The Universality of Death vs. the Inevitability of Sin

Every year at the beginning of Great Lent, the Orthodox Church remembers the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise.  This ancestral sin affected the course of the human race.

Adam and Eve, whether or not historical figures, symbolize all of humanity in its relationship to God.  Their story is our story, and each of our lives is their story.  Sin has become part of human life, and sin has corrupted human nature such that even an act of repentance cannot heal the wound to humanity.  None of this implies that humans have lost free will or responsibility for their own sins.  We are not destined to sin, for sin comes from each human will, not from human nature.  Human nature has only been corrupted by the consequences of sin – mortality has become part of our existence.  So we can note how did the early Church Fathers understand the role of sin in our lives?  Church historian  Jaroslav Pelikan writes:

“Despite all the strong language about sin, however, the fundamental problem of man was not sin, but his corruptibility.  The reason the incarnation was necessary was that man had not merely done wrong–for this, repentance would have sufficed– but had fallen into a corruption, a transiency that threatened him with annihilation.  As the agent of creation who had called man out of nothing, the Logos was also the one to rescue him from annihilation.  This the Logos did by taking flesh.

For this theology, it was the universality of death, not the inevitability of sin, that was fundamental.  The statement of Romans 5:14 that ‘death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam,’ was taken  to prove that there were many who had been ‘pure of every sin,’ such as Jeremiah and John the Baptist.  It was death and corruption that stood in the way of man’s participation in the divine nature, and these had to be overcome in the incarnation of the Logos.”

That various people in the Old and New Testaments are considered righteous gets forgotten in the tsunami which Augustine’s idea of original sin came to represent especially in Western Christianity.  So the texts of St. Paul in Romans 3:10, 23 seem to erase the claims of the rest of Scripture: “ it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one…” and “… since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”   But human sinning did not mean that God no longer saw goodness in His creatures.  For even David is considered a man after God’s heart (1 Samuel 13:14).  Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Daniel, Job, Zachariah, Elizabeth, John the Baptist, the Virgin Mary and Simeon the Elder just to name a few are righteous people in the Scriptures.  Instead of taking St. Paul’s words as the lens through which one must see all of humanity, we need to view St. Paul’s claims about all being sinners within the context of the entire Scriptures in which some people are identified as being righteous.  St. Paul himself acknowledges this in Romans 11:2-5 where he says:  “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? ‘Lord, they have killed thy prophets, they have demolished thy altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.’ But what is God’s reply to him? ‘I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’ So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.” 

In 2 Chronicles 33 of the Septuagint, Manasseh prays:   “Surely, Lord, God of the heavenly Powers, You have not appointed repentance for the righteous, for Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, who did not sin against You; but You have appointed repentance for me a sinner.”

Since there are righteous people specifically named in the Scriptures, and some who may even be considered sinless, sinning is not the problem.  It is the fact that human nature has fallen under corruption, separated from God, we have become mortal beings.  It is from this that Christ comes to save us.  Focusing narrowly on “orginal sin” gives us an incomplete idea as to the salvation brought about by Jesus Christ.  Pelikan continues:

“… it is clear some fragments that have survived of a treatise AGAINST THE DEFENDERS OF ORIGINAL SIN by Theodore Mopsuestia that he ‘reiterates in effect that it is only nature which can be inherited, not sin, which is the disobedience of the free and unconstrained will.’ Despite their fundamental differences, the theory of the hypostatic union and the theory of the indwelling of the Logos both concentrated on death rather than on sin.”


Pelikan’s last point is that in the Christian East, the two main competing schools of thought in interpreting the Scriptures, the Alexandrians and the Antiochians, though their teachings conflicted were still in agreement that death and not sin was the human problem.  And though the Church East and West agreed on the theology of the hypostatic union against the indwelling of the Logos, all those disputants (Orthodox and heretic, Chalcedonian and Non-Chalcedonian) still thought the greater human problems was death rather than sin.  The Eastern tradition as a whole, and much of the West in accepting the decision of the 4th Ecumenical Council all embrace this same idea which in some ways is a rejection of the implications of “original sin” that Christ came mostly to pay the price for sin rather than to destroy death.


Knowledge and Keeping God’s Commandments

In the Gospel lesson of Matthew 19:16-26, a man asks Jesus, Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”  Jesus tells him, “… if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.

