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Grace is not God's unmerited favor...


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#1 Brad D.

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Posted 30 March 2012 - 01:24 AM

I know that in the Orthodox tradition you use the word Energy to refer to God's grace. Does anyone know where this concept, or definition, of Grace being "God's unmerited favor" came from? I cannot think of any scripture to back such a statement up... Not that grace does not also involve the favor of God, I suppose...but that seems to me to be quite a narrow and terrible definition of Grace. Anyone have some history on this?

#2 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 30 March 2012 - 01:33 AM

Where ever it comes from, I doubt it comes from Orthodox Tradition. The Orthodox Study Bible does mention the term, but only to mention that Orthodoxy also sees it as a narrow definition (" … not merely …").

#3 Mary Lanser

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Posted 30 March 2012 - 10:21 PM

Where ever it comes from, I doubt it comes from Orthodox Tradition. The Orthodox Study Bible does mention the term, but only to mention that Orthodoxy also sees it as a narrow definition (" … not merely …").


I've been curious about this for a while. In the Fathers is everything that we might recognize as grace only ever called or referred to as "energies"?

#4 James Lawrence

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Posted 02 April 2012 - 02:07 AM

In my understanding ( I work in a baptist-run environment), it is an offshoot of the doctrine that man is completely wretched, vile and deserving only of God's wrath. The "unmerited favor" doctrine is another one of those theological ideas that transforms grace into another judicial act, making Christ's sacrifice a legal matter, not an act of supreme love. In fact, in many Baptist circles, GRACE is an acronym : God's Riches At Christ's Expense. And I cringe everytime I see it...

#5 Brad D.

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Posted 04 April 2012 - 10:29 AM

In my understanding ( I work in a baptist-run environment), it is an offshoot of the doctrine that man is completely wretched, vile and deserving only of God's wrath. The "unmerited favor" doctrine is another one of those theological ideas that transforms grace into another judicial act, making Christ's sacrifice a legal matter, not an act of supreme love. In fact, in many Baptist circles, GRACE is an acronym : God's Riches At Christ's Expense. And I cringe everytime I see it...


Yes I have heard that as well...

#6 Owen Jones

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Posted 04 April 2012 - 12:22 PM

However, one must still deal with Christ's sacrifice being a ransom for our sins.

#7 Brad D.

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Posted 04 April 2012 - 12:24 PM

However, one must still deal with Christ's sacrifice being a ransom for our sins.


What do you mean?

#8 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 04 April 2012 - 12:27 PM

Of course it is a ransom, but a ransom is not an obligation, it is not a "legal" requirement, it is outside the Law. A fine or a penalty is an act of law, a ransom is an act of love it states what the person being ransomed is worth. Christ paid our ransom, with Himself. That is what we are worth to Him.

Or so it seems to this bear of little brain.

Herman the ransomed Pooh

#9 Brad D.

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Posted 04 April 2012 - 12:29 PM

Some how I have missed the connection between God's grace not being simply "unmerited favor" and atonement theology? Perhaps I am still sleepy...

I mean, of course they are connected...but in this particular discussion, how so?

#10 Marcin Mankowski

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Posted 04 April 2012 - 02:22 PM

Some how I have missed the connection between God's grace not being simply "unmerited favor" and atonement theology? Perhaps I am still sleepy...
I mean, of course they are connected...but in this particular discussion, how so?


Personally, I do not see a need for such term as "unmerited favor", especially that it carries a baggage of various Western
speculations and controversies.

But, I will say how I could interpret it from my perspective. Unmerited favor means that salvation is a loving gift and not something that we are entitled to. And that it consists of God helping us to be free from sin, through His condescension of taking our human nature, teaching, example, suffering, resurrection, establishment of Church with sacraments and grace in various forms. He humbled Himself by lowering to our level, opened back the gates of Paradise and enabled us to join Him.

