Fascination with wickedness obscures what is good, and roving desire perverts the innocent mind.
Wisdom of Solomon 4:12

Monday, December 27, 2010

Energy & God

In the ancient theology of the undivided church, we find a concept of God that has been lost in the contemporary west. I refer to the concept of God's energies. The early church understood God’s essence (ousia) to be a distinct concept from that of God’s energies (energia). According to patristic thought, the ousia or essence of God, is God as He is, while the energia, or energies of God, are His activities in the world that enable us to experience something of the Divine.

The essence (ousia) of God was therefore understood by the fathers to be both uncreated and incomprehensible, & finds no existence or subsistence in any other thing, while the energy (energia) of God is indeed comprehensible, and finds its origin in the essence of God. This energy is the primary means by which we human beings apprehend God, first through sensory perception, and then as one grows in their relationship to the God by intuitive perception. This means then that the energy of God is the primary thing to be grasped by human beings in order to participate in what the bible calls salvation.

Unfortunately, contemporary western theology has no clear teaching on this distinction between essence and energies. Nevertheless, the church fathers gave us a large body of teaching on this subject. In fact, all the Cappadocian Fathers referred to the energies of God as “divine attributes”. Cyril of Alexandria wrote: “to make belongs to energy, whereas to give birth belongs to nature. Nature and energy are not the same thing”. In short, we can conclude that Divine essence is what God is, & Divine energies are what God does. The point of the teaching is that humanity can only know and experience God by what he does.

For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works (ergon) than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. John 5:20

Moreover, we can and must participate in God’s energies with our own energies. This participation is what is called synergy or synergia.

For we are God's fellow workers (sunergos). You are God's field, God's building. According to the grace of God given to me 1 Cor 3: 9-10

The Trinity therefore is no mere mystery doctrine to be left in the shadows, rather, as a doctrine it is the single basis for the whole of Christianity. Thus, the energies of God are the means given by God for our participation in the life of the Trinity, which is salvation itself.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Oneness & Threeness

The church has historically used a variety of words to speak of the oneness & the threeness of God, each term requires a bit of background in order to help our understanding of them. I do not intend to give a full treatment of terms like Trinity, essence, persons, and so on. However, I will try to get to the heart of the matter.

Thus far I have stated that the undivided church saw one God in whom there is no internal difference, who has one mind, one plan, one set of affections, one intention, and in whom there is no division at all. Yet, in a mystery, the church also saw that God exists in threeness. The main point that we should draw from this is that the three persons in the one Godhead have one will, and are at all times working (ergos) in perfect unity.

God the Father does not do anything that is not done though His Word, who is His eternal Son, and the eternal Word or Son does nothing apart from the Holy Spirit that eternally proceeds from the Father. In short, the three persons may be distinct, but never separated. There is one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and nothing that any of the persons in the godhead plan, think, love, or pursue occurs in isolation from the others. In the Godhead we have perfect communion. Only when we understand this oneness and threeness can we begin to look at the energies, or works, of God as they pertain to each person in the Godhead. For it is by the energies of God that mankind knows the Godhead and the persons.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

One God, One Mind, One Mission

The creed to which every Christian gives his allegiance begins with the words, “I believe in one God”. However, unlike any other religion under the sun, this one God is not the same as the one god claimed by non-Christian belief systems who also speak of one god. The God of Christians cannot be reduced to the philosopher’s "one" unmoved mover, or the "one" energy source behind all things. He is not the one god of the Gnostics, who speaks secrets to individuals so by those secrets they alone might have knowledge of what & who God is. He is not the one god of neo-Platonists, who is a great ruler and cares mostly about perfection and having his honor restored (this is the great error of western theology since the great schism of the 11th century). He is not the one absentee landlord god of the deists (this is one of the most popular versions of god in our day). He is not the summation of the whole universe into one great sea of spirituality (this is the other popular "one" god of our day). Instead of these kinds of "one" god, the God we know as Christians is one essence, in three persons, who makes His presence experiential to His creation by way of His energies (ergos-works).

The understanding of the undivided church is that there exists one God; meaning that there is no internal difference within the one God, He has one mind, one plan, one set of affections, one intention, and there is no division at all within Him. Yet, in a mystery, we find that He exists in three persons: the eternal Father who is the maker of all things visible and invisible; the Son, who is eternally begotten of the Father, meaning that there has never been a time when the Father was that the Son was not, & by whom the Father accomplishes all things; and there is one eternal Holy Spirit who is the same God and the author of life and has eternally proceeded from the Father. This means that there was never a time when the Spirit was not. This one God who exists in three persons in one godhead, and these three persons make up the one perfect community of love, light, and life whom we call the Trinity.

It is in this one community or Trinity that all things live and move and have their being. Thus, it is into life within that community that all humanity and creation is called. For this reason, every great Christian teacher has said that man cannot know himself unless he first knows the one God (no communion = no true humanity). It is for this reason that Holy Communion is the goal of creation and also the means of restoration for our divided creation. Therefore, the one God that we know as Christians desires above all things to have the whole creation intertwined within his godhead which we call the Trinity and that is what we call salvation. In short, our God is the one who loves love, He loves our love and who wants us to be inter-twined with Him. Consequently, each person of the Trinity is involved in the task or creating communion unto the ages of ages.

This also means that there can exist no difference of mind within the godhead. To us who live in America this means that God the Father is not primarily angry, and the God Son is not trying to block the Father’s anger from hurting us, and the Holy Spirit is not merely keeping the peace and putting the reunion together. That would be a divided mind within the Godhead, or divine schizophrenia. God the Father and God the Son cannot be of different interests. Instead, what we need to grasp as American Christians is what the patristic and apostolic church of the first millennium understood, and that is that our God is one community, has one love, and one mission, and it is to bring all things into Himself, and into His perfect and loving community which we call the Trinity. Our one God now calls mankind to freely enter into that community, because the Lord Jesus Christ has destroyed that which prevented us from entering in, which is the sin and death that mankind introduced into the world. Moreover, a day will come when that union will be consumated in time and space, and sin and death will be no more.

Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For "God has put all things in subjection under his feet." But when it says, "all things are put in subjection," it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. 1 cor 15: 20-28

This one God, this one mind, and this one mission is the clear teaching of the bible, the apostles, the church Fathers, the ecumanical coucils, the creeds, and of the whole undivided church. It is to this foundational oneness of God (Trinitarianism) that the teachings of the church must return if we are to have the true God as our God.