon them the punishment of blindness". 17"
Yeah, Ok I can kind of see this. But what about us being subjected, not voluntarily, but by God in hope…
"Death", says Saint Maximus the Confessor, "is principally the separation from God, from which followed necessarily the death of the body. Life is principally He who said, 'I am the Life'".18 And why did death come upon the whole of humanity? Why did those who did not sin with Adam die as did Adam? Here is the reply of Saint Anastasius the Sinaite: "We became the inheritors of the curse in Adam. We were not punished as if we had disobeyed that divine commandment along with Adam; but because Adam became mortal, he transmitted sin to his posterity. We became mortal since we were born from a mortal".19 And Saint Gregory Palamas makes this point: "[God] did not say to Adam: return to whence thou wast taken; but He said to him: Earth thou art and unto the earth thou shall return.... He did not say: 'in whatsoever day ye shall eat of it, die!' but, 'in whatsoever day ye shall eat of it, ye shall surely die.' Nor did He afterwards say: 'return now unto the earth,' but He said, 'thou shalt return,' in this manner forewarning, justly permitting and not obstructing what shall come to pass". 20 We see that death did not come at the behest of God but as a consequence of Adam's severing his relations with the source of Life, by his disobedience; and God in His kindness did only warn him of it."
Ok, that’s kind of a unique way of looking at it. Not sure I agree with everything in that statement, but the comment about Adam’s sin being transmitted to us via his becoming mortal is an interesting concept, even if it is as I suspect, totally wrong.
"The tree of knowledge itself," says Theophilus of Antic, "was good, and its fruit was good. For it was not the tree, as some think, that had death in it, but the disobedience which had death in it; for there was nothing else in the fruit but knowledge alone, and knowledge is good when one uses it properly." 21 The Fathers teach us that the prohibition to taste the tree of knowledge was not absolute but temporary. Adam was a spiritual infant. Not all foods are good for infants. Some foods may even kill them although adults would find them wholesome. The tree of knowledge was planted by God for man. It was good and nourishing. But it was solid food, while Adam was able to digest only milk."
Another interesting concept here. Not that the tree of knowledge itself, but the disobedience in eating it that was the problem, coupled with Adam’s lack of spiritual maturity. Hmm. I suspect this is stretching things to make a point. The underlying assumption here is that at some point, Adam would’ve been mature enough spiritually at some point to eat of it without harm. I see nothing in the text to suggest this, however.
Very interesting reading. I’ve long thought that atheists reject an evil God. (In this sense, God also is an atheist.) The trouble is, they then replace one evil god with another (scientism, materialism, hedonism etc).
As for free will, it seems to me that freedom isn’t the power to do what you want, but the power to do what is right. A rich drug addict isn’t free, even tho he can snort cocaine all day long. A person who can’t forgive his enemies is hardly free, neither is someone who can’t control his passions. A person who can’t give away all he has isn’t free. It’s paradoxical. Christ was never more free than when he was crucified. We did not violate his freedom by taking his life. Rather, he demonstrated his freedom by giving it.
Lewis argued that we are free to reject God forever. But if freedom is the power to do what is right, rejecting God would be the antithesis of freedom. It would be a contradiction to reject God freely. Rather, rejecting God would be the act of someone enslaved to sin. The damned would be bound to reject God, not free to reject him. Either God sets these captives free, or he doesn’t. This leaves us with double predestination or universalism.
Yeah, I forget who said it, but I remember reading someone that said that true freedom must have some limitations (ironically). That would fit right in with what you’re saying about the freedom to do what’s right.
I’m free to play chess only when I’m bound by the rules.
And speaking of chess, if I play a Grand Master I will lose every time, even though I’m free to make whatever moves I choose. In the same way, God will win, whatever the moves I choose to make in life.
Lewis put the same thing this way: “So, you want to take my rook do you? Well, I would have thought you would have more sense, but if you insist: I move thus–and thus–and it is mate in three moves.”
No one beats Deep Blue on earth; but no one beats “Big Blue” in the heavens.
(Or, to borrow that wonderful declaration from the Koran, which Lewis also knew, and which I put toward the end of my novel: “The enemies of the Lord Above plot deeply and plot well. But the Lord Above plots, too–and He is the best of plotters.”)
If Muslems think God is All Merciful, and he is the best of plotters, I wonder if there is a universalist strand somewhere in their theology too.
And also ironically, it was Lewis who said that the danger is in the extremes. We have a tendency to react against something by going to its polar opposite (a trick of satan) rather than into the balanced middle. Arminian (and other freewill) theologies were probably reactions against Calvinism that went too far the other way.