God’s Wrath

wrath-of-god

What shall we make of the wrath of God?

We have this quote from the Gospel of St. Luke:

And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, And sent messengers before his face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him. And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of  (Luke 9:51-55).

In this passage, sending down fire from heaven, in the pattern of Elijah is rebuked as somehow belonging to “another spirit.”

Fans of New Testament wrath are quick to point out the passage in Acts concerning Ananias and Sapphira:

But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things. And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him. And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much. Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out. Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband. And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things (Acts 5:1-11)

For accuracies’ sake, it must be noted that we are nowhere told that Ananias and Sapphira died as the result of the action of God. We are told that they fell down dead. This is not unimportant.

Of course the New Testament makes reference to the wrath of God. Indeed there are 45 verses which make reference to the wrath. It is little wonder that interpreters should want to make a theological point out of so common a reference. Of course many of those verses refer to our own wrath and tell us to put it away from us.

But of the wrath of God we read a typical passage:

Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience (Colossians 3:5-6).

A legitimate question has to be: has the Spirit “of which we are” changed between Luke 9 and Colossians 3? Or is there a deeper understanding at work?

With this I offer an Orthodox answer. First, Christ Himself is the definitive revelation of God and that revelation is not corrected by either an Old Testament reading (for “these are they which testify of me”) nor by an Epistle, for Christ as witnessed to in the gospels is the definitive revelation for interpreting even the Epistles. Of course my citation of Luke 9 is often countered with, “What about the moneychangers in the Temple?” To which I can only say that He “drove them out with a whip” which is not the same thing as saying that Christ beat them, nor did He call down fire from heaven to consume them.

For various reasons, some people are determined to make the economy of salvation to be linked with the Wrath of God. If you do not repent, then God will do thus and such…   I have always considered this representation of the gospel to be coercive and contrary to the love of God. I have heard convoluted ways in which this wrath is interpreted to be “the loving thing to do” but I do not buy it.

The common witness within Orthodox Tradition is that the wrath of God is a theological term which describes not God Himself, but a state of being in which are opposed to God. Thus the work of Kalomiros, The River of Fire, makes ample citation of the fathers in this matter. We may place ourselves in such a position that even the love of God seems to us as fire or wrath.

But it is essential in our witness to the God Who Is, to always relate the fact that He is a loving God, not willing that any should perish. He is not against us but for us. This is utterly essential to the correct proclamation of the Gospel. Those who insist on exalting His wrath as a threat, inevitably misportray God and use anthropormorphism as a substitute for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Intricate theories of the atonement which involve the assuaging of the wrath of God are not worthy of the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I can say it no plainer. Those who persist in such theological accounts do not know “what Spirit they are of.” It is not ever appropriate to exalt a Biblical system over the plain sense communicated to us in the Gospel. No matter the chain of verses and the rational explanations attached – we cannot portray God as other than as He has shown Himself to us in Jesus Christ. To do so makes the Bible greater than Christ.

 It is very difficult in our culture, where the wrathful God has been such an important part of the gospel story, to turn away from such portrayals – and yet it is necessary – both for faithfulness to the Scripture, the Fathers, and the revelation of God in Christ.

I commend the referenced work, the River of Fire, for its compliation of Patristic sources. I also beg other Christians to be done with their imagery of the wrathful God. They do not know the God of Whom they speak. Forgive me.

 

 

110 Responses to “God’s Wrath”

  1. Justin Richter Says:

    As far as I know Augustine talked about the wrath of God a good amount. In his piece ‘On Catechizing the Unlearned,’ he talks a good deal about hell and wrath; yet, he ultimately states that “we should love God more then we hate hell.” I do agree that the wrath of God has been used to manipulate people but to totally dismiss it might be going a little to far. Even Fr. Schmemann has noted in several place that the sacrament of baptism has judgement/wrathful themes tied into it. In fact, by its very nature it speaks condemnation to an entire world. I appreciate your heart behind this, but I think you might be making the opposite but equal error to the fire and brimstone preachers.

  2. Romanós Says:

    I agree wholeheartedly and without reservation when you write, “Christ Himself is the definitive revelation of God and that revelation is not corrected by either an Old Testament reading (for “these are they which testify of me”) nor by an Epistle, for Christ as witnessed to in the gospels is the definitive revelation for interpreting even the Epistles.”

    I also am of the same mind as you, Father, when you write, “I have heard convoluted ways in which this wrath is interpreted to be “the loving thing to do” but I do not buy it.”

    Thirdly (am I now counting?) I agree with this statement, “It is not ever appropriate to exalt a Biblical system over the plain sense communicated to us in the Gospel. No matter the chain of verses and the rational explanations attached – we cannot portray God as other than as He has shown Himself to us in Jesus Christ. To do so makes the Bible greater than Christ.”

    As for the wrath of God, I have always, in the light of the revelation of Jesus Christ as the image of the Father (“If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father”), believed that this wrath is actually experienced as such from the natural human side, not from God’s, as you have expressed. It cannot be any other way. Yet neither can the Word of God in the Bible say what must be said any other way. It must speak of the wrath of God, because it is speaking to men who are infants to begin with and who, if they learn to say ‘Yes’ to all that God places before them, will yet become mature men, even unto the stature of Christ Himself.

    The wrath of God and the love of God are the poles of tension between which we must be suspended until we learn to choose one or the other.

    On a practical note, the “hellfire and damnation” approach to evangelism is quite inappropriate to Christian witness, but everyone must give the best they can in every circumstance. Then too, perhaps there must be a tension even in Christian witness between the wrath and the love of God, as a fishing net might be held in tension between two fishermen, so that the net can catch the fish. I know, at least, which side of the net I am holding.

  3. Nathaniel McCallum Says:

    Justin, Augustine clearly echoes (at least early on) the sentiments of Fr. Stephen in “On Free Choice of the Will” (book 1):

    But if you know or believe that God is good–and it is not right to believe therwise–then he does no evil. On the other hand, if we acknowledge that God is just–and it is impious to deny it–then he rewards the good and punishes the wicked. Those punishments are certainly evils for those who suffer them. Therefore, if no one is punished unjustly–and we must believe this, since we believe that this universe is governed by divine providence–it follows that God is a cause of the second kind of evil, but in no way causes the first kind. … For there is no single cause of evil; rather, everyone who does evil is the cause of his own evildoing. If you doubt this, recall what I said earlier: Evil deeds are punished by the justice of God. They would not be punished justly if they had not been performed voluntarily.

  4. kcvest Says:

    Thank you Father for writing on this topic. I have been reading the Psalms more seriously lately and was reflecting on how one righteously prays many of those prayers. Obviously King David did, but I am not King David.

    I was thinking today, just before I realized you had written on this topic, that perhaps the wrath of God is actually His mercy, both on the individual who experiences it and those that their sin affects directly. Like when I discipline my 2 year old daughter, and while she cannot understand why and while I likely seem like I am angry, in fact I am watching out for her because if she continues on the path she is on there will be no correcting her one day. It is all from love, but it is disciplinary.

    It seems like the case of Elijah on the one hand and our Lord on the other is a case of mission. Elijah, like many prophets, had the vocation to destroy, whereas, as our Lord said in the verse following your quote, “for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” So, Elijah doing what he did was not wrong because his mission was one of destruction as God’s mercy and deliverance, but Jesus’ disciples are not to call down fire because their mission is to continue His which is to “save lives.”

    Is this how you understand it? Or could you guide my thinking further?

  5. Nathaniel McCallum Says:

    Fr. Steven, what do we do with the strain of language, present in both the scriptures and in the fathers, that phrases God’s wrath in the active sense (i.e. “God punished him”). This language is present in the quote from Augustine that I posted above. It is of course most pronounced in passages like Numbers 4: “Uzzah put forth his hand to the Ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of The Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the Ark of God.” Clearly, Orthodox metaphysics would side with both your statement and the statement of Augustine that the “evil” was the perception of the one who suffers as a result of his disobedience. Yet the language still very strongly suggests that God “acted”. We Orthodox interpret God’s actions as synonymous with his energies. Were God’s energies somehow present in an abnormal way in the case of Uzziah? Ananias and Sapphira?

    Though I cannot help but agree with your post, I also cannot help but agree with Western formulations that describe the action of God. Can you provide some clarity here?

  6. Nathaniel McCallum Says:

    To bring this issue a little bit closer to home, our current global economic situation is a disaster. Yet this disaster is the natural result of years of our greed, gluttony, etc. The pain is a result of our sin. Yet, this economic contraction causes us to sober up and to live more wisely. Is this not God’s love? Could we not also describe this as a chastening from God? His wrath even?

  7. fatherstephen Says:

    If we must speak of God’s wrath, it must be stood as a metaphor for His love, and nothing else. I do not care that St. Augustine said various things, he is not as astute as the larger body of the Eastern fathers. The OT must be read through Christ despite the scandal that it causes us. God is Good, period. No qualifiers. He causes His rain to fall on the just and the unjust (rain is a good thing in the NT). It is His good ness that the unjust cannot abide and call it by others names. But God is Good, and that is that (indeed St. Luke says He is “kind” to the evil).

  8. Justin Richter Says:

    I don’t think anybody is saying that God isn’t good. I am not sure you have understood our comments.

  9. fatherstephen Says:

    Perhaps so, but the Goodness of God is defined in Christ Jesus, and not by any theological system (Augustinean or otherwise). He is good and only wills good for us. He consigns no one to hell fire. That is something we do to ourselves apart from God – choosing to see love as torment. This is the consensus of the Fathers. Forgive me if I have misunderstood.

  10. Jim Wagner Says:

    I have always thought that Romans 1:24, 26 & 28 explain the wrath of God as well as any texts in scripture. “God gave them up” to do the very things we want to do. This is his wrath. In other words, we (collectively) punish ourselves.
    This also makes some sense of the language about Jesus taking the wrath of God upon himself. Jesus suffers because of the sins humanity has chosen to do — and God has allowed us to do. In his suffering Jesus is bearing “the wrath of God.” Indeed, God is bearing the wrath of God.
    I don’t know if this makes sense, but it is the best I can make of it.

