Living in a Crowded Heaven

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Now the powers of heaven do serve invisibly with us. Lo, the King of Glory Enters. Lo, The Mystical Sacrifice is upborne, fulfilled.

From the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts

There is an old joke in which some member of some religious group, dies and goes to heaven. He passes by various rooms and is told who is there. When he comes to one particular room he is told to be very quiet for he is not to disturb those in that room. When the newly deceased asks, “Why?” the response is: “They think they’re the only ones here.”

You can fill in the name of various groups and the joke still works. There are problems, at least as we conceive things, of living in a crowded heaven.

But the very disturbing truth is that we already live in a very crowded heaven. We should not make such strong distinctions between the life we now live and the life we shall live. To do so can be very misleading. The difference may be qualitative, in some important senses, but not qualitative in others.

To love God now is already to anticipate the joys of heaven – for though the veil will be removed and we shall “know Him even as we are known,” that knowledge will not have a radical discontinuity with the knowledge we now have. And so I write of a crowded heaven.

The disciples once asked Jesus:

Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them, “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able” (Luke 13:23-24).

There is here no answer to the quantitative question, only an admonition to “strive to enter in at the narrow gate.” The difficulty with heaven now, in the diminished manner that we experience it, lies not in its diminished quality, but in the company we are asked to keep. If you had the ability to say who would not be allowed in heaven, who would you put on the list?

This is a revealing question, telling us nothing about other people, but much about the state of our own heart. Whose presence in heaven would change heaven into hell for us? Again, this tells us nothing about the state of the person whose presence we abhor, but much about the state of a heart that so abhors the presence of another.

If the presence of such persons is unthinkable to us now, how will be bear their presence later? Are we to assume that God will have fixed all those people such that they will no longer be abhorable? Or are we to assume that God will have fixed us such that we will no longer abhor others? And what if it is the case that the only problem that truly exists in many cases is not the other person but our willingness to so abhor others?

All such questions bring us to the proper question: how will we endure a crowded heaven?

The appropriateness of such a question is the sure testimony of Scripture that relates the image of God in heaven only as a God who rules in a crowd. He is the Lord God of Sabbaoth (“hosts” – let’s say “crowds”). What are we to do with a God who so loves those whom we hate? What do you do with a God who loves Hitler as much as He loves you? What kind of God can do such a thing and do you want a relationship with Him?

All of which brings us to proper questions about ourselves and our spiritual life. The commandments to forgive our enemies and to love our neighbors are so much more than God wanting us to be nice and get along with each other. It may be a matter of heaven and hell. Sometimes it may be the only difference between heaven and hell.

And thus it is that Christianity inherently involves Church. There is no salvation as a Christian that is simply between us and God, because the immediate question and commandment given to us as Christians always directs us to our neighbors. The Church is perhaps one of the lesser tests of the love of neighbor. Here we are keeping company with those who, on some level, believe as we do. Like those outside the Church they come complete with personalities and issues that we will either like or dislike. We love many people for the wrong reason in the wrong way, and dislike others for the wrong reason in the wrong way. But from the very inception of our relationship with God through Christ we are confronted with “the crowd.” There is no relationship with God that excludes anyone else.

The greatest of our spiritual battles will always be with these crowded relationships. We are created for love by a God “who is love.” And thus the Christian faith is a crowded faith. Ours is a sociological mysticism if you will allow me to coin a phrase. There is no private mysticism, no private relationship, no God apart from His creation. The desire to have such a relationship is demonic in its essence. Lucifer wanted to be like God (if you will, he was very religious). But he wanted such a divine aspiration at the expense of God Himself and certainly at the expense of creation. Thus Scripture calls him a “murderer from the beginning.” We would do well to remember that the demons are quite religious (almost by definition) but they hate God and His creation.

There is a legend among the stories of Orthodoxy that when God was sharing His plan to the angels in the councils of heaven, the sight of the Theotokos, and the glory given to her, was the occasion of Lucifer’s first anger. The thought of mere mud being exalted to such a place: “more glorious than the cherubim and beyond compare than the seraphim.” All of this was unbearable to his pride. The crowd of heaven could not include humanity in such an exalted position.

