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Author Topic: Anthropomorphic Language  (Read 1745 times) Average Rating: 0
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Justin Kissel
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« on: January 07, 2011, 01:44:10 PM »

Last year I got permission from the admins to start some threads about certain stumbling blocks (I wanted to ask permission because I didn't want it to seem like I was just shooting from the hip and trying to disparage Orthodoxy), but I don't think I started more than a thread or two. I'd like to start a few more threads to explore some more of the issues I had in mind, and a few others. In this thread I'd like to get your thoughts on the anthropomorphic language used about God in the Bible, especially the Old Testament. There are a few passages that I'm not sure what to do with.

To start with, what do we do with passages which seem to attribute questionable things to God? For example: "For thou shalt worship no other god: for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God" (Ex. 34:14)  And: "God is jealous, and the Lord revengeth; the Lord revengeth, and is furious; the Lord will take vengeance on his adversaries, and he reserveth wrath for his enemies" (Nah. 1:2) What does it mean to say that God is a jealous God, or vengeful, or furious, especially taking into consideration the idea that God is not ruled by subjective emotions or passions?
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« Reply #1 on: January 07, 2011, 04:47:15 PM »

Jealousy is not wrong, because jealousy can be used for personal gain.  I can be jealous of my sister's achievements and it moves me to do better for myself.  Of course, jealousy, like wrath, can be used incorrectly.

The attributes that God has, jealousy, wrath, vengeance, etc. are all subjective, not something God is.  So every person in the OT that experiences an illness or a natural disaster, many people thought to themselves what they had personally done wrong to get God's wrath.  It is a manner of subjective experience.  St. Antonios (Anthony the Great) describes this somewhere as is recorded in one of the volumes of the Philokalia.

There are natural consequences of our actions.  If we worship other gods, the consequences of that action is "jealousy."  If we sin against our brother, the consequences of that action is "wrath."  When Adam and Eve sinned, their consequences were allegorically a "punishment," although at the very same time, tunics of skin were put together.  Vengeance occurs to those who fight against man, and so when man conceives of vengeance, we are reminded not to seek vengeance, but let God take care of it.

In the OT also, the people of God thought in simple terms and simple minds.  As a father to your children, you have to act wrathful at times, jealous for their growth, vengeance against those who hurt them, that they may become better children, grow desirably, and feel protected.  Think of God like a father who is chastising his children.  This is the idea.  These are equivalent to Sunday School stories where one learns about obedience, respect, morals, etc.  In the New Testament, as St. Paul says, we are now receiving hard food (not the soft milk of the OT), and so we learn with maturity that we should love our enemies, learn about self-sacrifice, about responsibilities, about being gods to the world, and being Christs to the world.  For once, we do not need a Shekinah glory or angels to show up and do things for us as children.  We can do things ourselves because we now put on Christ.  We can change this world through the grace of God.  We now understand God fully, much better than the OT childish terms of jealousy, wrath, and vengeance because we "grew up."

Something from St. Augustine to contemplate on:
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf101.vi.I_1.IV.html
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« Reply #2 on: January 07, 2011, 05:11:32 PM »

Thank you, excellent thoughts! Smiley
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« Reply #3 on: January 07, 2011, 05:21:52 PM »

This used to not make sense to me, but then one day I realised it makes perfect sense.

God created us to live in communion and love with Him, thus, anything that breaks that should be displeasing to Him. It is not what he wants. How can you have a end-goal and not be displeased if it is thwarted?

Some people say you cannot be jealous unless there is something that can over power you and take it away from you, and that if that is so it disproves God as described in the Bible. But that is faulty reasoning. God looses people to idolatry and worship of evil, without them being superior to him, because people make the choice to turn away from Him. I don't think God is jealous in the sense that humans are, he is not envious like a human is envious (self concerned), but he is jealous for us as a parent or any other creator. He does not want us to go astray, chase after evil and our own destructions, because he loves us.
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« Reply #4 on: January 07, 2011, 07:04:22 PM »

"To start with, what do we do with passages which seem to attribute questionable things to God?"

The error is in us. The OT is a record of the progress of mankind's imperfect understanding of God. The nature of some of the earlier inspirations is rather primitive--more anthropomorphic--and makes God appear smaller than He is. By the time Jesus appears on earth, you could never describe God as "jealous" in the way you or I are jealous.