Of course there are 613 commandments in the Torah, so the man seeks further clarification, so he asks Jesus:

“Which ones?”

Jesus said, “’You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ’Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’“

Jesus names five of the Ten Commandments and then adds another commandment from the Torah that he must love his neighbor as if the neighbor is his own self (Leviticus 19:18).  Jesus neither limits God’s commandments to the Ten, nor does he treat this other commandment as any different or less than the Ten.

St. John of Kronstadt comments on keeping the Commandments:

“One definite commandment was given to Adam and Eve, in order that by fulfilling this one commandment – which was, moreover, a very easy one – men might acquire the habit of fulfilling the will of God, the fulfillment of which constitutes the whole well-being of creatures, and might be strengthened in the love of God.

If we turn our attention to the contrary – to the non-fulfillment of the will of the Creator and the fulfillment of our own will, in opposition to the Creator’s – we observe that little by little a man changes for the worse and perverts his own right nature, created after the image and likeness of God, and becomes God’s enemy. So important is the fulfillment of God’s commandments, and so destructive is their non-fulfillment! By giving to the first men His definite commandment not to eat the fruits of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the Lord God revealed Himself as the Guide of the newly-created reasonable creatures, of His children by adoption. Whose fault was it that this guidance was rejected, and that man preferred to be governed by his own will? Even until now, notwithstanding all the progress in sciences and arts, notwithstanding all the treasures of human wisdom, neither the man of ancient nor of modern times can educate himself, because he rejected even from the beginning the guidance of God; for, say, who but God should be our guide? And both at present and in the past only those men successfully completed their mental and moral education who trusted in God and lived in accordance with His commandments, or who now live in accordance with the Gospel and the teaching of the Church, submitting themselves to her guidance. This is useful for all modern teachers to remember.

“Science” – Library of Congress

We have many sciences, but the result obtained is small; our youths have much in their heads, whilst in their hearts they have little – very little and often, alas! Even nothing. Life, then does not correspond with education and science. But ‘though I understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.‘ (1 Corinthians XII. 2, 3.).”   (My Life in Christ, pp. 150-151)

God Became Human So that Creation Would Serve Humanity

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.   (Romans 8:19-23)

The Nativity of Christ, sometimes in popular thinking gets reduced to warm fuzzies about a manger and a baby.  However, the context of that story is the creation of the cosmos, and the Fall of Adam and Eve – their committing the ancestral sin.  Creation was meant to serve humanity, and humans were meant to have a leadership role in creation – to be the mediator between God the Creator and the created order.  All of creation, including the angels, were meant to find their proper relationship to God through humanity.

But, when humans sinned against God and rejected their God-given role, all of creation fell into an unnatural relationship with humanity and with God (see Romans 8 above).  The restoration of the cosmos, the transfiguration and redemption of all Creation, this is the context and content of the Christmas story.

“ ‘When all of the created world which God had brought out of non-being into existence saw Adam leave Paradise, it no longer wished to be subject to the transgressor. The sun did not want to shine by day, nor the moon by night, nor the stars to be seen by him. The springs of water did not want to well up for him, nor the rivers to flow. The very air itself thought about contracting and not providing for the rebel. The wild beasts and all the animals of the earth saw him stripped of his former glory and, despising him, immediately turned savage against him. The sky was moving as if to fall justly on him, and the very earth would not endure bearing him upon its back.’

But God’s love for man intervenes in this truly cosmic catastrophe: ‘He restrains everything by His own power and compassion and goodness, suspends the assault of all creation and straight away subjects all of it once again to fallen man. He wills that creation serve man for whom it was made, and like him become corruptible, so that when again man becomes spiritual, incorruptible and immortal, then creation, too, will be freed from its slavery….and, together with man, be made new, and become incorruptible and wholly spiritual’ (cf. Rom. 8:20-1). God’s compassionate intervention limited the consequences of man’s rebellion. Man and the cosmos then had to wait for the blessed coming of the Lord. As long as God’s peace was absent, the world ceased to be a cosmos, an adornment of God: ‘When it ceased to be at peace, it also ceased to be a cosmos.’