There is much of the same attitude to be found in the Pharisees and their judgment of Publicans and harlots. There is very much of the same attitude to be found in us towards – well – fill in the blank. Thus we are called not only to love God and to forgive our enemies but to refrain from judging everyone. These are not only “moral” commandments, but are descriptions of the very heart of salvation itself. If they are not present, then we are not doing well spiritually, whatever else we may think. And their presence in many whom we would consider unfit for heaven is a testament of judgment against us.

It’s a crowd. By the grace of God, get used to it. If it is a problem go to confession and pray.

But do not despair. Most of us in the crowd are wrestling with the same thing.

39 Responses to “Living in a Crowded Heaven”

  1. Todd Trembley Says:

    Father, thank you for this post.

    I appreciate your use of the phrase “the crowd” here, as it is reminiscent of the existentialists. Most of the existentialists focus too much on the individual and neglect the reality of relationships, and thus neglect others.

    I have been listening to a series of lectures by Kallistos Ware on the meaning of the Divine Liturgy and he opposes Sartre’s claim that hell is other people. In truth, the opposite is the case. We cannot be saved alone, and salvation itself would lose its content if divorced from our relationships with others.

    It is good to hear your words on this as well.

  2. Cheryl Says:

    Father, thank you more than words can express.

    I am overjoyed at the great mercy of God.

  3. Andrew K. D. Smith Says:

    True. Too often, we bifurcate the Church militant and the Church triumphant…why? Love, by nature, includes rather than excludes. We have a very big church – in space and in time. We must be thankful for this.

  4. William Says:

    My priest this past Sunday reminded me of the ease with which we can avoid devouring food during Great Lent but continue to devour the people around us. This is one of my chief struggles. Lord have mercy.

  5. jamesthethickheaded Says:

    Great post!

    I would simply add that the distinction between a crowded heaven and a crowd in heaven is material. Heaven will be crowded…. but it will not be peopled by a crowd. If we take the notion of the crowd as defined by Gustave le Bon’s “The Crowd”, or the perennial “Extraordinary Delusions and the Madness of Crowds”… what we find in heaven is a crowd that does not behave according to earthly knowns where behaviour is that of a mob, depersonalized annonymity leads to undisciplined release of the passions, and ultimately disaster occurs. No this is not what we’re talking about. Accordingly, I would suggest that this is a crowd that – if indeed it is altogether – behaves well by definition. Those of us who fear the crowd… rightly fear our experience of it here. So in a sense, there is need of an obedience to the will of God, and trust that His plan will work not just in our case – but for all, and the love of Christ among those selected as part of it will not be compromised, that personality will not be lost, that distinction will remain, and so everything that happens to make crowds unruly here… will be directed according to a heavenly plan. This is what the Beguiler feared would not happen… so he separated himself…. and what we must not repeat.

    I think it seems easier if I keep this in mind.

  6. Steve L Says:

    Excellent Post. Forgiving is something I most certainly need to work on.

  7. katia Says:

    The Akathist Hymn to our Sweetest Lord Jesus Christ

    ………………………………….

    Kontakion 3

    Thou didst endue with power from on high Thine Apostles who tarried in Jerusalem, O Jesus. Clothe Thou also me, who am stripped bare of every good work, with the warmth of Thy Holy Spirit, and grant that with love I may chant to Thee:

    Alleluia.

    Eikos 3

    In the abundance of Thy mercy, O compassionate Jesus, Thou hast called publicans and sinners and unbelievers. Now despise not me who am like them, but accept this hymn as precious myrrh:

    Jesus, invincible Power.
    Jesus, unending Mercy.
    Jesus, radiant Beauty.
    Jesus, unspeakable Love.
    Jesus, Son of the living God.
    Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.
    Jesus, hear me who was conceived in iniquity.
    Jesus, cleanse me who was born in sin.
    Jesus, teach me who am foolish.
    Jesus, enlighten me who am darkened.
    Jesus, purify me who am defiled.
    Jesus, restore me, the prodigal.

    Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me.

    Kontakion 4

    Having a tempest of doubting thoughts within, Peter was sinking. But beholding Thee, O Jesus, bearing flesh and walking on the waters, he knew Thee to be the true God; and receiving the hand of salvation, he cried:

    Alleluia.

    Eikos 4

    When the blind man heard Thee, O Lord, passing by, he cried: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! And Thou didst call him and open his eyes. Wherefore, by Thy mercy enlighten the spiritual eyes of my heart as I cry to Thee and say:

    Jesus, Creator of those on high.
    Jesus, Redeemer of those below.
    Jesus, Vanquisher of the nethermost powers.
    Jesus, Adorner of every creature.
    Jesus, Comforter of my soul.
    Jesus, Enlightener of my mind.
    Jesus, Gladness of my heart.
    Jesus, Health of my body.
    Jesus, my Saviour, save me.
    Jesus, my Light, enlighten me.
    Jesus, from all torment deliver me.
    Jesus, save me who am unworthy.

    Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me.

    …………………….

  8. stevepoole Says:

    Dear Father,
    Thank you. You are a gift; though I honestly wonder how you find the time to write so well with everything else you must have on your plate.

    Your point about crowded heaven is right on; I must confess I tire of the respondents here who seem to love to extrapolate and pontificate, show their learning…I know I must love them too, and I do.

    Your words are to the point so mine will be too: Good word, thanks again!

  9. Meskerem Says:

    Thank you Father for this timely post.

    …There is much of the same attitude to be found in the Pharisees and their judgment of Publicans and harlots. There is very much of the same attitude to be found in us towards – well – fill in the blank. Thus we are called not only to love God and to forgive our enemies but to refrain from judging everyone….

    Judging others is thinking we are better than them. But they are one more better than us if you think about it , they are not judging us, while we are sinning doing the judgement.

  10. katia Says:

    Father Bless,

    “…We Orthodox Christians comprise the one Body of Christ’s Church, the one House of God, as it is written in the Scripture: “Christ as a Son over His own House, Whose House are we” (Heb. 3:6). Here is another world, different from the vain world that surrounds us. Here is a holy world, God’s inheritance. Here is a world of prayer. And this expresses its very essence: life in this special world is a life of prayer — prayer as communion with God, as glorification of God. And more — through prayer we are able to have communion with the entire world of heaven: with the angels, prophets, apostles, martyrs, hierarchs, the righteous ones, and a particularly joyous communion with the Most Holy Virgin, the Theotokos. Here is the prayer which we Christians who are still citizens of earth offer for one another. Here we also have our prayer for those close to us,for our enemies, for those who have departed this life, and here is our appeal to the saints that they, too, raise their prayers on behalf of our beloved ones. This, then, is the fullness of prayer.

    Above all, it is through prayer that we glorify our Creator. Prayer is an expression of love towards God and towards our neighbor. Prayer is that bond of love which unites the Church on earth with the Church in heaven. Let us strive, then, to enter more deeply into the world of prayer found in the holy Orthodox Church, to develop a constant awareness of God’s presence, and to recover that blissful state experienced by Adam in Paradise, a state of communion with God, for which we were created.”

    By Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky – Communion with God in prayer

  11. Pseudo-Polymath » Blog Archive » Thursday Highlights Says:

    […] “Those type of people” in heaven? […]

  12. Stones Cry Out - If they keep silent… » Things Heard: e58v4 Says:

    […] “Those type of people” in heaven? […]

  13. Lucy Says:

    A good word, Father. And as someone who does not like groups, it is a very good reminder.

    I was wondering if you would explain what you meant by Satan and the demons being religious. I think you mean that they want to be “like God” in the sense of being powerful and worshipped and that it’s a warped kind of “religious.” But before I forward this on to people, I want to make sure I understand, in case someone asks me.

    Thank you for continuing to give time to this blog!

