Monday, March 16, 2009

Romans 3:27 - 4:5

Romans 3:27 - 31
Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the Law of Faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.

Unless there is any doubt that the language surrounding propitiation / expiation in the preceeding section deals primarily with the debate between Jews and Gentiles, here it is laid to rest. St. Paul, by discussing Christ's recapitulating of the world through the cross, was establishing that the road forward into righteousness was paved by Christ - this means there is no difference between Jew and Gentile since Christ died once for all. We fall short, but Christ, by His righteousness and His death, re-enters communion with us on a level we are incapable of achieving. This being the fundamental problem (that we have killed our ability to know God by our own unrighteousness), Christ demonstrates that "[Boasting] is excluded!" as St. Paul says here.

For how can we boast if we have not accomplished the reparation of our nous? How can we boast when we deserve death from the moment of our sin, yet are given life in which to repent? How can we boast, if we are Jews, that we have the Law when we don't follow the Law, and even if we DO follow the Law we lack the direct experience of God's presence, or even if we have that if we are aware that such a presence is by the will of GOD enacted in CHRIST rather than through our own merit? Boasting is rejected. How? "By the Law of Faith."

Notice here, it is by the Law of Faith that boasting is excluded. The law of faith is contrasted with the works of the law. Both imply action since both are laws. A law is not a belief or a feeling but a code of conduct. The Law of Faith, therefore, is the code of conduct demanded by faith - it is living by faith (as we discussed above). So again, there is no contradiction here between living by faith and being judged by our deeds. Faith demands deeds, and the evidence of these deeds tells us all we need to know about the quality of our faith or lack thereof.

This means that the works (of the Law) cannot be a source for boasting since they cannot heal us, and St. Paul makes this clear, as he describes how God is a God of both Jew and Gentile. It would make no sense to launch into a discussion of how God is a God of both Jew and Gentile if by "works" in verse 27 St. Paul meant "all moral actions" (as some more extreme versions of sola-fide might have it). Rather, St. Paul must mean the cultural norms of the Jewish law - Jewish ethnicity. That is the only understanding of "works" in this passage that fits with St. Paul's discussion of how God is God of both Jews and Gentiles - one God for all people.

How does this not void the Law? Because the Law IS what we do if we have faith - but not the letter of the Law (as if we were all ethnically Jewish), but rather the SPIRIT of the Law demanded by faith. Faith, active in us, confirms the Truth contained in the Law and honors it as God's tutor in preparation for Christ. Faith establishes the Law, but it does not have to submit itself to the Law since LAW doesn't establish faith. Rather, righteousness comes through faith whether that faith is tutored by the Law or not. So faith is what matters.

Romans 4:1 - 5
What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness." Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness...

The discourse continues as above, as now St. Paul will look at a series of key Jewish figures to show their preference for faith-produced-righteousness over legalism and culturalism. Remember that "works" here means Judaic cultural norms (the "Law"). Abraham was circumcised - that circumcision did not produce righteousness in him. Rather, Abraham believed God (had FAITH in God) and THIS produced righteousness in him (was accounted to him for righteousness). His faith caused righteousness to be given to him (or so this metaphor goes). Is this a literal "accounting" (as in, Abraham saw some big cash machine, inserted his 'faith' card and got some righteousness out)? Of course not. This is metaphor. But HAVING faith FORCED Abraham to act righteously. Again, I refer back to the discourse of how, with faith, sin is impossible. I cannot sin if I have true faith in God and His providence. All I can do is love my God, love my neighbor, and offer continual thanksgiving for all things. There is no righteousness superior to that.

If I put stock in the works of the Law, though, I have some "claim" on God and suddenly I consider that God "owes" me something. Legalism has a minimalistic impact on our spirituality - rather than asking what faith demands of me, I do the minimum and expect my reward. Instead of endless love and deep thanksgiving, which stems from faith, I have "systems" of salvation that give me "assurance" of my salvation as though I can demand something from God. This applies whether that Law is the Law of the Jews (and confidence in a covenant to save me, despite my unrighteous law breaking), straight up to the "Law" of something like "baptism" or "easy-believism." ANY time we replace "faith" with some "system" we lose the gospel - whether that system is some magic view of baptism that places salvation on membership in an institution or that system is a revivalist preaching conversion and once-saved-always-saved.

We have no claim on God. Our faith either produces righteousness or it doesn't. Your life manifests what may be known of God, to borrow St. Paul's earlier phrase. Even possessing basic faith cannot, at any point, become a "line" we cross (and enter the category of "saved" whereas before we were "unsaved") because at the point that we make such a distinction we replace the maximalism of faith for the minimalism of debt. We sell the gospel short

In Christ,

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Romans 3:21 - 26

Romans 3:21 - 22
But now the righteousness of God apart from the Law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference

We'll need to take it slow through this passage, as these are among the most contentious words in the book of Romans for several reasons. Much theology is built off of them - much theology which (to me) disagrees with the essential Orthodox conception of God as love.

First, the righteousness of God (possessed by or belonging to God) exists apart from the Law. This is evident because a) God pre-exists the Law and b) the preceding chapters of Romans outlined conclusively that righteousness pre-existed the Law both in Jews (like Abraham) and in righteous Gentiles who live apart from the Law (being "law unto themselves").

So the Law is not equivalent to righteousness. Rather the Law and Prophets prophecy about the righteousness of God. They prepare the heart / nous to recieve that righteousness, but they are not themselves that righteousness. And since we are judged according to our deeds (as per Romans 2) the Law and Prophets are incomplete apart from the righteousness of God.

