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Sin, chastisement, punishment and suffering


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#1 Ray Kaliss

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Posted 31 August 2008 - 02:37 PM

New thread grafted from the thread "Gay Love"

Regarding your above statement, I would refer you to Genesis 3:21 which is immediately after the fall of man:

One of the consequences of the fall is God clothing us with 'tunics of skin', This is better than a sudden and complete death which could have been the consequence for Adam and Eve and is the first biblical evidence of God's mercy. But why did God fashion us this way due to the fall? The answer lies in the next sentence of Scripture (Genesis 3:22):

Now, we see the second early evidence of God's divine mercy. How? Because had Adam and Eve stayed in the Garden of Eden and also tasted of the Tree of Life (which is not the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil), then our separation from God, that is, our death, would be eternal. God saved us from eternal estrangement by allowing the introduction of decay and physical death to these 'tunics of skin'.


With all due respect to the fathers of the church ...

only a few of them knew how to read the cosmogony of Moses (the narrations of Genesis) .. these narrations are certainly not a historical record as we today would expect them to be. And as the knowledge of biblical antiquities ebbed away ... the Greek fathers lent to the narrations of Genesis a Greek tendency to read them literally as a historical record.

I say again ... these narrations are a cosmogony... the 'cosmogony of Moses' is exactly what the very early Council called these narrations. The book of Genesis is the epic of the nation of Israel just as the stories of Homer are the epic of Greece and the Ennead of Virgil is the epic of Rome and the story of Gilgamesh is the epic of the Chaldeans. A cosmogony. A cosmogony.

"One of the consequences of the fall is God clothing us with 'tunics of skin',"


think about this my friend. What you are saying .. is that Adam had no skin before the fall. He had no flesh. How then did he walk in the garden? how then did he eat the fruit? Perhaps he was just bones at the time? but bones are part of the flesh body .. so then what do you imagine Adam to be without flesh and bones??

There has always been two ways to interpret the narrations of Genesis .. one way is literally (as a historical record) and the other way is metaphorically (which is how a cosmogony is read). The allegorical reading of Genesis when done by the fathers - is called the spiritual meaning.

One should read a book of history (chronicles) as history, a book of psalms as poetry and songs for worship, a book of prophecy as allegorical, an epistle as a letter, and a cosmogony as a cosmogony.

Think about it .. God (who can do all things) needed six days to make the world?? What he can do in one instant - he needed six days to accomplish? And the sun (that by which we measure a day as the earth rotates) was not created till the fourth day. How then were there three days (measured by the sun) before the sun even existed?

Adam is not even a name ... it is a description which is roughly equivalent to the word 'human' or 'man-kind' ... it can mean one single human, a group of humans, or all humanity in total. Eve is not a name either .. it too is a description and the woman received it only after the fall. No one else in the history of all Israel up to the time of Christ had a 'name' of Adam or a name of Eve .. why?? because these are not Jewish names. What father would name his son 'Mankind' ?? when he knows the word designates the entire species.

The tunics of flesh you speak of is a misunderstanding of the words ... the Hebrew means something similar to 'a covering over the flesh' and has often been portrayed in art as a fig leaf (a symbol of the laws of Israel) placed over the genitals. A clear symbol that our powers of generation are to be restrined by the social laws.

Eden means something similar to 'paradise' and our Lord refers to it while on the cross "Today you will be with me in paradise." it is not a physical place with a geographical location - it is rather and orientation of the mind. The garden represents all-Providence ... a condition (of the mind and heart) where we are aware that God's is providing for us all we need. A man who lives by Providence - lives in the this 'garden'. A man who does his own self-providence lives outside the garden.

The Old Testament (a lessor understanding of God) believed in a God who chastises (punishes) the sins of Israel ... but the New Testament did away with that older and lessor understanding of God. The chastisement of Jesus (punished for our sins) was the *end* of chastisement. This is one of the major themes of the gospels ... any Jew reading the gospels would immediatly see that the chastisements so enumerated in the Old Testement ... culminated in the crucifixtion ... takem off of humanity and put upon Jesus.

We are to understand that God loves us unconditionally - yet through our feedom we can chose to live by Providence or not. We can follow conscience or we can follow our lower animal nature (which has no capacity to know God). WE can be filled with knowing God or we can select to be without God.

Let me appeal to your reason. If you punish your own son ... the reason you punish him is that you know that your son is more capable in some matter but has willingly chosen not to live up to his capability.

A visitor to you house lays a pack of ciggetes on your kitchen table. If your son (a baby of 2 years old) reaches out his little hand and takes a ciggerette - do you punish him? Do you punish someone who does not have the capability of knowing what a ciggerette is and how harmful they can be?? Do you punish the bay for 'sealing' when the 2 year old has no concept of property ownership??