  11. Justin Richter Says:

    No doubt. I complete agree with you that the goodness of God is defined in Jesus Christ. I believe God’s love/justice/mercy/patience is revealed in the Christ as well. All these flow from God’s goodness. I think that is what Augustine is getting at in the above passage to one degree or another. I would be interested in seeing how you would take these passages from scripture though, that show our Good God taking an active role in wrath:

    (John 3:36) Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

    (Rom 1:18) For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

    (Rom 2:5) But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous
    judgment will be revealed.

    (Rom 5:9) Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.

    (Rom 12:19) Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

    (Col 3:6) On account of these the wrath of God is coming.

    (Heb 3:11) As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.'”

    (Rev 14:10) he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.

    (Rev 19:15) From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.

    No doubt God is good. God’s wrath must be good then. They are not against each other. I am not as familiar with the all the Orthodox father’s as you are, but I know the Patristics relatively well. I haven’t read anything in them that is counter to the wrath of God. Ultimately, I don’t think a God who is wrathful is an invention. I think there is reason why people believe that. It hasn’t come out of thin air. I think this is an important discussion and look forward to hearing more from the Fathers on this topic. Thank you Father Stephen.

  12. Justin Richter Says:

    By the way. That smiley face was accidental.

  13. Nathaniel McCallum Says:

    Father, I am agreeing whole-heartedly with you. But there is perhaps more precise ways to say what we are trying to say.

    God’s actions are his energies, fully divine. The righteous perceive these energies as everlasting delight for they desire the Kingdom of God above all things. The evil hate these energies because they hate God who is life itself. Just because the evil hate God does not stop the “coming down” of His energies. The more we rebel against them, the more we suffer. Yet, the energies are still from God. In this sense we say that it is God’s wrath, because it ultimately comes from Him. However, it cannot, by definition, be wrath without our avarice towards it.

    What you revile against is the Calvanist (and others) sentiment that, lacking free will, the differentiation between love and wrath is not within our own heart, but within God’s. This is truly heresy!

    I think what I have described is the consensus of the Orthodox Church. Forgive me if I am wrong.

  14. fatherstephen Says:

    Nathaniel,

    I agree with what you say and commend it . It states in a precise way the consensus of the fathers.

  15. Nathaniel McCallum Says:

    Fr Stephen, was that last comment meant for me?

  16. fatherstephen Says:

    I must say I am fascinated by the sizable response to the subject of the wrath of God and wonder whether the response is due to agreement or disagreement.

  17. fatherstephen Says:

    Yes, nathaniel.

  18. Michael Bauman Says:

    Father, you say: “Fans of New Testament wrath are quick to point out the passage in Acts concerning Ananias and Sapphira:

    But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things. And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him. And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much. Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out. Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband. And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things (Acts 5:1-11)

    For accuracies’ sake, it must be noted that we are nowhere told that Ananias and Sapphira died as the result of the action of God. We are told that they fell down dead. This is not unimportant.”

    Could you please expand on this comment. The story has always puzzled me.

    Clearly we face judgement, in fact, dread judgement. Is it our fear alone that makes it so (as love casts out fear)?

    Just as clearly it is wrong to diminish the reality of our judgement if only because of the many times that Jesus speaks of the torment of hell–less we risk falling into some kind of universal salvation . Hell and damnation sermons are not entirely absent from the Orthodox Tradition. One the Kalimoros references in his footnotes by St. John of San Francisco is one such.

    At the same time we should not forget that Jesus told us the lake of fire was prepared for the devil and his angels, not us, even though we could end up there.

    Of course, in light of your post on Of Whom I am First, without His mercy, hell would be the only place for us would it not?

    Genuine mercy seems incompatible with actual wrath as we humans understand wrath. The testimony of the saints who speak most clearly about their communion with God is that only love beyond our understanding is found in God. The same saints recognize the depth of their own sins the more profoundly because of God’s love. They are driven to repent so they can go more deeply into His love. At least that is how I understand it.

  19. fatherstephen Says:

    Yes, I agree. If we had proper understanding, wewould fear our on perversity, but not God’s mercy. Out perversity is that we hate his mercy.

  20. Wonders for Oyarsa Says:

    Father Stephen, I must say then, what of the Old Testament? For it is unavoidable that he is depicted as often wrathful in the law and the prophets. How is this to be understood?

    One thought I might have is that God’s wrath (against Sodom, for example) may be an expression of his love for creation – and he separates for destruction that which might pull the rest of his good creation with it. So evil is depicted most often as a “cancer” in the OT, that must be “cut off”, lest it destroy the whole body. Is this near the mark?

    Nevertheless, some of the expressions of wrath in the OT are simply frightful. Did the fathers find these passages troubling?

  21. Wonders for Oyarsa Says:

    I wrote something on one of the more troubling passages to me (here). Father Stephen (if you have time to read it), I wonder if you think such thoughts are helpful, or whether I am going down the wrong path. This is the best I know to do.

  22. Katrina Says:

    Father Stephen,

    Is what happened to Ananias and Sapphira fall under the category of what St. Paul says in 1 Co. 11:27-30?

    “Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.”

    Was their death an example of what St. Paul is speaking about here? They brought their death upon themselves, not by an angry God waiting to strike them down for telling a lie. It was the condition of their heart that they did not examine. The combination of God’s goodness in the Mysteries and their own selfish agenda proved to be a deadly one.

    Am I on the right track?

    Katrina

    P.S. As an aside…I always remember the story that a former parish priest told. He had gone to a pan-Christian meeting of our local metro area. The conversation turned to God’s final judgment and what they hoped would happen. The majority of the pastors/ministers/church leaders cried out “Justice!” to which our priest countered back to the group “Justice? Really? I don’t want justice. I’m hoping for mercy.”

  23. fatherstephen Says:

    Yes, I would agree. In some manner they brought their death upon themselves not as a punishment from an angry God.

  24. fatherstephen Says:

    Wonders of Oyarsa,

    Indeed OT passages are frequently reinterpreted by the Fathers to bring them in line with the Person and teaching of Christ. It is quite common. Hortatory usage is sometimes less exacting. Fr. John Behr’s work of recent years has been very clear and helpful on this for modern readers. There are a variety of ways to treat Sodom and Gomorrah. To treat it as pure history and literal, however, would create problems for the Christian reinterpretation of the passage. One of the problems of historical methods, whether liberal or fundamentalist, is their failure to read the OT in a Traditional Christian manner. One group dismisses it as fable, the other treats it as literal and comes up with the wrong God. Christ is the key to understanding the OT. He said so. If we would understand any part of the OT, we must interpret it according to Christ.

  25. fatherstephen Says:

    Orthodoxy does not dismiss hell and judgment – only they are the result of the wickedness of our own heart – not the anger of God. It is our own hatred of God that turns the love of God into the fire of hell. Hell is indeed a serious possibility – and not as a legal problem. It is existential and deeply rooted in the state of our heart. Thus repentance is of deepest importance – because it is a change of heart (and a work of the Grace of God).

  26. Steve Says:

    I find that many Western Christians speak about the wrath of God as if it were part of God’s nature. In Genesis, God says to Adam and Eve that they are not to eat of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, he says “for in the day that you eat of it you shal surely die.” But many of those who advocate the penal substitution theory of the atonement seem to read this as if God had said “I will surely kill you”. But God did not say “I will surely kill you” but “you shall surely die”.

  27. fatherstephen Says:

    Indeed, some of the early Fathers point out this very fact (I can’t remember if it’s Athanasius, I think, or Irenaeus). But it’s a very salient point. Genesis is indeed inspired.

  28. Stephen Says:

    Fr. Stephen, When you say Fr. Bohr’s work are you referring to “The Mystery of Christ”?

    Also I hate to be redundant. I agree with all of the things that you have stated but I believe that some of us still don’t get it (or maybe it is just myself). It seems as if many of your readers are coming from protestant backgrounds. At least, my own mind has been ingrained with fundamentalist and literal ways of thinking, from birth to not very long ago. It is quite difficult to shake these thought patterns. I recently started reading the OT and have no difficulty seeing Christ throughout. This is almost impossible to miss. But there seems to be problems where the supposedly righteous figures seem to act in unrighteous ways and even contradict each other. For example Lot’s daughters lie with there father but are not stuck down. It says that Lot had wine to drink. I am positive that, I on occasion have had a bit to much wine to drink, but I think that I would always be aware of who was in my bed. It seems that God allows certain events to happen. How do we avoid coming up with various theories that would seem to make God concerned only with a greater good? I hope that I am being somewhat clear here. The point is that I’m just not getting it and need more clarification….

  29. Stephen Says:

    Correction: Fr. Behr not Bohr. I don’t intend to imply that he is boring. This is not a Freudian slip.

  30. The wrath of God « Khanya Says:

    […] wrath of God Jump to Comments A very good post by Father Stephen on the wrath of God. For various reasons, some people are determined to make the economy of salvation to be linked with […]

  31. Alice C. Linsley Says:

    “It is not ever appropriate to exalt a Biblical system over the plain sense communicated to us in the Gospel. No matter the chain of verses and the rational explanations attached – we cannot portray God as other than as He has shown Himself to us in Jesus Christ. To do so makes the Bible greater than Christ.”

    Very well stated! Thanks you, Father.

  32. Margaret Says:

    Fr. Stephen, thank you for this posting! It is true, what you say herein and I appreciate the Orthodox Church’s perspective as you have cited.

    I was raised with the idea of the wrathful God (I really like the weird picture accompanying this post!) But I have found it very difficult to sustain this idea as I have matured and now that I have children I am trying to raise up in a Christian home.

    One more thing, I believe the downfall of my former denomination, the Episcopal Church, is related to this particular misrepresentation of God and their human way of dealing with it.

    God bless you!