This can be seen in Luke as well, when on the road to Emmaus, Christ said: "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?" And, beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things conerning Himself. (Luke 24:25-27)

So this righteousness is CHRIST'S righteousness (who fulfills the Law by demonstrating how it points to Him and fulfills it by living righteously). It is CHRIST'S faithfulness that reveals the righteousness of God (since He is God). The word "now" in Romans 3:21 refers to the "end times" which Christ initiates. It also refers to the post-Pentecost period in which the righteousness of Christ (of God) is revealed to the faithful by the Holy Spirit.

So those who have faith in Christ (who believe Him to be God, trust Him to save them, and seek to follow His commands and live by faith) have the righteousness of God revealed to them by the Holy Spirit. This, necessarily, occurs in the Church since that is where we recieve the Scriptures and the teachings that enlighten those Scriptures for us to understand them. Furthermore, it was to the Apostles and the community of disciples that the Holy Spirit was sent, and it is this same Holy Spirit that reveals the righteousness of God.

Therefore this revelation of God's righteousness is "to all" since the Church is, as St. Paul is arguing in Romans, an inclusive institution open to Gentiles and Jews equally. And it (this revelation) is on all since the Holy Spirit is given equally to the Gentiles and Jews. This is revealed fully in the Book of Acts. It is revealed to those who believe since, if one does not believe, the righteousness of Christ would not be the revelation of the righteousness of GOD, but merely a human righteousness and therefore of no more worth than any other human righteousness.

This leads to St. Paul's conclusion that "there is no difference" between Jews and Gentiles, but rather that both are equally recievers of the Holy Spirit's revelation of the righteousness of Christ and, therefore, through faith are able to recieve the righteousness of God that the Law and Prophets prophesied.

Romans 3:23
For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

"For all have sinned." This is subject to the same (lengthy) reasoning I wrote in the previous post. Christ did not sin, so we know this is not a literal "every" but rather a tool to humble us. It is a collective "all." I have sinned. Jews have sinned. Christians have sinned. Gentiles and heretics have sinned. The saints sinned. This does not mean, as it is sometimes expanded to mean, that we are BORN with sinfulness. The Orthodox Church clearly states that we CHOSE our sins, and in so much as an infant cannot chose anything morally, not having the cognitive development, they are not held to account for that "sin" (if it can even be called that).

At what point do we gain that capacity to sin? God alone knows. I know at some point I crossed that line, and that's sufficient for St. Paul's point here. Remember, this WHOLE passage is referring to the Jews, to remind them to accept the Gentile converts as equal inheriters of Christ's message and righteousness. If all have sinned, then the Jews are no better than the Gentiles (aside from their having the prophecies and tutoring of the Law and Prophets, which does not produce righteousness but prepares the heart for Christ).

The Orthodox Study Bible has an excellent commentary on the second half of this verse, that we fall short of the glory of God: "The ultimate purpose of man's existence is to attain the glory of God. Even if a person were to keep the whole law, he would still fall short of that glory, because he would still be bound by death. The glory of God is both eternal righteousness and eternal life. Jesus Christ alone lived in completed righteousness, and He alone was resurrected from the dead. Therefore, He alone is the fullness of the glory of God, and we receive that glory in Him"

Since none of us can recieve theosis (divinization / partaking of the divine nature) by ourselves, since we are completely incapable of uniting the divine and human, since none of us can enter the grave and overcome death (but are instead overcome by it) - NONE of us can save ourselves. The law can do none of these things, and neither can the prophets. We cannot glory in them, but must instead look to the righteousness of Christ (God), who CAN do these things and HAS done these things. He conquered death on the cross, united the physical and divine in the Incarnation (which we enter by baptism, as St. Paul will describe later), and gave us the Holy Spirit to bring us INTO righteousness.

So we ALL fall short of God's glory if we try to get there on our own terms (which, in the case of the Judaizers, was through the Law; today we might point to people who pick and chose elements of a religion to follow, or make up their own spirituality, or Christians who reduce the faith to a sinner's prayer). This means, to continue the thoughts of the preceeding section, that we are equal before God. Even the righteous (the patriarchs, the prophets, the Theotokos Mary, the Apostles, the martyrs, the ascetics, the holy fathers and mothers of the Church, the saints) are dead before God unless Christ Himself enlivens them by His death on the cross.

This leads St. Paul to the next section, and it is CRITICAL to see it in this context:

Romans 3:23 - 25
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forebearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed

We are made just by God's grace. That is self-evident, and explained thoroughly in the preceeding chapters (see prior posts). We don't chose our own righteousness, and even if we do, we are entirely dependent on Christ's death to conquer death and Christ's incarnation to unite us to God. This is communicated to us through grace - through the Holy Spirit whom God sends equally on the Jew and the Gentile.

The redemption which is in Christ Jesus is precisely this: we are redeemed from death (the consequence of sin) because God, in Christ Jesus who (as a man) could die, brought Life (God being life) INTO death. At the point that death contains life, it becomes a road to life. No longer, when I die, do I die into separation from God, but I, through God's grace, die into UNITY with God. When I die, I die WITH Christ - WITH God. God is EVERYWHERE - even in death.

Further, the barrier between God and man - the barrier of the curtain in the Holy of Holies - is torn assunder by Christ's incarnation. In a certain way, this complete unity of God to man was COMPLETED on the cross. God literally became as we are: rejected, suffering, dead. Through this, God is not brought down to our level (for that is impossible; nothing can diminish the glory of God). Rather, we are dragged UP to GOD.