Yet if your son at 17 takes a ciggerete out of the visitors pack - you KNOW he knows better than to do that. You know he has willfully disregarded what you taught him. While you can not change his heart through punishment - you can modify his social behavior through chastisement.

Punishment and chastisements has never ever once in all recorded time and history .. changed a man's heart. It may change his physical behavior ... but it can not change his heart. The person punished may just as well hate you for causing him pain. He may just as well (as any other choice) resent you from then on.

This is why Isaahs has God say about Israel ...

4 Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.

5 Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.

6 From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment.


With the New Testament gospels we are to understand that any idea that God punishes or chastises - is gone. Ended. We are not to think of God as a king anymore - but now we are to think of him as as a father.Jesus (who understand the unchanging God so much better than Moses did) raises our understanding with his own intimate knowledge of God - his father and our father.

You must undestand the bible as a progression in understanding the nature of God. God never 'wanted' blood scrafices of anmials (as if that pleased him in some way) but - Israel as a people need that step in understanding God. There was no need (on God's part) to sacrifice his son - it was WE who needed that in the progression of humanity in understanding the nature of God.

God has built into us humans a 'homeing' devise .. it is .. happiness. We have no rest untill we rest in God. This is not because God punishes us for not resting in him - but rather it is simply the condition of the lack of God. WE rise to God by way of glory to glory ... innner peace and happiness ... this is the compass which guides us to God.

We are Chritians of the New witness (testament) and the gospels. Jesus showed us our father .. there is no need to return to the erlier uderstanding (Old Testament) of God as some type of emotional Greek god with human emotions and gets angry or jelous etc...

Shall we say that fear of pujishment and pain - is equal to - love??

God does not want conscripts - he wants volunteers.

Peace to you and to your holy church.
-ray

Edited by Herman Blaydoe, 31 August 2008 - 05:25 PM.
Fixed some typos and corrected quote formatting


#2 Ray Kaliss

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Posted 31 August 2008 - 05:51 PM

Forgive all the typos - I was called in to work and had to leave quickly.

-ray

#3 Antonios

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Posted 31 August 2008 - 05:54 PM

Dear Mr. Kaliss,

Since this new thread is a response to my last post in another thread, I will paste below my post to keep things in order.

Originally Posted by Ray Kaliss Posted Image
Posted Image

I don't know where the idea that pain is a chastisement came from ...

Dear Mr. Kaliss,

Welcome to monachos!

Regarding your above statement, I would refer you to Genesis 3:21 which is immediately after the fall of man:

Also for Adam and his wife the LORD God made tunics of skin, and clothed them.

One of the consequences of the fall is God clothing us with 'tunics of skin', This is better than a sudden and complete death which could have been the consequence for Adam and Eve and is the first biblical evidence of God's mercy. But why did God fashion us this way due to the fall? The answer lies in the next sentence of Scripture (Genesis 3:22):

Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the LORD God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken.

Now, we see the second early evidence of God's divine mercy. How? Because had Adam and Eve stayed in the Garden of Eden and also tasted of the Tree of Life (which is not the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil), then our separation from God, that is, our death, would be eternal. God saved us from eternal estrangement by allowing the introduction of decay and physical death to these 'tunics of skin'.

So, we die daily with the assurance that eventually, our physical bodies will die. Part of this very experience of death is pain. And this is most easily demonstrated by the aging and deterioration of the 'tunics of skin' we have been clothed with due to the fall.

Is this chastisement? Well, I would say yes and no. Yes because the response from God allows for the introduction of pain and death. No because from His Divine Wisdom, this is how He will eventually redeem us. Remember, the prodigal son never knew what true life was nor how much his father loved and cared and provided for him until his father let him learn it for himself.

In Christ,
Antonios

Just to quickly add, this does not mean our bodies are 'bad', which is consistent with early Christian heresies, but rather they are a gift and a means to return to Him and become son of His by grace. The Incarnate Word of God is the ultimate divine revelation of the sanctification of these 'tunics of skin' and the ultimate proof of the promise of our salvation and our reconciliation with the our Father and Creator.

''

In your post, you make many assertive statements which I find foreign and inaccurate. Unfortunately, I do not have the time today to answer your post as well as I would like to (work calls!), but I hope others can perhaps try to shed some understanding.

In Christ,
Antonios

#4 Antonios

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Posted 31 August 2008 - 06:04 PM

I would also add before I go that there are many threads in this forum which have discussed these topics quite extensively, and I would recommend if you have the time to search and read through them. Be fore warned, however, that you will find pages and pages of these discussions! :)

#5 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 31 August 2008 - 06:13 PM

think about this my friend. What you are saying .. is that Adam had no skin before the fall. He had no flesh. How then did he walk in the garden? how then did he eat the fruit? Perhaps he was just bones at the time? but bones are part of the flesh body .. so then what do you imagine Adam to be without flesh and bones??