But with the coming of Christ, divine peace returned to the world and the world became once again God’s adornment. The created world too is invited to the festival of the new creation: ‘Let creation be glad, let nature dance….Dance, you mountains, for Christ is born!’ IN Christ Jesus, the cosmos and man coexist in peace.” (Hieromonk Gregorios, The Divine Liturgy, pp 126-127)


Sin and Being Human

“Before the fall, man found nourishment in God who is life, and recognized Him to be the foundation of the life that filled his entire being. By freely choosing to eat of the forbidden fruit, in an act of self-sufficiency that revealed his preference for human nature over the gift of divine kinship, man removed himself from the source of life. He passed from a spiritual to a biological existence, from union with God to a life of independence, contrary to nature. By choosing to eat the perishable fruit, man is cast into a cycle of change and corruption, into a time marked henceforth by death. Once he is subject to death, he struggles to preserve life, trying to escape death.

The fall did not simply lead man into a biological form of life. It encompassed the whole of his psychosomatic being which, once turned from its intended state, submitted itself to instincts that led to the realm of the passions. Carnal pleasure for the body is equivalent to avarice for the spirit, all of which leads a person to be disconnected and lacking in harmony; it shatters his original unity. […]  

The more man is removed from his ultimate aim which is God, the more he is lured by creatures and creation, the greater the tragedy of his uprootedness, his alienation, and his suffering, caused by the disintegration of his being and by ultimate meaninglessness. Relative to man’s tragic state of separation from God, biological death, which is in itself already unacceptable, is of little consequence.

Man was not created for death and finality, but for immortality and eternity. To consider death strictly as a biological reality renders one insensitive to Christ’s death and Resurrection. Communion in His Resurrection, to be sure, does not spare us from biological death. Nonetheless, it bestows incorruption upon our soul, which is the vital principle that leads us from darkness into light.” (Michael Quenot, The Resurrection and the Icon, p 208)


The Sting of Death

“According to Fr. Sophrony, physical death and, especially, the accompanying fear of physical death corrupts human agency and fuels our willful tendency for selfishness, individualism, and sin. In a telling passage he writes, ‘Until man attains his resurrection in Christ everything in him is disfigured by fear of death and consequently by servitude to sin, also’. Fr. Sophrony here suggests that the tragedy of physical death fuels the further tragedy of sinful action; the condition of mortality lies at the core of humanity’s ethical predicament because fear of physical death is a basis for enslavement to sin. Fr. Sophrony cites a passage from the Letter to Hebrews (2:14-15) to support his view of the fall, which comports with several other voices within the Orthodox tradition. For example John Romanides states: 

The power of [physical] death in the universe has brought with it the will for self-preservation, fear and anxiety, which in turn are the root causes of self-assertion, egoism, hatred, envy and the life… Man does not die because he is guilty for the sin of Adam. He becomes a sinner because he is yoked to the power of the devil through death and its consequences.

For Romanides, Fr Sophrony, and other recent Orthodox thinkers, the two primary consequences of the fall are death and the fear of death; the disaster of sin in the world stems from the principal catastrophe of mortality. …  Death is the enemy because it violates the human identity as a creature made in God’s image, made for eternal existence. In addition, Fr. Sophrony affirms the biblical promise that the resurrected life will be an embodied life, although he refrains from making specific claims about the nature of resurrected bodies, other than those present in the New Testament record. Thus, the resurrected life satisfies the fundamental human yearning: it removes death’s finality, adding a new chapter after the tragic denouement of physical death and entailing the salvation of the entire human being – both the physical and the non-physical dimensions.” (Perry T. Hamalis in Thinking Through Faith: New Perspectives from Orthodox Christian Scholars, pp 208-209 & 210-211)

The Wages of Sin


For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.     (Romans 6:21-23)

St. Gregory Palamas comments:

“In the beginning, as you all know, the serpent which originated evil stung man through sin, made him mortal, threw him out of paradise and brought him into this fleeting, painful world. Now, unless we hasten though repentance to heal the wounds he has inflicted, he will dispatch us to everlasting punishment and hell-fire.” (St. Gregory Palamas: The Homilies, pp 259-260)