The langauge of propitiation here has often been used to justify a "satisfactionalist" or "penal substitutionary" model of the cross - something which is foreign to Orthodoxy for several reasons.
  1. First because it makes God a tyrant. God commands us to forgive freely. Yet according to satisfactionalism, God Himself demanded payment in blood before granting the fullness of His forgiveness and mercy. If I were to "imitate" God in this way I would be viewed as a tyrant and unmerciful fool. Even if I were to make the payment myself (as God does in this model) it would still be viewed as foolish. If God wishes to forgive, He may simply DO so. We profess that He does.
  2. It makes sin GOD'S problem rather than ours. We sin, God gets mad (and therefore rejects us in His just wrath). God sends Christ, who appeases God's wrath, and then God is ok with us again if we accept Christ. EVERY change in that scenario is GOD'S. Yet we profess that God doesn't change. Sin isn't God's problem - its OURS. WE are the ones in need of change - not God.
  3. It externalizes sin. It lets me "off the hook" so to speak. Because the problem is one of courtroom-style "guilt" or "innocence" the ACTUAL righteousness of the sinner in question is neglected. No longer are we judged for our deeds (as Romans 2 says we are), but rather we are judged through CHRIST'S deeds. Instead, Orthodoxy prefers to think of sin as an ontological problem. If we are not GENUINELY transformed in Christ into living by faith, then we are not saved. If we still fall short of the glory of God (i.e. are not united to God through Christ) then we are not saved. Salvation, in the Orthodox view, is a long journey, not a moment of being declared "not guilty" (while both we and God know full well that we are guilty). God DOES forgive us; we just don't see it as the CENTRAL idea of salvation.

So then what does St. Paul mean by "propitiation" here? The word can be translated "expiation" (which does carry more of an ontological "God removes sin" sense to it), but I think the answer is simpler. He's following through on his idea that the Law and Prophets prophecy Christ to us. The concept of propitiation / expiation (the idea that death eliminates sin) stems from Leviticus. Indeed, the mercy seat of the temple and the altar both communicated God's mercy through sacrifice. These sacrifices didn't cure the sin, but prophesied of the means by which God would redeem us: through Christ's death.

The propitiation of the Levitican Law PROPHESIED the propitiation of Christ on the cross. Just as the EXODUS of the Israelites prophesied of the EXODUS Christ would bring to the Church. But to mistake the "type" (the model) for the entirety of the thing described (as is done in penal substition) would be to remove the mystery from the cross. One can describe the cross as a propitiation of God for our forgiveness, but if we take that as anything past a metaphor (a pedagogical tool demonstrated prophetically in Levitican Law) we run into the above problems.

Historically, the early Church knew this. Irenaeus of Lyons and Athanasius both write about the cross and the salvation God granted us there, and both use several metaphors - both do not refer to this verse as a starting point for a satisfactionalist view of the cross. That wouldn't start until Anselm of Canterbury in the 12th century. The 12th century. 1000+ years of Christians read this verse without concluding penal substitution as the sole Biblical idea of the cross. It is therefore NOT apostolic tradition to do so.

We may see this internally in the passage as well. No where does it prescribe WHO is being propitiated (the penal substitution model assumes it is God or God's justice / wrath). Metaphorically, it could be the personified "death" to which St. Paul frequently refers. Christ dies, propitiating the apetite of death and "satisfying" it (filling it with life).

Furthermore, the passage itself goes on to interpret the meaning (ultimately) of this propitiation: by his blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness.

Christ's death - His redemption of us by His TOTAL solidarity with humanity (in suffering and death) and His overcoming of the human condition by His glorious divinity - this demonstrates God's righteousness. How? First, by Christ's total obedience (even unto death). Second, as St. Paul indicates here, because in His forebearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed.

Take careful note of this: Romans 3:21-25 is about the demonstration of God's righteousness apart from the Law (though prophesied BY the Law). God is faithful; He redeems us through the cross (by uniting us to Him and His glory, which we were unable to do) and He does this DESPITE our sins (of which we are all guilty, all falling short of God's glory). This act of Christ on the cross was prophesied by the Levitican sacrifices (called propitiation).

That fits into Paul's overall themes of discussing how Judaism "fits" into Christianity without excluding the Gentiles, and it never requires us to conclude penal substitution.

Therefore, as St. Paul concludes this passage, this act of Christ crucified was to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26). The cross demonstrates the righteousness of God (understood by those who have faith) and declares GOD as JUST (for God is faithful, despite our sins), and, by uniting us to God it opens us to the grace of God which comes by the Holy Spirit to those who live by faith. Therefore, God, through the redemption He earns for us on the cross, is able to unite us to Himself and He becomes the JUSTIFIER (the one who makes just) of the one who has faith. This act of justification makes us into children of Abraham - it makes us live by faith (Romans 2).

Forgive me,

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Romans 3:10 - 20

Romans 3:10 - 18
As it is written: "There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.

"Their throad is an open tomb; with their tongues they have practiced deceit; The poison of asps is under their lips; Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; Destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes."

This passage is often used as a proof-text for the Western vision of original sin (that we are all born under sin, guilty of Adam's sin from birth). Indeed, when taken literally, the statement "there is no one righteous, no, not one" would, necessarily, include infants as well as adults.

However, this is not the Orthodox understanding of this Psalm nor do we accept Augustinian original sin. Rather, it is clear, if we think this through in light of the doctrine of the Gospels, that this statement "there is none righteous" cannot mean literally every one on an individual basis. For we profess that Christ, who is one, is righteous. If there is none righteous, then Christ is not righteous, and we are still in our sins. However, Christ is righteousness, and so we know this is not to be taken literally.

