Sunday, February 15, 2009

Does God judge nations today?

Like many other Melbourne pastors I was disturbed by Danny Nalliah's press release, issued to the nation on February 10, which asserted that the Victorian Bushfires were the direct result of Victoria's abortion laws. This was based, he said, upon a dream he had last November.

It was irresponsible of Nalliah to release his message without first submitting it to church leaders for evaluation, including those of recognised prophetic insight (1 Corinthians 14:29-32). Danny states that his desire was to call the church to repentance, but by rejecting the oversight and testing of the church in Victoria, he has undermined and greatly damaged his credibility, and shut the ears of many to his voice. The timing of the message right in the middle of the most profound suffering and agony, and the idea of issuing it as a 'press release' was hurtful.

I don't disagree with Nalliah that our abortion laws are 'incendiary', nor that their passing was a dark day for our state, but such concerns do not give him the right to pour further pain and suffering upon the bushfire victims right at the time when body counts were mounting day by day. His actions have been interpreted by many as a form of spiritual grandstanding.

It is hardly surprising that atheists on the blogosphere compared Nalliah to Islamist jihadists, such as those who found in the bushfires evidence of Allah's punishment of Australia. (Local Muslims rejected these claims.)

Yet, having expressed my deep concern about Nalliah's chosen path, I was also disturbed to read respected Christian leaders, in opposing Nalliah, appear to deny God's sovereignty and justice, even to the extent that they appeared to question the possibility of judgement in this life at all.

Dr Wynand De Kock, Dr John Capper and Pastor Mark Conner all seemed to be saying that since Christ came, God no longer acts in this world to judge people for their sins.

De Kock and Capper, both of Tabor College, seem to reject the idea that any disaster can be attributed to God. Such an understanding would be "a misunderstanding of both God's purpose and God's nature." They say that the people of Israel "in the early days" had such a view – here De Kock and Capper seem to be implying that this was only what the Israelites thought, not what the Bible teaches – but today it seems we should know better. Although they allow that some Christians "may still be of this opinion", they seem to be saying that since the coming of Christ this view has become invalid.

Conner explains his views as follows:
"...we need to realise that we are in the time of God’s favour NOT of God’s judgment. ... Jesus introduced a day of grace and mercy for people, and we are still living in that time. ... That doesn’t mean that people today won’t at times suffer the consequences of their actions but this is not the day of God’s judgment."
I certainly do not support Nalliah's statements, but to deny even the possibility that God's actions might include sending judgment upon communities is a very strange claim indeed. Many atheists, responding on Barney Zwartz's blog, were incredulous that Christians might happily accept blessings as coming from God's hands, whilst fervently rejecting the possibility that God could have a hand in disasters. They found it hypocritical that Christians might thank God for rain, but reject the possibility that God withheld rain in a bushfire.

I suspect that these leaders do not fully believe what they are preaching. (Indeed Conner, in a subsequent post, seems to have retreated from his earlier statement.) Do they really wish to imply that since the time of Christ, God will not bring retribution against tyrants? That God now stands so aloof that the only judgement in this world takes the form of 'consequences of actions'.

I suspect that these Christian leaders feel themselves pushed into downplaying the sovereignty of God at this time because they are appalled at the negative pastoral impact of Nalliah's press release. This is part of the collateral damage of Nalliah's actions: he has polarized people, and shut off avenues for important discussion and theological reflection. His timing was excruciating.

The question of the character of God and the extent of his responsibility for disasters is indeed a very painful one. (Many Jews became atheists during the Holocaust.) But despite what some Christian leaders are saying in response to Nalliah, the possibility of judgment has always been at least one of the factors which Christians have considered in times of disaster. Even Christ and the apostles make references to God's judgment in this life.

Clearly the question of suffering is a deeply sensitive one. (I discuss it at greater length in my recent sermon.) I would encourage people, in this time of great sorrow and distress – a season of ashes and tears — to take the time to consider it deeply and thoroughly, taking into account the many and rich contributions which the scriptures make. Nalliah's action was unwise, but so is rushing in to provide rather-too-comforting theological assurances.

People in crisis do ask profound questions about God. They deserve Biblically-grounded answers which can provide the solace and support to sustain them through the desolation of grief. For an example of such an answer I can commend readers to Tim Anderson's opinion piece of this past week, which was published by the Herald Sun.

3 comments:

  1. I wanted to post a comforting or at least helpfully insightful comment on this post of yours and could not think of what to say because I am so ignorant of what led up to this catastrophe efficiently and subtly.

    Also, I have been struggling to find inner resources to cope inside the catastrophe that has overtaken this land (the USA) with the insertion by fraud of a certified fraud to our highest executive office and most of the legislative ones.

    My questions about the conflagrations there are two:

    1- Were they set by terrorists, eco or Mohammedan?

    The SpecOps community here has long made noises that the yearly wildfires, of a scale unprecedented, now occurring in this country, especially during the Santa Anna season in Southern California, are at least helped if not started by Mohammedans taking advantage of the population packing in fire-prone areas, anti-natural (i.e., suppress forest and range fires and preserve everything) ecology policies and the now universal academic/bureaucratic attitude that man is evil and all other creatures and their processes are good.