Whatever is being said, it is certainly different than what you think. How was the Resurrected Christ able to enter the locked room, appear and disappear at will, and be raised bodily into Heaven? He was also able to eat (fish and honeycomb, the breaking of bread at Emmaus), and yet His body was something different than our bodies. I don't think He looked like a skeleton. I don't think that Christ's body was totally identical after His Resurrection than before it save in appearances only. I don't think that I have to think very hard to believe that perhaps the pre-lapsarian bodies of Adam and Eve could well have been different than when they were given the "tunics of flesh" after the fall.

Do you think our resurrected bodies will be exactly like the bodies we have now? Think about that.

#6 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 31 August 2008 - 08:28 PM

Dear all,

A few thoughts come to mind as I read the first few posts in this new thread. I write them here in no particular order, and with no connecting comments -- just as first-go responses to various interesting points:

First, for the discussion of the basic question of 'literal' / 'metaphorical' (or 'historical' / 'symbolical', or whichever other terms one wishes), please see the many, many threads that already exist on this matter. It is best that they not simply be repeated and re-hashed here.

Second, a narrative being cosmological or cosmogonic doesn't itself insist on it being either metaphorical/symbolic or historical/literal in method. Cosmology is the engagement with beginnings, and the significance of beginnings and archetypes for present reality. (As I have said often before, Genesis is fundamentally a book about the present, not the past; it is, like all Christological literature - which is how the Church understands the book - centred principally in the now, rather than the then.) (As a second aside, 'cosmogony' refers to the specific narrative of the coming-into-being of creation; 'cosmology' is the slightly - importantly - different practice of engaging with the whole meaning of beginnings writ large. Genesis is a cosmology that contains a cosmogony, if we wish to get technical.)

Third, the notion that the in the fathers' reading of Genesis there is a 'Greek tendency' to read them 'literally as a historical record', is false on both counts. This is neither a Greek tendency in cosmological reading (past and concurrent Pagan and philosophical readings of cosmology tended to be radically symbolical and hyperbolic); nor is it the tendency of the fathers in any unqualified way.

Fifth, on the identification of 'garments of skin': the claim that this is equatable to a fig-leaf garment is quite inaccurate. The narrative in the text holds these as quite distinct: Adam fashions for himself the tunic of fig-leaves; God in response replaces this with a tunic of animal skins. In just one patristic reading (that of St Irenaeus), this indicates Adam's immature over-repentance (since fig leaves are, in his understanding, prickly and uncomfortable) and God's solace and mercy in providing something more comfortable, more suitable to true repentance and transformation.

Fifth, and also on the garments of skin: this is a classic case of scriptural testimony revealing multiple layers of meaning to the fathers. It at times is interpreted as an aspect of material existence; at others as an indication of the passions, and sometimes particularly the fallen embrace of the passions; at others, it is an indication of Adam's repentance and God's mercy.

Sixth, on the term 'Adam', it is incorrect to claim that it is not a proper name. It is clearly used as such in the ancient world - including by Christ's closest followers. But it is true that it is a name built on textual revelation. It doesn't quite mean 'man' or 'man-kind', as has been suggested; it is a derivative of the Hebrew adama, which means earth, or dust. Thus, according to Genesis 2.7, the Lord God forms Adam out of the adama. There is no elegant way to translate 'Adam', which really amounts to 'earth-creature'. But this does not mean it is not a name; and the Gospel testimony of the Church is clear in its personal usage.

Seventh, language of Genesis as a 'narrative of the epic of Israel' is lovely.

Eighth, it is incorrect to suggest that the New Testament reveals an end to God's chastisement of Israel, or his people as a whole. Chastisement is perfected, not abolished.

Ninth, it is not in the heritage of the Church to claim that the Old Testament represents 'a lesser understanding of God'. It is indeed God's own self-revelation, not some unadvanced intellectual project. The New Testament does not disclose a new or higher revelation of God: it discloses the fulfilment of the Covenant of the Old Testament.

I think that's more than enough for now!

INXC, Dcn Matthew

#7 Owen Jones

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Posted 01 September 2008 - 12:25 AM

Mr. Kallis is following the views expressed by Rene Gerard post conversion. Gerard started out as a literary critic, looking at the common theme of sacrifice in literature, until his conversion to Catholic Christianity, at which time he began to speak in terms of Christ's sacrifice as the end of the need for sacrifice to God.

#8 Matthew Panchisin

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Posted 01 September 2008 - 05:12 AM

Dear Ray,

I sure hope you stay around a bit.

I'm sure that Father Deacon Matthew and Owen did not mean to offend you. You may find discussing these matters more interesting and good.

