Author Topic: God's judgment in the Old Testament - active or passive?  (Read 1720 times)

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Offline Daniel2:47

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God's judgment in the Old Testament - active or passive?
« on: September 09, 2016, 08:16:08 AM »
I am reading through Numbers with my girlfriend at the moment and so I am reminded of God's wrath against sin and sinners which is found quite explicitly in the Old Testament. This is not to say that it is not present in the New Testament too, but we have more imagery of coming judgment in the NT whereas actual judgment in the OT.

For instance, one passage I have just read (Numbers 16) is three Levites and a group of 250 Israelites rise up against Moses in rebellion and offer incense to God independently of Moses. Moses pleads with the LORD and these people are judged instantly by the earth opening up and swallowing them - and their wives and their children. Then God sends down fire on the 250 men who are offering incense and they are destroyed. Elsewhere in Numbers, there are similar stories - for instance, due to the people's continual moaning, God sends a plague of snakes upon the people (Numbers 21).

I don't have a problem with a Western reading of these passages - the standard Calvinist one is that God is sovereign and is active in His judgment and therefore if the people disobey, God can pour out His wrath on the people. However, the Eastern understanding that I have in my mind is that judgment is due to our own sinfulness, not God's active judgment. I have trouble squaring this with passages in the OT where God seems to be active in judging the people. Am I misunderstanding here? How does the doctrine of divine impassibility influence this?

Another passage that comes to mind, although not about wrath, is where God "hardens" the heart of Pharaoh in Egypt and then the Egyptians are judged because of his refusal to listen to Moses. Again God is active in hardening someone's heart - not passively waiting for the person to turn away or towards Him.

I have been a Calvinist for many years and struggle to see how a reading that makes God's judgment entirely passive is a truly Scriptural one

Offline NicholasMyra

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Re: God's judgment in the Old Testament - active or passive?
« Reply #1 on: September 09, 2016, 03:22:23 PM »
I...struggle to see how a reading that makes God's judgment entirely passive is a truly Scriptural one
It's not, and it's not the "Eastern" view either. God certainly acts to chasten Israel and bring about his ends. One thing we would agree on with the Calvinists: If God is passively waiting for us to turn to him, then we're all screwed.

"Forming light, preparing darkness, making peace, preparing evil, I am the LORD, doing all these things."

Some things we would not accept, though:

1. God does these things because he has the "right" to in virtue of holding the position of creator/sovereign in a cosmic system
2. God's chastisement is done for its own sake (or because punishment is demanded by justice or his good pleasure)
3. God's ultimate goal in chastisement is not the salvation of the world through the Israel of God in the Messiah, but some other (see 2, etc)
« Last Edit: September 09, 2016, 03:43:26 PM by NicholasMyra »
Quote from: Fr. Thomas Hopko, dystopian parable of the prodigal son
...you can imagine so-called healing services of the pigpen. The books that could be written, you know: Life in the Pigpen. How to Cope in the Pigpen. Being Happy in the Pigpen. Surviving in the Pigpen. And then there could be counselling, for people who feel unhappy in the pigpen, to try to get them to come to terms with the pigpen, and to accept the pigpen.

Offline NicholasMyra

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Re: God's judgment in the Old Testament - active or passive?
« Reply #2 on: September 09, 2016, 03:27:07 PM »
I am reading through Numbers with my girlfriend at the moment

Quote from: Fr. Thomas Hopko, dystopian parable of the prodigal son
...you can imagine so-called healing services of the pigpen. The books that could be written, you know: Life in the Pigpen. How to Cope in the Pigpen. Being Happy in the Pigpen. Surviving in the Pigpen. And then there could be counselling, for people who feel unhappy in the pigpen, to try to get them to come to terms with the pigpen, and to accept the pigpen.

Offline Daniel2:47

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Re: God's judgment in the Old Testament - active or passive?
« Reply #3 on: September 13, 2016, 07:54:15 AM »
I...struggle to see how a reading that makes God's judgment entirely passive is a truly Scriptural one
It's not, and it's not the "Eastern" view either. God certainly acts to chasten Israel and bring about his ends. One thing we would agree on with the Calvinists: If God is passively waiting for us to turn to him, then we're all screwed.

"Forming light, preparing darkness, making peace, preparing evil, I am the LORD, doing all these things."

Some things we would not accept, though:

1. God does these things because he has the "right" to in virtue of holding the position of creator/sovereign in a cosmic system
2. God's chastisement is done for its own sake (or because punishment is demanded by justice or his good pleasure)
3. God's ultimate goal in chastisement is not the salvation of the world through the Israel of God in the Messiah, but some other (see 2, etc)

Thanks for your response - that makes a lot of sense. I think I agree that chastisement and punishment is principally for our good. Nevertheless, how do we reconcile some of these things where it appears that people are judged and are killed instantly (e.g. the rebellious Israelites above, or Ananias & Sapphira) who have no time to repent. Is this done to be an example to the other people that they may repent. I realise that reading such passages through a modern Western mindset which elevates the individual above the community may make them harder to fathom to us, and that we need to read them with a mindset closer to the authors.

