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Thursday, September 12, 2013

How It Works With a Loving God

So, let's assume I'm not way off and that God is Love and He loves us in a divine manner, which is appropriate for a Divine Person to do.  After all, God is Divine, and that means He does divine things, and for Him not to do divine things would mean that He really wasn't acting like Himself, right?

This is, by the way, why we say that Christ had to be completely human as we are, otherwise He could not be human at all.  You can't be a 'little human'... it is an all-or-nothing proposition.  We believe that He had a complete humanity in every way.  What He did with that humanity was what made the difference.

That is action.  God acts according to who He is.  So, if God loves, how is He going to love?  Well, He is going to love in a divine way.  That means he will do it better than human love.  It will also be greater, more plentiful... but it is still love.  It can be rejected by others, but that does not make it go away.  Love endures all things, even resistance from us.  We don't have to accept it, but rejecting God's love does not alter God's love towards us.  After all, He is substantially 'bigger' than us and does not have all the hangups we have of pride and vanity.

If you believe that God does have those hangups, you must be worshiping Zeus.

The final testimony to God's love is how He treats us in the big picture of life... and death.

Here's Pope Francis, the new Roman Catholic pope, trying to get at this topic from his perspective.

Now, the problem here is that the story is being reported, and reporters (I was a journalist, so I know how to dish on the media) are notorious for getting stories dead wrong because with a looming headline you oftentimes can't get enough background information to actually understand what you are reporting on.  So, you have a pope making a theological statement in common parlance which the reporter probably doesn't really understand at all.

Then again, there's also the issue of translation.  Lots of things get lost right there.

What Pope Francis is hinting at is that old Christian debate about Apokatastasis.  In a nutshell, there is a question about whether this infinite love of God can really be resisted for all eternity, and whether people who reject God in this life because of 'conscience' (for example, someone who loses his faith because he was molested by a priest or was raised with the idea of an angry, judgmental god) will necessarily be damned.

We Orthodox don't usually use the term 'conscience' in this way, knowing that plenty of us do absolutely horrible things 'in good conscience.'  But, he is getting at something that makes perfect sense from the perspective of the Church.  The Orthodox Church has always held the idea that even the dead that lived horribly in this life can embrace this divine love and even find eternal rest.  That's because, in the end it is this infinite love that embraces all men and not only restores whatever injustices we have received, but also fixes that which we have broken though our own sin.

Think about how important this is when considering the Steps:
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
What about those whom we have harmed but we cannot make amends to?  How is our making amends going to help them?

This is where the Loving God comes in and says, "I will fix what you cannot."

Even our worst evil is no match for God's infinite love.  Whatever we do, He can outdo it.  We believe that He does.  So, even when our evil results in people losing their faith in God and perhaps even hating Him, His love is still greater than that and can heal what we have broken.

The process of recovery is one where we see this divine Love even in the presence of the evils done to us and those evils we are guilty of.  The Holy Fathers understood this.  Sure, they pushed the notion of joining the Church and being baptised, but that's because these things lead us to this experience of God's love.  That is what salvation is... the path of receiving this Love through our own free will that is freely offered.

The question comes whether man can resist this love.  The answer is there: yes.  Man is free to choose even when all reality shows him otherwise.  God is not looking for ways to exclude us, though He knows that this way for us is difficult in this life.  This is why He says, 

"Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.   Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it." Matthew 7:13-15

So, then let's look at a different verse:

Then one said to Him, “Lord, are there few who are saved?”
And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able.  When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from,’  then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’  But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’  There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out.  They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God.  And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last.” Luke 13:23-30
The warning here is to those who supposedly 'know God' ("We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.") but are actually 'workers of iniquity.'  Hypocrites.  remember that He was addressing the Pharisees outside Jerusalem.  It was a particular warning.  He was telling them that God does not 'know where you are from' when you are engaging in false teaching in His name ("... you taught in our streets.") and did not listen.

When God says that He does not know where you are from, it is because you have made yourself a citizen of another land.  This is our choice, but we have to live with it.  We cannot be a citizen of a foreign land.  We also cannot remain outside the house forever, but then resent it when the door is finally closed.  If they had come in when they were supposed to, then the door would not have been closed.

You have to go into the meeting room in order to get sober.  You can't stand outside smoking all night and still expect to enjoy sobriety.  It is the same way with God.  We do, at some point, have to come in.

For the Orthodox, the door is shut at the Last Judgment, and so we have time... but we just don't know how long and so we should hurry.  But, we know that God will keep those doors open to us until that time, and all we have to do is step.  If we prepare ourselves, He will prepare us.

He will fix what is broken, and healed those who are wounded.  

Just remember, a party is not about who chooses not to show up.  It is about those who make the effort to attend.  We all receive this invitation, and God will even help us get there.

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