A Godly Fear in Time of Trouble

The media is reporting that the recent shooting in San Bernadino, which followed the terrorist attack in Paris, has left many Americans feeling fear and anxiety about life.  Some studies say that the levels of fear are about as high today as they were in the days following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.


For believers, we are supposed to find some strength and comfort in putting our trust in God. It is worth remembering that the Christmas season was kept by Christians through the centuries not just in prosperous times, but also in times of persecution, in times when the Christians found themselves oppressed by those who rejected the Gospel.  That threats to nations and believers arise, is neither new or unexpected.  The message of Christmas and “peace on earth” take on a different significance in times of prosperity than in times of persecution.



One of the great features of having repeating yearly feasts and a repeating cycle of scripture readings is that we hear about God’s saving acts both in good times and bad.  We are reminded that the Word of God doesn’t change, but historical circumstances surely do.   It is an oxymoron about life on earth that change is a constant!

Perhaps it is a good time for Christians to do a study of the word “fear” in the Bible, and see who it is that we are to fear (in the RSV, fearing the Lord is mentioned 145 times) and of what we are not to be afraid (in the RSV, ‘fear not’ occurs 139 times).

In these troubling times of terrorism, we can pray Psalm 37, a Psalm of the Prophet David.

Fret not yourself because of the wicked, be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb. Trust in the LORD, and do good; so you will dwell in the land, and enjoy security. Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your vindication as the light, and your right as the noonday.


Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over him who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. For the wicked shall be cut off; but those who wait for the LORD shall possess the land. Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look well at his place, he will not be there. But the meek shall possess the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity. The wicked plots against the righteous, and gnashes his teeth at him; but the LORD laughs at the wicked, for he sees that his day is coming. The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows, to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those who walk uprightly; their sword shall enter their own heart, and their bows shall be broken. Better is a little that the righteous has than the abundance of many wicked. For the arms of the wicked shall be broken; but the LORD upholds the righteous. The LORD knows the days of the blameless, and their heritage will abide for ever; they are not put to shame in evil times, in the days of famine they have abundance. But the wicked perish; the enemies of the LORD are like the glory of the pastures, they vanish—like smoke they vanish away.


The wicked borrows, and cannot pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives; for those blessed by the LORD shall possess the land, but those cursed by him shall be cut off. The steps of a man are from the LORD, and he establishes him in whose way he delights; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD is the stay of his hand. I have been young, and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging bread. He is ever giving liberally and lending, and his children become a blessing. Depart from evil, and do good; so shall you abide for ever. For the LORD loves justice; he will not forsake his saints. The righteous shall be preserved for ever, but the children of the wicked shall be cut off. The righteous shall possess the land, and dwell upon it for ever. The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice. The law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip. The wicked watches the righteous, and seeks to slay him. The LORD will not abandon him to his power, or let him be condemned when he is brought to trial.


Wait for the LORD, and keep to his way, and he will exalt you to possess the land; you will look on the destruction of the wicked. I have seen a wicked man overbearing, and towering like a cedar of Lebanon. Again I passed by, and, lo, he was no more; though I sought him, he could not be found. Mark the blameless man, and behold the upright, for there is posterity for the man of peace. But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed; the posterity of the wicked shall be cut off. The salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; he is their refuge in the time of trouble. The LORD helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked, and saves them, because they take refuge in him. 


Sunday of the Blindman (2015)

The Paschal season in the Orthodox Church offers us several weeks to sing and absorb the message: Christ is risen form the dead, trampling down death by death.  And every year we read the Gospel of the man born blind in the context of our celebrating the resurrection of Christ:

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him. We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”(John 9:1-5)

The Gospel begins with the disciples attempting to impose a moral order on the world they live in.  A man born blind – even before he had a chance to sin, he is already afflicted with disease.  Is the universe really so unfair, unreasonable and random that someone can be afflicted without having done anything wrong?  Doesn’t that very idea cast doubt upon not only the goodness of God, but God’s very existence?

The disciples endeavor to place a moral order on what they see – there must be a reason for the man’s blindness!  Perhaps forgetting that the story of Job is part of their scriptures.  The innocent are at times victimized by irrational forces in the universe.