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« Reply #5 on: January 07, 2011, 07:40:51 PM »

The error is in us. The OT is a record of the progress of mankind's imperfect understanding of God. The nature of some of the earlier inspirations is rather primitive--more anthropomorphic--and makes God appear smaller than He is. By the time Jesus appears on earth, you could never describe God as "jealous" in the way you or I are jealous.

More do I realize that the error is in us.  I really appreciate this explanation, as it is frequently difficult for me to reconcile the understanding of God in the OT with that of the NT. 

While it is ultimately the Church's responsibility to formulate the religion, does this view not present problems when utilizing scripture based on a rather imperfect or primitive understanding of God?

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« Reply #6 on: January 08, 2011, 02:27:12 AM »

More stuff to think about:

God changed His mind?  God is understood as being consistent, even in the OT.  The consistency in the OT is if you do good, God's blessing be upon them.  If you do bad, God's wrath be upon them.  In Egyptian culture, many times, at my worst behavior, my grandmother would say, "I regret that I came here to take care of you and treat me this way!"  On the contrary, as I grew older, I understand my grandmother never regretted anything.  Through tough times and through good times, she was always there for me.  The language is there to knock some sense into my stubborn childhood mind.

Again, my parents would threaten, "You utter that word one more time, and I will cut that tongue out and feed it to the dogs!"  Harsh words, but such are the words of an Arabic culture chastising their children.  It's not so hard to find in the OT, a Semitic culture filled with harsh stories and language which was for the purpose of keeping the people of Israel in check.  Children see things black and white.  Either this is good or bad.  People with childish thoughts in Islam always ask the dumbest questions of whether there are things that are "haram" or "halal," i.e. impermissible or permissible.  That's pretty much what the OT is.  What's Kosher, and what's not?  The stories and the laws and prophecies sometimes reiterate those Kosher (and not) ideas.

You wonder, Can God be seen?  The answer is no and yes.  No, I can't see God the way God sees God, but I can only see as much as what I am able to see.  It is like looking being an ant and looking at one gigantic brick of a brick house, and calling that a brick house.  Keep in mind as "I am able to see," for "blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."  As I live my life more purely, surely enough, I'll be able to see Him.
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« Reply #7 on: January 08, 2011, 02:46:00 AM »

The attributes that God has, jealousy, wrath, vengeance, etc. are all subjective, not something God is.

But I always shut down right at this point, because we are supposed to believe that God actually is Love, and I can't get over that God is epitomized in Love but not Anger or Jealously or whatever else.

It's a mental block that I can't get over.
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« Reply #8 on: January 08, 2011, 02:52:56 AM »

The attributes that God has, jealousy, wrath, vengeance, etc. are all subjective, not something God is.

But I always shut down right at this point, because we are supposed to believe that God actually is Love, and I can't get over that God is epitomized in Love but not Anger or Jealously or whatever else.

It's a mental block that I can't get over.

He's wrathful because He loves.  If you understand that this is all part of chastisement then if you accept the chastisement of the Lord, you will be at peace with yourself.

And as I mentioned in another thread, to say God is love is true, but not enough truth comes from it because the Love of God is indescribable and unimaginable.  To say "God is love" is weak, an insult to what His Love truly is at worst, but we are bound and limited, and we have no better word to say.
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« Reply #9 on: January 08, 2011, 01:42:36 PM »

No, I think you're misreading me. If wrath is an anthropomorphism, then why isn't love? Why does love expressly constitute the being of God, while other descriptors do not?
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« Reply #10 on: January 08, 2011, 03:40:19 PM »

No, I think you're misreading me. If wrath is an anthropomorphism, then why isn't love? Why does love expressly constitute the being of God, while other descriptors do not?

Because we aspire to be like God.  So what manifests in humanity is love and peace and righteousness.  Since our goal is Godliness, and God is infinite, our goal is eternal growth into ever more love and peace and righteousness.  Hate, distress, and sinful is what manifests in humanity when we walk away from God, backwards from the path into Godliness.  So yes, they're both anthropomorphic, but because experience it as such as men.
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« Reply #11 on: January 08, 2011, 10:45:53 PM »

Because we aspire to be like God.  So what manifests in humanity is love and peace and righteousness.  Since our goal is Godliness, and God is infinite, our goal is eternal growth into ever more love and peace and righteousness.  Hate, distress, and sinful is what manifests in humanity when we walk away from God, backwards from the path into Godliness.  So yes, they're both anthropomorphic, but because experience it as such as men.