    2- Were residents in those areas packed together and forbidden to clear vegetation from their areas, even as the draught deepened by the year?
    It is no comfort, of course, but I cannot reject the suspicion, far away as I am, that government policy and bureaucrats making and executing it are complicit in setting the stage for the catastrophe.

    Certainly here in the USA eco-policies forbidding the clearing of natural vegetation around housing while simultaneously allowing housing in fire-prone and arid back-country are well-remarked as contributory to huge losses of property and significant losses of life.

    Here in Washington State, the authorities refuse to dredge or canalize rivers while allowing construction in flood planes., which, because the river beds rise by the year, grow larger each fall and spring.

    Again, as in California, authorities here permit housing in forested areas but not clearing around the houses, which accordingly are subject to incineration by fire and flattening by dead fall.

    No changes in these policies are expected because they accord with the regnant concept of the times, that everything is good in nature except humans, who are evil, so let humans have their way to some extent but do not let them protect themselves from natural processes, which are good while the humans are bad and deserve therefore whatever they get.

    This attitude, now fundamental policy of the land, I have heard referred to as "eco-nazi."

    Nalliah might be right, as you know, even if his method of delivery was hurtful.  If he is right, there is no way to deliver such a message that is not hurtful.  I do not know whether he is right or not.  But a proviso of the theological response to his action is that he could be.  Your analysis implies this while focusing on the un-pastoral hurt his message and his means of delivery caused.

    If he is in a prophetic role in this case -- and I cannot say he is or is not -- then he is not under obligation to submit his message to the approval of ecclesiastical or other elders.  He could, in this case, adduce sufficient precedent supporting his non-obligation to elders in this matter.

    He would have an obligation to speak his message to the elders, but not to seek their approval of it.

    Nor would he be under obligation with respect to method of delivery beyond the method given inherently in the message he bore.

    Was it Isaiah or Jeremiah who mocked the elders and people for demanding he "Speak to us smooth things."?  Maybe it was Elijah ....  Sure you recall the words so I will forgo looking them up.

    (I have long suspected that the "priests of baal" were pharmacists and "drug lords" of a sort, as were other "priests" around the Middle East.  The old and modern [e.g., Al Qaeda] assassin cults were known to use psychotropics to gain resolution for suicide missions, as AQ does today universally.)

    If Nalliah is not bearing a prophetic message ... then the advice of Gamaliel governs and meanwhile he is fair game for analysis, criticism, condemnation, etc., although not of course jeering or mockery, as we know.  However, that criticism, etc. may come a cropper in the development of events.

    Surely, abortion is murder and murder is condemned by God under threat of punishment most historical and corporal.  If a nation supports abortion it should not dismiss the potentials for punishment.

    Some here have asserted that the former economic boom and current bust, which is far from finished, are punishment -- both the boom and the bust -- specifically for legalized abortion and other profound injustices of the materialist philosophy.

    The central issue, I think, is whether Nalliah is prophetic or self-promoting.  I do not know the situation well enough to hazard a call.

    The secondary issue, whether divine judgement occurs in history post-Christ, is, in my opinion, a red-herring.  Everyone knows that it does.  And everyone knows that reason, scripture and tradition all say that it does from front to back and top to bottom.

    I am glad the atheists nailed the so-called theologians on their dissembling.  Atheists are always good to have around, with their pins and needles and love of deflating puffery.  :-)

    I think the subtle question, lying on the surface of events and discussion of them but still mostly unrecognized, is one alluded to, but not highlighted, by yourself and Tim Anderson:  the question of theodicy.  This question is at the root of the incidental matter related by yourself and Anderson.

    "Why, God, oh Why?"

    Anderson's answer, though the question is not clearly framed by him, is insufficient because it foresees a hurt-free future not of this earth.  Granted, anything of this earth bears the element of tragedy and therefore hurt.  But to posit the hurt-free future in God, rather than the earth, is early pricked by our atheists, and rightly.

    First, God is beyond time as well as space, causality and substance.  Therefore, there is no future in Him.  There is nothing to look forward to futurely speaking, that is, speaking of time.

    Second, the New Testament and especially Paul is emphatic that the victory of Christ is here and now, not later.

    He must not be talking about anything earthly, that our atheist friends would recognize.

    He is talking about human spirit and Divine Spirit.

    While our moderns hardly want to hear the implications of Paul's doctrine of the Holy Spirit -- which is the core of the NT and by implication OT as well as theology -- in expatiation on his doctrine of the Christ, they will heartily -- and I believe rightly -- jeer at anything less as insipid dissembling.  They read their bibles too and have Christianity in their veins, like it or not.

    We are groping for a "religion of the concrete Spirit" (Tillich's phrase).  Christianity is it, of course, at least for Christians, but the reality of concrete Sprit, as well as spirit, is obscured behind billows of self-promotion and self-aggrandizement.

    In my opinion, the question of theodicy which is central to most events of this time is adequately handled only in Logos Theology and the doctrine of  spirit and Holy Spirit.

    We teach our people what we mean by their own spirit so they may make sense of our talk of the Christ and the Holy Spirit.

    (The doctrine of the Trinity is born of dialects, the functional relations between Christ and God, not philosophical or theological speculation.)

