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The Nature of Things and Our Salvation

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  • Christopher Orr
    I thought this might dovetail well with some of the conversation regarding justification: The Nature of Things and Our
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 29, 2010
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      I thought this might dovetail well with some of the conversation regarding
      justification:

      The Nature of Things and Our
      Salvation<http://fatherstephen.wordpress.com/2010/06/29/the-nature-of-things-and-our-salvation-4/>
      > from Glory to God for All Things<http://www.google.com/reader/view/feed/http%3A%2F%2Ffatherstephen.wordpress.com%2Ffeed%2F> by
      > Fr. Stephen Freeman
      >
      > *Reflecting on yesterday’s post, I thought it worthwhile to share these
      > thoughts again on the nature of our salvation. Few things are as critical
      > for me as the distinctions given here. Perhaps it is timely. It offers a
      > short summary of the difference between a moral and an existential
      > understanding of the Christian faith and why the difference matters. Indeed,
      > as I look through my writings I know this is a recurring theme. It recurs
      > because it is so fundamental to the Christian faith and is at the same time
      > largely unknown in our modern world.*
      >
      > +++
      >
      > The nature of things is an important question to ask – or should I say an a
      > priori question. For once we are able to state what is the nature of things
      > then the answers to many questions framed by the nature of things will also
      > begin to be apparent. All of this is another way of saying that questions
      > have a way of determining answers. So what is the nature of things? More
      > specifically, what is the nature of things such that Christians believe
      > humanity needs salvation? (Non-Christians will already feel co-opted but I
      > write as a Christian – can’t be helped).
      >
      > I want to state briefly several things which seem to me to be of importance
      > about the nature of things in this regard.
      >
      > 1. It is the nature of things that man does not have a legal problem with
      > God. That is to say, the nature of our problem is not forensic. The universe
      > is not a law-court.
      >
      > 2. It is the nature of things that Christ did not come to make bad men
      > good, but to make dead men live. This is to say that the nature of our
      > problem is not moral but existential or ontological. We have a problem that
      > is rooted in the very nature of our existence, not in our behavior. We
      > behave badly because of a prior problem. Good behavior will not correct the
      > problem.
      >
      > 3. It is the nature of things that human beings were created to live
      > through communion with God. We were not created to live as self-sufficient
      > individuals marked largely by our capacity for choice and decision. To
      > restate this: we are creatures of communion, not creatures of consumption.
      >
      > So much for the nature of things. (I’ll do my best to leave behind the
      > syllogisms and return to my usual form of writing.)
      >
      > Much of my experience as an American Christian has been an encounter with
      > people who do not see mankind’s problem as existential or ontological – but
      > rather as moral. They have seen that we behave badly and thought that the
      > primary task of the Church (following whatever event was considered
      > “necessary” for salvation) was to help influence people to be “good.” Thus I
      > recall a Sunday School teacher who in my pre-school years (as well as a
      > first-grade teacher who attempted the same) urging me and my classmates to
      > “take the pledge.” That is, that we would agree not to smoke tobacco or
      > drink alcohol before age 21. The assumption seemed to be that if we waited
      > that long then we would likely never begin. In at least one of those cases
      > an actual document was proffered. For the life of me I cannot remember
      > whether I signed or not. The main reason I cannot remember was that the
      > issues involved seemed unimportant to me at the time. Virtually every adult
      > in my life smoked. And I was not generally familiar with many men who did
      > not drink. Thus my teachers were asking me to sign a document saying that I
      > thought my father and my grandfather were not good men. I think I did not
      > sign. If I did, then I lied and broke the pledge at a frightfully early age.
      >
      > My later experience has proven the weakness of the assumptions held by the
      > teachers of my youth. Smoking wasn’t so much right or wrong as it was
      > addicting and deadly. I smoked for 20 years and give thanks to God for the
      > grace he gave me to quit. I feel stupid as I look back at the actions of
      > those 20 years, but not necessarily “bad.” By the same token, I have known
      > quite a few alcoholics (some of them blood relatives) and have generally
      > found them to be about as moral as anyone else and sometimes moreso. I have
      > also seen the destruction wrought by the abuse of alcohol. But I have seen
      > similar destruction in families who never drank and the continuation of
      > destruction in families where alcohol had been removed. Drinking can have
      > serious consequences, but not drinking is not the same thing as curing the
      > problem.
      >
      > I had a far more profound experience, indeed a series of experiences, when
