All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods, but God will destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by His power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For “the two,” He says, “shall become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.
For the fleshly movements that we referred to previously have been placed in our body by the Creator’s providence for a good purpose. They are there for the renewal of the race and for raising up progeny for posterity, not for the perpetuating the disgraces of debauchery and adultery which are condemned even by the authority of law. (John Cassian, The Institutes, 170)
The Lord told this parable: “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
THE PARABLE OF THE LAST JUDGMENT:
Of course, the king in this story, The Son of Man, is Christ himself. He identifies himself first of all with the poor, those who lack basic necessities like food, drink, clothing, and shelter. He dwells in them, so that those who serve them are actually serving him. Though they have borne great shame in human society, he shares with them his immeasurable dignity. In this way he restores to them the royalty of the image of God. . . . Surely, Christ’s act of identification and union with them includes all who are marginalized in the ancient society such as women, the disabled, the homeless, and slaves; it includes all who are marginalized today. Astonishingly, in the story he does not ask them to do anything to merit such union with him. He simply loves them and counts them as his own family. He does not even have to say that they are blessed by the Father and will inherit the kingdom prepared for them since before the world’s creation. This reality is already established and he takes it as given. (Nonna Verna Harrison, God’s Many-Splendored Image: Theological Anthropology for Christian Formation, pg 192)
Guard by every means your heart, or the sincerity of your heart, your capability of sympathising with your neighbours in their joys and sorrows, and avoid, as you would avoid mortal poison, any indifference and coldness to people’s various misfortunes, sicknesses, and needs: for it is by sympathy, especially active sympathy, that the love and goodness of the Christian are revealed, and in love the whole law is contained, whilst, on the contrary, our selfishness, malice, malevolence, and envy are revealed by a want of sympathy. Thus, pray for all those for whom the Church orders you to pray, or, pray willingly for others, as you would pray for yourself, and do not relax in sincerity, do not lose inward respect for the person or persons for whom you pray; do not allow the holy fire of love to be extinguished, or your light darkened; do not despond at the wiles of the enemy, undermining your heart and striving to implant in your heart aversion to all, to take away from your lips the prayer of others which is the best proof of evangelical love for our brethren. (St John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ, pg 161)
What is the counsel of the Master? ‘Lend to those from whom you do not hope to receive in return.’ [ … ] Whenever you have the intention of providing for a poor man for the Lord’s sake, the same if both a gift and a loan, a gift because of the expectation of no repayment, but a loan because of the great gift of the Master who pays in his place, and who, receiving trifling things through a poor man, will give great things in return for them. ‘He that hath mercy on the poor, lendeth to God.’ Do you not wish to have the Lord of the universe answerable to you for payment? [ … ] …accept God as surety for the poor. (St Basil, trans Sr Agnes Clare Way, CDP, St. Basil: Exegetic Homilies, Fathers of the Church Volume 46, pg 190)
You all have heard today’s Gospel lesson from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. His teaching was straightforward and simple.
We may try to dismiss it, or say the world has always been the way it is and it will continue this way forever. But our Lord told you and I what was going to happen. He told us how He is going to judge us when He returns to judge the earth at His second coming.
And I do not want to soften His teaching in any way by explaining His teaching in this sermon. The lesson today is sobering. My role is much like the Prophet Ezekiel who said:
Now it came to pass at the end of seven days that the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me: “When I say to the wicked or to the righteous, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning to save his life, that same wicked or righteous person shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet, if you warn the wicked or the righteous, and he does not turn from his sin, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul. (Ezekiel 3:16-21, slightly paraphrased)
You and I my friends have been warned. The good news is that we can do something about the warning right now. We all are capable of doing the loving and kind acts which Christ our Lord spoke of.
We say that Christ is our Lord and teacher, let us now do his teaching. If Christ had demanded from us some hard labor, to carry some heavy burden, we might be able to object and say “this work is too hard, I can’t do it.” But, what Christ teaches us is easy, to care for the least of the brothers and sisters, to love, to be kind, to be merciful, to share our blessings and time with those in need. As St. Basil quipped about the blessings we have received, “If you hoard them, you won’t have them, if you scatter them you won’t lose them.”
Open your eyes Christian people and look for the little brothers and sisters of Christ who are in need of what you can share with them.
