Creation Involves Risk

I appreciated the comment in the New York Times op-ed, “Every Moment With My Son Is an Act of Creation”  by Viet Thanh Nguyen

“There is no creativity, or creation, including the making and raising of children, that comes without risk. I now understand what I never did as a child: that I was the product of my parents taking a risk. The risk that their gift of love would be rejected; the risk that they would be misunderstood; the risk that their creation would have a life of his own.”

That risk that parents take when deciding to have children appears to have been experienced by God in bringing humans into existence.

And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.   (Genesis 6:6)

... the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.   (Genesis 8:21)

It may seem wrong for us to imagine that God took a risk in creating humans – after all God is omniscient and omnipotent.  Yet, in bestowing free will on humans, God was taking a risk – and allowing choice, uncertainty, ambiguity to be part of rational creation.  God gave humans free will – with consequences.  God did not predetermine everything, but rather watched to see His creation unfold in unexpected ways.   We see the same thing in  physics, for in creating a universe with quantum mechanics, God builds into creation some indeterminacy, some probability, some unknowingness, some chance.  By allowing mutations to occur within the genetic process of producing DNA, God allowed change into all living beings.  And then there is humanity with its free will.   We see this being enacted in Genesis 2 when Adam is given the task of naming the animals.  God watches to see what the human will decide is the name of each animal.  God doesn’t predetermine this naming, but watches and seems to enjoy the creativity which the free-willed human exhibits in creating new and unexpected names for the animals.  Creative genius can unexpectedly change the world, but so can changes in the genetic process, and the natural working out of the laws of physics.  So many things happen naturally everyday for which we are not able to see or even anticipate their consequences.

So out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.   (Genesis 2:19)

 

Anointed to Be Kings and Priests

All the faithful are truly anointed priests and kings in the spiritual renewal brought about through baptism, just as priests and kings were anointed figuratively in former times. For those anointings were prefigurations of the truth of our anointing: prefigurations in relation not merely to some of us but to all of us. For our kingship and priesthood is not of the same form or character as theirs, even though the symbolic actions are the same. Nor does our anointing recognize any distinction in nature, grace or calling, in such a way that those anointed essentially differ one from the other: we have but one and the same calling, faith and ritual. The true significance of this is that he who is anointed is pure, dispassionate and wholly consecrated to God now and for ever.”   (St Gregory of  Sinai, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle 42025-42032)

For St Gregory (d. 1346), all Christians who have been chrismated are anointed to be both priests and kings.  In Christ, both male and female are each anointed to share in the same kingship and priesthood.  God has now given in baptism to all His people the anointing that previously was bestowed only on a few elect.    See also my post A Kingdom of Priests and Kings

Theophany (2020)

In the main theme hymn for the feast of Theophany we sing:

When You, O Lord were baptized in the Jordan,

The worship of the Trinity was made manifest.

For the voice of the Father bore witness to You

And called You His beloved Son.

And the Spirit, in the form of a dove,

Confirmed the truthfulness of His word.

O Christ, our God, You have revealed Yourself

And have enlightened the world, glory to You!

At the baptism of Christ, the Holy Trinity is revealed to us – the voice of the Father, the Spirit in the form of a dove, and the Son of God incarnate in the River Jordan.  New Testament scholar Vincent Pizzuto (author of the really fine book, Contemplating Christ: The Gospels and the Interior Life) comments:

John [the Evangelist] does not tell us in the beginning was silence but that “In the beginning was the Word.” Yet what is the Word but “the ecstasy of silence,” as Panikkar has said.  From the Greek ekstasis, the term means literally “to be or stand outside of oneself,” or “to go elsewhere from oneself.” The Word is the eternal silence of God overflowing outside of the Godhead. Yet to speak one must simultaneously exhale. A word cannot be spoken without the breath that carries it.