    Meanwhile, aware from historical experience that both false and genuine prophets tend to abound during times inspiring questions of theodicy, we hold the caveat that some of them are likely to be genuine.

    ******************

    Now, on the question of theodicy and its sub-question of whether God judges -- meaning accuses, condemns and punishes -- men and nations during and since the career of the Christ.

    As noted, the New Testament as well as common sense and experience are so emphatic that He does that one has to cherry pick (eisegete) daintily all three of those sources of knowledge to arouse an assertion that He does not.

    And when examination is made of the results of that cherry picking, it will be found that a pre-formed belief held as irrefragable since before the cherry picking commenced pre-determined the result of the cherry picking, which was done to give the appearance of biblical support to the irrefragably held a priori belief whether or not it was legitimate biblically or by any other standard. In other words, the cherry picking was a dishonest endeavor, eisegetical, making its outcomes non sequiturs.

    Still, something in the assertion that God does not judge in history requires examination and exposition. Something about the assertion is legitimate. But what? Certainly not all of it is, but some of it is. So where do the examination and exposition end up?

    Without exposing thoroughly the process, the outcome of it is recognition that God does and does not judge men and nations during the time of and times succeeding the career of the Christ. Divine judgement is and is not active or pro-active in history.

    The meaning of this is, first, that the structure of being and the functions of existence are such that actions and processes which defy them receive retribution and go to destruction. This means, second, that the judgement of God is both passive and active, now one, now the other. It means, third, that all processes of life and history have a goal, a telos, which is, at a minimum, to not defy the structure of being or the functions of existence and, at a maximum, to emerge in the very God who is the Basis, the Ground, the Truth, or, Being Itself.

    The word “God” is a symbol personifying Being Itself, that which has no second. That which has no second cannot be discussed directly, but can be directly participated in, partially cognized and even visualized by a human creature, a personality. Thus, when speaking of God, we are compelled to use symbols, such as the words “God,” “Christ,” “Judgement,” “Salvation,” etc.

    Each of these symbols points to an at least partially cognizable “facet” of Being Itself, made palatable to the structure and content of language.

    First, on retribution and destruction of actions and processes that defy the structure of being and the functions of existence:

    Common life is full of instances of this reality. The crook who gets caught and punished is followed by the satisfaction of onlookers when he or she does. The office worker who spreads hate and discontent is fired or dies, and their victims see that outcome as most deserving.

    The satisfaction normal people experience when bad persons or bad deeds are punished, however that seems to happen, attests universal awareness of the structure of being and the truth of Augustine’s famous ontological truth, esse qua esse bonum est.

    It pleases people that the processes of existence, singly and immutably, focus activity in one overall direction, for the happiness and welfare -- even redemption and salvation -- of those who employ their freedom to support rather than defy that structure and those processes. This pleasing of people is evidence of the power and goodness of the structure of being. It supports Augustine’s dictum just given.

    There is a certain back wall or floor to life which, pushed to it, does not give way and indeed withstands opposition. This wall or floor is universally felt as reality, even by those who use their freedom to defy it, usually by claiming superiority over it.

    Second, on the judgement of God being both passive and active:

    Passive judgement is a certainty on account of the back wall or floor (the structure of being and the processes of existence) that is the immutable “back end” or “bottom” of life. Saying it is a certainty means ordinary man can count on it and indeed all the impulses of the human body, mind and spirit do just that. People’s and, truth be told, also animal’s satisfaction at seeing bad deed doers punished for their activities demonstrates the fact.

    The judgement of God in its passive expression may be described as abandoning someone to their own self-destruction. In this case, instead of acting directly in the historical milieu, God abandons the defiant to their headlong rush against the back wall or floor of reality, which is their own self. They have abused their freedom, setting it to a purpose not condoned by reality, and instead of correcting them before they hit, God abandons them to the impact which, in their own freedom, they set themselves to making.

    Common experience observes this phenomenon. It is definitely a judgement of God, albeit a passive one, although one can say that the decision by God to abandon the malcontent to self-destruction is active.

    It may be noted in this regard that the Deistic premises of Locke, for example, recognize the structural predisposition of reality to support that which conduces to virtues and their implementing moral requirements. Even for this Deist God is hardly an absentee landlord, if only passively.

    Locke, for example, insisted on tolerance generally but not for atheists, because they deny the basis of morality, which is necessary for peace and order in society, and not for Roman Catholics, who would use tolerance to spread intolerance.

    Mohammedans behave just so when they are in a minority, demanding exception and expansion for their intolerance. When they are in a majority, and even when approaching it, they implement intolerance on a scale inconceivable to normal people and to a depth unimaginable by any other group.

    The active judgement of God is a certainty as regards is facticity but far from certain as regards its specificity. We know it happens but we hardly ever can identify an instance of it happening.

    The Hymnist William Cowper (1731-1800) sung this reality this way:

    God moves in a mysterious way
    his wonders to perform;
    He plants his footsteps in the sea,
    and rides upon the storm.

    Deep in unfathomable mines
    of never failing skill,
    He treasures up his bright designs
    and works his sovereign will.

    You fearful saints, fresh courage take;
    the clouds you so much dread
    Are big with mercy and shall break
    in blessings on your head.