The end result of the sin of Adam and Eve was mortality, death.  St. Gregory certainly sees hell not as the result of sin, not even what awaits the sinner.  Rather, hell is something that awaits the unrepentant sinner.  It is something we can avoid through repentance.  Sin is not framed by St. Gregory as the breaking of some law which requires retributive justice to punish us.  Rather sin is a wound inflicted on us which needs to be healed.  The healing balm available to us comes through baptism and chrismation, given to us when we first begin our spiritual life.  Repentance and the spiritual life for Christians mean removing all the obstacles to our healing, and then Christ heals us and receives us into the eternal rest of His heavenly Kingdom.   In Orthodoxy, even holy unction, the sacrament of healing, is about the forgiveness of sins.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.  (1 Peter 2:24)

Adam Laments His Exile


In the previous blog, The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, we read the words of Archimandrite Aimilianos reflecting on what Adam might have thought and said to God when God questioned him as to why he was trying to hide from His Creator.   In the meditation below, St Silouan puts in Adam’s mouth words lamenting what he lost in being exiled from Paradise.  Though the earth has beautiful landscapes, he cannot find joy in them knowing what exists in Paradise, yet which is no longer attainable for him.

“Adam wept:

‘The desert cannot pleasure me;

nor the high mountains,

nor meadow nor forest,

nor the singing of birds.

I have no pleasure in any thing.

My soul sorrows with a great sorrow: I have grieved God. And were the Lord to set me down in paradise again, there, too, would I sorrow and weep – ‘O, why did I grieve my beloved God?’”

(St Silouan in Remember Thy First Love by Archimandrite Zacharias, p 200)

Adam & Eve worship at the heavenly altar

Adam sees the magnificent beauty in God’s created world, and yet he agonizes over what he lost in being exiled from Paradise.  The pleasures of this world are nothing compared to Paradise Adam tells us.  The entire world was his – a vacation paradise.   Yet, he finds nothing on earth comparable to the Paradise lost.

Great Lent is trying to help us believe Adam’s lament – what we humans have lost is far greater than anything we might experience on earth.   We may be quite attached to this world, yet Great Lent calls  us to yearn for something greater, something we’ve never known.   Can we feel Adam’s exile and believe there is something even more glorious awaiting us, if only we will let go of the things we value so highly on earth?

Take From Me the Spirit of Idle Talk

Throughout the Great Lenten season, we Orthodox pray that God will take from us the spirit of idle talk.  We also pray that God will set a guard before our mouths.  We are asking God to help us control our talking for we know through our words we often wound others, cause grief rather than bring peace to others, entice others to join in evil thoughts, gossip about others to their detriment.  We need Gods help to control out tongues so that our words can build up others and heal others and encourage others and support others.  St. John Chrysostom tells us that God has put within each of us the ability to reason and we are to use that reason to control our mouths and our talking.

Aware of this the inspired author also said, Set a guard on my mouth, Lord, and a door for encircling my lips. Now, what other guard is there than reason looming ominously, holding in its hands the fire destined to incinerate those idly using the mouth? Place this doorkeeper and guard that threatens your conscious, and it will never open this door at the wrong time, but only at the right time and for profit and goods beyond counting. Hence someone said, ‘Always remember your last end, and you will never sin:’ do you see how this person installed the faculty of reason? I presented it as even more ominous, however, speaking of it as having hands. If this happens, nothing evil will be generated in the mind. Along with this bring to the fore as well the one who says, ‘On the day of judgment you will give an account for every idle word.’

Consider that death also came on the scene: if the woman had not said it to the serpent what she said, if she had not heeded his words, she would have sustained no harm, she would not have given anything to her husband, he would not have eaten. I say this, blaming not tongue and mouth – perish the thought – but untimely use of them, which happens because of negligence in reasoning.”

(St. John Chrysostom, Commentary on the Psalms, pp 285-286)

God Became Human

This is the 29th  and penultimate blog  in this series which began with the blog Being and Becoming Human. The previous blog is Human Freedom: The Energy to Cooperate with God (II).

Genesis 1 teaches that humans are created in God’s own image.  The ancient Orthodox Christian writers came to understand that while God the Father is ineffable, indescribable and invisible, it is the Father’s Word in whose image we are made.  The Word becomes flesh and reveals the image (icon) of God to us.   Christianity is based in a truth that God became human in Jesus Christ (John 1:1-14).   What does it take for God to become human?  God fully empties Himself to become fully human.

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”  (Philippians 2:4-8)

For us to become fully human, as God became fully human in Christ, we also need to empty ourselves of all selfish, self-centered and narcissistic thinking.  Egotistical and egocentric thinking stands in the way of us becoming fully human – fully relational beings abiding in God’s love and loving as God loves us.   Our being in God’s image is the basis for the theology of the incarnation and the theology of theosis.