The disciples expecting order in God’s universe, want to make sense of a baby being born blind – surely there must be a just reason which caused and thus explains such a tragedy.  God would not be so unjust as to inflict blindness of an innocent baby!  If a tragedy like blindness occurs it must be part of the moral universe: retribution for sin.   The book of Job, however, shows even a righteous man – not just an innocent man – can suffer, however unfair and unjust that is.   Suffering is not always related to retribution, but is always related to the distorted world of the Fall in which powers, some alien or hostile to God, do operate.

We cannot always know the reason for suffering.  Job never learns the truth about his suffering.  His faithfulness to God remains even without that knowledge.  Knowing God is enough for him.   He believes in God and that is Job’s righteousness

The book of Job is good Lenten reading.  It prepares us for understanding how it might be possible that Jesus is Lord and Christ, and yet God, His Father, allows Him to suffer.  There is no retribution there, no loss of love.   They mystery of incarnate love, revealed in Jesus Christ, gives hope and meaning to Job and to all who suffer.  Suffering does not mean or imply that one is forsaken by God.  That is a lesson of Job and Jesus and the man born blind from birth.

Christ is the light of the world, even for those physically blind.  Christ is the light of the world, even when we can’t quite see Him.  Christ is the light of the world even for those spiritually lost, or who are walking, whether fearfully or hopelessly, in darkness.

It does happen that our need for a moral order in the universe and for complete justice cause us to impose a meaning on events and an understanding of the universe that are not theologically correct.  It remains a fact that some things in the universe are beyond our comprehension.  Our effort to impose a moral order on events in fact take us further away from understanding God or the universe.   We who are so impatient, have to wait on the Lord.  Thankfully, God is not limited by or to our sense of justice, purpose and meaning.

Do not think that every affliction befalls people on account of sin, because there are some who are pleasing to God who are still tempted. It is written that the impious and lawless will be persecuted [Ps 36.28 (LXX)]; it says as well that “all who want to live a godly life in Christ will be persecuted [2 Tim 3.12].”   (St. Mark the Monk, Counsels on the Spiritual Life, Kindle 2137-2139)

The Source of Social Evil and the Good of Society

Humans throughout history have tried to comprehend why evil and social chaos occur.   I found it interesting to compare the thought of the Jewish work The Wisdom of Solomon (scholars place the writing 100 -10BC)  with the Hindu writing the Bhagavad Gita (which scholars place ca 200BC – 200AD).   They are thus roughly contemporary writings though from different parts of the world and with different religious assumptions.

The Bhagavad Gita offers at one point an explanation of what is the cause of evil and the disintegration of society.   It blames the intermixture of castes – intermarrying of men and women of different castes which thus leads to the total destruction of family and society.  It is a vicious cycle dragging families and society to hell.

“When the family is destroyed, the ancient laws of family duly cease; when law ceases, lawlessness overwhelms family; when lawlessness overwhelms the women of the family, they become corrupted; when women are corrupted, the intermixture of castes is the inevitable result.  Intermixture of castes drags down to hell both those who destroy the family and the family itself; the spirits of the ancestors fall, deprived of their offerings of rice and water.  Such is the evils of those who destroy the family: because of the intermixture of castes…”  (Bhagavad Gita)

Wisdom, Justice, Vice, Crime and Corruption, Slander, Deception, Despotic Power

The Wisdom of Solomon on the other hand blames the ruination of society on idolatry: the worship of false gods.

“Everything is mixed together: Blood and murder, theft and treachery, depravity, unfaithfulness, tumult, perjury,  confusion over what is good, ingratitude, corruption of family, breakup of marriages, disorder, adultery, and debauchery.  For the worship of idols not to be named is the beginning, cause, and end of every evil.”   (Wisdom of Solomon 14:25-27)

The chaos that results in both works is similarly portrayed – the breakdown of family life which leads to all manners of evil.  Both would say the problem is a breakdown in traditional religious values which results in total social dysfunction and destruction.

Roman Philosopher Cicero (10b-43BC) writing in a similar time period wrote, “In all probability, disappearance of piety toward the gods will entail the disappearance of loyalty and social union among men as well, and of justice itself, the queen of all the virtues.”  Once piety towards the gods disappeared he said, “life soon become a welter of disorder and confusion.”