Furthermore, just to prove the point again, the Bible calls many people righteous. The Church professes Mary to have been righteous. The Scriptures call Zacharias and Elizabeth both "righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinacnes of the Lord blameless" (Luke 1:6). And indeed, if God chose a righteous husband and wife to give birth to the new Elijah, His prophet John, then how much more blessed and righteous is the Mother of our Lord, the Theotokos? Joseph is called a "just" man in Matthew 1:19. The Old Testament (the context in which the quoted Psalm was written) calls several people righteous, from Abraham straight through the prophets.

What then do we make of this Psalm? First, we must recognize the literary device of hyperbole. The Psalms express human emotion in prayer before God, and the Psalmist is expressing frustration at the sinfulness of human society. It is so sinful that, at times, it feels like everyone is sinful. And indeed, so few and far between are the righteous that, for all intents and purposes, we are all sinners. Certainly, if ANY of us is righteous in our own eyes we know we are a sinner, as this sin of pride is sufficient to make us unrighteous. The Psalm, then, should humble US - it should not be used as a tool to point the finger at others.

If there is none righteous, then I KNOW that I am NOT righteous - whether I'm Jew or Greek. As for others, I cannot say, for being an unrighteous man and a sinner I lack the spiritual discernment to recognize the righteousness or sinfulness of others.

This is how St. Paul means this Psalm to be taken. He quotes it to remind the prideful - the Jews in this case (Christians in our own time) - that we are all in need of salvation, whether Jew or Gentile, Christian or nonChristian. We cannot claim membership in a GROUP as sufficient to save us. We must LIVE BY FAITH (as this is what brings righteousness). And faith in God is incompatible with any sense of prideful self-righteousness. If I have faith in God (rely on God) then God is my all and I must be a zero unto myself. A person convinced of their own righteousness cannot be this. Thus, if I am righteous, I would nod in affirmation at the words of this Psalm. If I am a sinner (as I am), I would nod in affirmation at the words of this Psalm. But if I put my faith in the Law and my ability to follow it? Well, then the way St. Paul uses this Psalm would harrow me to the bone.

Regardless, it does not necessitate original sin (indeed, original sin, as understood by the West, cannot be drawn from these verses or we implicate Jesus in sin along with many whom the Scriptures call righteous). Rather, it necessitates humility. Let us judge ourselves as lacking, and all others as righteous, and then perhaps we will become humble enough to welcome the grace of God into our hearts.

Romans 3:19 - 20
Now we know that whatever the Law says, it says to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore, by the deeds of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the Law is the knowledge of sin.

So then, the Jew asks, what purpose is the Law? The Law reveals us as we are: lacking God, apart from grace, without communion, and unable to pursue righteousness. If we don't know we are ill, how can we pursue a physician? The Law marks us as ill. It circumcises the heart by cutting away our pride, and forces us to be aware of the basic facts that any true ascetic knows: we cannot blame the world for our sins. Our sins originate from our own wilfulness. We will to sin. We will to not follow the fast. We will to not pray continuously. We will to disrespect life. We will to seek our own selfishness. If we were in the garden of Eden, we probably wouldn't have lasted as long as Adam and Eve. If we were in front of the Jews outside Christ's trial, we'd probably deny Him 3 times 30 times. By our very willfulnes, we commit every sin under the sun, and by the awareness of the Law we are convicted of this.

The Law, then, prepares us for Christ. It is only by seeing the GOODNESS of God (in the Law) that we can know how much we LACK it and, thereby, gain a thirst for Christ and God's righteousness which comes by faith. Christ, who demonstratably fulfills the Law makes MANIFEST (in the flesh) the righteousness of God and teaches it to us. He then unites God to us through the incarnation, and even to our death through the cross and resurrection. He over throws our fears, and, by the Sacrament of the Church sends us His Holy Spirit to give us faith and grace sufficient to repent. Righteousness comes from God; but if we do not thirst for it, we will not seek it, and if we do not seek it, how shall it come to us? We would be like those who, unaware of their sin, rejected Christ.

Forgive me,

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Romans 3:1 - 9

Romans 3:1 - 4a
What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God. For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar.

Having established that circumcision alone does not save someone, for it doesn't impact the nous, St. Paul responds to the rhetorical question "Why circumcise then? Why did God command this?"

A similar line of questioning provides an excellent insight into the nature and role of baptism. Circumcision being the sign of the first covenant and baptism being the sign of the second covenant means they share some things in common. One can imagine a discussion over baptism proceeding between a non-baptizing sect of Christianity (like Quakers) and an Orthodox Christian proceeding something like this:

Orthodox: Baptism is commanded by Christ! It is the sign of the covenant. One cannot be a Christian without baptism.

Quaker: Can one be saved without baptism?

Orthodox: God is certainly bigger than us, so yes - if God grants His grace to someone and heals them of their sin, uniting to them and sanctifying them, then that person would be saved, whether baptized or not.

Quaker: Can one be saved with baptism?

Orthodox: Well, it is commanded by God in the Scriptures and through the Church. It certainly isn't sufficient. We are judged for our deeds, not for our baptisms.

Quaker: What then, is the benefit of baptism if being baptized does not save us, and baptism is not necessary for salvation?