    His purposes will ripen fast,
    unfolding every hour;
    The bud may have a bitter taste,
    but sweet will be the flower.

    Blind unbelief is sure to err
    and scan his work in vain:
    God is his own interpreter,
    and he will make it plain.

    This uncertainty regarding specifics of God’s active judgement of men and nations should inspire in ordinary people at least circumspection and at best reticence regarding any claim to certainty that a specific event is God’s active judgement in history at any time.

    Moreover, any claim to know exactly what transgression an active judgement of God addresses, if indeed such as happened, should be treated as probably, although not necessarily or certainly, a symptom of demonic deformation of the personality making the claim.

    Man does not know the ways of God. He cannot say what God will or will not do. With respect to current or former events, man cannot assert, “This was done by God for this reason.” He does not see with God’s eyes. He cannot make decisions based on knowing all, as God does. Man is a creature by definition limited in what he can see, do, hear, know, have, taste, experience, etc. God is not a creature. He is unconditioned.

    Man does not know the ways of God even in revelatory experience, comprising ecstasy and mystery, for, although God reveals Himself in revelatory experience, He remains always a mystery, as do His “ways.”

    This is why normal people find clergy or others who claim to know the active intent and actions of God, or worse, to embody the same in their own persons, repugnant. Well, usually they do and not always justifiably. Just such claims underlay often brutal but understandable treatment of witches and other heretics. Insanity -- “demonic possession” in New Testament language -- endangers the peace and order of society. It is rightly sequestered, and challenged, at least at first.

    What is not in fact insanity but rather prophetic utterance, delivering a message entrusted to the prophet during revelatory experience, is self-legitimating and will be remarked as such. Nothing can obstruct or even impede the truth. Prophetic utterance usually is deemed insane on initial hearing because it reminds someone of something they are loath to hear.

    When prophets identify an active judgement of God they are hooted out of town or set upon, usually. Only the march of events in time, as Jeremiah observes, convinces doubters that the prophet was correct and accurate in the pronouncements they delivered. In any case, those pronouncements are given the prophet during revelatory experience, to be delivered to a specific auditor. They are not generated by the prophet from their own resources or abilities.

    A prophet himself or herself has no self-legitimating authority or power. Unlike witches, who claim self-legitimating authority by virtue of their power to compel certain occurrences (a power any human personality possesses), prophets claim self-legitimating power or authority for the message they bear and the One who entrusted them with it, but not for themselves. They are mere errand boys or girls, although in view of the importance of the messages they bear, “mere” is in the nature of a droll delicacy.

    Mohammedan idolatry of a prophet, Mohammed, is truly conjuring the devil.

    Absent prophetic witness, the most reliable testament to an active judgement of God in the history of men and nations is a direct statement, identifying the specifics, given by a divine personality, such as Jesus the Christ, or an Avathar, a form of divine manifestation which occurs only rarely and in India.

    Jesus in fact identified several specifics of God’s active judgement, both during and after his career, and foretold a famous secular one, the destruction of Jerusalem by the Army of Titus in 72 AD.

    Numerous saints and sages of Christianity and other religions have identified specific instances of God’s active judgement in history, including contemporaneously with themselves.

    The Church maintains the doctrine of God’s active judgement in history through symbols such as Christus Victor, New Adam, Hell, Atonement and others. Most such symbols are developed from St. Paul’s doctrine of the Spirit, which is the central Christian doctrine implied in the relationship of God and His Christ.

    Third, on divine judgement serving the goal or aim (telos) of the processes of life and history:

    Divine judgement, whether passive or active, is always didactic and redemptive. Its purpose is constructive for individuals, for nations and for history. This is why, for example, classical Christian theology remarks the sacraments of the Church as medicaments offered for health and fortification (comfort), physical as well as spiritual.

    An element of the problem of theodicy is the doctrine of double predestination, which appears chiefly but not only in Reformed (Calvinist) theology and its derivatives, including modernly. This doctrine does what most theologians are afraid to do, namely, face the implications of God’s omnipotence in relation to the expression of human freedom in the observable obduracy and even pride in human bad deed doing as well as in negatively evaluated natural processes.

    Most theologians do not approach the problem of theodicy because to do so exposes them to having either to condition God’s omnipotence (Arianism, Deism effectively though not by intent and most of modern Protestantism, again effectively but not by intent), ascribe to Him evil (Nazism, Communism, Mohammedanism), or posit two co-equal Gods, one evil and the other good (Manichaeism, Voodoo, Wicca).

    Calvin possessed courage and honesty to face the problem head-on and solve it in his typical lawyerly fashion. He neither conditions God nor seditions Him nor partitions Him. He said that while God is not responsible for evil He punishes it absolutely when it is obdurate.

    And not only so, its obduracy is His decision even before evil comes into existence. God makes bad deed doers obdurate about doing their bad deeds even before they are conceived, the doer as well as the deed. He thus predisposes them to merit punishment of an infinite nature and regardless of His offer and act of universal salvation in Jesus the Christ.

    And finally, Calvin said that, because they have freedom (although, like all persons, not plenarily), obdurate bad deed doers are fully responsible and therefore liable for the bad deeds they do even though they were preformed to be obdurate about doing them. He had to make this statement in order to uphold the doctrine of human freedom on the one hand and divine graciousness on the other.