We could also compare these teachings with another that comes from about the same time:  the Gospel of Jesus Christ.   Jesus taught:

Christ the Wisdom of God

“For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”  (Mark 7:21-23)

Christ places the source of evil as the human heart – not in society, nor in Satan, but in each human being.

If we had no other texts from the these religions to consider but what is mentioned above we might conclude that in Hinduism the antidote to evil is the adherence to traditional cultural norms:  it is adhering to traditional cultural values which will preserve society from evil.    In the Jewish text, there is also a call to faithfulness to tradition with a clear notion that false religion must be cast out in order to maintain the purity of society and its goodness.  In Christ, while there certainly is an appeal to Jewish tradition in terms of what is considered sinful and thus detrimental, He places the purification of society in the heart of each person.  It is through personal repentance of sins that evil is defeated.

The Gadarene Demoniac

At that time, when Jesus came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” Now a herd of many swine was feeding at some distance from them. And the demons begged him, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of swine.” And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the swine; and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and perished in the waters. The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, and what had happened to the demoniacs. And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their   neighborhood.  And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city.   (Matthew 8:28-9:1)

A totally modern commentary on the exorcism of the legion of demons says:

“Jesus asked the man his name, and he replied, ‘Legion,’ the same word for a division of Roman soldiers. Scholars note that a legion consisted of around two thousand troops, and there would have been several legions around the Decapolis. It’s interesting that in the story, the demons beg to stay in the area. Nearby was a ‘band’ of pigs, band being the same word used for a group of military cadets (and no, we aren’t suggesting it’s okay to call police officers ‘pigs’). The demons asked to be sent among the pigs, another symbol of uncleanliness. (Jews did not touch pigs.) Jesus invited the Legion to enter the pigs. And the pigs, specifically numbered at two thousand, ‘charged’ into the sea to their deaths. And none of the listeners could have missed the subversive poetry, remembering the legion of Pharaoh’s army that charged into the sea, where they were swallowed up and drowned (Exodus 14).

[Footnote:  The pig was also the mascot of Rome’s Tenth Fretensis Legion stationed in Antioch (Carter, Matthew and Empire, 71) It’s interesting to note the places where Jesus drove demons out of people: often in the temple and in the militarized zones. The words ‘come out’ that usually accompany an exorcism are the same words with which Jesus exorcized the temple, calling the money changers to ‘come out’ because they had made a market of God’s temple and marginalized visiting Gentiles.” (Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, Jesus for President, pg.115)

The Defeat of Death

“Death is a much of a mystery as life itself-a mystery that neither natural nor divine science is able to explain. As the Anglican theologian Austin Farrer so right said, ‘God does not give us explanations; he gives up a Son.’ The Christian faith is not a theodicy; it provides no final rationale or explanation for death. At the core of the Christian vision of death lies Scriptures’s proclamation of salvation in Jesus Christ. Death is an evil that is defeated once and for all by the willing sacrifice of the Son of God on the cross and by his glorious resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father.” (Vigen Guroian, Life’s Living Toward Dying, pg.41)

The Effects of the Expulsion from Paradise in Patristic Thinking

This is the 31st blog in this series which began with Adam & Sin, Paradise and Fasting.  The previous blog is Adam’s Expulsion in the Writings of St. John Chrysostom.

The story of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise inspired the Patristic theologians to apply the story to a wide diversity of topics from theology, to ethics, to explaining the world as it is. They also sometimes saw the story of the Fall as having practical moral applications.  For example from the desert fathers we have this wisdom attributed to Hyperechius (d. ca 420AD):

“He also said, ‘It was through whispering that the serpent drove Eve out of Paradise, so he who speaks against his neighbor will be like the serpent, for he corrupts the soul of him who listens to him and he does not save his own soul.’” (in THE SAYINGS OF THE DESERT FATHERS, p 238)

Hyperechius finds in the story of the Fall a lesson against gossiping, spreading rumors and speaking against one’s neighbor.  Every community has felt the destructive power of those who whisper secrets against one another.

The Fall was also, according to the Fathers, the explanation for all manners of evil in the world including slavery and other forms of inequality.