“It seems to me that Orthodox theology insists on the doctrine of deification, theosis, because recovering the fullness of the image will involve real changes in ourselves, changes that mean that the image of God in which we are created becomes more and more evident. We are to become transparent, as it were, to the image of God reflected in who we are most deeply. Others are to find in us, not the fragmented human beings that we are as a result of the Fall, but the love of God manifest in the image of God, for whose sake we have been created. In doing this we shall discover our true humanity: deification, as St Maximos makes so clear, is the restoration of our true humanity, not its diminishment or abandonment. And it is a change grounded in the amazing change that God himself embraced, when he became human for our sakes, not abandoning what he is – divinity – but assuming what he is not – humanity.”   (Andrew Louth , Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology), Kindle Loc. 1841-48)

Central to understanding our humanity is remembering humans are created in the image of God AND understanding the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ.  The beginning and the end of humanity are found in the Word of God, in whose image we are created and who has become human in order to enable us to be united to God.

“In the sphere of Christology, . . . [St.] Paul emphasizes both the personal pre-existence of Christ, and what Christ is in relation to God—Son of God, in the form of God, etc.  In their Jewish background, these terms express what man was intended to be, so that Christ’s sonship perhaps means basically being truly human. . . .

The Cross is of course vital, but it is the completion of the obedience which characterizes the whole of Christ’s life.  It is as man’s representative, rather than as his substitute that Christ suffers, and it is only as one who is fully human that he is able to do anything effective for mankind, by lifting man, as it were, into an obedient relationship with God. . . . The result is that in Christ men become what they were intended to be from the creation.  In Christ there is a new creation, so that men now bear his image, as they have borne the image of Adam.  They share his relationship with God by themselves becoming sons of god, and so find blessing, righteousness, and glory.  In other words, they become truly human.

If Christ has become what we are in order that we might become what he is, then those things which governed and characterized the old life of alienation from God in Adam no longer apply.  It is the old man, i.e. the Adamic existence, which is crucified with Christ, Rom. 6.6 . . . [St. Paul] writes continually to his converts – Be what you are!  Man has been recreated, called to be ‘holy’ – he should believe it and behave accordingly.   Sin belongs to the old, Adamic existence.”  (Morna Hooker, FROM ADAM TO CHRIST, pp 22-23)

Humans are physical beings created in God’s image.  We bear both the image of our Creator, but also bear the Adamic mortality.  Created for eternal life, we allowed death to inter into existence through our sin.   God, however, does not leave us in Hades for eternity.  Rather God enters into the human condition, descending even into Hades through His own death in order to rescue fallen humanity.  Christ our Savior, restores us, transfigures our humanity, and transforms our physical nature into the spiritual again.  This is salvation.

Next:  God Became Human, So That We Might Become God

Human Freedom: The Energy to Cooperate with God (II)

This is the 28th blog in this series which began with the blog Being and Becoming Human. The previous blog is Human Freedom: The Energy to Cooperate with God.

In this blog we continue exploring a few implications of the theological truth that humans have free will and a rational nature to guide that will.  Orthodox Christianity rejects all forms of predestination whether theological or biological.   Despite the fact that our wills are distorted by our personal sins and by living in the world of the Fall, we still have both a rational nature and a free will.  This makes us responsible for our thoughts and deeds in the world.  Numerous Orthodox saints said that if we don’t have free will and our actions are predetermined by fate or by God’s unbending predestination then there is no basis for God to judge us as that would be completely unjust.  Nothing would matter in terms of human behavior, and God would be nothing more than a sadistic tyrant who destroys the life He creates purely by His own whim.   God however was always considered by the Church as both loving and holy, respecting the free will with which He imbued humans.  It matters to God whether we choose to cooperate with Him, or do His will, or love Him and one another.  God holds us accountable, and this accountability is not arbitrary but truly measures our willingness to be full human beings striving to be in God’s likeness.