In Christ,

Matthew Panchisin

#9 Antonios

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Posted 01 September 2008 - 07:16 AM

I do not know who Gerad is. You are wrong to assume of me that I am following his views as I do not know him nor his views to follow them.

Most of my views come from saints, theologians, and mystics in the history of the church (I favor the Alexandrian fathers) and I am shocked that the previous posted (I assume he is an administrator) has no clue to that. I could quote Eastern fathers who call Genesis the "cosmogony of Moses" and I can make the difference between a cosmogony and a cosmology (my critic has confused the two as similar). Plus I can quote St. Paul's letter where he tells us that the revelation to Israel (the Old Testament) was inferior compared to the FULL revelation of God through his son Jesus Christ. And I can quote fathers of the church (and Orthodox theologians) who express that God does not punish us and that this view is an Old Testement view ... superseeded by the gospels were we now undestand that God is our father who longs for our return (like the Prodical son) ... but he does NOT not go out to chastise and punish us. God invites us to his table - he does not beat us untill we decide to love him.

If you people like a Chritianity where you feel 'right' by way of misunderstanding and pre-judgements of others as 'wrong' - you can have it. That is not for me. That is the way to divide Chritianity - which I understand was something the Lord asked us - NOT to do.

Love one another - means to make great efforts to understand your brother. I have been misunderstood and labeled and pre-judge here .. but I see no reason to try and defend myself nor prove what my views really are or where (which fathers in the church) they are founded.

I now leave.

A short stay.

You all seem to be much better Chritians than I.

Peace be to you and to your Holy Church.
-ray


Dear Mr. Kaliss,

I am sad to read your post above. I cannot speak for either Owen or Father Deacon Matthew (who can both do a very good job speaking on their own), but I fear you may be over-reacting to their posts. My impression is that Owen was pointing out the similarities between your initial post on this thread with those views as proposed by Rene Gerard. I don't understand why you would take such offense to this, especially since you don't even know who Rene Gerard is or what he has written. Perhaps you would agree with Owen if you did the research on this particular person.

As for Father Deacon Matthew, you should know that he is the Head of Theology and Religious Studies at Leeds Trinity and All Saints and Fellow and former head of theology at Greyfriars Hall, University of Oxford. Perhaps he has a bit more understanding of the early Christian Church than you do and you might actually learn from him. Lord knows many of us have learned from him here on this blessed forum which he has developed.

If you came to learn, than you must be prepared to learn. Calling others prejudice and implying that they are poor Christians which cause division within the Church simply because they disagree with you or pointed out perceived errors or inaccuracies in your belief system does nothing more than leave you in your ignorance and false pride.

I sincerely pray you do not leave here in this manner since no one here wishes you ill will, but rather that you open your mind and your heart to what precious things you might find within the Church.

In Christ,
Antonios

#10 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 01 September 2008 - 04:03 PM

Dear all,

If others will permit, there is another point that has been returned, which I think could bear fruit in further discussion. In my earlier post, I wrote:

Eighth, it is incorrect to suggest that the New Testament reveals an end to God's chastisement of Israel, or his people as a whole. Chastisement is perfected, not abolished.


To which this has been offered in reply:

I can quote fathers of the church (and Orthodox theologians) who express that God does not punish us and that this view is an Old Testement view ... superseeded by the gospels were we now undestand that God is our father who longs for our return (like the Prodical son) ... but he does NOT not go out to chastise and punish us. God invites us to his table - he does not beat us untill we decide to love him.


The issues at stake in this discussion cannot be understood properly if 'chastisement' and 'punishment' are used interchangeably. We need to be very careful with such terms, and how we use them, since they in fact mean quite different things and can lead to problematic theological positions if they are conflated.

'Chastisement' is from the Greek word paideuo, 'to teach', and fundamentally means to correct through instruction. 'Punishment' is a retributive act, which fundamentally means to inflict a certain suffering (even if earned) in response to an act.

Given this, it is incorrect to say that the Gospel reveals a view, different from the Old Testament view, in which God no longer punishes man; for in the proper definition of punishment in this manner, God has never been a God who punishes man. God does not inflict harm for harm's sake.

It would be equally wrong to say that, in the Christian life of the Gospel, God does not chastise man - for he clearly does. Much of Christ's words in the Gospels speak to the manner in which God is chastising his people -- since chastisement is part of loving redemption. The book of the Apocalypse (Revelation), shows the fulfilment and perfection of this chastisement as the New Jerusalem, the heavenly city, the truest and fullest communion of the creature with his creator.

When the fathers speak of a changed relationship of chastisement and wrath from the old covenant to the new, they are almost always speaking in terms of a movement away from chastisement based in simplistic categories of whether one has abrogated a simple legal prohibition or not (which chastisement is done away with, since the relationship of creation to God in the incarnation no longer operates on such terms), to a chastisement based in deliberately rejecting the relation of experience by which the Spirit transforms the heart in Christ.