“At the fall came hatred and strife and the deceits of the serpent. . . I would have you look back to our primary equality of rights … not to the later division . . . Reverence the ancient freedom … Reverence yourself.”  (St. Gregory Nazianzen (d. 391AD), THE HUNGRY ARE DYING, p 150)

St. Gregory Nazianzen blames the Fall for unleashing on the world hatred and strife as well as the inequalities one can observe everywhere – between the rich and poor, between men and women, between races and nationalities.  He believed all humans had an innate, ancient freedom which had been lost as a result of the Fall.  The divisions between humankind which limit the freedoms of some and increase the powers of others are all a result of the Fall, not part of how God intended the world to be.

Interesting, for me at least, is did St. Gregory apply his thinking to all social hierarchy?   For example did it cause him to see the imperial form of government not as natural for humans but purely the result of the Fall – a necessary evil?  I also wonder how he would have applied his thinking to the emerging and becoming rigid notions of hierarchy in the church, especially in the light of Christ’s own condemnation of Christians trying to lord it over one another (Matthew 20:25-28; Matthew 23:8-12; Luke 22:25-27).   It is note worthy that despite the emphasis in more recent times that the Church is hierarchical, in the 4th Century when adopting the Creedal formula regarding the Church, our Fathers in the faith did not include the world hierarchical, but expressed a faith in a one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, excluding hierarchical as the canon for the church.

“Thus in Adam’s case, too, since he had not used his dwelling in paradise to his advantage, he brought him to his senses by expulsion; and his wife, who had enjoyed equal status but proved the worse for it, he made better by slavery and subjection.”  (St. John Chrysostom, COMMENTARY ON THE PSALMS  Vol 2, p 155)

Chrysostom sees the subjection of women to men as a direct result of the Fall, not part of God’s original plan for humanity.   However, he seems to accept this subjection as not only normal to this Fallen world, but perhaps even a corrective for women as a whole since apparently all women share collectively in the sin of Eve.   He apparently doesn’t think that Christians living in the light of Christ who overcomes the effects of the Fall should try to undo the inequalities of this world regarding gender.  Was he simply the product of his own time and patriarchal society?  Several Fathers mention slavery and inequality as resulting from the Fall, but almost none advocated abolishing such inequalities.

Next:  Adam’s Expulsion in Later Patristic Writings

Culture War vs. Spiritual Warfare

“And Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph! Can my father be still alive?  They were so dumbfounded at finding themselves face to face with Joseph that they could not answer.”   (Genesis 45:3  REB)

Patriarch Joseph

Thus came to an end one of the great deceptions of the Bible with the deceivers dumbfounded by their own deception:  they had no doubt come to believe their own lie about what had happened to Joseph and the lie regarding their own role in plotting his demise.  Ten brothers conspired together to lie to their father about Joseph’s death, and through the many years accepted their own version of the lie as truth (after all, by this time, Joseph surely must be dead).   What could they do? Once the lie had been told,  there was nothing left but to live by it.

But in Genesis 45, the lie and cover up were exposed and now the conspiring brotherhood has to go back to their father, who is at this point an old man who bore the grief of losing a son all his life, and tell him the good news  – you’ve been made to grieve for nothing all your life, your son is alive!  Which of course simultaneously exposes not only their lie but their evil deed as well.

“Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive.”  (Sir Walter Scott)

Such I think is also the dilemma the Church faces in dealing with issues of clergy sexual abuse and misconduct.  The Church not openly addressing these issues used to be justified on the basis that such truth would so scandalize the faithful and harm innocent souls that it was better to cover over and cover up such sins and deal with them internally and secretly.  All done for the supposed good of the faithful who would lose their faith and trust… in God or only in the leadership?    Would that it were the case that the institution was so worried about protecting its membership.  But in failing to deal frankly with the problem, the membership is not protected at all from the problem, but only is prevented from understanding the risk.  This ends up protecting the institution and its leaders, not the flock.   Secrets and darkness are the friends of the devil.