It is easy to substitute "circumcision" for baptism in the above dialogue and, more or less, you'd have a summary of Romans 2 and the first few verses of Romans 3. St. Paul does not take agree that circumcision and the Law have no purpose. He explicitly refers to the Jews having been handed the revelation of God. Similarly, the Church has recieved Holy Tradition (which does command baptism) - and this revelation is NOT made false by our inability to live up to it. The mere fact that my own sinfulness spoils my baptism does not remove the TRUTH (Christ) IN that baptism any more than the sinfulness of the Jews negated the preparation for the Truth contained in the Law.

The oracles of God instruct us - and make clear to us our failings. Only in the light of the Truth can we percieve our own lies. Circumcision, the food laws, the ethical restrictions...these restraints, these Holy ascetic disciplines were meant to circumcise the nous in preparation for the coming of Christ. On their own they can do nothing, for we do not "elect" ourselves to unity with God. Rather, the circumcised heart - the true Jew - at the coming of Christ and the joining of the Divine and human natures in Him is thereafter filled with Christ and united to God.

We cannot know what to do if we do not have the Truth. That doesn't mean that, possessing the Truth, we follow it / Him. Similarly, as St. Paul says, just because someone doesn't agree to the Truth, it doesn't negate that Truth nor negate the faithfulness of God. God is faithful - He speaks truly and He honors His covenant - it is we who are unfaithful. The Truth IS. It doesn't change. It simply IS.

So the Jew does have an advantage over the Gentile - the Jew has been given the Law which is the preparation for the Truth (Christ). This, in the Orthodox mindset, might subject the Jew (or Christian) to a more difficult judgment, since much will be expected from those who have been given much. Think of the parable of the talent. The one given 10 talents returned 20. The one given 5 talents returned 10. They were both called good and faithful. But had the one given 10 talents returned only 10? He would have been judged as the unfaithful servant who returned only 1 talent after being given 1. Despite the more demanding judgment, the Truth is always to our advantage since, by definition, the ONLY salvation is by the Truth (by unity to Christ). Anything which pushes us towards that is edifying and good.

Romans 3:4b
As it is written: "That you may be justified in Your words, and may overcome when You are judged."

It is important to recall the entire Psalm to which St. Paul is referring, rather than read these words as isolated proof-texts. This is from Psalm 50 (51) - the Psalm St. David wrote after his adultery, in repentance. It is a Psalm of a sinner repenting, and it demonstrates the proper attitude we ought to have in our repentance. We don't approach God, when we are the sinners, demanding that God give an account to us as to why His Truth didn't FORCE us to be righteous. We don't demand from God nor judge God. A penitent heart understands that God's Truth IS, and that it is WE who fail to live up to IT. God is faithful. God is justified. We are not. The Jew cannot, being the sinner, stand before God and demand an account for why circumcision didn't save him. The Christian cannot stand before God and judge Him for his failure to live up to his calling in baptism.

Romans 3:5 - 8
But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unjust who inflicts wrath? (I speak as a man.) Certainly not! For then how will God judge the world? For if the Truth of God has increased through my lie to His glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner? And why not say, "Let us do evil that good may come"? - as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say. Their condemnation is just.

St. Paul here addresses another series of rhetorical questions placed into the mouths of his judaizing opponents.

To the first one, of course God isn't unjust to inflict wrath if it is we, by our free will, who have rejected God's presence and blackened our nous to Him. As in all questions of judgment, we must have faith in God. Remember the parable of the talents again - did the master demand 10 additional talents of the servant who was given 5? Of course not! We don't systematize God's judgment, nor can we speculate as to who is or is not saved. Rather, we must trust God (have faith in God) that His judgment is righteous and faithful. God knows what we have and have not had the capacity to chose. God knows our hearts better than we do. And God is love. We must trust Him.

Trusting God, we then know that if God inflicts wrath, He is justified in doing so. Remember Psalm 50. We don't demand anything from God. Rather, as the sinner, we kneel before God and accept His judgment as right. That is the only proper attitude for someone seeking God's grace.

And what is this inflicting wrath, if God is love? Many Orthodox theologians far more spiritually advanced than myself have written on this. I cannot hope to "solve" this as if it were some puzzle. It is important to note that the wrath doesn't belong to God. God isn't really really angry at us, nor is He a monarch holding our sins over us with a wrathful justice. Rather, God is love, and we, as I said above, are "judged" by our ability or inability to know that love. The infliction of wrath is the experience of God's absence, or of our absence from Him (more properly, since God is everywhere). God is love. God is not wrath. God cannot be wrath because then God would have underwent change at the fall. He would have been all-loving, then, after the fall, some combination of love and wrath and then, after forgiveness, all-loving again. This subjects God to human activity - it makes God changeable like a human being with human emotions. To be certain, Christ has human emotions, but God in His essence? We should be careful not to limit God just to make Him easier to comprehend.

The second rhetorical question asks whether we should be lauded for our sins, since the sin gives opportunity for God's grace to abound. If our sin brings God glory, then how can we be judged for it? The Judaizers don't mean to imply that this is accurate, rather, this question is meant to point out an intolerable conclusion of St. Paul's theology. They slanderously report that St. Paul wants people to sin (to not follow the Law; to not follow the food laws and be circumcized) that God's grace may abound through the righteousness that comes by faith.

They miss the point, though. They're still trying to systematize God and God's judgment, rather than accepting that righteousness is required of us, God's Truth demonstrates this to us, and God's grace enables us, by faith, to repent and follow that Truth (Christ). We should stop sinning. However, assuming that the Law will save us is false. Rather, we cease sinning by following Christ. The sign of the new covenant is not the Jewish Law - Judaism is not the center of Christianity. At the time, Judaism was extremely diverse, but all Jews had to be circumsized and agree to the Law. Since Christians rejected the Temple Cult, and saw the food laws as overridden by Christ's recapitulating of the world in Himself, and saw baptism as the sign of the new covenant (making circumcision irrelevant), they were subject to this criticism. The Jews and Judaizers saw these changes as sinful. St. Paul is arguing that they are not.