Today, it should be noticed by every policy maker – political, economic, social, military, medical, religious, scientific – that in fact conscious decision making alters natural selection. Human intention (and all its unintended consequences!) is now part of natural selection’s effects on the human gene pool. Design instigated by human choice effects the evolutionary process, probably influencing or changing the human gene pool at the same rate as natural selection would in its random creativity. Whatever are the limits of human intelligence or wisdom, they still have become part of the evolutionary process and thus nature itself. War, genocide, racial purity, marital laws, reproductive technologies, social constraints, and medical success in keeping diseased people alive and part of the reproductive genetic pool, all are the result of human conscious choice and are in fact altering the pure “randomness” of natural selection in human evolution. The fact is these policy choices in realms beyond science have a greater impact on the human gene pool than any current genetic technologies. Political, moral, medical, military, industrial and economical choices and policies do impact the human gene pool. Obviously as long as humans have existed, we had the potential to change the human gene pool. The revolution which occurs is our gaining awareness of human conscious choice and our own design influencing the creativity of natural selection and the entirety of the human gene pool.
The human effect on our gene pool is not limited to our efforts to preserve human lives or destroy them. Human use of energies and human technologies which are driven by population growth, which in turn are promulgated by advances in farming technologies, food production and medical science’s ability to preserve life, are all interacting with and producing changes on the environment. Evolution’s mechanisms work such that those species or even genetic combinations which are best able to adapt to these environmental changes will be the ones that carry forward into the future. Thus again the process of natural selection finds itself shaped by human choice. Policy makers today by their choices impact not only the immediate present but the genetic future of humanity as well.
Ever since humans became capable of making conscious choices, we have been altering both the human genome and our environment. Human migration has spread the effects of human intention throughout the world. Globalization again reconfigures the human gene pool and impacts the environment. To focus so narrowly on genetic science and its potential risk of influencing or changing the gene pool causes us to lose sight of the bigger picture of human endeavors and decision making. It is a near-sightedness that fails to take advantage of human consciousness itself. For now we are capable of understanding how powerfully ideologies and politicians impact our gene pool. Our self-awareness can serve us far more than we currently allow it by helping us grasp the effects of societal and global decisions on our hereditary future. We may fail to pass along to future generations the wisdom of conscious awareness, but we will not fail to pass along the genetic effects of our decisions. The question is not only can or should policy makers be overseeing the work of geneticists, but how can we make use of genetic sciences to comprehend the effects of policy makers on the gene pool and to shape the policies of ideologies and governments accordingly.
The unknowns are many, but the very fact that human consciousness and choice has far reaching impact on human genetic destiny means that human policy makers today have a responsibility to realize how their many decisions in the diverse realms of human endeavor impact the human species and our viability to survive or thrive on planet earth. The issues may in fact be too large for current human imagination to deal with, yet its importance is too large for us to ignore.
Though much attention gets focused on the work of genetic scientists and their potential impact on the human gene pool, in fact modern geneticists are not the inventors of “genetic engineering.” Ever since humans began making choices regarding mates and mating, the value of various human lives, and warfare, policy makers have been engaged in a process of genetic engineering not based in modern science but in ideologies, nationalism, and economic self interest. The question is not only should policy makers oversee genetic science and technologies, but how can all humans use the knowledge of the genetic sciences to understand, be aware of and influence the decisions of humanity’s leadership. Humans as a species have conscious self awareness, only now are we becoming consciously aware of the power of this knowledge.
Becoming Aware of the Impact of Human Consciousness
Scientists involved in various forms of genetic research and technology have become the focus of attention in the debates regarding their potential effect on the human gene pool. The reality of life however is that current geneticists are not the originators of efforts to manipulate the human gene pool. These scientists have merely helped focus our attention on the effects of human conscious choice on the gene pool. Policy makers worried that such genetic scientists need to controlled have in fact dangerously narrowed the perspective required to understand the issues involved. It is not science alone that has, is, or can change genetics, nature and humanity. Politicians, ideologues, industrialists, doctors, and military leaders have been shaping these same issues for all of human history. Geneticists by helping us understand how genetics work and by mapping the human genome have helped reveal how the genome is also a written history of the effects humans have made through time.