    Thus, Calvin achieved his purpose of neither conditioning God by denying his omnipotence nor demeaning man by denying his freedom. This is important. Renaissance man that he was, Calvin shared with his contemporaries a high view of human nature, abilities and calling. He maintained that high view in his doctrine of double predestination, which also maintained the “majesty,” as he put it, of God.

    No one can malign or dismiss Calvin on this or any other doctrine he propounded because he is meticulous, thorough, sincere, courageous and honest. Never dismiss Calvin, a man of great and genuine Faith!

    Existentially and theologically, in the ordinary workings of Christian piety, however, this is an odious doctrine. It is not false, but as Calvin formulated it, it is not the whole story either, not the truth, which is the whole. This doctrine is, however, testament to Calvin’s unflinching character as a person and as a theologian. One cannot say the doctrine is not true. One can say, and one must, that it is incomplete.

    The doctrine of double predestination is completed by the addition of a third term, making it the doctrine of triple predestination. This is what occurs in ordinary piety. It is the solution to the problem of theodicy:

    God predestines some for salvation, some for condemnation and all for liberation from the terrible consequences of delusion regarding the structure and purpose of being.

    In common language, which is infelicitous for being misleading, this completion of the doctrine may be stated thus:

    Some he destines for heaven and some for hell. All will be saved.

    This formulation implies a doctrine of rebirth. Christian piety implies and often assumes, and Christian soteriological theology requires, the doctrine of rebirth reasonably (logistically) to represent the relation between divine omnipotence and human freedom. The doctrine of rebirth is a prius of the third term of the doctrine of triple predestination, the liberation of all and their emergence in God.

    The words “rebirth” and “reincarnation” do not refer to the same phenomenon. Rebirth implies existence given as a gift. Reincarnation implies existence taken as a possession or forced as a punishment, or at least as a consequence, for actions deliberately done in a previous “incarnation.” Also, rebirth is of a whole creature for a soteriological purpose whereas reincarnation is of a body willy-nilly.

    Heidegger’s doctrine that man is “thrown into existence” expresses more the doctrine of rebirth than a doctrine of reincarnation.

    Divine judgement of men and nations directs and assists the purpose of history, the telos of life. As Teilhard and the whole Church maintain, the purpose of history is Christological, that is to say, soteriological. What is not always described is the geometry of soteriology.

    The mind and the world sympathetically operate geometrically and employ geometrical metaphors to cognize and communicate those operations. The mind and the world share a common structure of being, a common geometry and therefore a common language.

    From inception the Church rejected the circle, employed by classical Greek philosophy and historiography, as fundamental geometrical metaphor for Christological soteriology. She also rejected chaos for this purpose.

    Middle and Late Hellenistic society, that into which Christianity manifest, was beset by terror of the heavens, the “principalities and powers” that were the stars. People spent lots of money on items and rituals claimed to ward off or even defeat the machinations of the stars in their lives.

    First Paul and then finally Augustine, when he realized the truth of the Pythagorean view of the heavens as celestial harmony, broke the back of this wide-spread terror based on superstition stoked by priests and other businessmen.

    Augustine proclaimed that history is not circular or the result of stellar crotchets but rather purposefully soteriological, implying a degree of linearity, and the result of a mixture of divine initiative and participation along with human freedom. History is dialectical and progressive toward the Christ and the Church, for the Christ and the Church and by the Christ and the Church.

    This substitution of fundamental geometrical metaphor and also evaluation of historical processes was revolutionary in the direction of lifting spirits and inspiring expansion. The vicious circle was replaced by the uplifting line.

    It was not clear, however, how the linearity projected and whether only linearity was at play in history, which is soteriology. If history involves more than linearity, no matter how projected, then linearity by itself is unsatisfactory as the fundamental geometrical metaphor for either life secularly or life as soteriological history.

    By the Middle Ages a powerful representation of linearity took hold of most theology and piety in the Latin Church. This was the Great Chain of Being, which is really a pyramidal system of vertically communicating horizontal planes supported by an upright axis. The axis is the determining linearity of the figure.

    This metaphor for life took hold of most aspects of religion, culture and morality and is used, although no longer dominating, as late as this century, for example in organization charts.

    Then came the discovery of evolution, prefigured during the Renaissance and Reformation and emerging in an initial developed form during the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution. This discovery precipitated the currently dominating geometrical metaphor for life, the infinite horizontal line having no characteristic beyond self-promotion.

    The metaphor of vertical linearity adopted during the Middle Ages and persisting into the Reformation and beyond, was bent over to an horizontal orientation.

    Now there is no mobility between planes of being, as with the Great Chain, only endless, alternative-less, mindless uniformity along a flat vector of projection. The intrinsic linear nature of the industrial machine became the geometrical metaphor for life and history. Soteriology is now a non-issue, unremarked and unremarkable, a vestige of superstitious rubbish. There is no thought of liberation from linearity or horizontality, which are plenary, irresistible and immutable.

    From this geometrical metaphor of life developed a new priesthood and a new congregation: academic faculties and scientists adulated by a deliberately language-and learning-deprived mob compelled and usually satisfied with such “entitlements” as the priesthood shall deign to allot them by way of food, clothing and shelter.

