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The Death of Christ – The Life of Man

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  • Christopher Orr
    The Death of Christ – The Life of Man By Fr. Stephen Freeman http://fatherstephen.wordpress.com/2009/08/30/the-death-of-christ-the-life-of-man/#comment-31755
    Message 1 of 4 , Aug 31, 2009
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      The Death of Christ � The Life of Man By Fr. Stephen Freeman

      http://fatherstephen.wordpress.com/2009/08/30/the-death-of-christ-the-life-of-man/#comment-31755

      A recent comment posed a fundamental question with regard to the Christian
      faith: Why do we believe that Christ had to die? What is the purpose of His
      death on the cross?

      *Preliminary Thoughts*

      Part of the information accompanying the question was the experience (of
      Mary K) with teaching on the atonement that centered largely on the wrath
      and anger of God. (I paraphrase and summarize) *We sinned (both ourselves
      and Adam and Eve) � God punished us. God sent Christ whom He punished in our
      place. Now through faith in Christ we can escape the punishment we
      deserve.*Along with this were a number of questions about the blood of
      Christ.
      *How does it cleanse us from sin? *

      Of course such a question could be the occasion for a book. As is, it is the
      occasion for an answer of readable length (barely). Readers who feel that
      more should have been said about one thing or another are asked for
      patience. The heart of things, it seems to me, has to do with the primary
      images used to understand both what is wrong with humanity and creation (*
      sin*) and what it is about Christ that saves us and heals us (*His death and
      resurrection*). If there were only one way of speaking about this or
      thinking about this, then the question would not have been asked.

      The truth is that Scripture, including within the work of a single writer,
      uses many images to describe the reality of what Christ has done. Some of
      those images are simply useful analogies or metaphors, others seem to have a
      more �literal� character about them � though nowhere do we find a definitive
      account that sets all others aside.

      I want to also add a preliminary word (for our questioning reader) about the
      language of Scripture. Though many Christians would agree that the words of
      Scripture are �God-breathed� (inspired), this does not mean that every
      statement in Scripture is to be read literally. There are many things that
      are read figuratively, metaphorically, and otherwise. That is to say, the
      Scriptures cannot be read without help and a guide. This has always been
      true. For this reason the Scriptures, when read in a traditional Christian
      manner, must be read with Christians who themselves have been taught to read
      them in a traditional manner.

      In this matter, you will find great diversity among Christians, for the
      interpretation of Scripture has been a *major* point of division between
      Christians for almost 500 years. Much of what was described in the
      background to the question that was posed are examples of modern,
      fundamentalist Christian interpretations (of which there are a variety).
      What I offer here is the general understanding of Eastern Orthodox
      Christianity.

      *The Problem*

      *What is wrong with humanity, and creation, such that we are in need of
      anything from God? What is sin?*

      At its most fundamental level � sin is death. *For the wages of sin is death
      *(Romans 6:23). The fact that we die is not a punishment sent to us from God
      but the result of our having broken fellowship (communion) with God. God is
      Life and the only source of life. Created things (humanity included) do not
      have life in themselves, it is not something we have as our possession and
      power. Rather, life is the gift of God. It is not just our life that is the
      gift of God � but our very existence and the existence of all that is. God
      is our Creator. The Scriptures say, �In Him we live and move and have our
      being� (Acts 17:28).

      Genesis offers us the story of Adam and Eve in which we hear described their
      disobedience from God. He had warned them: �Do not eat of the fruit of the
      tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for in the day that you eat of it
      you shall surely die.�

      Many early commentators on Scripture were careful to note that God did not
      say, �In the day you eat of it I will kill you,� but �in the day you eat of
      it you shall die.� Rather we are told: �God did not create death, nor does
      he delight in the death of the living� (Wisdom 1:13).

      St. Athanasius explains that when humanity chose to break its relationship
      with God (through disobedience) we cut ourselves off from the source of
      life. However God did not take life from us (He does not take back the gifts
      He gives) but we removed ourselves from it. And so we die. We not only die
      physically, but we have a process of death at work in us. St. Paul speaks of
      this process as �corruption.� This movement away from and towards death and
      destruction reveals itself in the many broken things in our lives. We hurt
      and kill each other. We hurt and destroy creation. We are weak and easily
      enslaved to powerful things such as drugs and alcohol. We are dominated by
      greed, envy, lust, anger, etc. We cannot help ourselves in this matter
      because we do not have life within ourselves. Only God can give us the true
      life that alone can make us well.