  14. anonymous Says:

    For the first time in my life I can truly say I have an enemy. My father is dying and his wife of 3 years, on her fifth marriage, is shutting out me, my sisters and my children. She physically harmed my wife during one of her abusive attacks. I never thought this would happen to me. Although I’m not perfect, I have usually been able to get along with almost anyone. I have no idea what forgiveness is supposed to look like in this situation. Do I say, “that’s OK, I forgive you,” and keep taking abuse? Do I remove myself from the situation as much as possible, in order to find peace in my hate-filled heart, but at the expense of my father, who would be hurt if I stopped seeing him? There may not be a human solution.

    This is a very strange Lent for me. I don’t know how to repent from my hatred, except to recognize that this woman is a very tragic, troubled person. Before this, it’s been easy to “be nice and get along” with people and think I was loving and forgiving. I can tell you that I am a much more hateful person than I realized.

  15. Karen Says:

    Dear Father, bless!

    Yes, thanks for another good post. I love the story (from the sayings of the Desert Fathers, I think) about the monk who was lax in all his asceticism, who on his deathbed evinced the peace of those who pass untroubled by the demons right into heaven. When asked by his brother monks about how he could be so at peace at this moment, etc., when he had been so lazy, he replied that it was because there was one command about which he had not been lax, and that was the injunction not to judge another. This command he had succeeded in keeping, and so he had assurance of his salvation and the Lord’s mercy according to the Lord’s promise.

  16. Audora Burg Says:

    Anonymous’ raw honesty is humbling.

    Can the cry of the heart recorded in Mark 9:24 (“Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief”) be adapted and prayed thus: Lord, I forgive…help thou my unforgiveness?

    Anonymous, you are in my prayers…

  17. Margaret Says:

    Thank you for this post, Fr. Stephen! Every time you comment on loving our enemies it is a blessing on my life and this posting is no exception. However, I admit to being somewhat in the group anonymous is in in the above post. I have to consider my mother’s 3rd husband an enemy, as he is basically lying to her and us. So he is not welcomed in our home and my mother visits us without him. Of course we do not visit them. This is happening because we have children and we believe we need to explain to them that just because someone is married, it doesn’t allow them access to all the family if they lie. So I pray for my enemy (that took awhile and at least one confession) but we still must live in this world with our best judgment for our own family life.

    If you could comment on anonymous or any of the circumstances, it would be much appreciated. I honestly believe that God will help us all to live in His crowded heaven and that we do need to be struggling to enter by the narrow gate, but what does that struggle look like in these family situations?

  18. Zoe Says:

    Could it be that the “strait gate” is the narrow gate of my own heart? If herein lies tigers and lions, then I’m very fearful to enter and begin my spiritual journey. It is easy to say, I can love my enemies, but can I really feel this love in my heart?

    Father Stephen, I understand your point, very well. It is the state of my own heart that I need to worry about. Lord have mercy on me!

  19. ochlopobist Says:

    In the Gospels Jesus is as often than not (insofar as the gathered masses are mentioned as such) trying to avoid the crowd, I am inclined to think of a divine mandate for ochlophobism (or at least a dispensation for it). True, He compassionately fed the masses, though in the midst of doing this He called out the one boy with fish and bread, and called out the 12 as an image of salvation to the many who were called to gather into smaller groups. But then there are those crowd moments that involved making whips and turning tables, and, of course, going to get Himself killed, in part through the mechanisms of a crowd (a perfect image of what happens when crowd culture is granted authority of sorts). But I grant you your point, insofar as there are those who disdain crowds because they dislike the “dirty” or the insignificant people. I most fear clean, confident crowds of the powerful or would be powerful.

  20. jamesk Says:

    i feel a good post coming up! as we all i assume have some unforgivness in our hearts and are unsure how to deal with it. words can come easy, but truly meaning them,well….