But the point here is that the accusation that St. Paul promotes sin is silly. Does he understand what is sinful in a different way from the Judaizers? Yes. But that's the whole point of His treatise in this epistle - to demonstrate that these things are not required for righteousness; that the Judaizers are wrong.

Romans 3:9
What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.

This is a direct reference to St. Paul's discourse earlier in the epistle. Christians (Jewish or Gentile) aren't any better than Judaizers when it comes to sin. We aren't any better. It would be beneficial to us to remember this more often.

Does this imply a doctrine of Original Sin? To an extent, but not necessarily in the Augustinian sense, and certainly not in the Calvinist sense. Remember that St. Paul himself spoke earlier in the epistle about how someone, having never heard the Law, might be saved. This isn't a total depravity, nor are we born with guilt, rather we are born into a culture of sin by which we learn to sin, and this sin damages our nous and removes us from God. Our own sin does this, not someone else's. Yet we are subject to sin because, in reality, both Jew and Gentile live in this culture of sin and imitate it. We aren't guilty of Adam's sin, but we are victims of it, and we are guilty of the way our sin victimizes others (as we learn from and contribute to this culture of sin).

Forgive me,

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Romans 2:25 - 29

Romans 2:25-26
For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision?

Circumcision is the sign of the covenant (and, along with the Law that laid out the covenant, was a source of boasting). Yet St. Paul aptly points out that sin, since it still supresses knowledge of the Truth (communion with Christ), removes one from the covenant. Circumcision, in the face of sin (breaking the Law) becomes uncircumcision. He uses this to argue the converse: would not then someone who keeps the Law be counted as a member of the covenant, even if they don't have some of the outward signs of the Law?

We can apply this easily enough to Christianity. We, too, have a covenant (the Gospels) and a sign of this covenant (baptism). We, too, are faced with the stark reality that membership in the covenant does not guarantee us justification. Rather, we must repent of our sins. And indeed, if we see another who does something righteous, then we know we have seen a miracle of God and, in this righteous act, that person is joined with the God who IS Righteousness. If the covenant is to be communion with God, then that person's righteousness has become "baptism" for them, even as, by sin, our baptism becomes "unbaptism" (and we go to confession to repent).

In other words, we should avoid judging others and celebrate righteousness (love) wherever we find it. Instead of feeling threatened by other religions and retreating into shallow arguments or accusations of their paganism, we should honor the righteousness they do produce while remaining faithful to what we find disagreeable in them. The asceticism of Buddhism is something we could all do to imitate. We can do so while still respecting that, ultimately, we find disagreement with concepts like reincarnation, monism, and the absence of God in Buddhist thought.

Just as importantly, we must be sober with regards to ourselves and the sin in our lives. At any point if I call myself "in" and others "out" I've probably got it backwards. Outwards signs (which are so easy to latch on to, being easy to see and comprehend) like baptism or even the Protestant "sinner's prayer" are merely a beginning. That isn't to undermine the importance of baptism or those first moments of repentance and turning to God. The beginning is a miracle and ought to be celebrated, but it doesn't give us a claim on God - as if He now owed us salvation in some way. Nor should it be a tool for judgment - as if we could tell who has and has not made a beginning based on something visible to our limited and sinful eye.

Romans 2:27-29
And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the Law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the Law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumsision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly (and circumcision is that of the heart; in the Spirit, not in the letter) whose praise is not from men but from God.

A few interesting things to note here: the saints will judge the world alongside Christ. Is this because the saints (true Christians) will have power separate from Christ with which they judge? Far from it. Rather, true Christians (true Jews) will be one with Christ. The judgment of God doesn't proceed from wrath or any kind of human judgment. It is, rather, the clear and present truth regarding someone's life - did they know God and does God know them? To what degree this will be required of us I cannot pretend to know, but as to whether or not we have lived by faith our own thoughts accuse us easily enough. If even our sinful thoughts can tell us we are absent from God, how much more aware of our illness would someone be if they weren't absent from God! The saints, being continously in the presence of God (as we ought all to be) will therefore judge us because Christ will be judging us through them.

Whether or not they were circumcised has nothing to do with it. "Jewishness" isn't a culture (a set of practices and norms like the ceremonial Law), rather, Jewishness is circumcision of the heart: the cutting away of our selfishness (like the cutting away of useless foreskin) so that we may be one with God through Christ. Circumcision is of the heart: the intuitive-mind by which we are to know God. IF our heart remains untouched then what has been accomplished? Heart here doesn't mean emotions - those happen in our brains and are based on sensory input like any other brain response. The nous is a spiritual matter. If it is still dead then we are dead with it. If it lives because that which kills it (unrighteousness) is removed, then we live with Christ.

Forgive me,

Monday, December 15, 2008

Romans 2:12, 16-24

Romans 2:12, 16
For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law (...) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.