Once the leadership of the church is trafficking in secrets, there is a horrible price to be paid by and in the Church.  There should be no secrets about sin in the Church, for the Church exists to triumph over sin and death, not to hide its secrets: “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:23 – the “all” presumably includes the clergy).   Three Scripture verses for the Church to consider in dealing with clergy sexual misconduct:

Jesus said: “For there is nothing hid, except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret, except to come to light.”  (Mark 4:22)

“Meanwhile, when the crowd gathered by the thousands, so that they trampled on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, ‘Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.’”   (Luke 12:1-3)

“For it is a shame even to speak of the things that they do in secret; but when anything is exposed by the light it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.” (Ephesians 5:12-13)

Now we live in a very litigious society and people sue and threaten to sue even the Church constantly over every issue.  There is in the case of clergy sexual misconduct many factors for the Church to take into consideration in deciding how to publicly deal with such misconduct.  There are victims and their rights and needs to consider.  There may be other innocent victims – spouses and children not only of the victims but of the clergy who engage in misconduct.  There are parish communities to consider,  the law, confidentiality, human rights and innocence until guilt is proven.  Lawyers and church legal committees favor a very high degree of secrecy to avoid lawsuits.

But what the Church has to do is taking into consideration all of those factors – courts, laws, victims, victim rights, the rights of the accused, innocent victims and witnesses and confidentiality – and come up with a plan for how to deal publicly and transparently with the sins and failures of the clergy.  We should never be like the brothers of Joseph conspiring together to cover up the sins of some or one of the brothers.  That is not Christian ethics.

Today in the OCA some seem to think that current controversies are only about a culture war in which one man wants to speak boldly and others want to silence him.  A real battle  has to deal with the temptation of secrets and of covering over problems within the institutional church.  There is a need for consistent church discipline, rather than a PR campaign which mixes up what people want to be true with the truth of how things are done.  It is not a cultural war but a spiritual warfare.

(See also my blogs  Sexual Abuse in the Church,  The Meek: The Avenger of the Abused,   Christian Sexual Abuse: Apostasy of the Worst Kind,  Celibacy and Sobriety,  Allegations and Accusations,  and   Sexual Misconduct in the Church: Where Truth, Justice and Wisdom Meet)

Ancestral Sin

This is the 11th blog in this series which began with Adam & Sin, Paradise and Fasting.  The previous blog is Adam in St. Gregory Palamas.

In this blog we will give an elementary look at “the Fall” in terms used by the Eastern Patristic writers: the “ancestral sin.”  “Original sin” comes among Western Christians to imply all of humanity shares in the guilt of Adam for sinning.   Additionally, it implies that human nature has become so corrupted that it has lost its original and natural goodness thus becoming depraved and incapable of any good.  The idea of ancestral sin – that our first ancestors sinned and that because all humans share the same nature that sin has consequences for us all, namely death – allows that each human is still created in the image and likeness of God, thus there is a natural goodness in each human, even if that goodness lies dormant beneath heavy layers of sin.  Thus the Eastern notion of salvation tends to call for a transfiguration and transformation of humans – to revive in us that goodness that has been so hidden or even distorted by sin.  As Revelation 21:5 has it, Christ’s salvation  consists in making all things new, not in making all new things.   It is a renewal of the existing creation by God that is begun in the Incarnation of God the Son not the beginning of all new creation to replace the Fallen world.

“The teaching about ancestral sin (propatorikon hamartema) in the early Church, both East and West, was based on a particular understanding of the Genesis story.  This early Christian approach interpreted sin not so much as inherited guilt, but as the condition of separation between the creature and the Creator.  It was in God that humanity and the whole spiritual and physical creation were to have found their true existence, purpose, and goal.  Ancestral sin for the early Church meant that the fullness of existence – found in the promise and potential of communion with the Holy Trinity – was lost. It also meant that the constitutive elements of human nature, that made this communion possible, were marred and distorted but not effaced or destroyed.” (Stanley Harakas, LIVING THE FAITH, p 6)

The notion of ancestral sins has implications for piety and for salvation.