And here we encounter again the mystery of the Trinity and the role of the Spirit in the life of Christ. Is it not, after all, the breath of the Spirit that carries the eternal Word across the threshold of time in the incarnation (Luke 1:35)?  Is it not the breath of the Spirit that carries the incarnate Christ from death into life in the resurrection (Rom 8:11)? By the power of the Spirit, the Word is eternally spoken from the silent abyss of the Father and returns to the bosom of the Father (John 1:18)—not infinitely, but eternally, not time after time without end, but once for all time without end.  The Word through whom the universe was born is now born within the universe itself.”  (Kindle Loc 1474-1484)

The Holy Trinity is not revealed to us in some distant inaccessible heaven, but rather the theophany occurs on earth, in history in the waters of the river Jordan.  That revelation is celebrated and made available to each of us at the Feast of Theophany and in every baptism in the church, including our own.  The mystery of God is that divinity is revealed to us in history and in creation.

Wishing you a blessed Feast.

“And confer upon this water the grace of redemption, the blessing of the Jordan. Make it a source of incorruption, a gift of sanctification, a remission of sins, a protection against disease, a destruction to demons, inaccessible to the adverse powers and filled with angelic strength. That all who draw from it and partake of it may have it for the cleansing of their soul and body, for the healing of their passions, for the sanctification of their homes, and for every purpose that is expedient. For You are our God, who renews through water and Spirit our nature grown old through sin.

Photo by Jim Forest

You are our God, who drowned sin through water in the days of Noah. You are our God who, through the waters of the sea, at Moses’ hand  set free the Hebrew nation from the bondage of Pharaoh. You are our God who did smite the rock in the wilderness: and the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed, and You satisfied Your thirsty people. You are our God who by water and fire through Elijah brought back Israel from the error of Baal.” (Prayer at the Great Blessing of Water)

 

Seeing Salvation

… and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (Luke 3:6)

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people…”  (Titus 2:11)

This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”  (1 Timothy 2:3-4)

St. Peter Damaskos writing in THE PHILOKALIA says:

“We are punished for our lack of repentance, and not because we had to struggle against temptation; otherwise most of us could not receive forgiveness until we had attained total dispassion. But as St John Klimakos again observes, ‘It is not possible for all to achieve dispassion, yet all can be saved and reconciled with God.’”     (Kindle Loc. 30139-43, emphases not in original text)

[see also my post We Will Not Be Punished Because We Have Sinned, But Because We Didn’t Repent]

As St Simeon the God-receiver prays:

Now you let your servant depart in peace, Master, according to your word,

for my eyes have seen your salvation,

which you have prepared before the face of all peoples;

a light to enlighten the Gentiles,

and the glory of your people Israel.

(Luke 2:29-32, EOB, emphases added)

 

We Will Not Be Punished Because We Have Sinned, But Because We Didn’t Repent

I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10)

In THE PHILOKALIA, one of the quoted authors is known as St Theognostos.  Modern scholars say this saint remains unknown to us.  Even the dates he wrote are unknown –  In THE PHILOKALIA he is said to be from the 3rd Century yet he quotes St. John of Damascus (7th Century) so must have written in the 8th Century or later.  Some scholars think he lived in the 14th Century.  Regardless of his identity, his writings remain in the collection of honored saints of the Church.

“We will not be punished or condemned in the age to be because we have sinned, since we were given a mutable and unstable nature. But we will be punished if, after sinning, we did not repent and turn from our evil ways to the Lord; for we have been given the power to repent, as well as the time in which to do so. Only through repentance shall we receive God’s mercy, and not its opposite, His passionate anger. Not that God is angry with us; He is angry with evil. Indeed, the divine is beyond passion and vengefulness, though we speak of it as reflecting, like a mirror, our actions and dispositions, giving to each of us whatever we deserve.”   (Kindle Loc 23502-14)

Theognostos seems to acknowledge that our “mutable and unstable” human nature means we are going to sin at times.  Sinning is not the problem.  The real issue is God is loving, merciful, forgiving and patient and God awaits our repentance in order to embrace us back into His fold.  When we don’t repent and don’t seek our way back to God, then we reject God’s love for us.  We show disregard and disrespect for God and God’s plan for us.  God awaits our return and we despise God’s love, moving further away from our Creator, the Source of Life.  For Theognostos, however, none of this is about God’s anger or vengefulness for those terms really are nothing more than our reflecting back on God how we humans feel towards those who offend us.  We treat God as if God is some giant human being with no better moral sense than we have.  When we do this we totally ignore the revelation in Scripture that God is love.  Instead of our imitating God, we reduce God to being nothing more than one of us.

