‘Government as a human act of governing oneself and one’s responsibilities and one’s dependents is very different from the modern institution of the State.’ — Alana Roberts, from her film review of The Dark Knight Rises

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The second coming

I hope C. S. Lewis was right when he wrote that we are still the early Christians. That is, to be sure, a loaded statement, and enigmatic as well, because on the face of it, it sounds simple, and we think—I think—we know what he meant. But I wonder.

In context, Lewis was writing about the denominational squabbles that Christians get into, and he was hinting that maybe someday we can all return to unity in a simple confession of faith. That would perhaps be a sign to the world that it’s worth it being a Christian. Again, I wonder.

It seems to me that if we mean by ‘early Christians’ that we have not yet understood Jesus Christ and the good news, and that we have barely begun to follow Him and be transformed, then I’d have to agree. Religion, being an early phase in humanity’s encounter with God, is long overdue to be discarded. Of course, it can’t be, because it’s still needed.

And why is it still needed? Because after two thousand years, we Christians are, corporately, still children, but not in the sense that Christ means when He says, ‘for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.’

Well, wake up, kids! The modern, unbelieving world has taken what it can of Jesus Christ and the gospel, along with many other good ideas from a number of sources, and moved on ahead of you into a world idea that leaves you—I mean, us—out in the cold, standing here empty-handed, confused, feeling powerless and betrayed, but still ready to lash out at the world and each other.

How long does Christ have to wait for the son who says, ‘Yes, Dad, I’ll go to work now’ to go? The other son who says, ‘No’ to His face has been out there working for hours—no years, maybe even centuries—while we continue to just pretend, to play games and, what’s far worse, even fight with each other over trifles.

                The best lack all conviction, while the worst
                Are full of passionate intensity.
                Surely some revelation is at hand;
                Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The second coming! Yes, it is at hand, in fact it’s rather long overdue. It’s late because we have done everything in our power to delay it, and then console ourselves by begging for mercy in our rounds of religious services. Christ is literally dying to come again, but as usual, the Jews are correct in this as they are correct in almost everything else.

The Messiah cannot come until the holy nation really wants Him to. And how do they, how do we, show it? The Jews say, ‘by Torah study,’ so that as prophet Habakkuk tells, ‘The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.’ But the King of the Jews, who is the Torah personified, qualifies this for us, saying, ‘everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice…’

But instead of entering the land of promise—that is Paradise, you know, which exists even now but is invisible to us until we truly follow Jesus—we stay in our camps and grumble. We continue to legislate, interrogate, pontificate and separate. Like idol worshipers who must feed, clothe and protect their man-made gods, even being willing to kill to avenge insults to them, we follow blind guides instead of Jesus. We honor dead men’s bones instead of the Living One.

This is not true only of Christians, but of Muslims and Jews as well, indeed, of the believers of any religion: If we feel we must defend our ‘god’ and punish ‘blasphemy,’ then it cannot be the real God we worship, but a man-made deity, a mere imitation, an idol. This is what we call ‘religion,’ and the world looking back at us languishing in our unspiritual stupor, has every right and reason to reject what it knows, instinctively, to be no better, and often far worse, than what it already has.

The second coming of Jesus Christ begins with the parousía of His Bride on earth, arrayed in truth, faithfulness and love, living not in the flesh, not as spirits in bondage to bodies, but as bodies animated by and obedient to the Spirit.

Two thousand years ago the God-man appears. He is Himself the New Adam, He is Paradise in human form, but only half of it. The human race, yes, all of the sons and daughters of Adam, are the New Eve, formerly hidden in His side, and revealed when His side was torn open by a lance as He died on the Cross.

With His death the fate of the whole human race was sealed. It must, we must, die. Die to what we have been for countless thousands of years. What we call ‘civilisation’ is but the final stage in a process of evolution that culminates in the appearance of the God-man. When He died, He dies for all. When He rose from the dead, He rises for all.

His work complete, ‘it is finished,’ He is with us, He gives us Himself ‘until the end of the age,’ that we too may live as He lives. This is the inevitable step. This, the true beginning of ‘the new order of the ages.’ This is what He is waiting for.

Why must we hold Him back?

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The end of myth

From the creation of the world to the birthing of a child, from the work of fire transforming wood into ash to the alternation of day and night, from considering all appearances and all disappearances, the mind of man from unwritten times till now has evolved explanations of how and often why everything happens in the world around him.

Modern man puts on an air of superiority and treats with patronizing indulgence, and often overt contempt, the cosmologies and the pseudo-sciences of ancient and primitive men. The world tree, the cosmic egg, mythic images for the unenlightened to help them feel less afraid in a universe which, when they confront it without them, is too terrifying.