“When evil thoughts become active within us, we should blame ourselves and not ancestral sin.”  (St. Mark the Ascetic in THE PHILOKALIA Vol. 1, p 135)

As some of the Eastern Fathers noted, if we humans had become totally controlled by the effects of Adam’s sin, then God really couldn’t condemn the rest of us when we sinned since we would only be acting according to our nature.  The Patristic writers though believed humans had free will, and thus God’s judgment on us is just since we are acting according to our own choices and free will and not simply being controlled by some form of predestination or predetermination. (see my blog Theodoret on Ancestral Sin)

Christmas: The Incarnation of the Word of God

Because sin is the result of free will and  not predestination, believers need to beseech God’s mercy and forgiveness, which is done in every Orthodox service through the constant prayer, “Lord, have mercy.”  God’s ultimate response to human sin – the Incarnation of His Son and His death and resurrection—mean that God has not only undone the effects of the Fall, but actually lifted humanity to a new level of existence which it didn’t have even before the Fall.   As patristic scholar Robert Hill notes about the Patristic Biblical commentators in Antioch:

“Yes, the Fall has happened; but it is a felix culpa that ushers in God’s healing through the coming of the savior.  Human nature and free will have not been impaired by that early reverse (‘original sin’ not a term of theirs); we are still morally accountable, even if we tend to misquote Scripture to discharge ourselves of accountability—yet natural law and positive law apply …  Theordoret proceeds to see further implications of David’s and Paul’s thinking:  ‘We learn from all this that the force of sin is not part of nature (if it were so, after all, we would be free from sin), but that nature tends to stumble when troubled by passions; yet victory lies with freewill (gnome), making use of effort (povoi) to lend assistance.’  …  When Chrysostom speaks on Genesis in the Lenten sermons of 386, he speaks of a Fall, but presents it positively; grace outweighed sin; human nature was not impaired by the sin; and so when all of us sinned, as we have, we are accountable.

‘While they were the first to sin and thus introduced slavery through disobedience on their part, once it was introduced those who came afterwards ratified it by sins of their own…  The human being did not sin to the extent that God gave grace, the loss was not as great as the gain, the shipwreck was not as great as the commerce—instead, the good things outweighed the bad… I said this lest you think you have been badly affected by the first human beings.’

And the sin of the first parents?  Indifference, rathemia, of course, the capital sin. …If that is the primal sin—indifference, negligence, sloth—the individual must make efforts, ponoi, if not to be morally reprehensible.”  (Robert Hill, READING THE OLD TESTAMENT IN ANTIOCH, pp 178-180)

The Antiochian Patristic writers did not think humans were so affected (or infected) by original sin that all that we inherited from our ancestors is sinfulness.  They don’t allow that we are badly affected by our human ancestors’ sinning.  If we were, then we could not be blamed for sinning – sinning is a free will choice, if our free will has been taken away from us because of our ancestor’s sins, then we have no free will and de facto cannot sin because sin assumes and requires free will.  Temptation to sin does not take away our free will, but becomes an exercise of it.

Next:  What then is (Ancestral) Sin?

Adam in 2 Esdras (B)

This is the 4th blog in this series which began with Adam & Sin, Paradise and Fasting.  The previous blog is Adam in 2 Esdras (A).

2 Esdras does not flinch away from the fact that humans sin, not just Adam;  sin is endemic in humanity.  The explanation for why humans created as good by a good God are so evil is that God allows humans to freely struggle to produce virtuous fruits by following Torah.  Free will is real; humans must choose between good and evil and evil is as viable a choice as is the good.   Torah and evil reside side by side in the human heart, and Torah is not able to remove the evil in the human heart.

“Yet you did not take away their evil heart from them, so that your law might produce fruit in them. For the first Adam, burdened with an evil heart, transgressed and was overcome, as were also all who were descended from him. Thus the disease became permanent; the law was in the hearts of the people along with the evil root; but what was good departed, and the evil remained.”  (2 Esdras 3:20-22)

Continuing the look at Adam in the First Century document known as 2 Esdras, we now encounter a stream of Jewish nationalism interpreting Adam.   For now the author of 2 Esdras sees the Jews as the chosen people as the descendants of Adam and the heirs of his life.  All the non-Jewish descendants of Adam are claimed to be nothing in God’s eyes, and yet the author of 2 Esdras laments that it is these Gentiles who domineer over the Jews, not the other way around.   His argument is that God said the world is for His chosen people who should dominate the earth.  This understanding of Adam is directly opposed to how St. Paul reads the Genesis text, for St. Paul ultimately wants to tie in all humanity with God’s plan for salvation, and St. Paul sees Adam as a type of all humans.  We each can understand our own story and the human condition in the story of Adam.