  33. Justin Richter Says:

    Alright, one more time. Is it really wrong to think of the Gospel in legal terms. If you search my blog you will see that I have researched some of the patristics in this area. Chrysostom has some legal underpinnings to some his writings. Furthermore, Athanasius definitely does. I like Athanasius because he seems to have one foot in the legal camp and one foot in ontological camp. Essentially Jesus died for the sins of humanity so that the covenantal law would fulfilled. In turn, all those in Christ can become renewed into the image of God. Its a both/and not either/or. Too often people/churches suffer from reductionism. They hold on to one aspect of the Gospel/Christ and throw the rest out the window. If we could learn to love our neighbor and listen better then maybe we would have a more robust faith.

  34. William Says:

    It seems to me that it is possible to present the gospel accurately without using any legal language, but it is impossible to present the gospel accurately using exclusively legal language. And so many presentations of the gospel these days use only legal language.

    For my part, I would agree that there is a legal problem, simply on the basis of human sin having sprung from disobedience to a command (law) of God and being perpetuated by similar instances disobedience. However, I think that the legal problem is really a secondary problem, an aspect of the real and primary problem, which is the ontological heart of the matter. So, of course we will see the legal aspect addressed in some of the fathers, but you’ll only rarely see this being treated by the fathers as the fundamental reality addressed by the gospel. To address the legal problem only is to address a symptom and not administer a cure. So, Jesus did fulfill the covenantal law and there are legal terms that can be used in thinking about the gospel, but we should recognize that those terms by themselves hardly do justice to the fullness of the good news of our redemption. We should also recognize that legal thinking has been vastly overemphasized by many, to the point of going beyond and distorting the biblical and patristic vision.

    The fact that a sinner, me, stands guilty of breaking God’s command is only the surface of a problem that is preceded by my heart being infected and apt to further lawbreaking. More to the point than the lawbreaking is the movement away from the source of life and being and the corresponding movement toward death, away from our very true nature and purpose. With that ontological problem comes my inability to rectify any legal problem that might exist or to maintain any making right of that legal problem. If the fundamental problem were legal, then all God would have to do is forgive me when I repented. He doesn’t need to inflict a punishment on me or on anyone else to satisfy his justice because he is God, not beholden to any notion or rule of “justice” that is higher than himself or that constrains his ability to forgive. St. Symeon the New Theologian suggests that if Adam and Eve had immediately repented when God confronted them after their disobedience, they would have been forgiven on the spot.

    Actually, all human problems that could be thought of as having to do with sentencing as a result of the fall were solved in Christ’s incarnation, death and resurrection. We are still dogged by the very serious effects of the fall, but now our problem is less about the fall itself and more about our response to Christ’s appearance. Because of Christ’s human life, all human beings, saint and sinner alike, will be resurrected at the last day and will eternally be in the presence of God. No one will be in Hades. But the glory of the presence of God will be Gehenna to those who do not love God. The light of that glory will be blinding “outer darkness” to them. The fire of God’s love will be the eternally consuming fire that is torment for them.

    I think Nathaniel up above nailed the matter of God’s wrath with his comment, and I don’t think my comments can sum it up any better. The action of God’s energies on different persons could be compared with the action of the elements on different substances. Moisture and air nourish plant life but eat away at exposed iron by causing rust. In the same way, God’s energies are love and bring life to those in Christ. To those who refuse Christ, those same energies are wrath, though they never ceased to be God’s love. They “corrode” the hardened heart. An Orthodox speaker, I can’t remember who, pointed out that the Second Coming and the Last Judgment are the same event. The light of Christ’s glory will appear and will shine on the just and the unjust, just as the rain falls on the just and the unjust. The light of Christ’s glory will reveal each of us as we truly are, and that glory will act upon each of us according to our ability to receive it: love for the loving and wrath for the wrathful, if you will.

    This is illustrated in one of the quotes from Revelation Justin provided (Rev. 14:10) “he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.” The torment described is “in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.” It’s not that the Lamb is present and simply observing people being tormented, it is that Christ’s holy presence is torment, wrath, for the one who has not been made holy. The scripture uses the word “anger” with regard to God in the same way we might speak of a storm’s “fury.” Storms aren’t emotionally furious, but their action can be furious. Likewise, God is not emotionally wroth, but his energies have the effect of wrath when they contact sin. In 2 Thess. 1:8, these same energies are described as “flaming fire taking vengeance.” Verse 9 says “these shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” The “from” here indicates not banishment, for nobody will be banished to a “place” where the omnipresent God is not present, where Christ will not fill all in all. Rather, it is the Lord’s very presence and the very glory of his power that effects the punishment and destruction. We read the words “vengeance” and “punishment” here in this passage, but it is really in their hatred that those who persecute Christians will encounter the revelation of Jesus’ glory in these ways. It is one glory that is revealed. It destroys the persecutors, but it glorifies the saints and is admired by those who believe.

    I should stop rambling now. Fr. Stephen and fellow readers, forgive me and please provide corrections for any misrepresentations of Orthodox teaching that I might have written here.

  35. Victor Says:

    Stephen,

    In reading the story of Lot it is important to rememeber that he offered his daughters up to the evil men of Sodom. What his daughters did was surely wrong but were they not living out ‘the sins of their father’? It looks to me like a case of Lot bringing evil on himself. This is not to deny his being righteous, many righteous people did evil things. Righteousness is about trust in God, not moral behaviour per se. “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Just a thought…

  36. D Burns Says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    This may or may not be related to your original post, but I’m reminded of the story in the gospel of Christ cursing a fig tree for not giveing him any fruit even though it was out of season. Later the deciples remarked that that tree had withered and died. I’ve never understood that story, but it seamed to me to be related somehow to God’s anger/wrath. Could you please explain the story and wether or not it’s related to your original post?

    Fr. bless.

  37. Wonders for Oyarsa Says:

    Hello D Burns,

    Not to presume to answer for Father Stephen, but I think there are some fairly definitive answers to your question.

    Jesus, I believe, is invoking this theme in Jeremiah:

    Were they ashamed when they committed abomination?
    No, they were not at all ashamed;
    they did not know how to blush.
    Therefore they shall fall among the fallen;
    when I punish them, they shall be overthrown,
    says the Lord.
    When I would gather them, declares the Lord,
    there are no grapes on the vine,
    nor figs on the fig tree;
    even the leaves are withered,
    and what I gave them has passed away from them.

    Israel is being visited by the Lord, and she is expected to bear fruit and to welcome his coming. But she is barren, not in the right season. Like the fig tree. Look at this parable of Jesus:

    And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

    This again is the same theme – God expecting good from his people when he visits them. Jesus is enacting this, in prophetic symbol, in story, and in flat out declaration. Look at this parable – it’s the same theme:

    Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

    Here again is the same theme – the king is coming, but are you ready for him? Are you prepared? Is the tree in season, are the lamps filled with oil? Jesus is saying that this is happening in his own ministry – that the Lord is returning to Zion, but are they ready?

    For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. …He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. …And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

    Again, the master is returning, expecting a return on his investment. Is Isreal ready for his return? Figs, Oil, Talents – all the same theme of a king visiting subjects that have not made themselves ready.

    Here he says it explicitly:

    And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

    This is the warning – God is returning, he is here, right in front of you, and you don’t recognize him! You are calling judgment upon your heads and upon your city! Repent – the kingdom of God is at hand right this instant!

    If you think in these Jewish prophetic themes, the fig tree incident makes perfect sense. Read it in Mark – flanking Jesus driving the merchants from the temple:

    On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.

    And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. And when evening came they went out of the city.

    As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots.

    The fig tree has no fruit to show its master as he walks by, and is cursed. The people have been entrusted with the law and the temple, but do not have righteousness to show their master when he returns. And so he enacts judgment upon them, trashing everything, not letting anyone do business. And as he leaves, they look at the fig tree, dead and withered.

    It’s all part of the same theme – the same Jewish-style prophetic message.

    But here’s the thing – I don’t think these themes of judgment and warning need overthrow what Father Stephen is saying about wrath. Particularly Jesus’ tears over Jerusalem must give us pause – he longs for them to be ready to take shelter under the wings of their rightful king, but they will not heed the warnings.

  38. fatherstephen Says:

    If Jesus were angry with the fig tree it would be petty and petulant. It is clearly a symbolic, prophetic action related to Israel as an unproductive tree. St. John the Baptist had said as much: “Therefore the axe is laid to the root.”

  39. reader john Says:

    Reading many of these comments I wonder how many people are taking the time to read “The River of Fire” (as Fr. Stephen suggests) before writing their question. It is an IMPORTANT essay to be familiar with and reading it would clearly answer most of the queries that are being put to Father Stephen. Just an observation…

  40. MuleChewingBriars Says:

    I know a wrathful person.

    Actually, her wrath is triggered by a perceived injustice. Nothing makes her angrier that to hear of someone who caused suffering to an innocent person, especially a child or a beast, and “got away with it”. Usually, what she suggests to God is an immediate celestial barbeque, although she thinks that would be too gentle for a pedophile or a pederast.

    We humans seem to have a built in desire to see justice prevail in the universe, to see the cosmic scales balance. Of course, our tinkering upsets the balance even more, so we tinker some more, etc.

    It is hard, though, to tell my friend that there are no consequences to the sort of behavior that provokes her wrath, that God loves the malefactor as much as He does the righteous. Formerly, i used to tell her that we need to wait for the final judgment, as then and only then will all the books be opened, all the evidence be weighed, and all the extenuating circumstances be duly noted.

    But to be honest, I always thought eternal Hell to be too exacting a punishment for even the worst transgressors, even the Idi Amins or the Pol Pots. The standard Western/Calvinist/Anselmist answer to this objection – that all of these offenses were committed against the infinite majesty of God and so demanded an infinite payment or punishment – made God seem to be other than He appears to me to be in Christ; self-absorbed and demanding rather than humble and forgiving.

    Now, I usually reply that, apart from the grace of God in granting repentance, these acts will make the transgressor a hellish person, and that, like Judas, he will eventually go to “his own place”.

  41. fatherstephen Says:

    The anger of man does not work the righteousness of God. (James 1:20)

  42. Karen C Says:

    Dear Father, bless!

    “The common witness within Orthodox Tradition is that the wrath of God is a theological term which describes not God Himself, but a state of being in which are opposed to God.”

