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Author Topic: Christ the ultimate judge?  (Read 1896 times) Average Rating: 0
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Philotheos
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« on: June 04, 2006, 07:22:59 PM »

How can that be if He's not permitted to execute severe forms of punishments but only lenient ones? This is a question that arose from my conversation with an Antiochian priest who insists that God doesn't repay, condemn, or punish us for what we have done. As a result, hell can be nothing more than a subjective reality arising from distorted perception of God's presence. In the end, each and everyone of us gets to decide the essence of the objective reality called God's presence. The reslult of such decision making process is heaven and hell. Outlandish? The only danger in this notion is a perpetuation of preposterous concept that God's wrath is never expressed externally but only internally. Please share with me your insights.
« Last Edit: June 04, 2006, 07:24:47 PM by Philotheos » Logged
falafel333
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« Reply #1 on: June 04, 2006, 07:41:54 PM »

There seems to be two schools of thought the one which believes that God is capable of retribution and that hell is an eternal punishing fire which shall never cease and there are others who believe that God never punishes in a retributive sense but His punishment is always rehabilitative or remedial in nature..."he whom He loves He chastises"...The latter would tend to agree with an apokatastasis, ie an ultimate restoration where the fires of hell are not considered to be eternal in the literal sense nor retributive but rather purgatorial in nature...St Gregory of Nyssa and St Isaac the Syrian are obvious supporters of this system...Bishop Kallistos Ware makes a good case for this in his book, "The Inner Kingdom"...

Although the official teaching of the church would seem to be against an apokatastasis, there seems be strong arguments in its favour and saints of the church can be found who support either one side or the other...Furthermore, there seems to be also a revival of this thought of apokatastasis in contemporary Orthodox theology...

In both schools of thought, however, hell would be considered to be an objective reality expressed both internally and externally and would be experienced as a separation from God's love...It's more so the purpose and duration of hell that is debated...
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Thomas
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« Reply #2 on: June 04, 2006, 10:06:12 PM »

As it was put simply to me by an Older monk,Abbott Jospeh of blessed memory---the Glory of God as seen by those prepared for it is a glorious loving and warm experience (aka the Transfiguration/ Metamorphisis). Yet for those not prepared or willing to accept it, it will be as a burning fire that consumes all that see it (Destruction of thiose who touched the Ark of the Covenant, Sodom and Gommorrrah, etc).

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Philotheos
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« Reply #3 on: June 05, 2006, 02:08:29 PM »

Thank you Falafel and Thomas for your input. I intentionally avoided the use of the term apokastasis for its controversial nature. Moreover, this post wasn't mainly about apokastasis. I wanted some kind of reassurance from fellow Orthodox Christians that God's wrath is not just a subjective manifestation but also an objective occurence. Both of you provided for me the reassurance of my belief. Once again, Thank you.
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Philotheos
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« Reply #4 on: June 07, 2006, 12:53:27 AM »

The following is the response I received from my enquiry to an Orthodox priest from OCA. He vehemently denies that apokastasis is growing and that it has been taught by some church fathers.

ME:  There is a growing trend within the Orthodox Church to embrace apokastasis in place of traditional view of hell.
PRIEST:  I have no knowledge or experience of this growing trend of apokastasis. In 32 years as a priest, I have never had anyone mention  apokastasis to me, other than in the context of history. I have not found massive numbers of our faithful embracing teachings that were condemned centuries ago.

ME:  Many of those who subscribe to this view quote various church fathers who leaned toward this purgatorial view of hell.
PRIEST:  Perhaps you are referring to certain Greek theologians who are not in line with the Church's teachings, but I do not think that their are very widespread.
 
Am I overly sensitive about this issue or is the priest wilfully blinding himself to the truth?
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falafel333
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« Reply #5 on: June 07, 2006, 04:23:50 AM »

Is the priest aware of the works of Origen, St Gregory of Nyssa and St Isaac the Syrian on this topic?

Is he aware of Bishop Kallistos Ware's comments with regards to this issue in his book entitled "The Inner Kingdom"?

Who are these "certain Greek theologians" that he is referring to?
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« Reply #6 on: June 07, 2006, 07:16:29 AM »

As it was put simply to me by an Older monk,Abbott Jospeh of blessed memory---the Glory of God as seen by those prepared for it is a glorious loving and warm experience (aka the Transfiguration/ Metamorphisis). Yet for those not prepared or willing to accept it, it will be as a burning fire that consumes all that see it (Destruction of thiose who touched the Ark of the Covenant, Sodom and Gommorrrah, etc).