See also my post Seeing Salvation.

Remembering Sin as the Path to Humility

Generally, when it comes to the New Year, we like to forget the bad things that happened in the past year and look forward to positive things in the New.  Or sometimes people take this time of year to remember the best of the previous year.  Orthodox spiritual writers, however, think there is good reason to remember past sins – not to feed shame and self-loathing, but to help us repent.  Repentance means change – to move in a new direction.  Remembering our past sins, reminds us not to be so quick to judge others in their sins and failures.  Rather, remembering our past failures can help us sustain a healthy humility in our selves as well as patience, empathy and mercy for others as we see them wrestle with their own sins and temptations.  We can learn how to bear with one another as well as how to bear one another’s burdens (Romans 15:1; Galatians 6:2).  New Year’s resolutions can include remembering our past sins so that we don’t repeat them but rather learn from them so that we will be the better person from now on.

But, my brethren, let us not forget our offences, even if we wrongly think that they have been forgiven through repentance; let us always remember our sinful acts and never cease to mourn over them, so that we may acquire humility as our constant companion, and thus escape the snares of self-esteem and pride.   (St Theodoros the Great Ascetic, The Philokalia, Kindle Loc. 11216-24)

A Year for Renewal

Happy New Year!

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”  (Luke 4:18-19)

Life in the Church is about new beginnings – whether repentance, baptism, Pascha, Pentecost, Sundays or New Years.  All give us a chance to begin again, to experience a renewal of heart and mind.  From the 2nd Century we read in the Christian document, Epistle of Barnabus, how God is working to renew us, to regenerate us as His children.

He has thus renewed us in the remission of sins, making us in another pattern, as though our lives were that of an infant, making us completely anew. For Scripture is speaking of us, as he says to the Son: “Let us make humanity after our image and likeness, and it should rule over the beasts of the earth and the birds of the sky and the fish of the sea.” (Gen 1.26)  (On the Two Ways Life or Death, Light or Darkness: Foundational Texts in the Tradition, Kindle Loc. 1273-77)

We are spiritually being refashioned, transfigured and transformed in Christ.  Spiritual renewal is not a one time event, but a lifetime of growth in Christ.

Encountering Christ: Incarnation and Inscripturation

Robert J. Daly  (in the book edited by Hans Urs von Balthasar, Spirit and Fire) explains the theology of the 3rd Century’s great scripture scholar, Origen, regarding the Word or Logos of God:

“When God reveals himself in history, the eternal Logos takes on the form of earthly, temporal existence. Daly’s summary of the various ‘incarnations’ of the Logos is worth quoting in full:

‘When Origen speaks of the biblical WORD, the WORD incarnate in the scriptures, at least four interconnected levels of meaning are in play. First, this WORD is the pre-existent, eternal, divine Logos, the Logos proclaimed in the prologue of John’s gospel and expounded in extraordinary detail and depth in Origen’s commentary on this prologue.

Second, this same divine Logos is the one who took flesh of the Virgin Mary, lived and worked among us, suffered, died, rose again and ascended to the Father, where he continues to intercede for us and to work until all things have become subjected to the Father who is all in all. Third, this same eternal WORD who took flesh of Mary has also become incarnate in the words of scripture. Fourth, this same divine WORD, born of Mary and also incarnate in the scriptures, also dwells and is at work within us, espoused to our souls, calling us to make progress toward perfection, and to work with him in ascending to and subjecting all things to the Father.’