    Ought not this to read “. . . a state of being in which WE (or human beings) are opposed to God”?

    “Intricate theories of the atonement which involve the assuaging of the wrath of God are not worthy of the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I can say it no plainer. Those who persist in such theological accounts do not know “what spirit they are of.” It is not ever appropriate to exalt a Biblical system over the plain sense communicated to us in the Gospel.”

    AMEN!

    James 1:20 is a verse that comes often to my mind also when this subject is in view. I have noticed, however, that those who fail to recognize the “wrathful God” as false easily justify even their own vindictive anger (like the woman in MuleChewingBriars comment) as being “righteous” and like God’s if it is not plainly self-serving and is about issues of morality or social justice. I found I could not be freed from reading this view of God’s wrath into the Scriptures and even into the Gospels until my overriding concern as a Christian became to be able to love even my enemies from the heart and no longer mainly about escape from hell and punishment. Only when I became deeply honest about the poverty of my own love and desperate for real inner transformation was God able to open my eyes to the fullness of the faith. What a thrill it was to discover “The River of Fire” after God had already spoken this same understanding into my mind and heart. I had uttered a desperate prayer (inspired by the Holy Spirit I now realize) to understand the true nature of “Gehenna.” What God spoke to me in answer to that prayer was so immediate, so profound, and met the longings of my heart in such a deep way, that I was afraid to trust it without some kind of external confirmation. It precipitated quite a spiritual crisis for me until I discovered “The River of Fire” online several months later. My friend’s (now my Godmother’s) Orthodox Priest confirmed that Kalomiros’ address reflected an understanding that was fully Orthodox and Patristic and not some fringe opinion. I knew then that the Orthodox Church, as strange as its forms and rites were to me at that time, was my true spiritual home.

  43. Alice C. Linsley Says:

    The parable of the fig tree cursed is less about the wrath of God than about true discipleship and worship. The storm and waves obeyed Jesus’ voice when HE commanded them to be still. When HE presents Himself before the fig tree seeking fruit in a time of hunger, the fig tree should have brought forth figs. The Disciples wondered about this because they observed that it was not the season for figs. They missed the point! In Christ’s presence it is always the time to bear fruit.

  44. Michael Bauman Says:

    Why allow those to continue to exist who are unable or unwilling to accept the love of God and love in return?

  45. fatherstephen Says:

    Good question. Life and existence is God’s gift and His goodness. He does not take back what He gives. Of course, this same question has pushed certain of the Fathers, such as St. Isaac the Syrian, to hold out the hope that God does this because He knows He will eventually win every heart. But this is not a dogma of the Church – just the pious speculation of a very kind-hearted father. But I wonder about the question myself.

  46. Joseph Hromy Says:

    Thank you father for this post I will surely teach this when I become a history teacher! I love this site it has a lot of important differences between the Orthodox, Catholic and the many different Protestant churches.

  47. j-anglican Says:

    Father,
    You say
    “First, Christ Himself is the definitive revelation of God and that revelation is not corrected by either an Old Testament reading (for “these are they which testify of me”) nor by an Epistle, for Christ as witnessed to in the gospels is the definitive revelation for interpreting even the Epistles.”
    While the basic assertion you are making here is true, could you clarify a little bit?
    How do we interpret the revelation of Christ in the gospels? Many liberal Christians use arguments which sound similar to this one to dismiss inconvenient parts of the scriptures, claiming that we should only think of the love of Christ. Christ eating and drinking with sinners is a favorite story for such arguments. Perhaps you could clarify your argument to show how it does not allow for a similar distortion of the scriptures.
    Secondly, I am unclear on how you answer Justin’s long list of scripture passages above, or how you account for Ananias and Sapphira. Of course, they brought their punishment upon themselves, but people do not generally die as a result of telling lies, no matter how big the lie. God must have had some role in their punishment.
    Third while your argument seems to be based on saying that Jesus does not reveal God as wrathful, Jesus himself clearly appears as wrathful in the book of Revelation – as several of Justin’s scripture passages above show- even if the gospel passages often pointed out to show God’s wrath are unclear.
    Thank you
    P. H.

  48. j-anglican Says:

    Father,
    You say
    “First, Christ Himself is the definitive revelation of God and that revelation is not corrected by either an Old Testament reading (for “these are they which testify of me”) nor by an Epistle, for Christ as witnessed to in the gospels is the definitive revelation for interpreting even the Epistles.”
    While the basic assertion you are making here is true, could you clarify a little bit?
    How do we interpret the revelation of Christ in the gospels? Many liberal Christians use arguments which sound similar to this one to dismiss inconvenient parts of the scriptures, claiming that we should only think of the love of Christ. Christ eating and drinking with sinners is a favorite story for such arguments. Perhaps you could clarify your argument to show how it does not allow for a similar distortion of the scriptures.
    Secondly, I am unclear on how you answer Justin’s long list of scripture passages above, or how you account for Ananias and Sapphira. Of course, they brought their punishment upon themselves, but people do not generally die as a result of telling lies, no matter how big the lie. God must have had some role in their punishment.
    Third while your argument seems to be based on saying that Jesus does not reveal God as wrathful, Jesus himself clearly appears as wrathful in the book of Revelation – as several of Justin’s scripture passages above show- even if the gospel passages often pointed out to show God’s wrath are unclear.
    Thank you

  49. j-anglican Says:

    Sorry, my comment seems to have appeared twice.
    Also the P.H. at the end is a typo.

  50. Lucian Says:

    He does not take back what He gives.

    God is a gentleman; He’s not like Fred and Barney, who, when they fight, they go in and out of another’s house, to seize back what they’ve once borrowed or lend or gave as a gift to one another.🙂 — See? Whoever told You that Orthodoxy can’t be broken up into flashy little soundbites didn’t know what he was talking about, so don’t listen to them…😀

  51. Lucian Says:

    Jerusalem Anglican,

    You’ve posted three comments in a row; people who do things three times each are either Orthodox or on their way to it … watch out! 8)

    Sorry, my comment seems to have appeared twice.

    Didn’t You rather mean: “Forgive me, father, for I have sinned!” ?😀

  52. Justin Richter Says:

    I agree that all of scripture points to Christ and that we interpret all of scripture through Christ. I think most protestants will agree with that as well. Like J-Anglican states above, I think people can interpret Christ wrong and therefore interpret the rest of scripture wrong. I also think people tend to focus on only one aspect of Christ’s revelation of the Father as well. I know most people on this website will disagree and that is okay, but the Western tradition holds that Christ in His passion shows the paradoxical relationship of God as love and God as righteous. They are not at odds with each other but they are the same thing from different perspectives.

    By the way, I have read the first half of River of Fire and it is very interesting. It is also slightly disturbing because I think it lacks charity in many respects. Kalomiros basically blames the ‘west’ for the fall of Christendom. He doesn’t really show much evidence beyond rhetoric and he uses very divisive language. There is truth in what he saying, but it hurts me to see someone preach the Love of God in unloving ways. I know that is not his intention, but when someone not from his camp hears that it becomes obvious. I reminds me of some fundamentalist preachers I have heard boast about the purity of their church compared to others who don’t preach the right gospel. In the end it amounts to self righteousness and contradicts the very message they are giving.

    In the end, I understand why people on this post dislike their understanding of the ‘western system.’ But please show charity to people who are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I personally know people who are suffering for the sake of Christ, and who believe in a God who is love and just. They are being persecuted, yet they are still bold with message that Christ died for humanity and he has been resurrected and sits at the right hand of the Father. I know I need to work on this too.

  53. Lucian Says:

    Justin Richter,

    seems like You have been predestined by God Himself to be a follower of the Western Way: Justin comes from ‘just’, and Richter means judge in German.😀 Well, anyway … God is not antropomorphic (He simply does not possess wrath or anger for the same reason He does not possess a body either, since the Godhead is uncircumscribed: to say that God is literally so is heretical from the Patristical and Orthodox perspective, and I have yet to see a sign that the West does NOT perceive or understand it this way), and one of the characteristics of engodment is dispassion: that’s what we see on the Cross, when Christ says “forgive them for they do not know what they do”, that’s what we saw at St. Stephen’s martyrdom (same thing), that’s what we saw happening in communist prisons. God is Love, and he who does not know love does not know God — that’s what Scripture teaches us; and life and history and tradition teaches us that whosoever has ever approached God become like Him: holy, kind, merciful, forgiving, caring and loving. Neither the first Christian martyrs from the first few centuries, nor those that lived during communist opression ever prayed to God that He might strike down and destroy their tormentors and persecutors: quite on the contrary. As for His JUSTice, it is the same as STRAIGHTness or RIGHTeousness: namely His Holiness; the holy people of the Old Covenant are called ‘justs’ or `righteous’; and the holy people of the New Covenant are called Saints. To say otherwise is perilous: because the anger of men does not work the righteousness of God (St. James); becasue My ways are not like your ways and my righteousness is not like your righteousness (Old Testament), because we are supposed to be holy EVEN AS our Heavenly Father is holy, as both Testaments advice us to (and not holier than Him; nor holy but in a different manner: and this implies forgiving those that sin against you; blessing those that curse you; turning the other cheek; praying for those that hate us, etc: as we see in the Gospels).

  54. fatherstephen Says:

    I generally add the warning about Kalomiros rhetoric. I forgot to this time. There are historical factors that make his rhetoric as strong as it is. Take it in stride.

  55. fatherstephen Says:

    The answer to the first is simple: Christ in the Gospels as taught by the Orthodox Fathers of the Church (who accepted them as canon). Again, I would say Revelation has to be read through the Christ of the Gospels. It is cast in OT apocalyptic imagery, which again has to be seen in the light of the suffering God. What is gained by clinging to an anthropomorphic image of God as angry? Orthodoxy does not deny hell, but understands it in the light of God’s love (cf. Kalomiros).

  56. Lucian Says:

    There are historical factors that make his rhetoric as strong as it is.