    The horizontal line is the perfect engine of tyranny.

    This metaphor, based on the operation of machines and factories, while echoing also Augustine, appeals to the piety of fanatics. However, because fantasy appeals widely in any society, especially Arab and African, and because women in particular are prone to fantasy, along with fear and anger, plane linearity or what might be called mono-linearity powerfully attracts and also conjures a large number of fanatics.

    During the 20th Century effort was made to put a terminus ad quo and a terminus ad quem on the mono-linearly conceived function of evolution. This was the big bang theory, which brackets history rather than merely starting it. This theory reintroduces the geometry of chaos that enjoyed currency in the ancient Middle East, especially Persia, and still does.

    Neither mono-linearity nor chaos answers the needs of piety or the description of life. Both of these geometries are partial descriptions of evolution and the structure of life. They cannot satisfy the human spirit or quench the yearning for God.

    The search for a satisfying fundamental geometrical metaphor for evolution and the processes of life has occupied the Latin Church without full success since more than two hundred years. It is a critically necessary mission which must succeed so that certain deformities of the goal and content of evolution now constricting the processes of life may be removed and life set free to evolve naturally through history according to its aim.

    Perhaps some anecdotal history may shed some light on this situation:

    Teilhard de Chardin was living at Wenner-Gren Foundation headquarters in New York City when he died in the early afternoon on an Easter Sunday.  He had recently walked home after saying Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

    Paul Tillich, surprisingly, though living for years in the same city with Teilhard, did not meet or talk with him as best I can learn.  These were the two giants of the day in Christian theology.  Teilhard does not remark Tillich that I have found. Tillich remarks Teilhard only twice, once half-approvingly in the 1950s, and from an incomplete grasp of Teilhard's labors, and then again, near the end of his life, regretting that he did not know Teilhard personally and had not spent more time grasping Teilhard’s seeing more thoroughly.

    The quality of poignancy seems to envelop the powerful phenomenon of Teilhard de Chardin and his devotees.

    Tillich does not say so directly but I think from considering his comments on Teilhard that he feels, as I do, that while Teilhard's grasp of evolution is in the main accurate, yet, he did not provide a satisfying geometrical metaphor on which to hang it. Indeed, such metaphor as Teilhard implies is the vertical linearity of the Great Chain of Being, which does not satisfy the genius of his purpose.

    Evolution as Teilhard uses the term is synonymous with soteriology. I believe Teilhard was right to make this identification and I believe Tillich felt that he was also, if only on the general principle that from an ontological point of view (Tillich’s life-long outlook) Being Itself and therefore all of life and history is soteriological in nature and purpose.

    Certainly the Church has always said that existence is fundamentally soteriological. It aims for God.

    A satisfying geometrical metaphor for evolution/soteriology is the central need of the day, of the last two centuries in fact. To its absence may be ascribed the inability of the thinking elite to prevent the self-elevation of unthinking bullies by co-opting their plane, mono-linear (cf. Flatland) metaphor with a more attractive and accurate one, multi-planar and curvilinear.

    While not claiming to have fulfilled the search, I suggest it explore in the direction of the parabola. More specifically, a packed, multi-scalar, omnidirectional, multidimensional, dynamically cross-communicating array of parabolas. This is a moving image, a dynamic geometrical metaphor, the parabolas produced with every possible variable. It is a metaphor of dialectical dance coming from somewhere and going somewhere but not flatly, not uniformly, not mono-logically and certainly not aimlessly.

    The Nike "swoosh" appeals strongly to the largely unconscious drive inside the search for a satisfying geometrical metaphor for evolution or, what is the same thing, soteriology. The “swoosh” fulfills the search in nearly satisfying terms.  To answer it more fully, the swoosh would fly on-screen, linger dynamically and then fly-off ... repeat, repeat, repeat all variables.

    Tillich's last lecture is also his last will and testament, and while it presents an elegantly abstracted expression of the needed image of evolution, namely, "religion of the concrete Spirit,” which is also (and of great importance) a description of evolution similar to Teilhard's, it does not suggest a geometrical metaphor to represent that image.

    I suggest that metaphor is something on the order of the parabola.

    The meaning of the symbol of the Cross as the metaphor for life is intact and permanent.  But the power of the symbol of the Cross to express convincingly what it really means -- which is not self-pity and not debt relief but rather cancelation of the ego, the “I” by the “we” -- is now very small indeed.  The discovery of evolution made a genuine revolution in religion, culture and morality. The vertical line was bent over to join the horizontal one.

    The circle, chaos, the Great Chain of Being and the big bang are all equally unconvincing as plenary geometrical metaphors for soteriology/evolution/life/history.

    An alternative to these metaphors, a somewhat but not entirely geometry of life and history was advanced by the great Calabrian Abbot Joachim of Fiore during the 12th Century. His suggestion was revolutionary in his day and remains so today. But it has great advantages for understanding history and especially its teleological movement.

    Joachim said that history occurs in epochs, each with its own character and tendencies, and all trending, as Augustine said, God-ward. This construction represents a profound reading of the historical record and especially a grasp of its kairotic tipping points.