This is precisely the kind of chastisement witnessed in the parable of the prodigal son. In the strictures of the legal code, a son who had behaved in such a manner to his family and father would have been outcast, or stoned. Consequence is met in simple terms, based on infracting simple laws. But in the new covenant, it is not the infracting of the legal code that is the real source of the chastisement, it is the son's condition of heart. And so his exile is the chastisement the father offers him.

It is on the cross that Christ offers the full chastisement of humanity, for it is the cross that calls the hardened heart to him, crucifies and kills it, and welcomes it into the resurrection.

INXC, Dcn Matthew

#11 Jonathan Golding

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Posted 02 September 2008 - 06:25 AM

I have to say I am finding this an absorbing discussion so far. I particularly appreciate your explanation, Prof. Steenberg, regarding chastisement and punishment and find it very illuminating. Do you see all suffering we undergo in this life as chastisement? Or would you make a similar distinction between various other kinds of suffering and that suffering which is educative in the sense of Paideia?

#12 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 02 September 2008 - 09:52 AM

Dear Mr Golding, you wrote:

I have to say I am finding this an absorbing discussion so far. [...] Do you see all suffering we undergo in this life as chastisement? Or would you make a similar distinction between various other kinds of suffering and that suffering which is educative in the sense of Paideia?


Thank you for the comments and question. You raise (wittingly or unwittingly!) an interesting distinction, which is that between the chastisement offered by God, and the experiences we undergo as human recipients of God's love.

As to the first, the scriptures are very clear: God acts only in love, only in goodness. This is so much a part of his nature, that the prayers of the Church refer to it as 'thy customary goodness', or 'thy usual loving-kindness'. All God's acts are good, because acts are the fruit of the will, and God's will is ever and always for the good of his creature. For this reason we can - we must - say that God's acts towards humankind are always grounded in that goodness and love, and thus are consoling and uplifting when this is most beneficial to man, and chastising when this instead (or as well) is needed. Chastisement is, after all, an aspect of love, rather than a thing opposed to it.

However, the experiences man undergoes are effected not only by what is done to and for him, but also the condition of his heart. With a hardened heart, a word of love can be a terrible torment (this the torture of hell). The condition of humankind, mired in its sin, is to be broken off of the genuine experience of love, of God himself; and in this condition, one sees the world debased and experiences the whole of life in a fallen, corrupted manner. So love easily becomes lust; righteous anger becomes wicked hatred; solitude is experienced as loneliness; and - here we get directly to the matter at hand - chastisement is experienced as punishment. That which is done for the building up of love can be experienced as the infliction of anger, wrath and pain, not because this is what is actually being offered, but because our division from God conforms our experiences to the nature of our sin.

A classic example of this is from the same parable of the Prodigal Son that has been discussed above. However, it does not come from the portion of the parable that is most often quoted and remembered: that of the younger son who lives as a profligate, goes into his own exile, repents, and returns. It is from the parable's second half, which is one of the most insightful passages in the whole of the Gospel, despite the fact that it is all too often ignored. Following the prodigal son's repentance, Christ carries on with this:

Luke 15.25-28: "Now the father's older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And the servant said to him, 'Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf'. But he was angry and would not go in."

The father has acted out of love (later the famous phrase: 'for your brother was once lost, but now is found'), and it is a love that should bring joy also to the eldest son. This the father clearly wishes - 'therefore the father came out, and pleaded with him'. But the son will not receive the love the father offers; he rejects it. 'He was angry, and would not go in'. So the eldest son experiences his father's love in anger, and so is cut off from the feast - from communion with his father and family - by the broken manner in which he has received his father's compassion.

In this same manner, the chastisement offered by God to his creation can be experienced for the love that it is, or in a manner that transforms it into punitive, vengeful, angry wrath - never because this is what God offers, but because this is what we experience through our wanton sin.

Those are a few initial reactions to your question. Your own thoughts are, of course, very welcome indeed - as are those of others.

INXC, Dcn Matthew

#13 Owen Jones

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Posted 02 September 2008 - 01:53 PM

Origen wrote:

God is a consuming fire and according to our inner disposition He either illuminates or burns.

I see the New Testament as exploring every possible means of making this point, in terms of the transfiguration of the Hebraic law on the one hand, using Hebraic analogies to explore this new experience, to experimenting with Greek neologisms that we might lump under the broad term mystical -- to be able to come to grips with the new experience. The purpose of this is so that everyone can find something to latch on to. The same is true for the Fathers. Their sermons explore broad estuaries in which every cove, inlet and spit of land is explored in order to find the words necessary, to find the link or the hook that is necessary to catch the fish. Hey, not unlike a fly fisherman! And the problem in our reading is that we find our hook, and we assume that's everyone's hook, to exclusion of all else.