      *The Answer*

      Above all else we should remember that �God is a good God and He loves
      mankind� (from the Orthodox dismissal). This we hear clearly in Scripture:
      �God is love� (1 John 4:8) and �For God so loved the world that He gave His
      only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have
      eternal life� (John 3:16).

      We hear this echoed in the words of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom:

      You [God] brought us into being out of nothing, and when we fell, You raised
      us up again. You did not cease doing everything until You led us to heaven
      and granted us Your kingdom to come.

      This good God who loves mankind is not an angry God. He is not a vengeful
      God. He does not will us harm or punish us for our destruction. Though the
      Scriptures use these images, the Fathers of the Church have been consistent
      in understanding that this language is figurative and should not be
      understood literally. For instance, St. Anthony says:

      God is good and is not controlled by passions. He does not change. Now
      someone who thinks it reasonable and true to affirm that God does not
      change, may well ask how, in that case, it is possible to speak of God as
      rejoicing over those who are good and showing mercy to those who honor Him,
      and as turning away from the wicked and being angry with sinners. To this it
      must be answered that God neither rejoices nor grows angry, for to rejoice
      and to be offended are passions; nor is He won over by the gifts of those
      who honor Him, for that would mean He is swayed by pleasure. It is not right
      that the Divinity feel pleasure or displeasure from human conditions. He is
      good, and He only bestows blessings and never does harm, remaining always
      the same. We men, on the other hand, if we remain good through resembling
      God, are united to Him, but if we become evil through not resembling God, we
      are separated from Him. By living in holiness we cleave to God; but by
      becoming wicked we make Him our enemy. It is not that He grows angry with us
      in an arbitrary way, but it is our own sins that prevent God from shining
      within us and expose us to demons who torture us. And if through prayer and
      acts of compassion we gain release from our sins, this does not mean that we
      have won God over and made Him to change, but that through our actions and
      our turning to the Divinity, we have cured our wickedness and so once more
      have enjoyment of God�s goodness. Thus to say that God turns away from the
      wicked is like saying that the sun hides itself from the blind.

      There are many Christians who would handle Scriptures in a different manner
      � but I think they do not listen to the fathers of the Church and interpret
      Scripture according to their own opinions. In this, I think they are in
      error and should not be listened to.

      This good God, the only Lord and giver of Life, had compassion on us when we
      fell away and became subject to death and corruption. In His compassion He
      sent His only Son who became one of us � taking our human nature upon
      Himself. Uniting us to Himself, He lived a life without sin (for He is
      Life), and taught us by word and deed the goodness and kindness of God and
      to become like God by loving even our enemies.

      His love was so great, that He extended that love beyond the grave. He
      accepted death on the Cross, suffering the hatred and evil doings of those
      around Him.

      And here, as we approach Christ�s death on the Cross, it is appropriate to
      ask, �Why death?�

      There are many meditations on the death of Christ. Meditations that see Him
      as the Paschal Lamb sacrificed for us, as the �Serpent lifted in the
      wilderness,� and others. Here, temptation sets in and Christians seek to
      explain Christ�s death by comparing it to their own faulty understandings of
      lesser things. For it is not the shadow of things to come (Old Testament)
      that interprets the things to come � but rather the reality (New Testament)
      that interprets the shadow. It is Christ�s death that gives meaning to every
      type and foreshadowing and image of that death to be found in the Old
      Testament.

      Thus it is more accurate to say that the Paschal Lamb in the time of Moses
      is *like* Christ�s sacrifice, rather than to say *His* sacrifice is like
      that which came before. As Christ said of Moses and the Prophets, �These are
      they which testify of me� (John 5:30).

      One of the most common and helpful images in Scripture and the fathers of
      the Church is the image of Christ�s union with humanity. Christ became
      incarnate, taking to Himself our human nature. He became what we were, yet
      without sin. This union should be understood in more than a metaphorical
      manner. For Christ literally and truly became man. His humanity was not a
      new creation, but he took flesh �of the Virgin Mary.� He became a partaker
      of our humanity.