So you are saying God is not actually Love, but rather what "manifests" in humanity?
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« Reply #12 on: January 08, 2011, 11:22:50 PM »

No, I think you're misreading me. If wrath is an anthropomorphism, then why isn't love? Why does love expressly constitute the being of God, while other descriptors do not?

IMO, both are anthropomorphisms and are insufficient descriptions of God.
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« Reply #13 on: January 09, 2011, 12:07:06 AM »

Yes and no....

God is Love like no other, and He loves us and there's only so much we can do to reciprocate the Love He gives us, and He is a never-ending fountain of Love.  It's Love that's the eternal relationship between the Trinity, and that is the best way we can describe it.  It manifests itself as Love in us.  We become beloved to the Father by the Holy Spirit.  We try to reciprocate the love as much as we can, but what we can do is nothing compared to what He is.

So it's a mystery.  God is Love, but not love in the sense we love, or not enough from our side at least.

In very simplistic terms, God is love by energy, not so by essence.

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« Reply #14 on: January 09, 2011, 12:18:52 AM »

Yes and no....

God is Love like no other, and He loves us and there's only so much we can do to reciprocate the Love He gives us, and He is a never-ending fountain of Love.  It's Love that's the eternal relationship between the Trinity, and that is the best way we can describe it.  It manifests itself as Love in us.  We become beloved to the Father by the Holy Spirit.  We try to reciprocate the love as much as we can, but what we can do is nothing compared to what He is.

So it's a mystery.  God is Love, but not love in the sense we love, or not enough from our side at least.

In very simplistic terms, God is love by energy, not so by essence.



Yes, I think the essence/energy distinction is key here. However, when we speak of wrath, vengeance, anger, (or any of the other "not so nice qualities"), we are much more hesitant to even attribute these to God's energies. Why are we so ready to attribute the quality of love to his energies, yet not these other qualities I mentioned? The OT certainly speaks of the latter in spades...are me merely to ignore these descriptions of God and dismiss them as innacurate and focus on the 'nicer' qualities? For me, it would be easier just to say that God is none of these, including love.
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« Reply #15 on: January 09, 2011, 12:30:50 AM »

Yes and no....

God is Love like no other, and He loves us and there's only so much we can do to reciprocate the Love He gives us, and He is a never-ending fountain of Love.  It's Love that's the eternal relationship between the Trinity, and that is the best way we can describe it.  It manifests itself as Love in us.  We become beloved to the Father by the Holy Spirit.  We try to reciprocate the love as much as we can, but what we can do is nothing compared to what He is.

So it's a mystery.  God is Love, but not love in the sense we love, or not enough from our side at least.

In very simplistic terms, God is love by energy, not so by essence.



Yes, I think the essence/energy distinction is key here. However, when we speak of wrath, vengeance, anger, (or any of the other "not so nice qualities"), we are much more hesitant to even attribute these to God's energies. Why are we so ready to attribute the quality of love to his energies, yet not these other qualities I mentioned? The OT certainly speaks of the latter in spades...are me merely to ignore these descriptions of God and dismiss them as innacurate and focus on the 'nicer' qualities? For me, it would be easier just to say that God is none of these, including love.

Because wrath and vengeance and jealousy are actually really a side of His Love.  As is explained before, when your parent is wrathful for chastisement, vengeance for your protection, and jealous for your growth and understanding, it's really all about Love and what is perceived by the childish OT mindset as "wrath, vengeance, and jealousy."  "Love" is the best way we can explain it, but it's not good enough.
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« Reply #16 on: January 09, 2011, 12:40:23 AM »

Yes and no....

God is Love like no other, and He loves us and there's only so much we can do to reciprocate the Love He gives us, and He is a never-ending fountain of Love.  It's Love that's the eternal relationship between the Trinity, and that is the best way we can describe it.  It manifests itself as Love in us.  We become beloved to the Father by the Holy Spirit.  We try to reciprocate the love as much as we can, but what we can do is nothing compared to what He is.

So it's a mystery.  God is Love, but not love in the sense we love, or not enough from our side at least.

In very simplistic terms, God is love by energy, not so by essence.