    Yeah; there’s no point in saying that, on one hand, Your religion doesn’t believe in Original Sin, while, on the other, You’re still bashing Catholics for what they’ve did *800* yrs ago.😦 It’s self-defeating… but, that again, both methods worked in gaining more members…😀 Those witty, sneaky Greeks! 8)

  57. fatherstephen Says:

    The historical factors are not found 800 years ago, but in the intellectual bondage which had Greece in its grip earlier in the 20th century. Fr. John Romanides, Kalomiros’ Teacher, had to defend his doctoral thesis in Greece because it took exception to things that Thomas Acquinas had said. Imagine, Orthodoxy that was intellectually dominated by Thomism. Coming out from that bondage to the West (because under the Turks the East had virtually no ability to educate their own) was quite difficult. Different in some degree in Russia, but still a reality even there. Thus some of Romanides and Kalomiros rhetoric is strident. But they were not doing so in order to trash the West as much as trying to wake up the East to be aware and faithful to what it had received.

  58. Karen C Says:

    Justin, I can sympathize with your reaction to the strong rhetoric in the first part of “The River of Fire.” I had a similar reaction, but I also recognized a strong grain of truth in it because I have often encountered in morally/spiritually sensitive non-Christian relatives and friends a natural revulsion for this understanding of God’s wrath and the consequent interpretation of the meaning of the Atonement with which I could not help being sympathetic. As a result of this wrong image of the “wrathful God,” perceived to be the only “traditional” Christian understanding by many in western Christendom, I felt many spiritually sensitive people were being scandalized unnecessarily by this “gospel.” I also lived for a while in the UK and later in Belgium. In Europe, there is considerably more resistance to the traditional Christian faith than here in the U.S. (to put it mildly). It seems likely to me that Western Christian theological and religious history (wrought as it is with coercion and persecution in the Name of Christ and in the name of rescuing “heretics” from hell!) is much more part of the historical cultural memory in Western Europe and is in no small part responsible for that greater resistance to all forms of traditional Christianity.

    Something that was helpful for me in working through a correct understanding of God’s righteousness/justice (I think there are distortions in the western notions of God’s “justice”) and the Atonement (in addition to “The River of Fire”) was the an online work in progress by evangelical, Dr. Robin Collins, prof. of Philosophy at Messiah College entitled “Understanding Atonement.” You and others with similar questions may find it helpful as well, so I offer again that link:

    http://www.home.messiah.edu/~rcollins/AT7.HTM

    Of course, Fr. Stephen has also helped again by putting Dr. Kalomiros’ work in its proper historical context and perhaps that is all that is necessary.

    Thanks for joining in this discussion–you speak for many I am sure!

    Father bless! Thanks again for tackling this important issue.

  59. Bruce Says:

    A few rambling thoughts:
    1. I am incomplete without God. When I abandon myself to Him; I have a chance, with His Grace, to discover Him as well as myself.
    2. I find God as I learn to praise Him in all circumstances and in faith begin to realize he ‘fillest all things and is the treasury of good gifts and the giver of Life.’ If I confused about whether God is good or evil, I remain seperated from Him and in darkness.
    3. What I believe about God matters. My beliefs about God which seperate me from Him are not intellectually valid or defendible; they simply move me further from what I desperately need…union and communion with Him. If an ‘angry God’ seperates me from Him, I need to lose it….now…and repent in front of the pure Light, or if you like Fire, of His Love.
    4. Truth is revealed in both scripture, tradition, and my own life when it is first centered in Him through repentence and obedience to His commands. I cannot find or know God without a purity of obedience in me.
    5. I find God in my heart not in my head. When I began to trust God more than I trust myself and my intellect, God can begin to reveal Himself to me. When I elevate myself and my intellect to a God-like state, I shut out His Light and I am truly lost, alone, incomplete, and my pride has closed the eyes and ears of my heart. I have eyes that cannot see and ears that cannot hear.
    6. It is never too late or too soon to repent and follow Him.

  60. zoe Says:

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen for this thought provoking blog. I appreciate everybody’s comments and your responses to them. I truly believe as you have said that we are to read the Scriptures through the prism of the Cross of Christ and we can only understand God through what Jesus Christ has revealed to us about Him (God). Unless we, as Christians keep our focused on Christ, His dying on the cross and His Resurrection, we can easily get lost in the “fields” (Scriptures) where the “hidden treasure” (Christ)

  61. MG Says:

    Michael Bauman–

    You wrote:

    “Why allow those to continue to exist who are unable or unwilling to accept the love of God and love in return?”

    The patristic answer seems to be that by partaking of human nature, Christ made human nature to partake of immortality. The wicked have a measure of life because of their common humanity with Christ; but the blessed have abundant life because they personally appropriate the immortality that Christ has granted to their human nature. See this post on energeticprocession (an excellent blog, if you haven’t already read it):

    http://energeticprocession.wordpress.com/2006/12/10/the-cross-is-the-incarnation/

  62. zoe Says:

    My slow dial-up keep losing the rest of my comments, please bear with me. I want to send the rest of my comments: ….where the “hidden treasure” (Christ) lay and forget that we already found the “hidden treasure”. Jesus reveals to us what God is like through His suffering on the cross and His reaction to His torturers and accusers who mocked Him, spit on Him and pierced Him with a spear. He did not utter a harsh or vengeful words against His accusers and tormentors but instead He said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”. This is not a revelation of a “God of wrath” but a revelation that God is Love, patient and merciful. By still thinking that God is a “God of Wrath”, we are still not understanding God, and we are just like the followers of Jesus who keeps asking “Show us the Father” and Jesus response was “if you know me, you know the Father, for the Father(God) is in me and I in Him” If we believe that Jesus loves us then we must believe that God Loves us also. “the wrath of God” is always directed towards God’s enemies and God’s enemies are our sins. If God’s wrath is directed at His people, it is because His people failed to annihilate their sins by acts of repentance and asking for forgiveness and mercy. Thank you again, Father and God Bless.

  63. zoe Says:

    I thank God that through the teachings of the Orthodox Church, I found the right perspective in which I may understand the Scriptures. This perspective is the perspective of Christ and His Church for Christ and His Church are one just as the head and the body are one. I have read the Scriptures based on my own perspective which is greatly influenced by western philosophical thinking and ended up confused in my perception of God. But I will no longer rely on my own thinking but rely on the guidance of the Holy Fathers and the Church for Jesus Christ established the Church for this purpose–to guide and illumine sinners. I’m not saying that everything is clear to me now for as long as we are still in our human flesh we will always see things as St. Paul writes “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part but then I shall know just also am known.”
    Thank you, Father Stephen and God bless.

  64. MG Says:

    Justin Richter–

    You wrote:

    “Is it really wrong to think of the Gospel in legal terms? If you search my blog you will see that I have researched some of the patristics in this area. Chrysostom has some legal underpinnings to some his writings. Furthermore, Athanasius definitely does. I like Athanasius because he seems to have one foot in the legal camp and one foot in ontological camp. Essentially Jesus died for the sins of humanity so that the covenantal law would fulfilled. In turn, all those in Christ can become renewed into the image of God. Its a both/and not either/or. Too often people/churches suffer from reductionism. They hold on to one aspect of the Gospel/Christ and throw the rest out the window. If we could learn to love our neighbor and listen better then maybe we would have a more robust faith.”

    It seems the Orthodox have been given a false alternative when presented with the choice between “legal” and “ontological” views of salvation by Western Christians. The way you put it (“one foot in the legal camp and one foot in the ontological camp”) also seems to obscure the issue somewhat (no offense intended). The real question, I believe, is not whether justification and the Gospel include legal realities–clearly they do. The real issue seems to be *how we understand law/justice*. The Reformers (and to a lesser extent their Roman predecessors) had a specific understanding of justice that ancient people would not have agreed with–an understanding connected with Scholastic philosophy. This was legal nominalism–the view that what makes an action or person just or unjust is not a matter of *what it actually is* but of how God has arbitrarily grouped and categorized it in his thoughts and dispositions. Justice became an extrinsic mental relation–a matter of how God looked at you, not how you are.

    From what I can tell, once the questions have been clarified, Orthodoxy can accept that “justification” is a legal term; I just think that ancient understandings of law wouldn’t have allowed for it to have the meaning that legal nominalists would want. Like Plato, the Hebraic view of law and justice seemed to be that justice is a matter of the constitution of things. It is the state of moral harmony, where things are functioning correctly together. When our faculties work in harmony with each other and with God, and the rest of the world, then we are constituted just/righteous. Justice is an uncreated energy of God; it is the moral harmony among the persons of the Trinity. It is manifested in God’s actions of trying to restore and constitute the world in harmony with itself and God. Justification is being liberated from corruption and sharing in the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21) not being arbitrarily categorized as “having the created, meritorious, human righteousness that Jesus acquired through obedience on earth” like Luther wanted to say. The righteousness that God reckons us to have is the righteousness we actually *do* have, namely his own justice. This can be argued from Scripture at greater length, and seems to be the patristic understanding of justice.

    Father Stephen, if you could provide comment or correction, I would be grateful. If I have misrepresented the tradition, forgive me, because I know I am not a teacher of the Church.

  65. fatherstephen Says:

    Yes, I would agree with this approach. Not nominalist-legal. As such the Biblical use of “legal” imagery is usefully called something else because of the modern tradition of legal is so inherently extrinsic that it is less than useful.

  66. David Says:

    I would love to read a book on the more ancient approach to “legal justification” in terms of harmonious function particularly as opposed to penal or compensatory judgment. Suggestions?

  67. Justin Richter Says:

    MG,

    I think your post was one of the most helpful and thoughtful ones to date. Thank you. I know many people on this site probably do not keep up with contemporary Protestant theology, but you might be interested to know that there it has become more open to an ontological view of things. Especially in light of N.T. Wright and the new Pauline perspective. Thanks again MG. God Bless

  68. MG Says:

    David–

    As of yet I’m not aware of one that explicitly talks about it. This is something I’ve picked up from reading ancient sources. Sometime soon I will be publishing research about this on my blog. From the examination of biblical, Hebraic, and Greco-Roman law that I’ve done so far, its confirmed my hypothesis. It also has very interesting applications for how to understand divine punishment and hell–applications that confirm and flesh out the Orthodox view. Its quite exciting.