      In becoming a partaker of our humanity, Christ opened the way for us to
      become partakers in His divinity. �For as He is, so are we in this world� (1
      John 4:17). St. Paul uses this language as well in his explanation of
      Baptism:

      Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were
      baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into
      death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the
      Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been
      planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall also be raised
      together in the likeness of His resurrection. Knowing this, that our old man
      is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that we
      should no longer be the slaves of sin (Romans 6:3-6).

      This imagery is common in St. Paul:

      I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ
      liveth in me. And the life that I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith
      of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me (Galatians 2:20).

      If you are risen with Christ, seek those things that are above, where Christ
      sits on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on
      things on the earth. For you are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in
      God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then you shall also appear
      with Him in glory (Colossians 3:1-4).

      These things only make sense because Christ has united Himself to us, and us
      to Him. We are united to His death and resurrection in our faith and in our
      Baptism. We become one flesh with Christ. We truly become a part of the Body
      of Christ.

      And this goes to the heart of the answer to the question posed: why did
      Christ die? Christ died because we were dead. We were trapped in the
      lifeless death of sin (which yields corruption and physical death as well).
      Christ is God who has come to rescue us from our prison of sin and death. He
      became what we are that we might have a share in what He is. We were created
      in the image and likeness of God � but our sin had marred us.

      We did not inherit guilt and a legal penalty from Adam and Eve. We inherited
      a world dominated by death. In such a world we behaved as the slaves of sin
      and sought to live our lives apart from God Who alone is Life. God alone
      could rescue us from the place where we had confined ourselves. Christ
      enters death. Christ enters Hades and makes a way for us to follow Him into
      true life.

      In our present life, this *true life *is made present within us in many
      ways. First, it is made present in our knowledge of God. �This is eternal
      life, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom
      Thou hast sent� (John 17:3). We know God and have a true relationship and
      communion with Him. We also have within us the power to overcome sin. This
      is sometimes manifest as obedience to Christ�s commandments, and, as God
      pleases, it is sometimes manifest as physical healing in our bodies (and
      miracles in creation � Romans 8:21).

      If the same Spirit which raised Christ from the dead dwell in you, He will
      make alive your mortal bodies (Romans 8:11).

      The true life of humanity is a common life. It is common in the modern world
      to think of ourselves only in terms of discreet individuals. But the
      Scriptures and teaching of the Church bear witness to a common life in which
      we all partake. Thus, what happens to one of us effects all of us. This
      commonality is also an important part of our spiritual life and our
      salvation. The Church in particular is the place where Christians live their
      common life.

      This common life is also the place where we come to understand the
      references to �Christ�s blood� (since this was part of the question posed).
      His blood carries a number of meanings. It is His death, His �life poured
      out for us.� It is also His life given to us in the sacrament of His Body
      and Blood. His blood cleanses us � just as Baptism cleanses us � for His
      death destroys death and makes the whole creation new. There are many links
      between the image of blood in the Old Testament and Christ�s blood in the
      New. However, it is easy to become overly detailed about his connection and
      miss the larger point of Christ�s death � by which He destroyed death and
      gave us eternal life.

      There are many voices across the Christian world. Taken together � they are
      a madhouse of confusion. Confusion and contradiction is the only result of
      those who listen first to one teacher and then to another. No one will
      arrive at the truth by such a route.

      Instead, I counsel anyone to take up the life of the Church. Be Baptized (or
      otherwise received into the Church) and stay put. Listen to a godly pastor
      who lives the Scriptures and respects the fathers of the Church. Those who
      have built private empires and practice ministries that are in submission to
      �no one except God� are frauds and live in delusion. They are scandals
      waiting to happen.

      No Church, including the Orthodox Church, ever exists without scandal. But
      that scandal can be disciplined. True teaching can be found and life in
      union with the resurrected Lord can be lived.