There is a kind of holy terror in the writings of many of the Fathers and great ascetics in which they explore their own fear of God's punishment of their pridefulness or potential for pridefulness in thinking that they somehow have got it. If we miss this in our reading, it is not the end of the world for us, precisely because there are many other hooks there for us. But we should be careful not to make our hook the definitive one for everyone else. Christianity is not just one thing. It's everything.

St. Maximos writes that it is possible to "relapse into a state of non-existence." So the implication is that without constant diligence the believer is doomed to think that somehow he has got it. Now where does punishment and chastisement come in? It is not that there is no punishment for sin any longer, as some think. It is that we are no longer stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Many people are going nuts and seeking out psychologists because they believe they are in an intolerable situation spiritually because they cannot possibly succeed in obeying God's commandments. So one alternative is to simply say that there is no longer any punishment or chastisement. Another alternative is to simply avoid the issue of perfection altogether, and define salvation very crudely in terms of a personal faith commitment that guarantees salvation. Many simply argue that God does not have the power over suffering that people once believed. Suffering becomes just stuff that happens, has nothing to do with God.

So the issue is really what to make of our suffering and that of the world, in this in-between time. The answer to that question makes us what we are.


As for Gerard, he offers what I think is a somewhat truncated view, valuable as it is, of a change in the nature of sacrifice. It is valuable, but it is not the whole picture. That one may be unfamiliar with his work does not change the fact that Gerard represents a certain psychological response that is not unique to him.

#14 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 02 September 2008 - 03:18 PM

Fr Dn Matthew wrote:


In this same manner, the chastisement offered by God to his creation can be experienced for the love that it is, or in a manner that transforms it into punitive, vengeful, angry wrath - never because this is what God offers, but because this is what we experience through our wanton sin.


Just to add something from reading Fr Dn Matthew's post & that relates very much to pastoral experience. Pain and distress come directly from our own sin. That is, the pain and distress of various trials is the direct consequence first of human sin. Left as such this consequence would result only in pain & distress that ultimately would end in death.

However in Christ what is the consequence of sin is transformed into that which gives life; ie from destructive pain and distress it becomes chastisement unto life. Here what is meant as chastisement unto life by God is finally seen as such by our own willing recognition and active participation in what Christ has made out of death & sin.

I only wanted to point that this out so that chastisement is also seen as the effects of sin as providentially transformed through Christ as the path to life. Pastorally as we face different trials we are taught that these are to our benefit. But such are often seen outwardly as if God sends them just so that we learn patience.

Such however misses something essential and transformative as God intends such trials. The risk is that we see God as the cause of pain & distress when it actually is He it is Who transforms such into doorways unto life. In other words in terms of what we are discussing here in Christ the brute effect of sin is transformed into the chastement which if willingly undergone becomes the means of finding life.

I have to add that chastisement also refers to the providential and mysterious manner of such trials so that they accord exactly to what is personally needed by us unto our salvation at a given time. Again learning to recognize and accept seems to be so central to being either the prodigal or hard hearted son.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#15 Jonathan Golding

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Posted 02 September 2008 - 08:01 PM

Dear Prof. Steenberger,

Thank you for your kind response. While I appreciate what you are saying, the distinction you are making is not precisely what I had in mind. I probably should have been more clear. It seems to me that in any discussion of the suffering of mankind after the fall great care must be taken not to portray God as the author of evil, and to affirm that we do indeed have free will.

Let me explain what I mean. A few years ago, I was quite shocked in reading St. Augustine's explanation of the rape of the virgins in Rome. He says, in effect, that these women were raped either because they had sinned, because they were going to sin, or to teach them humility. Setting aside for a moment the utterly loathsome notion that women can be taught humility by means of sexual assault, I found St. Augustine's assertions quite monochromatic and more reminiscent of Job's commpanions than of a true Christian. It seems to me that this view would make God out to be a kind of hideous cosmic puppet master pulling the strings to perpetrate acts of cruelty and violence in order to chastise.

It would seem to me that we do indeed suffer as the result of human evil freely perpetrated by beings who choose to commit these acts, and that God is in no way responsible for these evil actions. In his infinite wisdom and care for mankind he can certainly use such sufferings to educate the human soul. I am, however, somewhat chary of making a causal link between this type of suffering and the good that God can bring out of it. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on this matter and hope I have not wandered to far afield from the original topic of this thread.

Best Regards,

Jonathan

#16 Aristibule

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Posted 03 September 2008 - 12:01 AM

Thank God for Antioch - the 'literal' view still stands alongside and complementary to the Alexandrian view in the Church (and the Antiochians know it well.) Our 'Hellenism' is really a Hellenic-Semitic synthesis.