I completely agree.
The Greek word for brimstone (as in "the lake of fire and brimstone" in Apocalypse 19:20) is "THEION".
The Greek word for Divine is also "THEION".
The "fire and brimstone of Hell" and the "Divine Vision of Heaven" are different experiences of the same thing- the Divine Energies.
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pensateomnia
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« Reply #7 on: June 07, 2006, 08:49:48 AM »

Am I overly sensitive about this issue or is the priest wilfully blinding himself to the truth?

I can't see how the priest is doing any such horrible thing. There are indeed very few theologians who actually argue for the orthodoxy of apokatastasis itself. Not only is such an idea rather speculative (the fact is that God has only revealed a few things about the afterlife), there are also many major saints who have condemned the idea, possibly because most Christians have confused Justinian's anathemas against Origen's doctrine of apokatastasis with the actual anathemas against Origenism (not including apokatastasis) passed by the Fifth Ecumenical Synod. Thus, most Christians believe apokatastasis itself has been condemned as heretical by an Ecumenical Synod and therefore do not even entertain the idea. [This mistake is very common, even today, since most people tend to just repeat what they have read in secondary sources, instead of reading primary ones.]

However, I do think there are a good number of theologians and lay people who like Origen’s, St. Basil the Great’s and St. Isaac the Syrian’s idea about what hell actually is. As ozgeorge and others have described, many people think the "fire" of hell is actually the divine fire of God's presence, a presence which sinners will find repulsive and tormenting because they, in fact, find God Himself repulsive. This explanation of hell, of course, does not include any necessary confession of apokatastasis.

I'm sure most people are familiar with this idea of the "scourge of divine love," but, if not, here's a decent explanation of it from Frederica Mathewes-Green: http://www.frederica.com/writings/why-we-need-hell.html
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Philotheos
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« Reply #8 on: June 07, 2006, 02:04:43 PM »

Thank you again for your posts. I have just read the article of the matushka and was a bit appalled to come to the following passage:

hell is not a punishment... God is not looking for repayment, but repentance. What heals a broken relationship is sincere love and contrition.

Separating anger and wrath from God's character is very dangerous humanitarianism. Once again, this discussion is not about the true essence of fire in hell. Eternal fire may indeed be God's presence. However, the notion that God imparts a unified objective reality which in turn will translate into each of us as subjective reality is rooted in secular humanism. It is simply stating that in the end WE DECIDE THE ESSENCE OF DIVINE PRESENCE. Whatever happened to God's soverignty? Since when has it become unpopular or un-Orthodox to believe that God saves those who love Him and punishes those who reject Him? Is he merely an automatic dispenser of amnesty? Our preconceived notions of God can add to further appreciation or apprehension, even abomination. Nevertheless, if there are suffering and torment in hell as taught by the Church, it is permitted by God.
« Last Edit: June 07, 2006, 02:10:12 PM by Philotheos » Logged
pensateomnia
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« Reply #9 on: June 07, 2006, 02:52:21 PM »

Thank you again for your posts. I have just read the article of the matushka and was a bit appalled to come to the following passage:

hell is not a punishment... God is not looking for repayment, but repentance. What heals a broken relationship is sincere love and contrition.

Certainment. Perhaps you misunderstood what she is saying -- or, rather, perhaps Matushka should have said it this way: "Hell is not actually a punishment, even though many people may actually perceive it as such, since their choices and disposition will have warped their heart to such a degree that they experience God's presence as pain." (More on that below).

That aside, I would just point out that we should be clear on terminology. Technically speaking, "hell" (hades) refers to that spiritual state (not a place!!) in which the unrighteous await the Final Judgment. "Hell" as we usually conceive it (the "place," even though it may not BE a place, wherein the condemned suffer eternal torment) is another matter. Of that "place," Scripture has precious little to say, aside from allusion and metaphor.

Quote
However, the notion that God imparts a unified objective reality which in turn will translate into each of us as subjective reality is rooted in secular humanism. It is simply stating that in the end WE DECIDE THE ESSENCE OF DIVINE PRESENCE.

Who said that? The essence is what the essence is (at least according to traditional ontology). St. Basil's point (and Mathewes-Green's) is that any given individual's perception of that one, single, all-encompassing Essence varies. The essence doesn't change, but the experience of it does. In fact, it's not a question of decision, attribution, or even of breaking the link between the signifier and the signified. It's a question of preparation and disposition.

What's brilliant about this Basilian doctrine is that it also explains the varying "degrees" of sainthood. A person who has lived in complete and humble obedience to God's will will experience the Divine Essence in even more brilliance and peace than a "less Godly" person, since the first person would be further along on the path of deification, so to speak, i.e. better able to perceive and experience the one, unchanging Essence for what it really is (or at least more like what it really is). In this sense, the idea of God's Essence as a fire is foundational to the doctrine of theosis (and that's why St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Cyril, etc. speak about it).
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Philotheos
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« Reply #10 on: June 07, 2006, 03:45:17 PM »

It seems as though you are leading this discussion into a single direction of apokatastasis. My main objection arose from the follwing quote "God is not looking for repayment." This is a Protestant tenet of grace taken far too liberally. Let's not turn this post into an argument solely pertaining to a spatial concept of hell.