Yes, I think the essence/energy distinction is key here. However, when we speak of wrath, vengeance, anger, (or any of the other "not so nice qualities"), we are much more hesitant to even attribute these to God's energies. Why are we so ready to attribute the quality of love to his energies, yet not these other qualities I mentioned? The OT certainly speaks of the latter in spades...are me merely to ignore these descriptions of God and dismiss them as innacurate and focus on the 'nicer' qualities? For me, it would be easier just to say that God is none of these, including love.

Because wrath and vengeance and jealousy are actually really a side of His Love.  As is explained before, when your parent is wrathful for chastisement, vengeance for your protection, and jealous for your growth and understanding, it's really all about Love and what is perceived by the childish OT mindset as "wrath, vengeance, and jealousy."  "Love" is the best way we can explain it, but it's not good enough.

You know, a satisfactory explanation for me would be that the mystics of the church who have drawn close to God during their contemplations have collectively experienced an emotion that could be best described as an overwhelming sense of love. For me, this is enough.
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« Reply #17 on: January 09, 2011, 01:10:40 AM »

Yes and no....

God is Love like no other, and He loves us and there's only so much we can do to reciprocate the Love He gives us, and He is a never-ending fountain of Love.  It's Love that's the eternal relationship between the Trinity, and that is the best way we can describe it.  It manifests itself as Love in us.  We become beloved to the Father by the Holy Spirit.  We try to reciprocate the love as much as we can, but what we can do is nothing compared to what He is.

So it's a mystery.  God is Love, but not love in the sense we love, or not enough from our side at least.

In very simplistic terms, God is love by energy, not so by essence.



Yes, I think the essence/energy distinction is key here. However, when we speak of wrath, vengeance, anger, (or any of the other "not so nice qualities"), we are much more hesitant to even attribute these to God's energies. Why are we so ready to attribute the quality of love to his energies, yet not these other qualities I mentioned? The OT certainly speaks of the latter in spades...are me merely to ignore these descriptions of God and dismiss them as innacurate and focus on the 'nicer' qualities? For me, it would be easier just to say that God is none of these, including love.

Because wrath and vengeance and jealousy are actually really a side of His Love.  As is explained before, when your parent is wrathful for chastisement, vengeance for your protection, and jealous for your growth and understanding, it's really all about Love and what is perceived by the childish OT mindset as "wrath, vengeance, and jealousy."  "Love" is the best way we can explain it, but it's not good enough.

You know, a satisfactory explanation for me would be that the mystics of the church who have drawn close to God during their contemplations have collectively experienced an emotion that could be best described as an overwhelming sense of love. For me, this is enough.

Ah yes, but many mystics of the Church also gave the explanation that Hell was the Love of God burning on rejecting hearts, manifest as "wrath."
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« Reply #18 on: January 09, 2011, 08:41:20 PM »

Ah yes, but many mystics of the Church also gave the explanation that Hell was the Love of God burning on rejecting hearts, manifest as "wrath."

If you can provide more than two saints on this point I will be impressed.
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« Reply #19 on: January 11, 2011, 01:39:49 AM »

Ah yes, but many mystics of the Church also gave the explanation that Hell was the Love of God burning on rejecting hearts, manifest as "wrath."

If you can provide more than two saints on this point I will be impressed.

The two most clear ones are St. Isaac of Nineveh and St. Gregory of Nyssa, but they may also be disregarded for their belief in apokatastasis.  St. Isaac (Homily 48) for instance says:

Quote from: Kalomiros' 'The River of Fire'
Those who are suffering in hell, are suffering in being scourged by love.... It is totally false to think that the sinners in hell are deprived of God's love. Love is a child of the knowledge of truth, and is unquestionably given commonly to all. But love's power acts in two ways: it torments sinners, while at the same time it delights those who have lived in accord with it.

St. Gregory of Nyssa (On the Soul and Resurrection):

Quote
But whenever the time come that God shall have brought our nature back to the primal state of man, it will be useless to talk of such things then, and to imagine that objections based upon such things can prove God’s power to be impeded in arriving at His end. His end is one, and one only; it is this: when the complete whole of our race shall have been perfected from the first man to the last,—some having at once in this life been cleansed from evil, others having afterwards in the necessary periods been healed by the Fire, others having in their life here been unconscious equally of good and of evil,—to offer to every one of us participation in the blessings which are in Him, which, the Scripture tells us, “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard,” nor thought ever reached. But this is nothing else, as I at least understand it, but to be in God Himself; for the Good which is above hearing and eye and heart must be that Good which transcends the universe. But the difference between the virtuous and the vicious life led at the present time will be illustrated in this way; viz. in the quicker or more tardy participation of each in that promised blessedness. According to the amount of the ingrained wickedness of each will be computed the duration of his cure. This cure consists in the cleansing of his soul, and that cannot be achieved without an excruciating condition, as has been expounded in our previous discussion.