The ransom means that He paid for it with His suffering, on the Cross and otherwise, the price that we are not capable to pay on our own. He extends His saving hand to us, but we need to grasp and hold it, by faith, by repentance and by partaking of Sacraments.

#11 Father David Moser

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Posted 04 April 2012 - 02:24 PM

In my understanding ( I work in a baptist-run environment), it is an offshoot of the doctrine that man is completely wretched, vile and deserving only of God's wrath. The "unmerited favor" doctrine is another one of those theological ideas that transforms grace into another judicial act, making Christ's sacrifice a legal matter, not an act of supreme love. In fact, in many Baptist circles, GRACE is an acronym : God's Riches At Christ's Expense. And I cringe everytime I see it...


Having grown up in and evangelical home and church, when it suddenly "hit" me that grace was not simply "unmerited favor" but that it actually was "something" that could be collected and applied and used (it has, as it were, "spiritual substance") all kinds of things in scripture that never really made sense all of a sudden came into sharp clarity and the lives of the saints began to appear not "superhuman" but "grace filled"; the Church and the Christian life shifted from being a judgement hall and trial to being a spiritual hospital and a method of therapy. An Orthodox understanding of grace changes everything about Christianity.

Fr David

#12 Owen Jones

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Posted 04 April 2012 - 03:06 PM

So in another words, Father, would it be fair to say that Grace is not just a gift from God, but it is God Himself.

#13 Marcin Mankowski

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Posted 04 April 2012 - 03:19 PM

... would it be fair to say that Grace is not just a gift from God, but it is God Himself.


Grace of God are His uncreated energies, but not His essence. Here is an article about that by Vladimir Lossky:

http://orthodoxinfo....rthodox_ch2.pdf

#14 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 04 April 2012 - 05:24 PM

I for one have absolutely no problem whatsoever about speaking of grace as God's unmerited favor. Clearly this is one of its meanings in Holy Scripture. But equally clearly the word signifies so much more than that, both in Scripture and in the theological tradition.

I personally do not use the word "energies" a lot when I speak of God's gift of salvific grace. Perhaps that is just my "Western" training, but I also believe that this usage represents a step away from the primary discourse of Scripture and the Fathers (or at least many of them). The primitive tradition speaks of God giving us his Holy Spirit. This is the language with which I am most comfortable.

Perhaps of interest here is Fr Thomas Hopko's article "About God's Grace."

#15 Owen Jones

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Posted 04 April 2012 - 06:58 PM

I guess what I am asking is this: Grace is not just an action of God's will bringing about some supernatural or miraculous event, but it is God Himself, in us. Right?

#16 Marcin Mankowski

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Posted 04 April 2012 - 07:07 PM

I guess what I am asking is this: Grace is not just an action of God's will bringing about some supernatural or miraculous event, but it is God Himself, in us. Right?


In a way yes. This is how we commune directly with God, through His uncreated energies.

#17 Mary Lanser

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Posted 05 April 2012 - 02:40 PM

I guess what I am asking is this: Grace is not just an action of God's will bringing about some supernatural or miraculous event, but it is God Himself, in us. Right?


The Indwelling Trinity.

Unless one teaches that God's energies are totally separate from his energies then you are correct. It is said by some outside of Orthodoxy that St. Gregory does teach they are totally separate but I believe that they are reading that into his texts. I cannot find that kind of blatant assertion in the translations of his texts to which I have access, and it does not make sense also given other things that St. Gregory teaches.

M.

#18 Anna Stickles

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Posted 07 April 2012 - 11:47 AM

I guess what I am asking is this: Grace is not just an action of God's will bringing about some supernatural or miraculous event, but it is God Himself, in us. Right?