    Justin–

    Thank you for your kind words. A lot of the insight comes from Perry Robinson on Energeticprocession.wordpress.com, so don’t give me too much credit. I’m familiar with Wright’s work, as well as that of Gathercole, Witherington, Leithart, Schreiner, Rainbow, and others. Leithart’s essay “Justification as Verdict and Deliverance” in Pro Ecclesia I found to be especially helpful.

    I would like to ask a question; tell me what you think of this, if you are interested. If we say that justification is an appropriation of God’s own righteousness, what happens to the idea of imputation, and the penal substitutionary framework that it needs?

  69. Nathan Says:

    Father,

    I have sympathies with this view – but something still seems so wrong. Here is how a Lutheran blogger (I too am Lutheran) responded to me when I put forward a view similar to the one you did here:

    “When you say “But is it not *necessary *that the Christian ultimately see God’s wrath as His love?” it sounds like a category error to me. But here is how I would resolve it.

    God’s wrath has its origins in his love, and it is meant to stop evil (hence the death of the sinner), set an example for the wages of sin, set aright what our sins wrong etc. These are all good things, BTW. But to say God’s wrath IS his love I still see as problematic. It is like saying my eating IS my will to stay alive, my breathing IS my life etc. But I might refrain from eating if the food is not nutritious, and I might stop breathing if the air is poisonous–but I would not then say that I no longer want to live because eating and breathing IS the desire to live. For another example, I love my son, and I punish him when he does wrong. My punishment has its origins in my love for my son, but it is not that love itself, it is punishment analogous to God’s punishment of sinners.

    Also, if punishment IS God’s love, why doesn’t he enjoy it? Why would God not enjoy loving his creatures?”

    The whole fascinating post and conversation (with Michael Liccione [sp?] participating!) can be found here:

    http://upstatelutheran.blogspot.com/2007/12/vengeance-is-mine-but-i-will-not-repay.html

  70. Nathan Says:

    Father,

    I’m sorry – I had forgotten some details. The conversation with Dr. Liccione is referred to in the blog post and is found here:

    http://becominghinged.wordpress.com/2007/12/19/re-upstatelutheran-on-satisfaction/

  71. Nathan Says:

    Father,

    Maybe my previous comment got lost.

    If you look at this blog post and its comments: http://upstatelutheran.blogspot.com/2007/12/vengeance-is-mine-but-i-will-not-repay.html

    You will see that when I put forward a position that was similar to the one you have put forward here he said the following:

    “When you say “But is it not *necessary *that the Christian ultimately see God’s wrath as His love?” it sounds like a category error to me. But here is how I would resolve it.

    God’s wrath has its origins in his love, and it is meant to stop evil (hence the death of the sinner), set an example for the wages of sin, set aright what our sins wrong etc. These are all good things, BTW. But to say God’s wrath IS his love I still see as problematic. It is like saying my eating IS my will to stay alive, my breathing IS my life etc. But I might refrain from eating if the food is not nutritious, and I might stop breathing if the air is poisonous–but I would not then say that I no longer want to live because eating and breathing IS the desire to live. For another example, I love my son, and I punish him when he does wrong. My punishment has its origins in my love for my son, but it is not that love itself, it is punishment analogous to God’s punishment of sinners.

    Also, if punishment IS God’s love, why doesn’t he enjoy it? Why would God not enjoy loving his creatures?”

    …which struck me as pretty wise. What do you think?

  72. fatherstephen Says:

    Nathan,

    A couple of thoughts. The Orthodox teaching on this is that God’s wrath and love are the same thing – God’s love. The difference is in us – because sometimes we hate God’s love. “This is condemnation. That Light has come into the world and men preferred darkness to the Light…” as Christ says in St. John’s Gospel. Hating the light does not make the light into darkness, nor into a punishment.

    As for the analogy with “punishment” of my son. I make a distinction between “chastise” or “correct” and “punishment.” I pray God will correct me and save me from the death of my sins. But I do not expect to be “punished” in the legal sense of the word. It gets confusing because of the multiple shades of meaning our words carry.

    An Old Testament example (as a type) is the Cloud that stood between Israel and the Egyptians on the night before the crossing of the Sea.

    Exodus 13:19-20 And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them: And it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these: so that the one came not near the other all the night.

    Same cloud – light to one and dark to the other. I say the darkness was in the heart of the Egyptians.

    What I find puzzling is the need to posit a reality to the wrath of God beyond the darkness and hatred that we ourselves bring to Him. The anthropomorphism required to maintain these distinctions should be far more troublesome it would seem to me. God is love. God is not wrath. In Him there is no darkness at all. Etc. The darkness is in us. I also find this to be existentially true. I can see all too well where my darkness comes from. And it’s scary.

  73. nathan Says:

    Father,

    Thank you for replying to my question.

    “I can see all too well where my darkness comes from. And it’s scary.”
    I agree. Father, I have real sympathies with this view: I want it to be true. But that’s what makes me suspect this view is wrong (besides, of course, my Lutheran brainwashing : ) )

    Here’s something I wrote a while back on the blog of one of my friends (now Orthodox):

    But if God will ultimately judge and destroy the wicked who rage against his children and Life itself (*not denying that this is primarily understood as the wicked judging and destroying themselves*, cutting themselves off from God and His purposes for them) does not God ultimately, *in some sense at least*, save them from His very Self, namely His millstone-delivering wrath that burns wildly against those who would harm the “little ones”? Note, I do firmly believe that when God unleashes the Law, condemnation, judgment and violence upon the wicked, He does so with the firm goal of helping them to “come to their senses” (Rom. 1 – I note He also “breaks” persons by “gentling” them, for a “word can break a bone”) – that they might cling to Him in His Son and be saved. And yet, there is a final cut-off for those who will not have Him.

    http://jpschock.wordpress.com/2009/01/03/why-luther/

    Perhaps disconcerting and hard to believe in our more sensitive world, but do I have a point – or no? How can/could this be understood in an Orthodox context?

    Thank you,
    Nathan

  74. fatherstephen Says:

    I think you are too married to the literal character of the wrath and the Western scheme that comes out of it. God loves us and His love, whether we see it as love or wrath is always for our salvation. I’m not even worried about the “end game.” God knows it.

  75. Steve Says:

    Exactly right, Father Stephen – thank you.

  76. Nathan Says:

    Father,

    Thank you for your response again. I must say, I expected (not saying I deserved : ) ) you to have a bit more fulsome response to what I wrote.

    Does protection of the little ones not at times include God using force and violence to restrain and put down evil? Does the Scripture not speak of this? I must say, your confidence in your own position rather astounds me (and I am not unwilling to say that the problem may indeed lie within me) – for it seems to mitigate many clear words about what God does to protect His children (this, I see as the origin of “vengence”) – not something we are told to do, by the way. In other words, it is most definitely not about His honor, His hurt pride, etc – its about the little ones He loves.

    At the same time, I too believe in a God of love. But because He loves, He protects, no?

    Do you have any resources that you could recommend me that might free me from my “literalist” shackles? I have a hard time not seeing my view as simply taking Jesus’ and His apostles words seriously!

    Perhaps this is what really separates both Rome and EO from Protestants? (since the Pope in his controversial Regensburg lecture seemed to say that violence was not at all compatible with God’s nature)?

    I am puzzled about this: are all of the punishment passages in Scripture to be understood figuratively then? If so, I don’t know how to do this….

    How do I know what is not to be understood figuratively?

    ~Nathan

  77. fatherstephen Says:

    I don’t think I would say “figuratively” but “mystically” that is, containing more than meets the eye. God protects His little ones – even all of us. He sustains the world and our existence in an ineffable manner. I agree. I do not think it to be the origin of vegeance or even violence. I sit in awe and wonder before the God who is love and cares for us in every detail. I cannot say that He is a God who acts violently (would He need to?) Even His action is ineffable. But He is the God who cannot be explained. He can be known, but not explained. I would say that it’s this matter that I am clingly to.

  78. Karen C Says:

    Father, Nathan’s comments remind me of a movie I watched about a WWII Japanese prison camp for women (“Paradise Road”). A group of women prisoners endure the cruelty of the Japanese, including a particularly sadistic intelligence officer who orders a woman burned alive whose only crime was to smuggle medicine into the camp for one of her fellow prisoners. Two of the main characters are reflecting on their experiences with this officer, one of them an Irish nun who says: “I can’t help it; the worse they behave, the sorrier I feel for them.” In this, she is in no way excusing the officer for his actions, but recognizing the dreadful suffering his cruelty will earn him when he comes face to face with the Being of the living God Who IS love–this utterly holy mercy. I believe the nun could say that because she understood that it is the extent of our own unrepented sins that will cause us suffering when we go into God’s Presence. Anyone who has been granted a measure of genuine repentance understands that in order to repent we have to acknowledge and come to a heart understanding of where and how we have wounded the heart of God that loves us so unconditionally–and this process is excruciatingly painful. The only alternative to this pain is denial and living in falsehood, which falsehood I believe will be stripped away when we go into the Presence of the God Who IS Truth after death. This nun’s compassion is inexplicable to someone who understands God’s judgment to be something extrinsically imposed by a God Who takes vengeance in anger in ANY sense analogous to human so-called “righteous” anger. That is to say, I don’t believe we can rise above our own understanding of God. Consequently, having such a view of God’s wrath automatically renders us impotent to genuinely love our enemies and so fulfill Christ’s commands. We may still be able to impose upon ourselves a form of restraint such that we look to be doing the “loving thing” to our enemies out of a dutiful, purely rational “obedience,” but we will in no wise genuinely love them, which requires genuine solidarity of spirit with them as fellow sinners and true empathy of heart!

    Forgive the long comment and forgive if this is a double post–I thought I submitted this once, but it did not show.

  79. Nathan Says:

    Father,

    Forgive my boldness, but I am greatly puzzled by your words.

    “I sit in awe and wonder before the God who is love and cares for us in every detail.”