“On the sixth day you commanded the earth to bring forth before you cattle, wild animals, and creeping things; and over these you placed Adam, as ruler over all the works that you had made; and from him we have all come, the people whom you have chosen.  All this I have spoken before you, O Lord, because you have said that it was for us that you created this world.  As for the other nations that have descended from Adam, you have said that they are nothing, and that they are like spittle, and you have compared their abundance to a drop from a bucket. And now, O Lord, these nations, which are reputed to be as nothing, domineer over us and devour us. But we your people, whom you have called your firstborn, only begotten, zealous for you, and most dear, have been given into their hands. If the world has indeed been created for us, why do we not possess our world as an inheritance? How long will this be so?”    (2 Esdras 6:53-59)

The fact that evil and Torah exist in the human heart justifies God’s ultimately judging humans – for the humans must make a choice.

He answered me and said, “When the Most High made the world and Adam and all who have come from him, he first prepared the judgment and the things that pertain to the judgment. But now, understand from your own words—for you have said that the mind grows with us. For this reason, therefore, those who live on earth shall be tormented, because though they had understanding, they committed iniquity; and though they received the commandments, they did not keep them; and though they obtained the law, they dealt unfaithfully with what they received.”   (2 Esdras 7:70-72)

Now we get to the despairing attitude found in 2 Esdras.  For humans have sinned, and despite having been promised immortality and paradise, we have been denied both because we each sin.  In the passage below we come to understand St. Paul’s claims about the new Adam, Jesus Christ.  For Christ came not just to be obedient to the Father, to obey Torah, but to die for our sins, and in this death to defeat and destroy all that death represents to humanity: eternal separation from God.

I answered and said, “This is my first and last comment: it would have been better if the earth had not produced Adam, or else, when it had produced him, had restrained him from sinning. For what good is it to all that they live in sorrow now and expect punishment after death? O Adam, what have you done? For though it was you who sinned, the fall was not yours alone, but ours also who are your descendants. For what good is it to us, if an immortal time has been promised to us, but we have done deeds that bring death?  And what good is it that an everlasting hope has been promised to us, but we have miserably failed?  Or that safe and healthful habitations have been reserved for us, but we have lived wickedly?  Or that the glory of the Most High will defend those who have led a pure life, but we have walked in the most wicked ways? Or that a paradise shall be revealed, whose fruit remains unspoiled and in which are abundance and healing, but we shall not enter it because we have lived in perverse ways? Or that the faces of those who practiced self-control shall shine more than the stars, but our faces shall be blacker than darkness? For while we lived and committed iniquity we did not consider what we should suffer after death.”  (2 Esdras 7:116-126)

Old Testament in St. Paul's Epistles

The author of 2 Esdras is basically told that the rewards of God are still there for those who faithfully keep the Law of Moses.   Esdras begs God for mercy as he recognizes all humans sin and fall short of God’s commands.   What St. Paul recognizes is that God has solved this dilemma in Christ.  Humans do sin, and the Law is not able to correct this basic human problem, but God provides the means of overcoming BOTH sin AND death.  Nothing can separate us from God, even our failure to keep the Law, which has proven impossible anyway.  For now God responds with the mercy Esdras begged for – God forgives our sins and embraces us if we come to him as penitents not the perfected.  God has answered all human thoughts about the need for perfection or for sacrifice and ended that thinking in Jesus Christ, who has gone even to the place of the dead – to the resting place of everyone who sins – and raised them up to the Kingdom.

Next:  Adam in the Writings of St. Paul

The Gift of Grief and Tears

“The silence of tears reflects our surrender to God and to new patterns of learning and living.  Through weeping, we learn by suffering and undergoing, not just by speculating and understanding.  Tears are another way, a tangible way of addressing our pain and our panic.  They are the articulation of our grief, the wording of our desire.  The greater our love, the greater the corresponding sense of grief.  It is the depth of our love that determines the intensity of our weeping.  Through tears, we give up our infantile images of God and give in to the living image of God.  We confess our personal powerlessness and profess divine powerfulness.  Tears confirm our readiness to allow our life to fall apart in the dark night of the soul, and to assume our new life in the resurrection of the dead.”       (Chryssavgis, John In the Heat of the Desert:  The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers pg 49)