What interests me is that the Fathers of Israel, just like their descendants in New Israel, knew that Adam (the person) rested in Zion. His skull was kept in the Foundation Stone, and it was believed his grave was below the place where Christ was crucified (the Church has always represented the Crucifixion with the bones of Adam down below - still there today on the crosses we venerate.)

#17 Owen Jones

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Posted 03 September 2008 - 01:55 AM

Just to quibble a bit, but I don't see the distinction as so much between the literal and the symbolic or whatever the opposite pole is of literal, but between the concrete and the abstract. Not using abstract in a pejorative sense at all here, but in the sense that Greek theologians draw out meaning through a process of intellectual abstraction. They were even ridiculed by many of the desert fathers as being "intellectuals!" And, yes, indeed, they compliment one another.

How do I respond to suffering? And where does it come from? Yes, it comes from within me. This is one of the purposes of ascetic discipline, to relativize the suffering that occurs through some outside event beyond my control. But that suffering that comes from outside causes comes from other human beings. It is compounded by me if I see myself as somehow victimized by it, or as simply a punishment for my sins. As we know from the encounter with the man born blind.

So what about the suffering caused by "natural" disasters. Our theology says that nature has also been corrupted as a result of man's disobedience.

However, one cautionary note. While we might want to say that God does not cause suffering, on the other hand, He did create us knowing in advance that we were going to suffer. So does that mean that He wants us to suffer, or that he even delights in our suffering? Heaven forbid! What it means precisely is that we don't know what God knows, only in tiny fragments from what He wants us to know.

The best modern book on suffering I have read is by Etty Hillesum called "An Interrupted Life: The Diaries of Etty Hillesum." I believe it is entirely Orthodox, although her journey to faith is very unorthodox. Also people might want to take a look at Solzhenitsyn's personal conversion account, approximate mid-point in the 3-volume Gulag Archipelago. It's in Vol 2.

So, does God punish us? I hope so. While my father over did it a bit, I am probably better off than had I never been punished (or chastised). The difference is that God is always just.

#18 Father David Moser

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Posted 03 September 2008 - 03:35 AM

Just to quibble a bit, ...
So, does God punish us? I hope so. While my father over did it a bit, I am probably better off than had I never been punished (or chastised). The difference is that God is always just.


Just to quibble a bit: God is not so much just as He is merciful. If He were simply just, there would be no hope for any of us (well at least for me.

Fr David Moser

#19 Jonathan Golding

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Posted 03 September 2008 - 05:55 AM

Dear Mr. Jones,

You may be right. I certainly never fail to consider the possibility that I may not understand this matter as I ought. An acquaintance of mine once said to me "I am so committed to being right that I am even willing...I am even willing to change my mind." I have attempted to adopt this attitude in all such discussions and it has proved a good friend to me.

But I cannot rid myself of the suspicion that in Saint Augustine's argument we hear the rhetorician speaking more loudly than the pious and humble servant of God. It seems to me a strange and pagan fatalism to assign responsibility for the criminal acts of men to a holy and righteous God.

I certainly would not deny that God chastises us. I certainly would not deny that God is able to bring good out evil. And I certainly would not deny that God has foreknowledge of all that we will undergo. I am simply not certain that all suffering is visited upon us because of our specific sins. Nor am I convinced that God's foreknowledge is the same as causality.

It seemed that in Professor Steenberger's earlier post he was equating God's chastisement with the Father allowing the prodical to exile himself. In this view, if understand correctly, our chastisement is free will itself, or rather the result of our wrong use of this gift. But do we not also suffer things in this life which are not the result of our particular sins, or hardness of heart?

I hope you will forgive me if resort to an analogy to further explore my position.

Let us suppose a wise master woodcarver lives in a village by a forest. He knows that certain reckless young men in the village plan to cut down a valuable tree on his neighbors property and allow it to rot. Perhaps the woodcarver even attempts to dissuade the youths from their evil act. But in the end the tree is hewn down, and the neighbor grieves its loss. Yet in the night of sorrow the woodcarver takes what was cast aside, and by his art makes from it all manner of useful and beautiful objects which he then presents to his neighbor.

It seems to me that this is how our lives often are. Christ says to us in this life you will have trials, but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world. And just as in my story the woodcarver did not cause the tree to be cut down. So too God does not cause the evil that men commit. Yet in his infinite goodness he takes the result of men's evil actions and fashions these into our instruction, and our edification.

This is how I am inclined to think on this matter, but I look forward to hearing how others view this topic.

In Peace,

Jonathan

Edited by M.C. Steenberg, 03 September 2008 - 08:35 AM.
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#20 Fabio Lins

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Posted 05 September 2008 - 02:55 PM

Just to share a couple of personal thoughts on these issues.

As for the literal or alegorical aspects of the narration of the fall and of course the scientific evolutionary view that underpins today's "modern" christians preference for the second.