      *A Short Word About Wrath and Anger*

      These are words, I believe, that are so charged and dangerous, that they
      must be used seldom and only with caution and careful nuance. Hate and anger
      and wrath are generally only experienced in a sinful manner by human beings
      and most people are deeply wounded already by such abuse. Those who preach
      such terms are often engaging in spiritual abuse and should stop. If someone
      who teaches or preaches the Christian gospel but cannot do so without
      reference to these words, then I think they need to stop and pray and see if
      there is not something fundamentally wrong with their understanding. I�m not
      trying to edit these things out of Scripture � simply to say that they are
      abused by most who read them. Imagine you are explaining the gospel to a 4
      year old. Will the child misunderstand the concept of God�s wrath? I am
      rather sure of it. I have not found adults to be that much more emotionally
      mature. My challenge of these images (on the blog and in my writings) is, I
      hope, an occasion for other Christians, particularly Orthodox, to think
      carefully about these very powerful words. If we do that � then I�ll have
      done a little good.

      [Of course, Scripture and the Fathers use the image of anger and wrath,
      generally with the understanding that such anger or wrath is an expression
      of an aspect of God's love and not an effect created in God by our actions.
      A common example is the double aspect of fire - in which it is both heat and
      light, purification and illumination. Of course, the words "wrath" and
      "anger" are seldom used with such subtlety by many who preach or teach them
      and in so doing may be saying something that the Gospels do not teach.]

      It is quite possible to give a very good account of the Christian gospel
      without the use of �wrath� and �anger.� St. John only uses the word wrath
      once in His entire Gospel. It is not an integral and necessary part of the
      theology of the Cross. To say that it is � is to make of an illustration and
      metaphor a matter of dogma. If you disagree, argue with St. John.

      *Conclusion*

      I pray that this answer is of help to the reader who posed the question. I
      also ask pardon of those readers who have been patient with me for the
      posting of this answer. It comes at the end of a busy week. May God give us
      all grace to hear the Holy Gospel.


      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • oruaseht
      Father Stephen is a genius, no doubt in my mind. His posts are incredibly insightful and wise. After reading much of what he has written and proposed regarding
      Message 2 of 4 , Aug 31, 2009
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        Father Stephen is a genius, no doubt in my mind. His posts are incredibly insightful and wise. After reading much of what he has written and proposed regarding the wrath of God, I am challenged. It's kind of like the X-Files: "I *want* to believe!" I want to believe that there is no wrath of God. But it's either my Protestant conscience or the "scary God" stories of the OT (like Sodom & Gomorrah for example) that are nagging me. And other verses from the NT like Heb 10:30 "For we know him who said, "Vengeance is mine; I will repay." And again, "The Lord will judge his people" are fairly compelling that God does have some wrath/vengeance about Him.

        I get Father Stephen's main point: the "turn or burn" theology of the Reformed is sickening and breeds Atheism. Also, we should be centered on God's grace and mercy in Christ, rather than His anger. We should be quick NOT to wish God's wrath on other sinners, lest we should wish it upon ourselves. These are all solid points that I agree with wholeheartedly. However, I just don't know if we can say that God has no wrath/anger at sin.

        The East has enlightened me personally though in not seeing the cross in a purely "Anselmic" light, of God the Father pouring out His white hot wrath on the Son and then allowing us to go free from that wrath. A truly merciful God would not need to unleash wrath - this is the parable of the prodigal son/Loving Father that makes so much more sense to me now.
      • Christopher Orr
        Regarding the wrath of God, see St. John Cassian: http://orrologion.blogspot.com/2006/01/st-john-cassian-of-spirit-of-anger.html Some scriptural and patristic
        Message 3 of 4 , Sep 1, 2009
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          Regarding the wrath of God, see St. John Cassian:

          http://orrologion.blogspot.com/2006/01/st-john-cassian-of-spirit-of-anger.html

          Some scriptural and patristic notes relating to Kalomiros' 'The River of
          Fire' (see especially the patristic part at the bottom):

          http://orrologion.blogspot.com/2006/01/scriptural-and-patristic-notes.html

          'The River of Fire' itself, if you haven't read it already:

          http://www.philthompson.net/pages/library/riveroffire.html

          And St. Nicholas Cabasilas on a wrathful atonement:

          http://orrologion.blogspot.com/2006/01/against-western-concept-of-atonement.html

          Christopher



          On Mon, Aug 31, 2009 at 10:18 PM, oruaseht <oruaseht@...> wrote:

          >
          >
          > Father Stephen is a genius, no doubt in my mind. His posts are incredibly
          > insightful and wise. After reading much of what he has written and proposed
          > regarding the wrath of God, I am challenged. It's kind of like the X-Files:
          > "I *want* to believe!" I want to believe that there is no wrath of God. But
          > it's either my Protestant conscience or the "scary God" stories of the OT
          > (like Sodom & Gomorrah for example) that are nagging me. And other verses
          > from the NT like Heb 10:30 "For we know him who said, "Vengeance is mine; I
          > will repay." And again, "The Lord will judge his people" are fairly
          > compelling that God does have some wrath/vengeance about Him.
          >
          > I get Father Stephen's main point: the "turn or burn" theology of the
          > Reformed is sickening and breeds Atheism. Also, we should be centered on
          > God's grace and mercy in Christ, rather than His anger. We should be quick
          > NOT to wish God's wrath on other sinners, lest we should wish it upon
          > ourselves. These are all solid points that I agree with wholeheartedly.
          > However, I just don't know if we can say that God has no wrath/anger at sin.
          >
          >
          > The East has enlightened me personally though in not seeing the cross in a
          > purely "Anselmic" light, of God the Father pouring out His white hot wrath
          > on the Son and then allowing us to go free from that wrath. A truly merciful
          > God would not need to unleash wrath - this is the parable of the prodigal
          > son/Loving Father that makes so much more sense to me now.
          >
          >
          >


          [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
        • AdonaiUplifts@gmail.com
          I haven t read the post from Fr. Stephen s blog yet, but I m relatively familiar with his writings. I think what Fr. Stephen was most likely trying to convey
          Message 4 of 4 , Sep 1, 2009
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            I haven't read the post from Fr. Stephen's blog yet, but I'm relatively familiar with his writings. I think what Fr. Stephen was most likely trying to convey was not that God has no wrath, but that Christ's death was not necessitated by God's wrath. God's wrath and Christ's atonement have little to do with each other, outside of the fact that God hates sin. Christ's death on the cross, we are told, was motivated by His overly-abundant, freely given Love for Humankind. Christ died because He *wants* to save us; He *wants* to save the ungodly; He wishes that *none* should perish. Christ did not die because God was so angry that He had to exact a bloodthirsty vengeance by torturing His own Son with incomprehensible, inhuman suffering as a retribution and payment for an infinite debt of sin. The point of His death was to destroy Death and its counterparts: sin and Satan, and save us by uniting our Humanity to God.


            In Christ,

            Jeremy


            Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

            -----Original Message-----
            From: "oruaseht" <oruaseht@...>

            Date: Tue, 01 Sep 2009 02:18:23
            To: <LutheransLookingEast@yahoogroups.com>
            Subject: [LutheransLookingEast] Re: The Death of Christ � The Life of Man


            Father Stephen is a genius, no doubt in my mind. His posts are incredibly insightful and wise. After reading much of what he has written and proposed regarding the wrath of God, I am challenged. It's kind of like the X-Files: "I *want* to believe!" I want to believe that there is no wrath of God. But it's either my Protestant conscience or the "scary God" stories of the OT (like Sodom & Gomorrah for example) that are nagging me. And other verses from the NT like Heb 10:30 "For we know him who said, "Vengeance is mine; I will repay." And again, "The Lord will judge his people" are fairly compelling that God does have some wrath/vengeance about Him.

            I get Father Stephen's main point: the "turn or burn" theology of the Reformed is sickening and breeds Atheism. Also, we should be centered on God's grace and mercy in Christ, rather than His anger. We should be quick NOT to wish God's wrath on other sinners, lest we should wish it upon ourselves. These are all solid points that I agree with wholeheartedly. However, I just don't know if we can say that God has no wrath/anger at sin.

            The East has enlightened me personally though in not seeing the cross in a purely "Anselmic" light, of God the Father pouring out His white hot wrath on the Son and then allowing us to go free from that wrath. A truly merciful God would not need to unleash wrath - this is the parable of the prodigal son/Loving Father that makes so much more sense to me now.




            [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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