You wrote: The essence doesn't change, but the experience of it does. In fact, it's not a question of decision, attribution, or even of breaking the link between the signifier and the signified. It's a question of preparation and disposition.

Response: The impression I get from the above statement is that it all lies in the eye of the beholder. Hell is just a distorted perception. Punishment or retribution is an ungodly trait. Entertainig such a thought is unthinkable. Perhaps we disagree on the concept of divine essence. You may peceive it as a single embodiment of virtues whereas I perceive it as a multi-faceted mystery, which encompasses even vengeance and retribution. While you may contend that our experience of divine nature is solely shaped by us, I believe that even the most subjective and personal experience or reality is governed by God.

You wrote: A person who has lived in complete and humble obedience to God's will will experience the Divine Essence in even more brilliance and peace than a "less Godly" person, since the first person would be further along on the path of deification

Response: I already summed up this point in my post "Our preconceived notions of God can add to further appreciation or apprehension, even abomination."
« Last Edit: June 07, 2006, 07:27:57 PM by Philotheos » Logged
pensateomnia
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« Reply #11 on: June 07, 2006, 04:25:59 PM »

It seems as though you are leading this discussion into a single direction of apokastasis.

 Huh Recently, at any rate, I haven't been talking about apokatastasis at all (it's spelled "apokatastasis," with a full "kata").

Quote
My main objection arose from the follwing quote "God is not looking for repayment." This is a Protestant tenet of grace taken far too liberally.

Meaning it's an overreaction to Anselmian soteriology? So, if that overreaction is invalid, what, then, is God trying to accomplish through eternal punishment?

Quote
Let's not turn this post into an argument solely pertaining to a spatial concept of hell.

But this is essential to the matter at hand. As we know, Christ has destroyed the gates of hell. Where, then, do the unrighteous go for their "particular" hell, and whence comes the "eternal hell" in which sinners are condemned by Christ the Ultimate Judge? (You see, these are all questions that are answered by St. Basil's and St. Isaac's conception of God's justice and hell. More on this later.)

Quote
The impression I get from the above statement is that it all lies in the eye of the beholder.

So, perception and experience aren't real? I understand that you think you are avoiding some kind of phenomenological corruption of Orthodox theology, but one doesn't have to accept some sort of relativistic or even Lucretian ontology in order to say what St. Basil does.

Quote
Hell is just a distorted perception.

JUST? So, if I find a certain person extremely annoying, that annoyance is JUST "annoyance" (not really annoying)? Think of hell as an allergy. God may give us peanuts, which are and always will be peanuts. When some people eat these peanuts, they break out in terrible rashes. When other people eat them, they say, "Yum. Good source of protein." Is the former group's sufferings JUST a distorted perception? Isn't their experience a painful reality?

Quote
Punishment or retribution is an ungodly trait. Entertainig such a thought is unthinkable.

Now this is a different matter. The Scriptures do indeed seem to ascribe anger, wrath and retribution to God. I certainly don't think entertaining such things is unthinkable. Perhaps some moderns want to espouse St. Basil's ideas because they think it allows them to ignore these aspects of God's apparent personality. Nonetheless, we shouldn't confuse intent with argument.

We have to start with a definition. Either the eternal hell is a place or it isn't. If it's a place, then we have little trouble. Christ makes a lake of fire after the Final Judgment, hurls the condemned into it, and that's that. If it ISN'T a place, however, then other questions and possible conclusions arise.

In other words, one could say "God is not looking for repayment" because they simply cannot stomach the idea of God's wrath, OR they could say "God is not looking for repayment" because they have adopted St. Basil's definition and drawn some reasonable conclusion based on it. Dig? Either way, intent is really irrelevant. The question is: Which definition is correct?
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« Reply #12 on: June 07, 2006, 07:45:29 PM »

if that overreaction is invalid, what, then, is God trying to accomplish through eternal punishment?

Punishment is not always reformative, rehabilitative or remedial. It is also a dire, irreversible consequence of one's lack of obedience. Why did people in Noah's time have to meet mass destruction through flood? Why did God instantly bring death upon Ananias and Sapphira? Through eternal torment God can intentionally(blame me all you want for saying this) put away those who rejected Him. 

 Isn't their experience a painful reality?

Yes it is. It is a reality permitted by God as I already wrote in the original post.



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« Reply #13 on: June 13, 2006, 12:08:02 PM »

I'm not a theologian, I'm only starting to read about theology and it is not an easy subject, so pardon my 101-isms.