Humans emerged as beings with conscious self awareness. Individuals and decision makers throughout history used this consciousness to make a wide variety of policy choices. These decisions have impacted and been recorded in the human gene pool. That is the story of humanity. Intentionally influencing genetics is not the invention of science. What is new to us recently is our becoming aware of the meaning, implications and the power of this consciousness. This is what genetic science is helping us to understand. The mapping of the genome helps reveal to us how human choices enter into our hereditary nature and are recorded within each person’s genome. The policies we adopt and employ thus do have an impact on all of human history.
Humanity now becomes cognizant of how human policy decisions in so many realms of life effect humankind and our human hereditary future. The mapping of the human genome is making it possible for us to trace the history of human choices as recorded in our genes. What needs to become clear to policy makers is that these issues are not merely scientific. To understand what is at stake for the human species requires a much broader perspective than focusing on the scientific community. Human activity in the realms of politics, government, the social sciences, ideologies, economics, are all shaping human genetics, natural selection and thus nature itself.
For example issues of genetic control of the human race, predate the modern world. For at the very moment that humans began making conscious choices based in self awareness (rather than purely instinctual behavior), humans began affecting and changing the genetic makeup of humankind. This certainly predates any awareness of what was being accomplished. Humans began choosing mates for particular reasons (strength, looks, wisdom, family blood lines), rather than instinctively copulating. Tribes, villages, or nations adopted rules about who could marry whom, again forming the basis of “genetic engineering.” The same is true when tribes and hordes and nations went to war. Modern genocide is in fact a form of genetic engineering not being engaged by scientists (though as in Nazi death camps science intentionally aided the process), but in fact an engineering condoned by politicians, ideologues, armies.
As another example of how the human gene pool is altered by human decisions we can consider medical science with its many advancements in prolonging human life, in helping diseased and genetically mal-adapted people to live not only productive lives, but reproductive ones. The human desire to relieve suffering from poverty, famine, disease, and to lengthen life has in fact been another form of “genetic engineering” undoing natural selection’s tendency toward the survival of the fittest, perpetuating gene problems into future generations.
In addition, reproductive technologies of all kinds in as much as they help infertile couples have children, or help children (including premature) come to term, are in fact changing the gene pool. No longer is human reproduction guided merely by the creative chance of natural selection, for now humans are introducing into nature a conscious creative element for procreation. This can keep in the gene pool genetic forms of infertility as well as perpetuating previously inviable genes or gene combinations. We have thus by human intelligent design already altered the human gene pool and contributed an intelligent, conscious and intentional factor into human evolution and genetic makeup. Chance alone is not the sole factor now shaping human evolution.
one in a long series of such days in winter in our area.
The world of flora still in its winter sleep,
and no snow to glisten.
I was eager to take a walk,
just to get out and enjoy what weather wise was not a particularly enjoyable day.
I decided to take note of the little things in life, since the big picture was rather gloomy, like the world news.
So I took my camera to Sugarcreek Metropark and
walked a path paying attention to the dormant plants along the way.
I did not encounter even one other hiker.
The colors of midwinter against the gloomy gray background
stand out noticeably even if they are earth colors.
They represented a beauty that most any day
I would walk right past and ignore –
the dead plants, killed by winter’s freeze,
often bent over and stiff from the cold.
No sign of life, even the insects are hibernating still.
There were tiny droplets of ice hanging here and there,
left over from the freezing drizzle over night.
You can see all the photos of my “Little Things Tour” on my Flickr page. Click on the “slideshow” button above the thumbnail pictures to see all that I saw. When we stop and look, our eyes are opened to the marvelous beauty which winter’s cold makes us quickly pass by and ignore.
Then He said: “A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. … But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.’ And he arose and came to his father. … It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’
SIN, EXILE, AND RETURN:
“For the heart of the Scriptures is a continuing pattern of exile and return, of loss, hope, an restoration, of new life out of renunciation and death. And it emerges not only from narrative, but from prophecy, psalm, and hymns; from vision and exhortation; from parable, image, and metaphor.
This pattern recurs in the Hebrew Bible in three great movements. The first is the primeval exile from the Garden of Eden, echoed and extended into hope in the call of Abraham to leave his kindred and his country and seek a land of promise. The second is the bondage in Egypt of the children of Israel, their deliverance in the Exodus, their entry into the land, their building of Jerusalem, the joy of the whole world. The third is the faithlessness of the people, the destruction of Jerusalem, the Babylonian Captivity, and the promise, beyond hope, that the dry bones will live, the people return to their land, the walls of Jerusalem be rebuilt, the union of God and His people be celebrated as a marriage feast of everlasting joy.” (Pritchard, Gretchen Wolff, Offering the Gospel to Children, pg 43)
Amma Sarah said, “If I prayed God that all people should approve of my conduct, I should find myself a penitent at the door of each one, but I shall rather pray that my heart may be pure toward all.”