The other Cappadocian fathers (St. Basil and St. Gregory Nazienzen respectively) did not say that Love is the one that's revealed as wrathful, but they do say that the same Divine Fire that illuminates the saints torments the sinners:

Quote from: Kalomiros' 'The River of Fire'
"I believe that the fire prepared for the punishment of the devil and his angels is divided by the voice of the Lord. Thus, since there are two capacities in fire, one of burning and the other of illuminating, the fierce and scourging property of the fire may await those who deserve to burn, while illuminating and radiant warmth may be reserved for the enjoyment of those who are rejoicing." (Homily on Psalms, 28.6)

Quote from: Kalomiros' 'The River of Fire'
"O Trinity, Whom I have been granted to worship and proclaim, Who will some day be known to all, to some through illumination, to others through punishment!" (Or. 23.13, On peace 3, PG 35, 1165B)

As you can see, I have to admit that I haven't read most of these quotes primarily, and while I don't necessarily find "The River of Fire" a fair assessment of what he's trying to teach, I think these quotes however speak volumes of the mystery of God's nature.
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« Reply #20 on: January 11, 2011, 02:15:38 AM »

I forgot St. Antonios, which is also an implication of God's immutable "goodness":


Quote from: Philokalia
God is good, dispassionate, and immutable. Now someone who thinks it reasonable and true to affirm that God does not change, may well ask how, in that case, it is possible to speak of God as rejoicing over those who are good and showing mercy to those who honour Him, while turning way from the wicked and being angry with sinners. To this it must be answered that God neither rejoices nor grows angry, for to rejoice and to t offended are passions; nor is He won over by the gifts of those who honour Him, for that would mean He is swayed by pleasure. It is not right to imagine that God feels pleasure or displeasure in a human way. He is good, and He only bestows blessings and never does harm, remaining always the same. We men, on the other hand, if we remain good through resembling God, are united to Him; but if we become evil through not resembling God, we are separated from Him. By living in holiness we cleave to God; but by becoming wicked we make Him our enemy. It is not that He grows angry with us in an arbitrary way, but it is our sins that prevent God from shining within us, and expose us to the demons who punish us. And if through prayer and acts of compassion we gain release from our sins, this does not mean that we have won God over and made Him change, but that through our actiosn and out turning to God we have cured our wickedness and so once more have enjoyment of God’s goodness. Thus to say that God turns away from the wicked is like saying that the sun hides itself from the blind.
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Vain existence can never exist, for \\\"unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain.\\\" (Psalm 127)

If the faith is unchanged and rock solid, then the gates of Hades never prevailed in the end.
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« Reply #21 on: April 01, 2011, 09:52:25 PM »

Ah yes, but many mystics of the Church also gave the explanation that Hell was the Love of God burning on rejecting hearts, manifest as "wrath."

An interesting concept...
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Yes, yes, youth is wasted on the young. And so is accumulated experience wasted on the old, the positives of modernism wasted on moderns, the beauty of Christianity wasted on Christians, the utility of scholarship wasted on scholars, and on and on.
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You must try this Balkan blend, Barsanuphius.


« Reply #22 on: April 02, 2011, 03:53:19 PM »

What is the difference between jealousy and envy?
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As I dissipate, Christ precipitates.
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« Reply #23 on: April 02, 2011, 04:10:24 PM »

What is hell, and condemnation?  "And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.   But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God"  (John, 3.19-21).   There you have it.  God sends His love upon all, but "condemnation" is when men love darkness rather than the light.  Their love cannot synergize with God's love, and God's loving presence becomes a source of torment.  Think even of our own finite experience--when someone is in the presence of one who loves what we hate and continuously expresses that love, they have minor torment.  They want to get away from that person.  At best they are extremely annoying.  How much moreso when we move toward eternal matters and eternal truth, that such things become exponentiated, and beyond as we move away from the finite.     
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