The impression I have had from reading various Orthodox apologetics (example) is that God's wrath is really just the experience of unclean people of the Divine Presence/Divine Light which is experienced as judgment, pain and suffering whereas for those who have been purified and sanctified, it is experienced as paradise. This is what has lead me to believing that the Orthodox understanding of judgment is more of a passive one than the Western/Calvinist understanding where God is active in His judgment.

From the link: "I also beg other Christians to be done with their imagery of the wrathful God. They do not know the God of Whom they speak"

I do not feel comfortable abandoning the "imagery of a wrathful God" when there are clearly passages of Scripture where God does deal with people in His wrath.

(As for the puppy, I don't fully understand his expression but yes Numbers is a slightly odd choice of book to read through - we are working our way through the OT)
« Last Edit: September 13, 2016, 07:59:31 AM by Daniel2:47 »

Offline Iconodule

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Re: God's judgment in the Old Testament - active or passive?
« Reply #4 on: September 13, 2016, 09:57:45 AM »
I think I agree that chastisement and punishment is principally for our good. Nevertheless, how do we reconcile some of these things where it appears that people are judged and are killed instantly (e.g. the rebellious Israelites above, or Ananias & Sapphira) who have no time to repent.

That's a thorny question, as there is debate as to what degree sinners can be saved after death. There are other threads on universalism though if you want to peruse them.

Quote
The impression I have had from reading various Orthodox apologetics (example) is that God's wrath is really just the experience of unclean people of the Divine Presence/Divine Light which is experienced as judgment, pain and suffering whereas for those who have been purified and sanctified, it is experienced as paradise. This is what has lead me to believing that the Orthodox understanding of judgment is more of a passive one than the Western/Calvinist understanding where God is active in His judgment.

This is modern pop theology. Unfortunately the presentation by Kalomiros (which Fr Stephen cites) while it does tease out some interesting elements of eschatology, is being presented by some folks as a definitive statement of Orthodox eschatology, which it is definitely not. It is a very tendentious reading of certain patristic and scriptural passages which, IMO, is not really supported by them or by the big picture. In conformity with pop Orthodox cliches, Fr Stephen cautions us against "rational explanations" but the "River of Fire" narrative is as rationalized as any other. 

Quote
I do not feel comfortable abandoning the "imagery of a wrathful God" when there are clearly passages of Scripture where God does deal with people in His wrath.

I would say your instinct is right here.
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Offline Iconodule

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Re: God's judgment in the Old Testament - active or passive?
« Reply #5 on: September 13, 2016, 10:05:44 AM »
For those interested, this is the essay Fr Stephen is referring to:

http://silouanthompson.net/2008/06/river-of-fire-kalomiros/
“Steel isn't strong, boy, flesh is stronger! That is strength, boy! That is power! What is steel compared to the hand that wields it?  Contemplate this on the tree of woe.” - Elder Thulsa Doom of the Mountain of Power

Mencius said, “Instruction makes use of many techniques. When I do not deign to instruct someone, that too is a form of instruction.”

Come look at my lame blog

Offline NicholasMyra

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Re: God's judgment in the Old Testament - active or passive?
« Reply #6 on: September 13, 2016, 01:41:51 PM »
I think I agree that chastisement and punishment is principally for our good. Nevertheless, how do we reconcile some of these things where it appears that people are judged and are killed instantly (e.g. the rebellious Israelites above, or Ananias & Sapphira) who have no time to repent.
So I'd say that we are reading something into the text that isn't there. It goes something like this:

  • ...in the forbearance of God He passed over [condemning to hell the perpetrators of] the sins previously committed...
  • ...but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all [and sent them to hell].
  • What if God, although willing to demonstrate His [hell-condemnation] wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction [in hell]?
  • See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill [and send to hell] and I make alive [and send to heaven].

Killing people isn't the same as sending them to hell. Most of the destruction in the bible concerns death, breaking kingdoms, earthly torment, and being cast into the pit of Sheol; not the final judgment wherein the wicked are cast into Gehenna.

Now you would probably say, but since you're just sent to hell if you're a sinner after you die, doesn't it usually amount to the same thing? We would say, no, Gehenna is realized ultimately at the end, in the final judgment. There wasn't even a Gehenna before Christ because Gehenna is an eschatological reality.

How does that difference play out? Here is a thought: St. Irenaeus thought that God appointed biological death to limit the spiritual corruption and death of Adam and Eve. Why couldn't the death of Ananias and Sapphira be similar? Where it was done for their ultimate salvation as well?

is that God's wrath is really just the experience of unclean people of the Divine Presence/Divine Light which is experienced as judgment, pain and suffering whereas for those who have been purified and sanctified, it is experienced as paradise. This is what has lead me to believing that the Orthodox understanding of judgment is more of a passive one than the Western/Calvinist understanding where God is active in His judgment.
As Iconodule said there is a pop reading of this where God is the passive One of the Neo-Platonists. But here is another reading:

Are you burning with divine fire right now, in a way that you perceive as torment?

No.