  21. katia Says:

    Hi Lucy,

    The Fallen Angels

    Originally God created all angels as benevolent celestial beings. Nevertheless they, like humans, were endowed with a free will and could chose either to obey or oppose God, to opt between good and evil. Some of the angels, headed by Lucifer, one of the closest to God, misused that freedom and rebelled against God. They were expelled from heaven and established their own kingdom — hell. Lucifer, which means bearer of light, was later renamed Satan, which means antagonist. He is also called the devil (which means slanderer), the serpent, and the dragon. The words of the Savior, “I saw Satan, fallen from heaven as a bolt of lightning,” refer to this prehistoric event, the rebellion by Lucifer and other angels against God. This is described in the book of Revelation with the following details: “There occurred a war in the heavens. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought against them. However they did not prevail, and there was no room for them in heaven. The great dragon was cast down, that ancient snake, known as devil and satan … and his angels were also cast down with him” (Revelation 12:7-9). From the initial words of chapter 12 of the book of Revelation, where it is said that the dragon drew after him one third of the stars in heaven (Revelation 12:4), some conclude that at that time Lucifer seduced one third of the angels. These fallen angels are called demons.

    Having become malevolent, the fallen angels try to push men to the path of sin and thus to their damnation. Oddly, the fallen angels themselves fear the kingdom they have created — hell or the abyss. Indeed, when the Savior, healing a person possessed by demons, wanted to send them back to their abyss, they begged Him to allow them instead to enter swine (Luke 8:31). The Savior calls the devil “murderer from the beginning and the father of lies,” having in mind that moment in which, taking the form of a snake, he deceived our forbears Adam and Eve to break the commandment of God and by doing so deprived them of everlasting life (Genesis 3:1-6; John 8:44).From that moment on, having the opportunity to influence the thoughts, feelings and acts of man, the devil and his demons endeavor to pitch him deeper and deeper into the mire of sin, into which they themselves have sunk: “He who sins is from the devil, because the devil himself sinned first … Anyone who commits sin is a slave of sin” (1 John 3:8; John 8:34). The presence of evil spirits among us presents a constant danger. That is why the Apostle Peter extols us: “Be sober and watchful, for your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goes about seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The Apostle Paul expresses the same thoughts on discretion, saying, “Put on the armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness on high” (Ephesians 6:11-12).

    From these warnings of the Holy Scriptures, we should remind ourselves that our life is pervaded by a persistent battle for the salvation of our souls. Whether one wants it or not, every human being, from early childhood, is drawn into the battle of choosing between good and evil, between the will of God and the will of demons. The battle between good and evil began even before the creation of the world and will continue until the day of the final Judgment. Actually the battle in heaven is finished, with the complete defeat of evil. Now the site of the battle has been transferred into the world, more precisely into our minds and hearts. As we shall see, the good angels, and in particular our Guardian Angels, actively help us in our battle against evil.

    Angels by Bishop Alexender Mileant

  22. Dave Says:

    Its sooo easy to be judgmental and claim that we love God and our fellow human race. But it is hard to love others like our Father in heaven loves all humanity.
    A few days ago, I wrote a similar post on my blog http://godsenergies.blogspot.com/2009/03/its-sooo-easy-to-be-judgmental.html

    The point you make is clear: Do we really want all of humanity restored to its original plan, to be partaking of the divine nature, all of us, together as God had created originally?

    Dave

  23. Steve Says:

    Father,

    You say (above):

    “There is a legend among the stories of Orthodoxy that when God was sharing His plan to the angels in the councils of heaven, the sight of the Theotokos, and the glory given to her, was the occasion of Lucifer’s first anger.”

    Alleluia!

    This is much more than legend. It is the definitive motif of God-in-Church, the underpinning of all promises in the OT, without which, none could stand, even for a fraction of a nanosecond, before the consuming fire of the God of Jesus!

  24. Michael Says:

    If I remember correctly I think Fr. Thomas Hopko once said something to the extent that “it is sometimes sufficient enough to just want to want to forgive someone.” God gives us crowns for our struggles even though we may not necessarily overcome them. As long as we are trying from the depth of our heart that is what is pleasing to God.

  25. John M. Says:

    Father, bless!

    I have sometimes thought of this problem from a slightly different perspective. It’s funny, but even as I try to frame the example, I think I begin to suspect the answer- I’ll continue anyhow, to share the thoughts that I had wrestled with.