So the mind of man thinks, and his thought fits everything he sees, hears, tastes, smells and touches into a complex, ever-increasing pattern of perceived relationships that gives meaning to the universe. The more primitive the tools of analysis at his disposal, the more primitive (we think) his body of explanations, and we call them ‘myths’.

But as I see it, having better analytical devices, having what we call a scientific basis for interpreting and understanding the world around us does not deliver our thought from one intrinsic and inevitable characteristic: Everything we analyse, and our very conclusions and body of knowledge, we are still cutting down to fit into a very limited frame, our mind.

Our thought, with all our sophistications, even now still has the nature of myth, no less than what we consider the childish fancies of the ancients and the primitives. We all still deal in myths, man’s explanation—from miniscule observations—of the meaning, purpose and nature of the universe. We simply replace the older anthropomorphics with new, ‘new lamps for old.’

So then, human thought itself is a myth, that is, in the sense that it is a generator of explanations of what is inexplicable. Religion, then, becomes no less rational than science, and science is no more than a religion. Experimental evidence is still siphoned through a conduit too narrow for it, and so experiments, whether scientific or magical, lead to the same conclusion: the universe as a subset of man’s mind.

But along comes a Man, from all appearances at first, an ordinary man, not prominent, not wealthy, not intellectually trained, from a primitive people, living in an ancient and tradition encrusted culture, one of those less attractive to most moderns and even to most of His contemporaries, the road-building Romans and the philosophical Greeks.

He is trained in the family profession, woodworking, and in the national religion, synagogue Judaism. He has very little to make anyone think Him special, except an incident in His adolescence, when He was found engrossed with some members of the educated elite in prodigious discussions (and then whisked quietly away by his embarrassed parents).

Surprising them all, and us as well, this boy in the fullness of His manhood becomes an itinerant preacher (though not of His ancestral religion) and even a miracle-worker. Oddly enough, though He seems quite capable of it, He does not waste a thought to giving answers to most of the questions that His contemporaries, and us, have about the universe.

He passes them over in silence. He does not contribute to the growing body of myth that we now hold up as our claim to be rational beings. Instead, when He teaches at all, it is on practical matters, and even His miracle-working, from supplying a shortage of wine at a wedding party, to healing the sick and (gulp!) raising the dead, is all very practical. Myth has no place in Him.

If this man lived, taught, worked wonders, and passed into history, we might have thought Him a great teacher, perhaps, or at least someone worth studying, analyzing, writing books about, and adding to our ever-increasing matrix of myths, but not only did He not contribute to the myth, He shattered it. He is an embarrassment now, as He was then, to the myth-makers.

He gives us plenty to think about, but that is not His intention. He did not come to increase our thought but to coax us over the imaginary lines that our thought produces in us. He comes now not to refine our thought, which is no more than myth, but to call forth our faith, which paradoxically carries us over imaginary lines and delivers us from myth.

If we could show the location of His tomb, or better yet, find His bones, then the universe would still be safe inside the reliquary of our science and religion. We could still say with confidence that we know the universe to be rational, and this is how it works, from greatest to smallest detail. Yes, and there are the bones of the great Teacher. We have an explanation even of Him.

But no, He has not left us that option, He has not spared our thought or our myths, He has not deposited His soul in She’ol or His bones in a grave, He has not experienced corruption, but instead He has emptied Hades of its inhabitants, dissolved the imbecility of dark, partial human reason in the bright lightning flash of His divinity.

He has made the end of myth.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

True man

True man is he who doesn’t want to live long in this world. He wants to give his testimony and return as soon as possible, return home to Christ. He isn’t concerned about living a long life; he only wants to live on earth as long as his Lord wants him to live. Why? Because he is already living with Christ in His kingdom. He knows it with perfect certainty. He is redeemed, delivered from every desire and ambition that snares men and chains them to this world, and he is impatient to be free of this body of death, because he no longer lets it use him to sin. He is already living in heaven with Christ; all he wants is to be living there completely. If he must continue living in this world, he knows it’s only to do here what Christ wants him to do, to do what he sees Jesus doing in this world. He wants only to follow Jesus who, though living visibly in heaven, is alive invisibly on earth. And so, true man lives invisibly in heaven while he is living visibly on earth, following Jesus.