So what makes it happen? Well, God has to actively manifest his character and self to you. He initiates the judgment in that way. If God is going to be all in all in a new way, it involves him doing something. So even if the judgment is being burned by God's own self, God still plays an active role.
Quote from: Fr. Thomas Hopko, dystopian parable of the prodigal son
...you can imagine so-called healing services of the pigpen. The books that could be written, you know: Life in the Pigpen. How to Cope in the Pigpen. Being Happy in the Pigpen. Surviving in the Pigpen. And then there could be counselling, for people who feel unhappy in the pigpen, to try to get them to come to terms with the pigpen, and to accept the pigpen.

Offline AlioshaKaramazov

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Re: God's judgment in the Old Testament - active or passive?
« Reply #7 on: May 30, 2017, 08:37:27 PM »
I'm refloating this because this has been bothering me lately. I can't make sense of the concept of a wrathful God who inflicts active punishments for our transgressions, and its relation to the dogmas of Redemption, Salvation and the Afterlife. I was reading this old post (http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,11389.msg785920.html#msg785920) and I really can't think of a better way to make sense of man's Fall and Salvation than that one. However, as others have stated in this thread, and as seems to be the case, there's a lot of legal and juridical language in the Bible and in the Fathers. There's also the more ontological, therapeutic approach to theosis and Salvation, but the popularity of this framework seems to be a modern development very present in what Iconodule calls "pop theology" (as exemplified by Kalomiros' "River of Fire"), not really representative of the Church's Tradition (though definitely present within it). To me, both approaches seem logically inconsistent with one another, so it has to be one or the other. Did the Church get it wrong for a long time? Or is there a way to reconcile both, recognizing the fact that maybe the juridical approach worked to instill repentance through fear in the past, but not in a modern age where repentance has to be the result of love towards God? Any ideas?
« Last Edit: May 30, 2017, 08:39:06 PM by AlioshaKaramazov »

Offline minasoliman

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Re: God's judgment in the Old Testament - active or passive?
« Reply #8 on: May 30, 2017, 09:06:36 PM »
If you suddenly "get it", it's wrong...

In other words, there's no clear answer.  Both Calvinism and Kalomirism are wrong.  God is active, but so are we.  Therefore, the relationship is much more complex and divine Providence and eschatology becomes much more mysterious.  There's no possible way to answer this question until the end of times.

One can ask:  why is it that God created us with the propensity to be mortal, where only immortality is through communion with God?  Because that's the way it is.

To make it more simple: God is not a puppetmaster, but neither are we in control.  We have freedom, but we also have divine providence.  How the two works together will forever be a mystery in this lifetime.
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Offline AlioshaKaramazov

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Re: God's judgment in the Old Testament - active or passive?
« Reply #9 on: May 30, 2017, 10:36:58 PM »
Thank you for your response Mina. You're right, maybe I should stop trying to fit God into a little box. Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.

Offline Daniel2:47

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Re: God's judgment in the Old Testament - active or passive?
« Reply #10 on: June 01, 2017, 07:40:59 AM »
I'm refloating this because this has been bothering me lately. I can't make sense of the concept of a wrathful God who inflicts active punishments for our transgressions, and its relation to the dogmas of Redemption, Salvation and the Afterlife. I was reading this old post (http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,11389.msg785920.html#msg785920) and I really can't think of a better way to make sense of man's Fall and Salvation than that one. However, as others have stated in this thread, and as seems to be the case, there's a lot of legal and juridical language in the Bible and in the Fathers. There's also the more ontological, therapeutic approach to theosis and Salvation, but the popularity of this framework seems to be a modern development very present in what Iconodule calls "pop theology" (as exemplified by Kalomiros' "River of Fire"), not really representative of the Church's Tradition (though definitely present within it). To me, both approaches seem logically inconsistent with one another, so it has to be one or the other. Did the Church get it wrong for a long time? Or is there a way to reconcile both, recognizing the fact that maybe the juridical approach worked to instill repentance through fear in the past, but not in a modern age where repentance has to be the result of love towards God? Any ideas?

I think you have answered your own question here. I really struggled with how to reconcile these two when I started the thread - now I am less determined to do so. The Church Fathers do have both, so we should probably just accept that both are necessary ideas. They don't seem to have tried to reconcile the two, so why should we think that this needs to be done and to try to distil out a purer faith than them? Minasoliman's response is right that the two are a mystery which will be forever so at least in this lifetime

Offline AlioshaKaramazov

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Re: God's judgment in the Old Testament - active or passive?
« Reply #11 on: June 01, 2017, 10:41:55 AM »
To be honest I don't have a problem with God selectively and actively punishing people to correct them in their ways or to teach a general lesson to everyone. What I had (have) problems with it with the idea that he punishes for punishment's sake, to satisfy some Platonic idea of Justice which appears to be in conflict with the notion of God's infinite Love and Mercy. Many theologians have tried to reconcile the ideas of Justice and Mercy, but sometimes this equilibrium feels somewhat...lacking. I believe one must be satisfied at the expense of the other.

But both of you are right. Who am I to decipher God with my fallible reasoning?