    Joachim may have discovered this truth independently and he may have had assist from Pythagorean contact with the Vedas. Pythagorean philosophy and religion were long indigenous to Calabria (Magna Graecia to classical Greeks) and remain there despite the ‘Ndrangheta.

    The epochal division of history, based on especially strong divine directions taking the form of judgements, is accurate historically and, more importantly, theologically. However, it is not truly a geometrical metaphor for evolution/soteriology. Its purpose is otherwise minded.

    The flat line, which dominates today, is a powerful symbol for evolution, especially with the onset of the industrial revolution.  Customarily people apply the geometrical essense of their technologies (“the works of their hands”) to descriptions of themselves.  This is called, of course, idolatry.

    However, the plane line, which machines do very well and thankfully so, does not satisfy the requirements of piety because it makes people either grim (the priesthood of scientists) or depressed (the mob of the entitled, i.e., the priesthood’s slaves).  It is very far indeed from encapsulating for expression the human personality and it only repels people who, dominated by those who have constricted their own spirits into it, are told they must follow suit or else.

    To make sense of evolution and satisfy his pietistical requirements, that is, his yearning for salvation and liberation (soteriology), man searches for a geometrical metaphor on the order of the parabola Nike has already found in principle.

    Beyond geometry, which Spinoza’s great labor, relying entirely upon it, reveals as ultimately limiting, there is a dynamic image which expresses, perhaps with power even outside Bharathia culture, the intimacy of the relationship of God, man, history, life and evolution/soteriology.

    This is the image of Lord Krishna acting as charioteer for Arjuna, the Pandava brother most pure in heart and most capable in archery, during the seminal battle against the Kaurava brothers.

    Arjuna is master of the chariot, which represents the human birth. Krishna, the Lord of All, acts as Arjuna’s servant, holding the reins and directing the horses, who represent the powers of being. Arjuna, sitting above Krishna, uses foot contact on either side of Krishna’s head to tell him where to take the chariot. Krishna’s temples are severely bloodied by this method of communication. During the heat of battle, representing the course of a human career through life from birth to death, the air thick with deadly projectiles and cries of triumph and demise, Arjuna opens his doubts to Krishna and Krishna instructs Arjuna in the ways and manners of attaining God. Sage Vyasa, who also collated the Vedas, conveyed the scene, the dialogue and the instructions to the world as the Mahabharata.

    Here is a dynamic image (the Platonic ideo, idea) of the relationship of God, man, life, evolution/soteriology and history. If an implicit geometry expresses its nature and purpose, I do not know it.

    The image in any case seems to speak for itself and has power to be self-authenticating.

    In my experience, it is the image most fully bearing upon the question at hand, namely whether and how God’s judgement is active in the world of human experience, in history, judging men and nations.

    The Rev. David R. Graham
    ("Zoltan," as in Gould's, "Mostanyi.")

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is a follow-on to the previous comment.

    Two salutary effects of the doctrine of double predestination rarely receive mention. One is in the hurly-burly of daily decision-making, and the other is in the discussion of ontological phenomenology.

    This doctrine inspires great self-confidence in believers, setting them free from niggling doubts and niggardly sensibilities. Calvin delighted to expound this doctrine not to terrify people but to comfort them, not to intimidate or depress his auditors but to inspire and encourage them.

    The doctrine of double predestination is addressed to believers, not to unbelievers. Calvin’s audience is the regenerate, not the reprobate. Calvin intended this doctrine as a assurance for the Church, not as a threat against the anti-Church.

    The doctrine comforts the Church by powerfully announcing both the omnipotence of God, making Him utterly reliable, and the inexhaustible number and power of a believer’s opportunities for expressing their freedom inside their estate of Grace, making them utterly sure of themselves, their lives and their destiny.

    Augustine famously put it this way: love God and do what you want.

    This doctrine makes believers fearless in the conduct of their daily affairs. It relieves them from worry. It makes them indomitable in the face of opposition. I relieves them from doubt. It makes them generous beyond all reckoning. It relieves them from sententiousness. And it makes them triumphant. It relieves them from bitterness by giving them the last word.

    The doctrine of double predestination is the most liberating doctrine in the Church’s library of learning (Greek docta means learning). It makes the demands of external reality and internal piety to coincide perfectly. This accounts for its persistent, universal appeal.

    All secular ideologies have in their doctrinal core a somewhat comparable or correlating yet always inadequate doctrine. Life demands this doctrine and Calvin was honest and courageous enough to express it with plenary sufficiency and great clarity, despite anticipating how it would be misunderstood and misrepresented by non-believers.

    Secular iterations of the doctrine of double predestination are inadequate because they are extrapolated from the processes of nature rather than from its origin. They come from downstream rather than from the fountainhead. They are derivative rather than seminal.

    The second salutary effect of the doctrine of double predestination is the verisimilitude it bestows in the discussion of ontological phenomenology.

    This doctrine describes the consequence of the movement of One to many, of potentiality to actuality, of essence to existence. It says that two-ness (the many) is derived from Itself by One (esse ipsum), and, by implication, that creation (the many) itself is anti-One since whatever is distinct opposes that from which it is separated by virtue of its separation.