    As do I

    “I cannot say that He is a God who acts violently (would He need to?)”

    When you say “would He need to”, I say “I don’t know”. I’d assume not, but the Words on the lips of my Lord lead me to say: what matters is that He has, and does.

    “Even His action is ineffable.”

    Right – but Jesus tells us His action takes place. There are millstones for the sake of those little ones. Those who do not feed the lambs are cut to pieces, etc.

    “But He is the God who cannot be explained.”

    Right. But it seems to me you are explaining Him – and His words – away.

    “He can be known, but not explained.”

    I believe I know Him, though I can only explain what He tells me, namely, that the millstones and “cutting up” (for example) are for those who destroy the little ones. I think you know this God too… but again, you seem eager to put away what seems to me clear words.

    “I would say that it’s this matter that I am clingly to.”

    Evidently I am not? But I do not see what you are saying…

    Again – I wonder if this is the main thing that separates the RC and EO from the conservative Protestants (and I find good in both: I am conflicted about where to go). It seems to me very likely.

  80. Steve Says:

    Nathan,

    I do not presume to speak for Father Stephen or for Holy Orthodoxy, but the Church is united only insofar as it is in communion with God.

    You highlight difference, God highlights Truth. You speak of the divided domain of man, the Spirit speaks only of the Kingdom of God. One perishes, the other is raised to life. It is more than just a matter of operacy. Read Romans chapter 8, specifically verse 8:17.

  81. Wonders for Oyarsa Says:

    Steve,

    Nathan is, as far as I can see, trying to see how he can reconcile the teaching Father Stephen describes with the words of Christ as he reads them. His sympathy is with this teaching, not against it. Is he to be vilified for these questions? Are they somehow out-of-bounds?

  82. Steve Says:

    Wonders for Oyarsa,

    Not “vilification” but scandal.

    Scandal, that Christians are talking as if the Kingdom of God were reserved exclusively for White Anglo Saxon Protestants.

    What about Indians, Burmese and Chinese for instance? Don’t they count?

  83. nathan Says:

    Steve,

    I probably should have left aside those comments about the differences I perceive with the Churches – I am really not interested in dividing things (though the distinction has caught my eye)

    I to am trying to highlight truth, so I beg you to ignore those final comments, which I regret (and which obviously have been
    misinterpreted: “White Anglo Saxon Protestants” – good grief!)

    “Wonders for Oyarsa” is correct – thank you.

    -Nathan

  84. Steve Says:

    Nathan,

    There is scandal in schism, particularly when it is fed (even unwittingly) to the little ones.

    All I did was point this out. Will do it again. As I said, no vilification.

  85. fatherstephen Says:

    Quite specifically, Christ said, “It would be better if a millstone were put about their neck and they were cast into the sea.” That’s not at all the same thing as saying a millstone will be put about their neck…etc. Nor does it preclude at all the Orthodox teaching that what they will encounter is their own hardness of heart when they stand before the all merciful God and that will indeed bring sorrow and sadness and much pain to them – not because God is not loving them, etc., but because they hate Him… “We cannot say we love God Whom we have not seen, and hate our brother whom we do see.” This is a warning against the self-delusion of the heart. I fear for my delusion, for the darkness and hardness that dwells within me. But I do not do so because I think God will not love me. I do so because I know He will love me.

  86. nathan Says:

    Steven,

    I’m not sure I understand. Are you saying I cause schism – and cause little ones to stumble – by asking the kinds of questions I do?

    Nathan

  87. fatherstephen Says:

    Who said the Kingdom is reserved for White Anglo Saxon, etc. ? God will judge according to the heart. Many whom we do not count among us now, God will count. And many whom we count among us now will not be counted. Please, everyone, if possible, let me speak for myself. I may not answer quickly, but I will. Indeed, I would add that people have a right to speak for themselves, but not for me. It is also good, sometimes to identify from where you speak. If you are not Orthodox, even though sympathetic, it is likely good to identify what you are so we do not wind up having conversations with mistaken identity.

  88. Wonders for Oyarsa Says:

    I guess, Father Stephen, it’s hard for us to see God as somehow “passive” in the exercise of “judgment”. I understand the need to correct the distorted picture in much of Western theology you speak of. But the announcement of the judgment of God is part of the gospel itself – part of the very Christ of whom we speak. It is from the mouth of the Theotokos that we hear:

    He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
    he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
    he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.

    In announcing his judgment against Jerusalem, the servant who did not prepare for his master’s coming, Jesus clearly shows that unceasing love of which you speak:

    And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

    This is the judgment that he took upon himself – suffering the fate of a rebellious king on behalf of his people – but I don’t see how it can be said to be improper to see the destruction of the city as the active judgment of God upon it.

    I agree that no image of judgment is true to Christ without seeing God doing everything he can – pleading, longing, appealing, atoning, advocating – on behalf of his rebellious people. But it doesn’t seem proper either to say that the judgment, which Christ spoke of in very active terms, is only a passive allowance. How can the axe laid to the root of the tree be wielded by anything but the hand of God himself – even though the eyes of the woodcutter are swollen with tears pleading for the tree to bear but a single fruit?

    I suppose we always get into deep waters when we try to distinguish between divine and human agency (and indeed, in Christ they are one). So perhaps here we need to just be silent. Maybe it should be enough for us Westerners to accept that the “wrath” and “judgment” of God can never be separated for his intense love for that which he chastises, and that this active chastisement on behalf of God exists continually only by the persistent rebellion of our own hearts. I can certainly go that far.

  89. fatherstephen Says:

    Yes. It is difficult, but I find without this disciplined understanding, we make of God less than He is, and more of something He is not. It is in the depths of His love that we come to know Him, and it is in the depths of the hatred we hold for that love that we come to know the true nature of our sin.

    What is problematic is punishment that is external and merely punitive. There is created an externalization that is problematic, and the possibility of many strange injustices. I prefer the patristic Eastern approach on this – in the long run it makes more sense of my life and my experience of God.

  90. Chris Says:

    I will preface with announcing that I speak only for myself.

    Nathan,

    It was coming to an understanding (to the best of my ability) of this Orthodox teaching which really “sealed the deal” for my conversion to Orthodoxy (from poorly-practiced Lutheranism). I won’t try to explain with my own argument, but since you earlier asked for an additional reference, I will suggest one. “Surprised By Christ” by Fr. A. James Bernstein was very helpful in clarifying this all to me. He doesn’t deal with God’s “wrath” in detail until a later chapter, but the whole book is worth reading. It details his conversion from Judaism to Evengelical Protestantism and finally to Orthodoxy. Embracing this patristic teaching/understanding was (as you will see) monumental in his conversion; as well as thousands of other evanelical protestants who converted to Orthodoxy in the 80’s. His theology is written in “laymen” terminology, but quite profound nonetheless.

    Fr. Stephen,

    If you feel uncomfortable with others’ endorsement of books on your blog, please let me know and I will refrain from it in the future.

  91. zoe Says:

    As a new Orthodox Christian the best way that I can discern that “God is love” and does not impose punishment on people is to reflect on the parable of “the prodigal son”. Dr. A. Kalomiros allude to this in his writings “The River of Fire”. When I was a protestant I only noted the rebellion of the younger son against his father and then his repentance and his father’s forgiveness. I did not take much into consideration the rebellion that the older son has against his father nor his hatred or jealousy against his brother, I think I justified the action of the older brother, because I myself was blind to my own petty jealousy against my brothers and sisters as well as others whom I thought had advantage over me. Now as an Orthodox Christian I see clearly that petty jealousy is a sin that one must recognize and repent from and not justify saying “It’s human nature” or “God understands”. Self justification blinds one to God’s love and forgiveness just as the older son was blind to the love that his father has for him. The father did not have to impose punishment on him (the older son) he did it himself by secluding himself away from the joy of the feast and wallowing in self pity. Dr. A. Kalomiros brings this point sharply.

    Thank you Fr. Stephen for letting everybody express their views.
    God bless.

  92. Basil Says:

    Christ is in our midst!

    The great trouble Christians coming from a ‘western’ understanding of atonement seem to have with letting go of this deeply internalized anthropomorphism of God’s judgement, anger, and punishment, reminds me of a very excellent podcast by Orthodox theologian Fr Tom Hopko.
    I believe the critical theological distinction is found in his Sept. 11, 2008 ‘episode’ entitled, “Pain and Suffering” (found here: http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/P28/)

    Fr Tom makes the (Orthodox, and indeed Jewish) distinction between God’s “providential will”, and the will of His ‘desires’ (I forget the term he uses for this).
    There is a sense in which God is the cause of everything– God wills everything. In various OT passages God is characterized as causing all manner of death and destruction. He sends the angel of death upon the first born of Egypt in the great plague; he is even the One whom the *Satan* asks permission (and receives it) before Job is tormented. (and in fact, it is the “touch of God” that causes Job’s sickness and hardship).
    This sense of God’s providential will rightly depicts his sovereignty over *everything*.
    But it is a grave error to presume God directly causes (non-therapeutic) evils, hardships, suffering, death, or destruction of any kind. God is entirely Good, He is Love, He is Life and in Him there is no death or darkness whatsoever.

    It seems to be along similar lines that God should rightly be understood as the *active* Judge of sinners and the whole world: He is Sovereign, and nothing happens that He does not *providentially* will; nothing is outside of His control.
    However, God DOES NOT cause any suffering at all that is not ultimately therapeutic and pedagogical in nature (my patron saint Basil was very clear on this). Our God does not desire the death of the sinner but that he turn from his way and live. Our God wills (i.e. desires) that ALL should be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth. However, not all *will* be saved (necessarily. Though it is very Orthodox to hope for it). How can God’s will be contravened? One must understand the distinction between these two ways of speaking of God’s will to make any sense of anyone being *in* an eternal Hell at all, if as the Scripture clearly says, God wills that all be saved.
    God is also absolutely THE Judge– He is the pure light that cuts through flesh and bone and exposes the human heart for what it is. This Light, this exposure of the darkness within us, IS our condemnation and judgment. It is we who have chosen sin, death and Hell; it is the Light of God that judges this perfectly.