True man lives in the Word of God, and that Word is everything to him, and it makes him a child of the Kingdom, it makes him a disciple of Jesus. And Jesus and the Father come and live with him there, making him one of them by giving him the Spirit to live inside him. The Word of God is everything to him, it is his home, his food, his covering, his companion, his teacher, his protection, his inheritance. He is never without it, whether the Book is in his hand or not. The Word of God becomes his words, becomes his thoughts, becomes his actions. It is his strength, it guards his purity, it is his defense against all the lures and snares of the enemy. The Word of God proves His unalterable faithfulness to him and in him, and makes him faithful to God. The Word of God never leaves him, never leaves him alone, becomes a hedge around him, and makes him a hedge around the Kingdom in which he lives with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

True man is the implacable foe of the evil one, and doesn’t yield for a moment even an inch of territory, because the Word of God lives in him, and he lives in the Word. That is his world, and that world is the Kingdom. His citizenship is there while in the body he lives here. He is an unregistered alien in this world, which either shuns him as it goes along with its trifling affairs, pretending not to see him, or when it can’t help but see him, he is seen as a threat, he is seen as dangerous, and he is opposed with every injustice that can be brought against him in the name of the world’s justice. Because he obeys another Law, fulfills another commandment, that of His Lord, he falls under the condemnation of the laws of men and suffers with His Lord, who is put to death every day by the world. This too is an earthly evidence of his heavenly citizenship. He has nowhere to lay his head, no place in this world where he is comfortable, seeing that everywhere is under the dominion of the evil one, and with Jesus he is turned away at every inn, turned away because he is a God-bearer.

True man is too strong for the men who seek their home and their security on earth, and so he finds no friends among them. His strength is not from himself. He seems to wear his strength effortlessly, while others who claim to be strong or who try to be, make excuses for their weakness. But his strength is not from himself, it is from Christ who lives with him and who supplies him from His armory. His eye looks stern and unfriendly to men who have eyes only for the world, because his eye is single, and it looks always upon heaven, and from heaven where he already is living with Christ. His strength is from his Lord, and it shows in his walk and in his stance, in his speech and in his silence, in what he does and in what he does not do. All of this is a threat to other men who seek their strength only in things of this world, in things man-made, in what will not endure.

True man is in the world, but not of it. Why? Because he lives already in the Kingdom of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. He lives there and he knows it. He has his proof of citizenship in the Word that never leaves him. He has his passport ready and can come and go through a door that to him is never shut between worlds, a door which, if he chooses to shut it, no one can open, and if he chooses to open, no one can close. He has been given this kind of authority because he can be trusted. Why can he be trusted? Because he has proven himself faithful to his charge, because he renews his faithfulness every day in the presence of his Father, by following the Son of God, by doing only what he sees Him doing. He has already been given the crown of life, because he is willing to lay down his life in this world, because of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

Brothers, this is our call in Jesus Christ. This is the guarantee of our salvation. This is the life that has no end. This is the treasure hidden in the field that a man finds and then sells all that he has to purchase the field. This is the true man that has been recreated in the image of the Holy Triad who said, “Let us make man in Our own image, in the likeness of ourselves, and let them be masters…”

Brothers, this is true man.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Until we follow Him

‘Cover the earth’ evangelism. I imagine that many Christians still believe that it is their duty to convert others, their near neighbors, and those far away, to Christianity. I used to feel this way too, once. But long ago I noticed that ‘conversion’ to Christianity often meant exactly that—joining a religious society, church, mission, or whatever. Somehow, despite the prayers and pious rhetoric, conversion to Christ was glossed over, almost as if those who gained the converts did not even have an idea of what conversion really means. This happens in every form of Christianity. It bothers me the most when it happens in my own community, the Orthodox Church. Why? Because we've been around the longest. We should know better. The fearful part is when I come upon Christ's indictment of the Pharisees in His own culture, ‘You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.’

‘Wholesale evangelists’ may reach the masses, but what really is happening? Yes, Jesus spoke to crowds, and what did those crowds do? Where were they when He was crucified? And even later, where were these crowds when at most, a hundred twenty people were gathered in the upper room on the day of Pentecost? The three thousand who accepted Christ on that day came from the preaching of the apostles filled with the Holy Spirit, and it was not at a revival—revivals are tent meetings to re-evangelize and revive Christian life in people who already know that there is a Jesus. No one in scripture, no one in the history of the Church, ever went ‘door to door’ evangelizing. That's man's plan based on man's expectations. The plan that God has for the evangelization and salvation of the world is much simpler than that. It is just ‘go, and make disciples,’ a naked commandment followed by only a brief instruction. It's all found in Matthew's gospel. So, where does that leave us?

All Christians are, simply put, witnesses. We can testify only to that which we know. This is not about which church does it better, or which is more valid than another. These are not the kind of questions that interest Jesus, and they shouldn't interest us either. What this is about, is realising that the human constructs are unworthy of us: only Christ is worthy. The nets we fashion to catch the fish must not become ends in themselves, for the fish were not made for the nets, but the nets for the fish. And when caught, fish will only spoil and rot if they stay in the nets. This is about not settling for anything less than Jesus. The Orthodox have a saying, ‘We know where the Church is, but we don't necessarily know where she is not.’ I have a saying of my own, that mirrors it, sort of its flip-side, ‘We know where Jesus is, but we don't necessarily know where He is not.’

Why can both these sayings be true?
And if they are true, who or what is being excluded, and by whom?
We will never know where Jesus is walking, until we follow Him.