    Existence does not happen other than as opposition to essence. Reality occurs just because God has set it up to oppose Himself. It is in the opposition, or as we say, “relationship,” of the dancing partners, in this case God and creation, that the dance of life occurs. Without that opposition there would be no dance, no drama, no life, no reality, no world, no universe, no history, no creation.

    God puts on the illusion of the world (the many) in order to enact the dance or struggle of life. God is the most talented Actor. He rises from rest to create His Consort or Partner, Illusion (maya), the feminine principle, in order to establish by the resistance of the many to One the energy we call universe, that which turns to One.

    Observing this phenomenon, Heraclitus declares that war, by which he means struggle and conflict of any kind, is the father of all things. He states in this way the doctrine of double predestination by other terms.

    Existence is fundamentally dualistic. It has to be in order to have being. There must be something over against One, a resistance, a partner in a relationship of opposition, as all relationships are, in order for there to be anything at all. For there to be an all, there must be an anything and that any thing is by definition apposite to One in a partnership relation of resistence to One.

    Struggle and conflict are the prius of every thing. Anything at all that one wants, one can have only through conflict, by enacting the dance of life. The dance of life is the opposition and conflict of relationship. Whatever is is double and therefore in conflict. What is not in conflict is not.

    In consequence, as Calvin points out in the doctrine of double predestination, the whole world, universe and cosmos is riven of fixed necessity and nature between One and many, between what is right and true (esse ipsum, bonum esse and verum esse, God) and what is wrong and false (multiplicity).

    Moreover, this riven-ness, this division, is phenomenological, it occurs in history as the careers of individuals and groups and even natural processes.

    Jesus observed this phenomenon in saying that He brought not peace but a sword. He came for the very purpose of dividing everyone and everything into the saved and the damned. He came to make war against what is wrong and false and to triumph in that war despite all the powers of the heavens (what the existentialist theologian Friedrich Schelling [1775-1854] calls the powers of being) and despite all the penal authority of all the societies and nations in the world of any age or era.

    The very necessity of opposition, of multiplicity, as the prius of existence divides existence irresistibly and irrevocably, forcing it against itself as the condition of its own existence. Freud remarked this phenomenon in clinical dynamics as the drive to seeming self-fulfillment by way of death.

    There is no existence, no world, no universe except in conflict with its source, except in partnership with God.

    We may note in passing that this inescapable and unchanging phenomenology of creation is also the reason for the doctrine of universal deformity, which is ignorantly called the “doctrine of original sin.”

    This doctrine, true in every way, does not mean that everything is totally bad, evil or depraved. It means that everything is deformed from its essential nature. Everything, from its inception, as condition of its inception, is built to see two even though its truth is One.

    Everything that is is deformed because it is. If the world is not deformed it does not exist.

    The truth is One without relationship, without opposition, without partnership, without conflict or struggle, without parts or partisans. Because communication is intrinsically dualistic, One can be discussed only indirectly and as what it is not. Any direct discussion of God is relational and therefore delusive.

    The doctrine of double predestination necessarily follows from the doctrine of universal deformity. John Calvin is among the few theologians sufficiently courageous to say that it does and sufficiently skilled to demonstrate why and how.

    In the doctrine of double predestination the world rails and the Church revels because She observes and declares in leonine tones that struggle, as a consequence of seeing two, of attending to the so-called many, though not made to cease yet is sublimated in God by the Christ in His mundane career, especially His crucifixion, and as well in those who are brought to faith in Him by God’s Holy Spirit infusing their entire person, spirit, heart, mind, intellect and body with Himself.

    These regenerate, these believers, are relieved from the terror of their own and their world’s deformation by a act of sheer prevenient Grace. They do not have to worry about a thing and may conduct their lives in complete confidence.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I would commend to all who may read this, Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart's magnificent little book, "The Doors of the Sea", which was written as a kind of reflection on the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004. It is in two parts, the first headed 'Universal Harmony' and the second 'Divine Victory'.

    David dismantles both the triumphant atheists who claim that such events make nonsense of any belief in a loving God, and those who claim that events of this sort are manifestations of Divine judgement, etc. (And I may add he does not think much of Calvin).

    At the core of Hart's book is a thoroughgoing and joyful restatement of the Church's two most ancient declarations - 'Kyrie Jesus' (Jesus is Lord!) and the Easter acclamation, 'Christos aneste/ Aleethees anestee' ('Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed!').

    What David has to say about a proper Christian response to the tsunami boils down to, first, ...silence, as one contemplates the desolation, and sits with the bereaved; then, the steadfast reaffirmation, founded on the fact of the Empty Tomb, of the central Christian hope of the Resurrection of the Body and the restoration of all things. (He does not discuss the other part of the Christian response, the tremendous outpouring of practical charity that always flows from the church to the sufferers of any affliction great or small; he has dealt with that, magnificently, in two other recent books).

    Hart's reflections apply equally well to the bushfires of Black Saturday and to any and all manifestations of Death, be they 'natural' and/ or manmade. He takes as his guide and inspiration the statements that are made in Romans 8 about the groaning of Creation and the promise of a final perfect liberty and glory.

    I found myself unable to read aloud the final paragraphs of Hart's book, without weeping.

    ReplyDelete