For simplicity and context I've cut the long paranthetical statement St. Paul makes and which we explored last time. Here he completes His thoughts on the nature of judgment, having established thoroughly the following basic teachings:
  1. God's salvation is for the Jew and also for the Greek (Rom 1:16)
  2. Salvation is "living by faith," or acting according to faith (Rom 1:17)
  3. Unrighteousness destroys our ability to know God, and thus we experience God's absence (His wrath) and fall further into unrighteousness, assuming God isn't there or replacing Him with the material. This is the plight of the Gentiles, and it makes them "deserving" of death since. (Rom 1:18 - 32)
  4. This unrighteous behavior endangers not only the Gentile, but the Jew as well (since it is unrighteousness, in contrast to living by faith, which removes us from God's presence) - it is therefore foolish to judge others since this unrighteous act of judgment only further separates us from God (Rom 2:1-5)
  5. There is no partiality with God - whether Jew or Greek we will be judged for what we DO (whether we live unrighteously and destroy the Truth or act according to faith). It is plausible that a non-Jew could act justly, having the Truth in their "nous" (intuition-heart-mind), just like a Jew having the Law can still sin. (Rom 2:6-15)
  6. This judgment is according to Christ - for it is Christ's gospel by which we are saved (Rom 1:16, 2:16).

As stated previously, the basic premise of Romans is that Jews and Greeks are equally members of the Church, since both are equally subject to sin or righteousness, and we are judged based on our sinfulness or righteousness (judged for our deeds).

Romans 2:17 - 20

Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the Law and make your boast in God, and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the Law, and are confident that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the Law.

Here St. Paul summarizes one of the arguments forwarded by the Judaizers (as he will do throughout Romans).

The boast of the Jew is the Law: the Covenant with God and God's instructions for Jewish ethical and ritual actions (an important distinction). Since the Law, being God's Word, contains Truth, the Jew teaches from it as a leader of the blind. And indeed, the Law DOES inform us about God, and DOES teach us what is right and what is wrong. It is indeed the form of knowledge.

Yet that is the key word: form. True knowledge, in the Biblical sense, is not cognitive-brain knowledge - remember that limiting our experience of Truth to the physical (cognitive) brain is precisely the idolatry which the Gentiles fell into because of sin. Rather, knowledge is communion. Knowledge means complete intermingling - like the knowledge a husband has for his wife or vice-versa. Knowledge has a deep sense of holistic (Catholic) fullness. Merely asserting a doctrine is not knowledge. One can recite good ethical principles, but to know them one must do them. One can recite good doctrines regarding God, but to KNOW God is an entirely different thing.

Indeed, this was the problem with the way the Law was used. Mistaking the Law (a cognitive list of right and wrong) with living by faith (that is to say, acting righteously because one knows God) fundamentally damaged the spiritual wellbeing of the Jews. This is an easy mistake for Christians to fall into as well. How often do we mistake the Creed for knowledge? Or the Bible? Or ANY doctrine? Any source of human wisdom? There is a big difference between being able to recite all the right answers and LIVING the right answer - KNOWING the right answers - COMMUNING with THE "right answer" (the Truth) who is Christ our Lord. We can read all the right books by the right Orthodox authors, we can hear every homily and memorize the Scriptures, and have a working understanding of ancient Greek and the patristic saints. We can own a thousand icons and light a thousand candles and, ultimately, it means nothing.

We are not guides to the blind unless we have the knowledge of God. First we must judge ourselves, and realize that we are lacking, and then, once we are empties of ourselves we may be filled by God and, by being filled by God (the knowledge of God), HE may USE us to guide others. But if at any point WE are the guide, we have fallen into pride and have mistaken our egotistical cognitive-self for "truth" - we have become an idol, setting up for ourselves a nice and comprehensible God whom we "share" with others. This kind of shallow religion, which is more than obvious to those outside of it, lacks the basic humility of Christ, who, having done more miralces in a moment then "we" will EVER do, told those whom He healed to say NOTHING about Him. His divine silence - His humility - should remind us how empty our prideful words are.

This does not mean, as St. Paul will say later, that we let go of the Truth handed to us. The doctrines are important. They ground us in reality and fence us from heresy - necessary safeguards indeed. You'll notice the Law is in the Christian Bible. The Truth IS handed on, but we should never mistake our role within it. We are not experts. We do not have knowledge. We can but parrot others until we are sanctified. This parroting is "tradition" (handing-on), but it must be done with the utmost humility. This is why I conclude posts with "Forgive me." I ask your forgiveness for my own pride, and I pray that this is a faithful rendition of the Holy Tradition which contains within it the path to True knowledge of God. It is my prayer that I NEVER mistake a teaching for knowledge.

Romans 2:21 - 24

You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, "Do not commit adultery," do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the Law, do you dishonor God through breaking the Law? For "the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you" as it is writen.

While one may be able to walk through the first few rhetorical questions, the last one - do you who boast in the law break the law? - is a tough one to avoid. We all sin. Or rather, I know that I do. Perhaps God has already granted you sanctification, in which case I thank Him for that. The world needs more sanctified people. I myself am nowhere near it, and, like much of Romans, these are sobering thoughts. We often shout our views from rooftops, so to speak, because of our LOVE for God - yet our very hypocrisy results in His being blasphemed. How often have we heard in this culture something like this: "I could never be a Christian; they're such hypocrites! They preach all this so-called morality and not one of them follows it."

Let us be the FIRST to own up to our own sins. It is one of the greatest untapped Truths of Christianity. We so often try to "fake" that we're "all better now" because of our conversion to Christianity when, inside, we know our sins. How refreshing would it be to let that go, to be REAL! This is a major purpose of confession, at least to a point: by vocalizing our sins, we "real-ize" them (make them real to ourselves) and prevent the self-delusion which leads to hypocrisy.