To me imagining God as a wrathful and vengeful being seems not to fit into the overall message of Orthodox Christianity. If the purpose of our life is Theosis, becoming like God, then it would only make sense to include wrath and revenge as characteristics for emulation as well. To me, ascribing these characteristics to God is emulating paganism, where we ascribe human qualities to God. There are some Orthodox who have a superstiscious mentality towards their faith and these are the kinds who virtually always believe in a wrathful, vengeful God. They'll point to someone who is suffering a disease and say with great assurance "This is a punishment for that sin" or even worse, "This is a punishment for his father's sin", as if God had whispered it into their ear.

In a way, I think that ascribing these characteristics to God is embodying a human desire to see revenge meted out towards those people who sin, so that our desire to see justice served is satisfied - according to our human standards, not so much God's.

As for God's standard of justice, I prefer to leave that to a mystery and bank on my hope for God's grace, understanding that He gave us all we need to know for our salvation.
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« Reply #14 on: June 13, 2006, 01:37:02 PM »

I believe we Orthodox Christians must keep in mind that we, sinners, provide the cause of all suffering, torment, and punishment while God provides the effect. Attributing vengeance and wrath to God is not to be equated with a masochist-sadistic image that people tend to envision. My point is that God's execution of justice is punishment in a sense that through His presence of love those who rejected Him will suffer. Does God comprehend the nature of distorted perception of His love experienced by those who rejected Him? Yes. Does He understand the severity of their suffering? Yes. Does that mean He will quickly extend His hand of mercy to bring an end to their torment? No. It is God's indifference that makes His punishment most frightening. You need not call it a punishment if you have qualms about it. If you embrace darkness while rejecting light, God will let you wallow yourself in what you chose regardless of its detrimental effects.
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« Reply #15 on: June 14, 2006, 11:32:17 AM »

Philotheos,

Yes.  Yes, yes, yes.  This last post was an excellent summation of what I understand the Church to teach.
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« Reply #16 on: June 15, 2006, 02:20:57 AM »

I believe we Orthodox Christians must keep in mind that we, sinners, provide the cause of all suffering, torment, and punishment while God provides the effect. If you embrace darkness while rejecting light, God will let you wallow yourself in what you chose regardless of its detrimental effects.

Well said.
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« Reply #17 on: June 15, 2006, 09:45:56 AM »

I believe we Orthodox Christians must keep in mind that we, sinners, provide the cause of all suffering, torment, and punishment while God provides the effect. Attributing vengeance and wrath to God is not to be equated with a masochist-sadistic image that people tend to envision. My point is that God's execution of justice is punishment in a sense that through His presence of love those who rejected Him will suffer. Does God comprehend the nature of distorted perception of His love experienced by those who rejected Him? Yes. Does He understand the severity of their suffering? Yes. Does that mean He will quickly extend His hand of mercy to bring an end to their torment? No. It is God's indifference that makes His punishment most frightening. You need not call it a punishment if you have qualms about it. If you embrace darkness while rejecting light, God will let you wallow yourself in what you chose regardless of its detrimental effects.
"Cause and effect" is for Buddhists, not Orthodox Christians. God is not "bound" to do anything, nor is there anything "logical" about how He relates to sinners. This is attested to by Scripture:
"What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: "I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden." (Romans 9:14-18)
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« Reply #18 on: June 16, 2006, 02:27:21 AM »

"I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.  It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort,  but on God's mercy.Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. " (Romans 9:14-18)[/i]

God will not transgress the free will He has given a soul, and this free will can choose to resist grace and wallow in darkness, in effect, tying God's hands.  He will not force His love and mercy on anyone, and they will reap some of the fruits of their rejection of grace.

Although in His great mercy, I am convinced He withholds the full effect of the consequence of our sins from us.  The dispensing of His mercy does not depend on man's desire, man's effort or man's lack of effort, His mercy is inexhaustible as He sees fit to administer it, as well as being incomprehensible.

We are continually amazed in ministry, when we can see souls headed for the precipice, how God accompanies them lovingly and allows many evils to befall them, but nothing remotely similar to what we were expecting.  Rather again and again and again, as a tender Father,  He offers them new insights and opportunities to make different choices.

I think one of the reasons for this may be that He sees WHY they are making certain choices, and has infinite compassion for the frailty of His creatures, especially when they come from less than ideal homes.



« Last Edit: June 16, 2006, 03:55:33 AM by Mother Anastasia » Logged

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« Reply #19 on: June 16, 2006, 03:29:53 AM »

I noticed you ommitted a passage from the Scripture you quoted from my post. The passage you ommitted reads:
"It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy."
I know it's inconvenient because it doesn't agree with what you are saying, but it is part of the passage.
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