Daly explains that there are four levels of meaning in connection with the word ‘Logos.’”  (Hans Boersma, Scripture as Real Presence: Sacramental Exegesis in the Early Church, Kindle Loc 3230-3243)

Ashish Naidu draws attention to this analogy between incarnation and inscripturation in Chrysostom’s thought:

‘As in the incarnation of the Word, so in the Bible the glory of God is veiled in the flesh of the text—human language and thought. It is by the careful reading and study of the Scriptures that one encounters its true Subject: Jesus Christ. The historical incarnation therefore is viewed as a paradigm for the nature of the Scriptures: God’s message is inextricably fused in the human message of the text.  God accommodates himself to the reader in the interpretive encounter, thus providing a divine pedagogy for the reader’s edification and spiritual life.’”   (Hans Boersma, Scripture as Real Presence: Sacramental Exegesis in the Early Church, Kindle Loc 2060-2066)

 

The Finite and the Infinite Meet in Christ


He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.  (Colossians 1:13-23)

Vincent Pizzuto in his excellent book, Contemplating Christ: The Gospels and the Interior Life, comments:

Raimon Panikkar speaks eloquently of this immanence of the divine in Christ, In Jesus Christ the finite and the infinite meet, the human and the divine are joined. In him the material and the spiritual are one, and also the male and the female, high and low, heaven and earth, the historical and the transhistorical, time and eternity. From the historic-religious point of view the figure of Christ could be described as that of a person who reduces to zero the distance between heaven and earth, God and [humanity], transcendent and imminent, without sacrificing either pole.    (Kindle Loc 1050-1056)

Christmas and the Slaughter of the Holy Innocents

On December 29, 4 days after Christmas, we commemorated King Herod’s slaughter of the Holy Innocent children (age 2 and under) as recorded in Matthew 2:16-18 as part of the Nativity narrative –
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more.

While we may love a sentimental and romanticized version of the Christmas story, the Bible places the birth of Christ into the midst of a fallen, violent and sometimes vile world.  God enters the human condition because we need salvation from the mire of sin and death.  Lutheran Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber reminds us:

But the Epiphany story of  Herod and infanticide reveals a God who has entered our world as it actually exists, and not as the world we often wish it would be. God’s love is too pure to enter into a world that does not exist, even though this is often how we treat Jesus, like we are trying to shelter him from reality. We often behave as though Jesus is only interested in saving and loving a romanticized version of ourselves, or an idealized version of our mess of a world, and so we offer to him a version of our best selves. With our Sunday school shoes on, we sing songs about kings and drummers at his birth, perhaps so we can escape the Herod in ourselves and in the world around us.”   (Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People, Kindle Location 1096-1101)

Christ wasn’t born in a cavern so that we could have warm fuzzies during the winter solstice.  Christ was born to take upon Himself the sin of the world, and to defeat the final enemy, death.  That is what we celebrate at Christmas.  The Nativity isn’t trying to take our minds off the world, but rather Christmas shows us that God so loved the world to give us His only-begotten son.   Despite the sin and evil present in the world – or more correctly, because of it – God is born in the flesh in Bethlehem.  God enters the human condition – not some idealized angelic condition, but the real world, the fallen world.   Bolz-Weber says the slaughter of the innocents immediately following the narrative of the Nativity inserts reality into the Christmas story and into our lives.

“We may be used to hearing some Christians say ‘let’s keep Christ in Christmas,’ but my friend Joy Carroll Wallis wrote an essay called ‘Keeping Herod in Christmas,’ and I have to say I’m with her, because the world into which Christ was born was certainly not a Norman Rockwell painting. The world has never been that world. God did not enter the world of our nostalgic, silent-night, snow-blanketed, peace-on-earth, suspended reality of  Christmas.

Image result for norman rockwell christmas paintings

God slipped into the vulnerability of skin and entered our violent and disturbing world. This Christmas story, the story of  Herod, the story of the Slaughter of the Holy Innocents, is as much a part of  Christmas and Epiphany as are shepherds and angels.”  (Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People, Kindle Location 1131-1136)