Amma Sarah did not seek the approval of others; likewise, she remained nonjudgmental in her attitude toward others and their own journeys toward God. As in any other time in church history, there were strong personalities in Sarah’s day, but she did not follow fads. She sought to remain true to her own simple path toward God.” (Swan, Laura, The Forgotten Desert Mothers, pg 39)
It is clear in Scripture that death is God’s enemy. The Scriptures witness that God finds no pleasure in the death of anyone, and that in fact death was invited into human life through human sin. What is this “death” which humans dread, yet readily visit on their enemies real and imagined? St. Gregory Palamas (d. 1359AD) describes death in these terms:
“As the separation of the soul from the body is the death of the body, so the separation of God from the soul is the death of the soul. And this death of the soul is the true death. This is made clear by the commandment given in paradise, when God said to Adam, ‘On whatever day you eat from the forbidden tree you will certainly die’ (cf. Gen. 2:17). And it was indeed Adam’s soul that died by becoming through his transgression separated from God; for bodily he continued to live after that time, even for nine hundred and thirty years (cf. Gen. 5:5). The death, however, that befell the soul because of the transgression not only crippled the soul and made man accursed; it also rendered the body itself subject to fatigue, suffering and corruptibility, and finally handed it over to death. For it was after the dying of his inner self brought about by the transgression that the earthly Adam heard the words, ‘Earth will be cursed because of what you do, it will produce thorns and thistles for you; through the sweat of your brow you will eat your bread until you return to the earth from which you were taken: for you are earth, and to earth you will return’ (Gen. 3:17-19, LXX). … Thus the violation of God’s commandment is the cause of all types of death, both of soul and body, whether in the present life or in that endless chastisement. And death, properly speaking, is this: for the soul to be unharnessed from divine grace and to be yoked to sin. This death, for those who have their wits, is truly dreadful and something to be avoided. This, for those who think aright, is more terrible than the chastisement of Gehenna. From this let us also flee with all our might. Let us cast away, let us reject all things, bid farewell to all things: to all relationships, actions and intentions that drag us downward, separate us from God and produce such death. He who is frightened of this death and has preserved himself from it will not be alarmed by the oncoming death of the body, for in him the true life dwells, and bodily death, so far from taking true life away, renders it inalienable. As the death of the soul is authentic death, so the life of the souls is authentic life. Life of the soul is union with God, as life of the body is its union with the soul.” (St. Gregory Palamas in THE PHILOKALIA v. 4, pp 296-297).
The death of the soul, according to Palamas is worse than going to the everlasting punishment of hell! The death of the soul is what every believing person should strive to avoid. Death is not God’s plan for humanity. It is to be destroyed by God, and that destruction began in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
One thousand years before St. Gregory Palamas wrote his description of death, St. Gregory of Nyssa (d. ca 384 AD) also commented on the entrance of death into the human condition.
“And so man separated himself from the fruit of all good things, and by his disobedience he was filled with the fruit that brings destruction. And the name of that fruit was mortal sin. Straightway he died to the more perfect life: he passed from a divine life to one on the level with irrational beasts. Once death was mingled with his nature, mortality was passed on to all generations of his children. Hence we are born into a life of death, for, in a certain sense, our very life has died. Our life is indeed dead because we have been deprived of immortality. But the man who is aware that he lives in the midst of two lives can cross the barrier between them, such that by destroying the one he can give the victory to the other. Man by his death to the true life entered into this life of death. So too, when he dies to this irrational life of death, he is restored to life eternal. And so there is no doubt but that we cannot enter into this life of blessedness unless we die to sin.” (St. Gregory of Nyssa, FROM GLORY TO GLORY, p 259)
St. Gregory of Nyssa comments on what he believes to be a transformation of physical death. In his thinking it is necessary for humans to pass through death in order to rid ourselves of the mortality that has become part of the human condition. We cannot enter into the blessed eternal life until we have died to sin – which is not possible until we have left this world. Thus death in his thinking has become a purifying process – it rids us of our life of sin. St. Basil the Great (d. 379AD), Gregory of Nyssa’s older brother, also writes about death in this more positive light. Referring to the death of a fellow Christian, he says:
“’The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away’ (Job 1:21). As the Lord thought good so it came to pass. Let us adopt those marvelous words. At the hands of the righteous Judge, they who show like good deeds shall receive a like reward. We have not lost a fellow Christian; we have restored him to the Lender. His life is not destroyed; it is changed for the better. He whom we love is not hidden in the ground; he is received into heaven. Let us wait a little while, and we shall be once more with him. The time of our separation is not long, for in this life we are all like travelers on a journey, hastening on to the same shelter. While one has reached his rest another arrives, another hurries on but one and the same end awaits them all.” (St. Basil the Great quoted in THROUGH THE YEAR WITH THE CHURCH FATHERS, p 166)
Death for these saints is a temporary state, like sleep, from which we shall be awakened by the sweet voice of the Savior.