It is also why it is critical that we not correct one another, but leave correction to those whom God has ordained to the task. If a woman wears pants in Church, it is not the place of other women to scold her and tell her to wear a skirt. If a man wears short sleaves, we should tolerate him and trust that it is between him, God, and whomever else God appoints over him. If a kid cries in Church, do we become annoyed? Remember that we sound just as bothersome before the saints and angels in their eternal worship before God, being mere children to them, yet we are welcomed with love and encouraged to join in. If we see people living a life we consider immoral, do we let judgment enter our heart? Do we judge drunkards and homosexuals? Do we judge prostitutes and pornographers and liers and corrupt politicians? ARE WE BETTER?

If the MIRACLE of God's Holy Tradition becomes mistaken for KNOWING GOD then we will fall into pride and hypocrisy. We should judge ourselves first, and others never. God will judge them. Our task is to love. YES - we have a responsibility to stay obedient to the teachings of the Church and to hold fast to them, as they are a precious gift; so we must seek to understand them. But we must seek to LIVE them. And until we do, and do so sufficiently, we have no business scolding another.

A story from the Desert Fathers teaches this principle effectively, and I'll conclude this post with it:

"A brother in Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to which abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to him, saying, “Come, for everyone is waiting for you.” So he got up and went. He took a leaking jug and filled it with water and carried it with him. The others came out to meet him and said, “What is this, father?” The old man said to them, “My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another.” When they heard that, they said no more to the brother but forgave him."

Forgive me,


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Romans 2:11 - 15


I've been a bit under the weather for the last week or so - hence no posts. I'm curious if anyone is actually reading this; I'll probably keep writing just because I find it relaxing in an odd way, but if you're reading this, say 'hi' in the comments to me. No need for a RL name, but just a way for me to gauge if I'm essentially just talking to myself... :-D

Romans 2:11 - 15
For there is no partiality with God. For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; for when Gentiles who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law unto themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them).

We pick up where we left off. We are considering how God judges Jew and Greek (for the whole text of Romans is about the unity of the Church and the universality of the Faith). Notice, for future referance, that "justification" is defined for us here. "Not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified." It is doing the law - that is to say it is living (acting) by faith - which justifies us. Justification is to "be made just." It is not "to be excused from being unjust" but rather it is a positive transformation from one who acts unjustly to one who acts justly. By this context, it cannot be a legal or juridicial category (i.e. one is unjustified if found guilty of sin or justified if found to be innocent, regardless of one's actual conduct). Rather, it is an ontological category. To be just is to think just, act just, live just. It is to live by faith. And remember the preceeding passage. We are judged according to our deeds.

We thus have two categories of people (so to speak; people probably fall on a range within this spectrum): the unrighteous who have killed their "nous" (intuitive-heart-mind) and thus cannot be justified (be made just) since they are without the light of God that justifies us, and the righteous (i.e. Abraham) who "live by faith" - that is those whose nous is repaired by God and who can thus, knowing (in an intimate union) the Truth (who is Christ) live by faith and act with Christ's justice - those who are justified.

It doesn't matter if a person has heard of or follows Judaic cultural norms (the Law). These things are good for the Jew - they teach us effectively of just how sinful we are and prepare us for Christ - but they are not the sum total of our salvation. If a Gentile, by some miracle (and by what other means are we justified?) manages to follow some portion of the "law" (speaking now of what is ethically right and ethically wrong), then that Gentile is, according to that law, justified.

There can be NO Truth apart from God, who IS the Truth. There can be nothing good apart from God, who IS goodness itself. There can be NO light except by God. Whenever we see someone doing good, be they a Buddhist or an Atheist or a Christian or a Jew or ANYONE we have seen a miracle of God. These are the do-ers of the law. They will be justified, for in so much as God is able to act in them and through them they are brought into union with God, and in so much as (that is, to what degree) that happens, their inner light is repaired - the Truth is made manifest, even if only a little bit.

Thus, as St. Paul said in the earlier passage, who are we to judge another? We cannot possibly know what light God has given to them, nor what things the world has done to steal it from them, nor what things they may have done themselves to nurture or kill that light. We can NEVER know the true nature of another except by mystical union to one another through union with Christ, and then it is not really US knowing them but rather CHRIST knowing them THROUGH us, and few and far between are those of us for whom this kind of sainthood will become a reality.

We cannot judge based on easy categories like "Christian" or "Jew" because God has come to save ALL people and, in love, reaches out continually to ALL people - to the Christian first and also to the Pagan (to paraphrase St. Paul's argument here).

And what is meant of the Gentile who does these things by nature? That nature is the image of God which is universal to all humanity and which this passage affirms survives despite the inheritence of death from the original sin. We are not born to sin. We are not born guilty. We are not born unrighteous. We each, on our own, kill the light of God in us. Though I cannot judge another, I can easily judge myself. Is the light of God present in me? Do I know it with an unsurpassing intimacy? Certainly I do not. Thus I know that I am not yet justified. As St.Paul says, I am judged by my own thoughts. My own personal realities accuse me of the fact which I spend a lot of time trying to ignore: I do not know God.

YET I am being justified, by the grace of God. When I look at the light of the saints, and the love of God that shines through them, I find myself sorely lacking. Yet they too were once like me - sinners seeking to repent. And if God can, through His Holy Spirit, bring them into that degree of unity with Him - into that light - then I have unlimited hope. If God can make even one who has never HEARD the law, HEARD the Gospel, know and follow the light, then I have hope He can save even me.

Simultaneously, this passage is an exhortation for us NEVER to judge and ALWAYS to hope. It is a reminder of God's reach (which far extends our own) and our own failures. It's one of my favorites in the Scriptures, and it humbles me (to what extent I let it) every time I read it.

Forgive me,