I wouldn't specify that grace is God Himself in us. This is really too narrow. God's grace is universal and over all the creation. I think we can see in this Psalm a statement about the grace - God's favor and the withdrawal of it.
Psalm 104
27 They all wait for You To give them their food in due season.
28 You give to them, they gather it up; You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good.
29 You hide Your face, they are dismayed; You take away their spirit, they expire And return to their dust.
30 You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; And You renew the face of the ground.
31 Let the glory of the LORD endure forever; Let the LORD be glad in His works;

Both traditions certainly see grace in terms of being God's favor and both certainly see this favor as unmerited, but the Evangelical definition tends to still be influenced by deistic tendencies (God is out there,) - it sees God's favor only in terms of actions that God performs and doesn't really have within it the Orthodox understanding of God's simplicity - ie that God's willing is not something different then, separated from, His presence/being.

It is no problem for the Evangelical person to be suffering turmoil, anger, etc and still happily believe that they are experiencing God's unmerited favor, whereas in Orthodoxy we see God's favor as giving us something real - (life, incorruption, the fruits of the Spirit, etc) and lack of these things is an indication of a lack of God's presence/favor.

One of the biggest problems I see is that for a Christian to lose grace under the Evangelical idea is for them to lose their salvation. In the Orthodox paradigm God gives of Himself and withdrawals Himself according to His loving providence for our salvation. In other words death (the withdrawal of grace) is not eternal but through death, death is overcome in Christ. I think the Psalm above is not just a series of random statements but tells us something about the order of God's divine economy of salvation.

Orthodoxy also sees things in terms of degrees, whereas most evangelicals see things in terms of a black and white dichotomy - you either have grace or you don't, you're either under grace or under wrath. Another problem is that when grace is limited to dwelling in either individuals or churches one falls into a mindset of the "in" group that has it and the "out group" that doesn't. Although this is not limited to evangelicals)

#19 Mary Lanser

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Posted 08 April 2012 - 02:38 PM

In the Orthodox paradigm God gives of Himself and withdrawals Himself according to His loving providence for our salvation. In other words death (the withdrawal of grace) is not eternal but through death, death is overcome in Christ. I think the Psalm above is not just a series of random statements but tells us something about the order of God's divine economy of salvation.

Orthodoxy also sees things in terms of degrees, whereas most evangelicals see things in terms of a black and white dichotomy - you either have grace or you don't, you're either under grace or under wrath. Another problem is that when grace is limited to dwelling in either individuals or churches one falls into a mindset of the "in" group that has it and the "out group" that doesn't. Although this is not limited to evangelicals)


Dear Anna,

You speak of something here that I believe is exceptionally important in any discussion of the spiritual life. You note that God 'gives of Himself and withdraws Himself'. Too often we forget that not only do we block ourselves from His graces but that also grace is His to hold some part of in abeyance. He cannot hold it all or, as you say, we die. I always am mindful of the fact that God hardened Pharo's heart, and then, of course, in this season, the role of Judas in our salvation history.

Also I learned a lesson from you about the Evangelical way of seeing the spiritual life. I am not a student of that way of life nor do I have personal familiarity with it in any detail at all. So thank you for the clear and concise exposition of the points that you raised.

And finally in regard to your mention of grace in terms of degree, it might be useful to add here that grace is given in terms of the person's interior capacity and in specific kind so that we may be best able to fulfill God's providential plan for us. We are all given different gifts and will also show forth different fruits. It is because of these things that you've introduced here that one finds strong monastic counsels against comparison, one person to another, in the life of the spirit.

Thank you again for your insightful comments in general, as well as here!

In Christ, as we come to the edge of this sacred Lent...

Mary

#20 Marcin Mankowski

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Posted 08 April 2012 - 04:56 PM

Dear Anna, You speak of something here that I believe is exceptionally important in any discussion of the spiritual life.


Dear Mary, there is one thing to remember. That the Grace of God is uncreated divine energy. In the West it is believed to be a part of creation and this in the mind of a believer can cause a gap between him and God or even deprive him of a direct contact.

I suspect that some consequences are the spread of Pantheism and Modernism where people try to reestablish spiritual life from what they see as directly accessible to them - their own immanence or subjectivity.




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