I believe the three of them. The literal reading of the Creation, the many allegories that can be drawn from it and that the scientific theories are sound. How is that possible?

There is a certain debate in science and philosophy of science nowadays that is not very much in the spotlights, overshadowed by "creationist" vs "evolutionist" talks. This debate is based on the question: "Are the laws of physics that we see today constant over time or would they be able to change?"

From what I understand from the teachings of the Church, when we learn that things much more fundamental than the laws of physics *have* changed (such as the Incarnation allowing the created to be in union with the Uncreated), and that the Fall encompassed *all* creation (which must include the laws of physics), I must adopt the opinion that the laws did change.

In that case, the evolutionary and other theories about the beginning would be entirely true *if* the Universe had always been like it is today. It is a projection into the zero moment as if creation had always been like this. But what the Scriptures say, and there is scientific evidence towards that ( http://news.bbc.co.u...ure/1991223.stm ), is that the Universe has not always been like this. Of course, if the laws did change, then it would be impossible for science to figure out how it was before they change in case this change was radical. That is precisely the stand adopted by the Scriptures as I understand it. As a matter of fact, the assumption that the constants of the universe are, were and will always be constant, is just that, an assumption. Not even from a materialistic point of view it holds as self-evident.

To sum up this part, I believe that what is described in Genesis is factual, physical truth. What happened there, though, changed men and creation to something similar to what it is now - but not entirely, for we see that people lived much longer and there are many other things that although we consider miracles are seen by the people in the text as natural (giants, direct relations with spiritual beings). These too, I believe, are true both in their simbolic and physical meanings. Just like us, the universe, after the fall, is dying and sick, so right after that first sin, it still had more life which it has been loosing steadily which would have taken us to final death had not Christ saved us by His merciful outpouring of life, burning death's fuse with His Ressurrection by giving it something much greater than itself.

----

As for the suffering discussion, my present opinion is that not all suffering has a meaning.

I've seen somewhere else a distinction between the primary will of God (what He actually intends for us but does not force us into) and the secondary will of God (what He allows for His love and respect of our free will). Everything happens according to God's will *only* if we consider the secondary will, not the first. We see this in Lazaru's ressurrection very clearly. Our Lord Jesus Christ let Lazarus die despite He could heal him even from afar because that event had a role in his theophany, but He cries for that - and that we must always remember when we think God is silent toward our suffering: He *may* be silent but He is there next to us crying with us for our suffering (hence the many miraculous crying icons around). His primary will is always that we do not suffer, or die. But since we did choose this by choosing sin His will that we are free allows the consequences to come too. This secondary will is *so* important that even the devil must request it to act as we seen both in event when the demons ask permission to enter pigs and in the book of Job. Surely, the devil could not ask for God's blessing (the support of his primary intentions) as we do, but he *must* act in submission to God's secondary will and dares not even try to do anything without the permission of God.

That brings me to my first statement. What happens by permission of God, many times in direct opposition for His wishes for us, is deprived of Truth and Meaning. Verily, Victor Frankl ( http://en.wikipedia....i/Viktor_Frankl ) by inaugurating "Logotherapy" ( http://en.wikipedia....iki/Logotherapy and http://en.wikipedia....rch_for_Meaning ) the "third" Vianese school of psychoanalisys based on the tenets that what drives men is "meaning" shows that "meaning" is something that must be found, searched. Although he does not say this directly, if one must search for meaning, one may be temporarily in a state of absence of meaning, or better saying, in a state in which the existing meaning is not seen. Going back to the theological aspects, when we are dettached from what God wishes for us, acting against Him out of His love for us as maturable beings, we are in a "meaningless" state where things without meaning may and do occur against us. This lack of meaning is precisely what makes them particularly painful.

Of course, if suffering always had a meaning, that would be perfect justice always and we wouldn't have a fallen unperfect world. A fallen world is precisely one where some things happen that God did not wish for, where bad, undeserved things happen to good people for no reason at all and good things happen to bad people (and I'm not talking about money and health only here), where ungodly things happen both to nations and individuals. That is part of what the "mystery of ungodliness" (2 Thess 2:7) is. That thing in evil that we cannot fully grasp, the mockery of the mystery of God.

Now, of course, this lacking of meaning in part of the suffering in this world, unlike the mysteries of God, is not impossible to be overcome. With humility, contrition, obedience, faith and prayer we can come out of this dark area of what God allows to what He wishes, thus recovering our way in life. That may not represent the end of the suffering in itself but its filling with meaning, meaning which, for us Orthodox Christians is our Way of dealing with things: Christ Himself, who said "I am the Way", which can, in this case, be analogous to "I am the Meaning you search for", not what is in suffering, because He is not there as such, but what can go there as into the Cross and the Tomb, and rise from there with us into the Glory of God.




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