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

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Time, Space & Matter - Part 1

Ever since the early days of Greek philosophy, the west has found itself in a gargantuan wrestling match with the concepts of time, space, and matter.

The first concern in history was over matter. Thales of Miletus (the first official philosopher) began a school of thought that came to be called "material monism." He and the material monists who followed him derived that the entire visible cosmos came from a single thing or principle (either water, the infinite, air, fire). Their concern was with the origin, makeup, and right use of matter. These material monists also taught that motion is caused by the soul (psyche) because the soul (psyche) was the location where the gods exerted their powers. Consequently, anything that had the power to move things, such as rocks that move water, magnets that move metal, or persons that move objects all have souls; and the souls are “full of the gods.”

These precepts developed and transformed as the years went by, however they never departed the western mind. By the time Christianity came around, St. Paul knew that everyone understood that “it is in God that we live and move and have our being (Acts 17: 28).” This also meant that all matter was inescapably intertwined with God, and that there was a sense in which all things were holy! This became a central tenant of Christian thought. One of the best treatments of this topic is found in the book, “On The Incarnation,” by St. Athanasius.

Nevertheless, another kind of thinking would later trump the conviction that God is in all things. The challenge finds its origins in the influence of another pre-Socratic philosopher by the name of Heraclitus. It is by the teaching of Heraclitus that dualism was born in the sixth century BC. Years later, the teachings of Plato and Heraclitus would be merged to form the neo-Platonists, and they would forever firm up the concepts of material dualism instead of material monism.

In the early years of Christianity, neo-Platonism ruled in many corners of the Greco-Roman world. The neo-Platonists, following Heraclitus’ lead, taught that there was an anti-world unlike ours where the gods dwelt, and that was the perfect world. Consequently, this world and the things in it are not holy, nor our permanent home, “we’re just a passing through.” This kind of thinking, never again departed the western mind.

Coupled with Islamic influence, matter was stripped of its holiness. Matter and pictures began to be seen as inappropriate to represent the perfect world, and much less the perfect God thus the Christian doctrine of the incarnation was made a secondary doctrine. In summary, the iconoclast controversy in the eighth century came to represent both sides of argument. The historic Christian school argued that since God entered into matter, matter had been sanctified, and thus been enabled to represent the heavenly matter, time, and space of God. The other school taught matter is inadequate and unacceptable to make that representation, and therefore not to be done.

The iconoclasts were eventually defeated, but only to rise again after the reformation. It is for this reason that much of Western Christianity takes place in a hall with four plain walls and a pulpit. It is also for this reason that a theology of “why bother to polish brass on a sinking ship” rules the day. The task at hand for those who are paleo–orthodox (ancient-orthodox) is to reassert the necessity of God being at work in all things; as St Paul said, “it is in God that we live, and move and have our being.” This is especially true regarding those things which he calls the mysteries (sacraments) of the church.

More to come…

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

“What is God’s will for my life?”

Discerning God’s will is both extremely easy and at the same time impossibly difficult. The reason for this is the fact that certain parts of God’s will have been clearly and adequately revealed, while other parts have been left a mystery. The church has come to call these two wills: God’s hidden will and God’s revealed will.

God has not told us everything that He knows or plans. There are secrets that belong to Him alone. At the same time, the Lord has revealed certain things that are for us and our children forever (Deut. 29:29).

God’s hidden, or secret will encompasses His sovereign choices which direct all things that come to pass in creation (Ps. 33:11; Isa. 46:8–10). These choices are unalterable, and are what Scripture alludes to when it says God cannot change His mind (Num. 23:19). We cannot know these choices in advance, and they are, “none of our business.” And while God’s choices direct the courses of our lives; they in no way excuse our rejection or trespass of those things which God has revealed. God’s secret will is a mystery, and it is meant to be so in order that the just might live by faith in accordance with what He has revealed (Hab 2:4, Rom 1: 17).

God also has a revealed will, it is found first in scripture, then in the teachings of the fathers, then in the teachings of the ecumenical councils and creeds, then in the ancient liturgies, and finally in the icons. They all contain that which God has revealed to the world for our salvation.

The rub in all of this occurs when we fail to remember that His hidden will (those things which unfold in our lives) is at work in such a way that it tests our faith in His revealed will. Faith is the assurance that God has a good purpose for His people that cannot be thwarted (Rom. 8:28), no matter what may be happening in our lives. Faith then, is living according to God’s revealed will in the midst of His secret will. This is the reason that works can never be separated from faith; where there is faith there must by necessity be works (Jam 2:24), and it is for this reason that everyone will be judged by their works (Rom 2: 5-6).