“It is for us to bear witness that God is the space of freedom, and that if humanity is not in God’s image it will always be in bondage to nature and history.”   (Olivier Clement, ON HUMAN BEING,  p 101)

If God had made humans only like all other animals, then we would have no responsibility to take mastery over our own passions or animal nature.   Repentance, love and forgiveness would mean nothing since we could never act by choice but always we would simply act according to our animal nature.  Orthodoxy on the other hand believes humans are not merely in bondage to nature or history.   We can aspire for something greater; we have the image of God in us and the possibility to become like God.   Neither nature nor nurture completely predetermines who we are as a people or as a person.  We can use our free will to engage our environment and others.  We also can truly change  ourselves, history and even our own evolution.   Numerous scientists admit today that humans have evolved to the point that our consciousness now affects and even directs our own evolution.  No longer are we humans completely destined by evolution or our genetics, nor by our materialist nature.  According to these scientists (some who are still atheists but no longer absolute materialists), we humans now shape our evolution and take new and unexpected directions freeing ourselves from materialistic predestination through consciousness (see for example ApingMankindRaymond Tallis’  APING MANKIND:NEUROMANIA, DARWINITIS AND THE MISREPRESENTATION OF HUMANITY ; see also my blog series The Brainless Bible and the Mindless Illusion of Self or find links to the PDF version at Mindlessness, Loss of Consciousness and the Neo-Atheist Denial of Humanity).  We live and move and have our being in God (Acts 17:28) – God, the Holy Trinity, becomes the very ‘space’ in which we work out our salvation.

Nevertheless, humans in the modern world, influenced by scientific materialism, sometimes completely fail to see humans as anything but soulless material, mindlessly being pushed through history by the cause and effect of physics.  In the 19th Century many Christians warned that the effects of scientific materialism would be the overthrow of God’s lordship and the establishment of humans as the ultimate divine beings. This thinking may have manifested itself in the 20th Century with the development of atheistic fascism and communism (in which the human leaders became ‘gods’ not answerable to anyone since no power was greater than themselves).  While Orthodoxy aspired to an ideal that with God all things were possible for humanity, atheistic materials proclaimed without God all things were permissible.  Freed from the constraints of God-breathed rationality, of conscience, or the need for love for one another and repentance, all things became permissible to humanity.   The slaughter of millions of human beings was the result.

Dostoyevsky discussed the nature of man’s freedom in all his main novels.  . . . His conclusion was that, having freed himself from belief in God, man was bound to deify himself, to put himself above all moral laws, to proclaim that everything was permissible, for if God did not exist then man was the lord of creation.   This assertion of his own absolute freedom brought man face to face with the presence in his soul of dark and irrational forces which dragged man from his high pedestal and enslaved him by establishing their iron control over his personality.  As soon as man declared that everything was lawful he became a helpless victim of his own passions, fears and doubts.  . . . Dostoyevsky shows that suffering lies in the very nature of man as a free and morally responsible being, that nothing can eliminate it as long as man remains what he is, and that the purpose of human evolution is not to abolish suffering, but to explain its meaning, for only those who are not afraid of pain are matured and truly free people.”  (Nicholas Zernov, THREE RUSSIAN PROPHETS, pp 90, 92-93)

adolf_hitlerChristians believed that suffering could have a meaning for the salvation of humanity, to bring us to Godlikeness.  Instead in the 20th Century, suffering became the means for some humans to attain their ends: the domination over and subjugation of all other humans, in total godlessness.   God was no longer part of humanity’s aspiration.  Humans wanted for themselves what they imagined was the absolute, uncontested tyrannical and demonic power of the God in whom they no longer believed.   They wanted this imagined power for themselves in order to subject the world to their distorted and evil ends.

However, scientific materialism did not stop evolving.  After the 20th Century’s two world wars, even some materialists too turned away from the scientific experiments of humanistic rationalism, moving to reject not only God, but the notion of humans as god as well.  Scientific atheism decided there is nothing in the world but empirical materialism, so many came to reject all notions of human conscience, consciousness or free will as sheer illusion.  Perhaps this was shaped by the horrendous failures of 20th Century humanistic rationalism and materialism to deal with the reality of human sin and the suffering it inflicts on all.   The answer to “sin” provided by 19th and 20th Century atheistic materialism and humanistic rationalism was an effort by certain ideologues to kill all those whom they designated as being “the problem” whether they be Jews, capitalists, Christians, the rich, Slavs or politically incorrect.  Their better world could emerge only when any challenge to their thinking or people who failed to meet their ideas of a perfected humanity were eliminated.  So the world was plunged into the bloodiest century ever in its history, all to attain an atheistic ideal of a perfected world.  The world of atheistic materialism unleashed the forces of sin from the fallen world onto all of humanity.