    I hope some of this is helpful. Listen to Fr Tom, who says it all far better than I.

    -Mark Basil

  93. fatherstephen Says:

    I have heard Father Tom on the Subject but Prefer the patistic witness of St Isaac for a reading that is truly Semetic. I would strongly urge the reading of River of Fire for it’s patrisric quotes at least. My points are not novel or uninformed.

  94. Steve Says:

    Nathan,

    Communion is found in God, not in the institution. The western and eastern churches have been in schism since 1053.

  95. Steve Says:

    Father Stephen,

    The Kingdom of God is within you. Thank you for allowing me to post on your blog.

  96. William Says:

    Another truly Semitic patristic witness on God’s judgment is Ephrem the Syrian. His “Hymns Against Julian” are interesting in their treatment of what some might be inclined to call God’s wrath.

    The poems tell the story of the pagan emperor who persecuted the Christians and was defeated and killed in war against the Persians. Julian’s persecution is seen as providential for the Church as a separation of the wheat from the chaff and the curds from the whey, a proving of the saints, greatly to their glory. Julian’s defeat and ignoble death is alternately described through the hymns as being Julian’s action against himself and God’s exercise of justice that was meant as a lesson for the whole world to see. But the responsibility of Julian’s judgment is always placed on Julian himself for rejecting Christ and turning to sun worship and astrology and believing in the counsels of his soothsayers that led him to his own doom.

    There is language in these four hymns that one might attempt to use as proof-texts in trying to justify a view of an angry God of vengeance, but such readings wouldn’t truly hold up in the end. Ephrem describes God’s role in Julian’s downfall and “punishment” like the sun’s role shining on all:

    “Overnight he (Julian) sprouted, and overnight he dried up.
    Instead of Jonah’s [head], the sun beat down on the heads
    of [Julian’s] accursed partisans — the discriminating sun
    that refreshed the true but tormented the infidels.
    For if Jonah suffered because he stood
    against the penitents, how much more afflicted would be
    everyone who fights against the saints.”

  97. nathan Says:

    Father,

    Thank you for your points (good point about the millstones, but others are still “cut to pieces”, let us not forget). As I said earlier, I had “Lutheran brainwashing” – I did not mean to be vague but wrote hastily. I should point out I am still Lutheran and am not unconvinced of the falsity teachings of that body (the faithful among them) – although I am always exploring the views of EC and RCs.

    That said, I think what Wonders for Oyarsa says is very wise:

    “This is the judgment that he took upon himself – suffering the fate of a rebellious king on behalf of his people – but I don’t see how it can be said to be improper to see the destruction of the city as the active judgment of God upon it.”

    I agree, although I am probably more “liberal” here, choosing to see even this judgment as more allowed or permitted by God, and hence only in this sense, really His judgment. But I do believe He will, by all accounts, be active Himself, in person, in judgment on the Last Day, and that to say that the descriptions of His judging actions (are they a display of love or are they wrath?) are simply determined by whether one is a believer or unbeliever is a very hard position to understand. This seems to me not nuanced enough.

    And yet, when you say:

    “Yes. It is difficult, but I find without this disciplined understanding, we make of God less than He is, and more of something He is not. It is in the depths of His love that we come to know Him, and it is in the depths of the hatred we hold for that love that we come to know the true nature of our sin.

    What is problematic is punishment that is external and merely punitive. There is created an externalization that is problematic, and the possibility of many strange injustices…”

    …I totally agree with you! And I don’t see how it would contradict Wonders of Oyarsa. I would say that when the King comes to judge, there will be actual wrath, punishment, etc. although it will not be merely punitive, because internally there will always be a desire that those being condemned will come to trust Him (perhaps even out of fear) and His goodness without any guile.

    It seems God is always saying “why will you die?” one more time…

    ps – I would love to talk with others, but my time is limited.

    -Nathan

  98. David Says:

    Hi Father Freeman.

    I have recently written a response to this post on my blog. Please take a look at it if you have time. Thanks.

    http://reasonfromscripture.blogspot.com/2009/02/on-wrath-of-god.html

  99. Guy (Theodotus) Says:

    Father bless;
    I must say that I have learned much from looking back at these posts. I thought it might be beneficial to point to a recent talk given by Fr. Reardon where he talks about “The Love of God and the Passion of Christ” in preparation for Holy Pascha.
    He discusses the Atonement in some depth and I keyed in on one particular point, which he stated. “God is not in a snit”. Our God is not an angry God. Here is the link on Ancient Faith Radio: http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/features/the_love_of_god_and_the_passion_of_christ

    Wonderful!
    kissing your right hand;
    -a sinner
    Guy

  100. Gabe Martini Says:

    Father, Bless! This has been extraordinarily helpful. Thanks to all.

  101. Making the Bible Greater than Christ « The Franciscan Mafia Says:

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  104. Drew Says:

    Hello Father Steven,

    Thanks for your post. Just a quick observation and a question. You said “for Christ as witnessed to in the gospels is the definitive revelation for interpreting even the Epistles”. To my understanding, I have read and hence thought that the epistles were written BEFORE the Gospels, rendering the epistles closer to to representing Christ. How can we see the Gospels as the definitive revelation of Christ when the epistles have been written before them. Just a question and kind of an observation. If I have misunderstood what you are trying to say, please let me know. thank you

  105. fatherstephen Says:

    In simple terms, the gospels have a pre-eminence within the life of the church – they are given a singular honor. If you are working in a strictly historical model your point would be quite valid – but Orthodox interpretation, traditionally, is not a primarily historical approach. But the Christ as witnessed to in the gospels is the same Christ as witnessed to in the Epistles. I could have said, “Christ as witnessed to in the Scriptures)…

  106. Drew Says:

    Thank you Father Stephen for your response.

    Would you please elaborate on what you mean when you say “Orthodox interpretation, traditionally, is not a primarily historical approach.” What role does the historical approach play in your hermeneutic of Scripture? How important is history in the way you approach Scripture? The reason i ask these questions is that it is harder for me (as a Protestant leaning more to Orthodoxy) to understand the kind of criteria used in Orthodoxy to interpret Scripture. Quite frankly, it is sometimes very frustrating to me because some of the criteria seems to be an ever elusive target. How would you respond to a critic who says your interpretation of Scripture is too subjective and therefore conveniently dodges difficulties or challenges when raised against your way of “doing” hermeneutics? When talking to my wonderful and brilliant orthodox friend on the issue of interpreting Scripture, I sometimes feel like we are on two different planets. I understand that he and I share some different fundamental assumptions about various beliefs, but sometimes I feel his response in this area borders too much on fideism. I think I feel that way about Orthodoxy (concerning hermeneutics) in general right now. I understand the so-called Enlightenment has influenced our way of thinking very deeply, but I sometimes feel that the Orthodox understanding of hermeneutics is too subjective for me. I think of the rodeo clown fallacy sometimes when I hear my friend speak on this issue:

    “The Rodeo Clown Fallacy falters into illogic not in virtue of being a false target (straw man, red herring), but by being an ever changing and ever elusive target. That is, it evades logic. Just as the horns of an argument are about to make their point, some guy in a clown suit yells, “Yeah, but what about…” This clown is certainly a legitimate target in his own right, but the problem is that there will forever be another rodeo clown ready to distract with a giggly, “Yeah, but what about…,” so no bad ideas ever get gored.”

    This kind of sums up how I have come to understand (at least so far) the criteria used in Orthodox hermeneutics. Is there genuinely anything that could legitimately challenge or prove difficult for an Orthodox Christian regarding their hermeneutic.? Is not questioning the authority of the church at all fideistic in nature?

    I know I have said a lot here and probably have unintentionally misrepresented some Orthodox views. My goal is understanding and intellectual honesty. I apologize in advance brother if I have offended you. I just had to get my feeling out there. Thank you.

  107. fatherstephen Says:

    Drew,

    For someone in the West who is used to various rationalistic hermeneutics, the Orthodox approach can seem subjective. It is certainly a “doctrinally ruled reading of Scripture” to use a phrase of a Dominican scholar. One of the earliest described hermeneutics in the Orthodox Church was St. Irenaeus’ description of the “Apostolic rule of faith.” This is a phrase particularly common the the late 2nd and early 3rd century. That “rule of faith” (roughly similar to what would be stated in the Apostles’ Creed and a bit more) was the faith accepted universally by the Church and formed the basis for the interpretation of Scripture. It remains so to this day. However, Orthodoxy would want to say more about forming and shaping the reader (acquiring an Orthodox phronema or “mind”) such that the understanding of Scripture is a very natural thing, rather than merely rationalistic. The NT speaks of having our minds transformed, or being of the same mind, etc., which is still operative within the life of the Orthodox faith.

    The rationalism of Christianity in the West, after the Enlightenment, is an aberration in the history of Christianity rather than an authentic part of the faith. It is not found in the life of the early Church. The “historical” approach is also largely a post-enlightenment phenomenon in which history is understood as the place where truth resides. Orthodoxy, would rather say that the truth resides in the “eschaton” in “that which is to come.” This eschaton (which is the Kingdom of God) has manifested itself in throughout history, and particularly in certain events such as in Incarnation – as well as all of sacred history – but what we are looking for when reading is the manifestation of the Kingdom. Thus, though an event has an historical meaning, it may also manifest another meaning (such as a typological or allegorical). The “control” on such interpretation is the received Tradition of the faith, an Orthodox phronema, etc. The literal meaning or historical meaning is not discarded but may or may not be the primary use of a passage. The story of Jonah is an example. It’s primary use in the Church has been as a type and foreshadowing of the resurrection. Jonah’s hymn from the belly of the whale makes reference to being in sheol or hades rather than the belly of the whale, for example, and Christ himself uses the book in such a manner “the sign of the prophet Jonah.”

  108. Barbara Says:

    Drew,

    I found Andrew Louth’s book, “Discerning the mystery: an essay on the nature of theology”, really helpful on this topic.

  109. WRATH OF GOD « VictimofCon07 Says:

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