    Even granting that by divine grace we were able to forgive our enemies and those who had hurt us, I wondered how Heaven could be Heaven if it were shared by persons whose very presence provoked memories and associations not of anger and hate, but of pain, grief and sorrow? And I certainly acknowledge that there are an unknown number of others for whom- Lord have mercy- I myself might be such a one.

    Is it simply my inability to imagine the scope of divine healing that would make that possible?

  26. Steve Says:

    Think nothing of it John. It is impossible to even begin to imagine, the scope of God’s love for the penitent sinner.

  27. Mrs. Mutton Says:

    As I grow older, I think about this kind of thing a lot. There are a number of people whose presence is a real cross *here,* but to think of their not making it to heaven?! What an absolutely ghastly thought. The truth is that heaven wouldn’t be heaven without *any* of these people in my life — well, maybe in one of the *other* mansions. Far, far down the road. 😉

  28. Moses Says:

    I see some people are reading too much between the lines here and missing the point. I can see why Father is a little overwhelmed. First of all, I believe this article was intended to keep us focused on “love for one another” and not on how crowded it’s going to be up in heaven (which should not be understood literally at all!!!). And if the “crowd” is becoming the issue here, perhaps we should re-read this post again and again until we understand what love really is and how it cannot bear to be individualistic or selfish. If this is going to be a huge issue perhaps some may have to stop attending Church (and stay home where it is not “crowded”) for what is the Liturgy if not “communal” prayer as an “assembly” before God; how do we expect to be united to God in this life or the next, if we are not united to one another in Christ first?

  29. Anastasia Theodoridis Says:

    My father, who died in September, was, shall we say, helped along. What does forgiveness mean in that context? There are some things that are NOT okay, and never will be okay, and never should be okay. I can never say that causing my father’s death was okay!

    But forgiveness doesn’t mean that. It means not harboring any bitterness toward another person, no matter what. It means continuing to hope for, and actively work toward, that person’s salvation. (And hey, if I think I’m so much better than that person, then his being saved will be very good news indeed, because if HE can be, then so can I, who am supposedly so much better!)

  30. fatherstephen Says:

    For those who have difficulty with the word “crowd” or “crowded” in this small essay – (most of whose remarks I have deleted as beside the point): the English word “host” or “Sabbaoth” in the Hebrew, translates quite literally as crowd. Read something besides English – it’ll expand your heart. I am working on a piece on forgiveness that I’ll post tomorrow sometime.

  31. coffeezombie Says:

    This reminds me of a character in C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. I forget if he is ever named, but he’s a man whose distinctive feature is that he “only what’s what’s [his] by rights, nothing more.”

    Of course, when visiting heaven, he meets someone he knew in life who had worked for him, and had committed a murder. This person explains to him that the murder he committed was not the worst thing he did; he had murdered this very man over and over in his heart (“you were not so fair a boss as you think” I remember him saying). He had been sent to this “fair” man to ask his forgiveness for that sin against him, and also to invite him into Heaven as well.

    But the “fair” man refuses. He rejects Heaven, because he cannot stand a Heaven that allows murderers like this guy in.

  32. Lucy Says:

    Thank you Katia for the post by the Bishop. Perhaps I didn’t phrase my question quite right. It’s quite possible I don’t understand the Bishop, either. Sometimes I need things explained very slowly, in one-syllable words.🙂

    Fr. Stephen, you write: We would do well to remember that the demons are quite religious (almost by definition) …

    I guess I’m asking what is that definition. The word “religious” is a very loaded word, at least among certain groups, and I want to be sure I understand correctly. I’m not questioning the use of it, but it’s unusual to see it used this way.

    I’m not trying to miss the point of the essay, either, so I’m sorry this comment isn’t more directly related. I like this post very much and know of other people who would be edified by it.

  33. johndoetoo Says:

    Father, as I reread your post (and it is a testimony to them that they are worth several re-readings) there is another issue raised that I have difficulty assenting to, i.e., “What do you do with a God who loves Hitler as much as He loves you?”