ZoneInterestThis is not to deny that the Christian effort to contain human passions, sin and the world of the fall, had sometimes itself relied on worldly or imperial methods.  In the the 20th Century the world rebelled against a church which itself was not being a beacon of light or the incarnation of God’s love.  The end result of that effort, however,  was not a deified human or a humanity freed from ignorance.  Humans with no idea of God or spirituality proved themselves to be inhuman and no saviors of humanity or the world, rather they opposite, there was dehumanizing of both the oppressed and their oppressors (for what to me was a rather terrifying look into how fascism dehumanized victims and oppressors see Martin Amis’ The Zone of Interest: A novel).

“In today’s world, psychology, pedagogy, and psychiatry—all of them based on a non-Orthodox Christian anthropology—ignore and are silent about the reality of sin.  Yet sin after the fall is an anthropological reality.  It does not disappear because we try to persuade ourselves that it does not exist.  There exists only one way for man, the creature of God, to find freedom from guilt and weight of sin: through forgiveness by his Maker and Creator.  Then, truly, man is at peace, liberated from the interior contradictions that create in him anxieties, neuroses and psychopathy.  Then, indeed, he lives in the freedom of God.”    (Archimandrite George Capsanis,  THE EROS OF REPENTANCE, p 21)

There is a truth that humans will be humans.  Humans sinned before the Law was given (Romans 5:13).  Humans freed from the constraints of God and religion, continue to commit evil.  The force of sin is real in the world whether we believe in God or not.  Humans having free will are capable of choosing evil, it is a real choice in the world.  Pretending there is no such thing as evil, doesn’t not make humanity better able to deal with reality.

The solution for humanity is what it has been from the beginning: to admit our weaknesses, our faults, our temptations, our passions, and our sins through repentance in order to seek God’s mercy.  Our path forward is to recognize we humans are not the greatest power in the universe.  There are other forces capable of leading us: sin, evil and God are all real in the cosmos and manifest themselves in the empirical and materialistic universe.  God has provided us with the possibility to cope and manage with forces greater than ourselves.  Our rational nature, properly exercised, can lead to our choosing humility, wisdom, love, repentance and forgiveness.  In other words, built into our very human existence, implanted in our selves is the path, door or ladder to God.

Peter Kreeft notes however that despite our past experience and history, we humans still have tendencies to reject God:

“We extol action over contemplation, doing over being, analysis over intuition, problems over mysteries, success over contentment, conquering over nurturing, the quick fix over lifelong commitment, the prostitute over the mother.”  (BACK TO VIRTUE, pp 21)

Ever affected by our desire for immediate gratification, we end up as myopic creatures, looking to our self-centered and narcissistic satisfaction.  Still God gives us hope and says we can aspire to heaven and to Godlikeness.  The possibility is before us, if we have the eyes to see and the willingness to deny the self and take up the cross to follow Christ.

“When he (man) lives in full liberty, in abundance and prosperity, then he grows in body and does not grow in spirit, does not bring forth fruits – good works; whilst when he lives in straitness, in poverty, sickness, misfortune, and afflictions, in a word, when his animal nature is crushed, then he grows spiritually, bears flowers of virtue, ripens and brings forth rich fruits.  This is why the path of those who love God is a narrow one.”  (St. John of Kronstadt, MY LIFE IN CHRIST Part 1, p 294)

ww2russiaThe solution for human dissatisfaction in the world is not found only in producing greater materialism and materialistic prosperity.  Wealth is not a curse nor an evil in itself; like everything given to us in the world, it is a gift from God which we can potentially use for love and to the glory of God.  The delusion occurs when we imagine that by our increasing materialistic goods that the world of the fall and/or fallen human beings will be perfected and turned away from sin, selfish passion or evil.   What gets lost in the focus on wealth as a panacea is that the human is also a spiritual being, and our spiritual nature, our souls if we will, need attention as well.  Otherwise, ignoring the soul,  we enslave humanity to materialism and a world with no hope for aspiring to God.  That was the world imagined and fought for by communists and fascists in the 20th Century.  We already know the results of those ideologies.

Next:  God became Human