Computers and human brains were in the news this past week. Watson, an IBM supercomputer defeated two TV game champions on Jeopardy: Computer Wins on Jeopardy!: Trivial It’s Not. Leaving us to ask, what will they think up next?
At least for humans, the only interesting part of the game show was that there were humans in the game – for Jeopardy being played by three super computers would seem an unlikely winner in audience rating wars. (Not being a TV viewer myself, I read about Watson, but didn’t see it on the tube).
While Watson may have been a show stopper, it represents the huge advances in artificial intelligence which have been made in recent years. Computers are becoming more adept at interacting with their human inventors. The pace at which changes and improvements in computing are taking place continue to increase at an exponential rate – even the rate of change is advancing exponentially.
All this has led Raymond Kurzweil to predict: 2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal. The amazing speed at which changes are taking place in computing defies our ability to predict what will the near future hold – will it be the singularity? (The “singularity” is “The moment when technological change becomes so rapid and profound, it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history.”) Will computer intelligence so outstrip human intelligence that the computers will take over all manners of human thinking and begin solving problems on their own and creating a better world (or at least a world based solely in knowledge, logic, mathematics and intelligence)? The TIME magazine article looks not only at how computers might take over creation, but how human intelligence might become one with artificial intelligence allowing humans to become immortal on and through the internet, and also how some people are beginning to believe aging and death itself can be overcome by science (those 900 year old personages of Genesis might not be so unbelievable after all!).
It gives me so much to think about that I don’t know what to think. The exponential advances in computing technology are real enough, but the singularity may be more a religious belief than scientific fact or possibility. (see my The Singularity is Near Gnosticism). What will be, we cannot yet know, but it seems quite possible to me that the human mind will not be transferable to a digital format, since the connection between the mind and an organic brain may be inseparable. Computers may advance to levels not yet imagined, but they will emerge from previous generations of computers which will limit their advancement and make them always reliant on the past, on what programmed them, on what is, because they are pushed from behind not pulled by and toward the not yet existing future. Unless of course the anthropic principle is at work, or God.
The other article that caught my attention was in the March 2011 Discover Magazine, “The Unlocked Mind” or “Back from the Brink”, which dealt with experiments and medical advances in dealing with severely brain injured patients, some who are considered to be in a vegetative state. Medical science has shown that some of these patients have some ability to respond to questions – there is someone still there in certain cases. While Kurzweil and company are seeking ways to escape the mind’s bond to the brain, neuroscientists are working hard to try to reconnect the mind to the brain in these brain damaged patients. Both are working on the limits of the mind, of being human, and neither like those limits much.
The work of the neuroscientists also left me not knowing what to think of patients in a vegetative state. When is the time to admit that nothing more can be done for them? When do we move from trusting medical science to keep hope alive to trusting in the hope which is God? Is our fear of letting them go based in a fear of mortality because we do not believe there is anything beyond this world? Is that what drives Kurzweil to seek immortality on the Internet?
Ultimately, a question about what it means to be human is whether the human being is really nothing more than an organic computer which can be replaced in the world by human invention – artificial intelligence. Or perhaps is the human inventiveness which creates a new form of intelligence the greatest sign that human intelligence must have a creator as well?
If there is more to being human than just a mind, if there is a connection to the eternal God – the soul, if existence is not coterminous with intelligence, then maybe the Kurzweils of the world are looking in the wrong direction and they need to look inwardly into the human heart as Orthodox Christian tradition would have it to find eternal life, that life which is not limited by injury or aging or even by death itself.