      > I was ten years old – experiences that made a much deeper impression and
      > framed the questions that burned in my soul about the nature of things.
      >
      > The first experience was the murder of an aunt. She was 45 and a darling of
      > the family. Everyone loved her. Her murder was simply a matter of “random”
      > chance – she was in the wrong place at the wrong time or simply in a
      > convenient place for a man who meant to do great harm to someone. No deep
      > mystery, just a brutal death. The same year another aunt died as a result of
      > a multi-year battle with lupus (an auto-immune disease). And to add to these
      > things, my 10th year was also the year of Kennedy’s assassination. Thus when
      > the year was done it seemed to me that death was an important question –
      > even the important question.
      >
      > It probably says that I was marked by experiences that were unusual for a
      > middle-class white boy in the early 60′s. It also meant that when I later
      > read Dostoevsky in my teens, I was hooked.
      >
      > The nature of things is that people die - and not only do they die – but
      > death, already at work in them from the moment of their birth, is the
      > primary issue. The failure of humanity is not to be found or understood in a
      > purely moral context. We are not creatures of choice and decision. How and
      > why we choose is a very complex process that we ourselves do not understand.
      > We can make a “decision” for Jesus only to discover that little has changed.
      > It is also possible to find ourselves caught in a chain of decisions that
      > bring us to the brink of despair without knowing quite how we got there.
      > Though there are clearly problems with our choosing and deciding, the
      > problem is far deeper.
      >
      > One of the earliest Christian treatments of the human problem, hence the
      > “nature of things,” is to be found in St. Athanasius’ *On the Incarnation*.
      > He makes it quite clear that the root problem of humanity is to be found in
      > the process of death. Not only are we all slowly moving towards some
      > inevitable demise, the process of death (decay, corruption) is already at
      > work in us. In Athanasius’ imagery, it is as though we are falling back
      > towards our origins in the dust of the earth. “Remember that you are dust
      > and to dust you shall return.”
      >
      > And thus it is that when he writes of the work of Christ it is clearly in
      > terms of our deliverance from death (not just deliverance from the
      > consequences of our bodily dissolution and its separation from the soul but
      > the whole process of death itself.)
      >
      > This is frequently the language of the New Testament as well. St. Paul will
      > write: “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but
      > Christ liveth in me, and the life that I now live I live by the faith of the
      > son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Or even on a more “moral”
      > note he will caution us to “put to death the deeds of the body.”
      >
      > The importance of these distinctions (moral versus existential) is in how
      > we treat our present predicament. If the problem is primarily moral then it
      > makes sense to live life in the hortatory mode, constantly urging others to
      > be good, to “take the pledge,” or make good choices. If, on the other hand,
      > our problem is rooted in the very nature of our existence then it is
      > that existence that has to be addressed. And again, the New Testament, as
      > well as the Tradition of the Church, turns our attention in this direction.
      > Having been created for union with God, we will not be able to live in any
      > proper way without that union. Thus our Baptism unites us to the death and
      > resurrection of Christ, making possible a proper existence. Living that
      > proper existence will not be done by merely trying to control our decisions
      > and choices, but by consciously and unconsciously working to maintain our
      > union with God. We are told “greater is He that is in you than he that is in
      > the world.” Thus our victory, and the hope of our victory is “Christ within
      > you, the hope of glory.”
      >
      > And so if we will live in such communion we will struggle to pray, not as a
      > moral duty, but as the very means of our existence. We pray, we fast, we
      > give alms, we confess, we commune, not in order to be better people, but
      > because if we neglect these things we will die. And the death will be slow
      > and marked by the increasing dissolution of who and what we are.
      >
      > In over 30 years of ministry, I have consistently found this model of
      > understanding to better describe what I encounter and what I live on a day
      > to day basis. In the past twelve years of my life as an Orthodox Christian,
      > I have found this account of things not only to continue to describe reality
      > better – but also to be in conformity with the Fathers. It is a strong case
      > for Christian Tradition that it actually describes reality as we experience
      > it better than the more modern accounts developed in the past four hundred
      > years or so. Imagine. People understood life a thousand years ago such that
      > they continue to describe the existential reality of modern man. Some things
      > do not change – except by the grace of God and His infinite mercy.
      >

      Christopher


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