    Certainly we’re all familiar with the verses about how God loves all and desires that all should come to salvation. That is one vantage point.

    But another vantage point is to start with the question “Does God love evil?”, and we have plentiful scriptural testimony that indeed God hates evil. The question then follows, “Wasn’t Hitler (Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc.) evil?” If “Yes”, then the necessary conclusion is, God hates Hitler, et.al.

    If the answer is “No, Hitler was not ‘evil’ in any objective, essential sense, what then? He was a good person who did evil deeds? What would that even mean? To say that there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ people, only good or bad actions, seems to leave us devoid of any moral content at all. There is some person who is the causative agent of those actions.

    If I’d have had a son who manifested an evil spirit, I wonder… could I say “I love you, but I hate your actions, the gratuitous pain, suffering and wreckage that you seem to actually enjoy inflicting on so many undeserving victims”? Again, who is that “you” that allegedly exists apart from the behaviors?

    Your insight and guidance are sincerely welcomed.

  34. fatherstephen Says:

    A number of Orthodox authors use “religion” in a negative sense, to describe a belief system that is merely intellectual, or activities related to “religion” but that have no connection to the heart. In that sense, the demons are quite religious – they are always aware of God and hate him. True religion, of course, is quite different. But often writers will use religion for the negative thing, and “way of life” for what we should understand as Orthodox Christians.

  35. fatherstephen Says:

    John,

    The Church’s theology teaches us that everything God created was good- thus everything, by nature, is good, but some things do not follow their nature (sin is thus unnatural). This even includes the evil one. It is his bent actions that are evil, but God did not create evil. Evil is an act of the will and has no substance (true existence). Thus whatever we mean by the “person” Hitler, was not evil, but was so buried and hidden beneath his choices and actions that all we see of him is evil. But, again, that “person” is loved by God. And according to the Church’s teaching, it is this very fact that God loves him, that a “wicked” person would experience as the torments of hell.

  36. Karen Says:

    Oops, Father! I think what you meant to say to John in that first sentence was: ” . . . everything God created was GOOD . . . ” Likely, he and other readers would have figured that out.

    John, yours is a good question. I remember a testimony I once heard by a man who had a father who was very abusive, and against whom he harbored great bitterness for the wounds he had endured while growing up. After he came to faith in Christ he knew he should forgive his father, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it (his deceased father having never repented), and this stood as a barrier to his relationship with God. Finally, he reached the end of himself and cried out to God in desperation for power to forgive his father. Immediately, he received a strong impression of his father as a vulnerable young boy (there may have been an actual photograph of his father as a boy involved here–I forget some of the details of this story), and realized that within the man who became his father the person who had once been that vulnerable, young boy had still existed. He was able to feel compassion for his father as a boy and because of that was able to forgive him for what he became as a man. Another way to look at it is that within each person, no matter how damaged by sin, lies a person with the potential to become as much like Christ–were he to repent–as any other Saint in the Church! As I understand it, the Church teaches that the essential dignity of personhood, though deeply marred and damaged by sin, cannot be destroyed because by creation and through the Incarnation God has joined Himself to our nature and wills it to remain. (I don’t know if this is stating things quite right.) I think what the man in my story realized about his father is only a faint shadow of what God sees when he looks at each of us–even those of us most deeply mired in the filth of our sin. He looks at our wasted and filthy souls, wading through the manure of sin, feeding the pigs of our own disordered passions, pathetically and in futility longing for our hunger to be filled and sees beyond sins’ encrustation to His own beloved child within, starving for love and dying, and His heart breaks. I cannot comprehend the love of such a Father!

  37. fatherstephen Says:

    Oops!! indeed.!!!

  38. Heaven as Hell « Alaskan Orthodox Patriot Says:

    […] a recent post (Living in a Crowded Heaven), Fr. Stephen made a somewhat similar […]

  39. guardian angel Says:

    guardian angel…

    […]Living in a Crowded Heaven « Glory to God for All Things[…]…

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