Thursday, February 19, 2015

Sharers of the Divine Nature

I am not a religious syncretist.
I don’t believe in combining religions, or that all religions lead to God, and so on. But I am not afraid of experiencing religions other than my own, learning about them, even seeing the world through their eyes, either. And why should I?
I know for sure that not only do all religions not lead to God, but that none does, not even my own. I am a Christian, yes, and that is the religion I adhere to, but that is only a technicality.

Technically, I am a Christian. I confess the Orthodox faith. I am very happy with that faith, and sometimes very unhappy about the community that espouses it. But I know for sure that religion does not lead to God. Only God leads to God. He comes down from heaven to seek us, find us, forgive, heal and remake us, yes, remake us into the beings He intended us to be, capable of living in eternity as He does, and wanting that kind of life.

And what or who is this God that I say I know is the only thing or being that leads to God? Well, as a Christian I have only one answer: Jesus Christ. Yes, an historically verifiable man who lived about two thousand years ago in a small country where Asia and Africa meet, the land of Israel.
He was an Orthodox Jew with a very unorthodox lifestyle, and a teaching that went with it. He irritated the religious establishment, and was executed.

His life didn’t end there, however, and you all know what I am going to say next. He didn’t stay dead, but came alive again, remained on earth for forty days teaching His disciples the last few things He couldn’t tell them before, and then He was taken up into heaven, where ‘He sits at the right hand of the Father’ until He comes back to earth someday. If you’re a Christian, you know this story. If you’re not a Christian, you may still have heard about it. Makes sense?
No, not really.

Not until you go past the story and enter into the Reality that spawned it. And what is that Reality, or rather, Who is it? Are we back to ‘Jesus Christ’ again? Well, yes, and—for the non-Christian, for those of other ‘religions’—no. Sorry, Christian brothers, but though I claim to not be a religious syncretist, I am also not a liar. Yes, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the single historical blending of the Divine Nature with the human nature, He is the ‘God that leads to God.’ But there’s only One God, right?

Yes, and no.
The Jews and the Muslims are right. ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is One,’ and ‘There is no God but Allah, and He has no partner.’

But human experience, whether it can be theoretically acknowledged or not, confesses that the Divine Nature, though One, can only be made known to us, and can only validate, redeem, save and transform us, by somehow being a Triad.
The Divine Nature, God, is so utterly One, that His Oneness is not compromised by being Three.

This cannot be admitted by those who consider themselves monotheists, believers in One God, except for the Christians, who without claiming to understand it, say He is One and Three at the same moment. But Hindus also confess something very much like it. So did the ancient Egyptians. Even my ancient, pre-Christian ancestors, the Slavs of Baltic Europe, knew of Triglav, a three-headed god. Yes, a monstrosity if you saw his statue. The real God couldn’t possibly resemble that idol, could He?

Back to my topic. I am not a religious syncretist. I don’t believe that all religions lead to God. In fact, I don’t believe that any religions lead to God. Only God leads to God. What are the practical implications of this? Well, I can tell you first what are not the practical implications. Actually, let me ask a question. If only God leads to God, then by what right or feeling of superiority do the adherents of formally monotheistic religions subjugate and triumph over the others, calling them ‘infidels’?

Pagans they may be, in that they are ‘the nations’ as opposed to the worshippers of the biblical God. Even idol-worshippers they may be if they believe that a god resides in a stone, but is this as idolatrous as believing that God resides in personal power? Infidels they are not, because to whom are they unfaithful as they carry their offerings to strange shrines and altars? How can they worship a God they don’t know? Like humans everywhere, they worship the best they know. And ours is better?

But there is no ‘good, better and best’ when it comes to the Divine Nature, to the living God, the God ‘who saves us and bears our burdens’ (Psalm 69:19). We can speak of religions in these terms of comparison, but not of Him. And though a people or religion or race may not know the facts of the living God, they recognize His acts, what He does for them, and even to them. They have recorded this in scriptures without number, though their books may be myths, yet Truth is One.

And what or who is this Truth? Again, I am a Christian. I confess the living God in the God-man Jesus Christ, yet I know that the Divine Logos, the Word and Son of God, even wearing His humanity in eternity, because of that Divine Fact is present among us, from the Day of His disappearance right up to the very last Day, and that He hasn’t ceased walking among us, living among us, not just in us Christians, but among us human beings, ‘from every nation, race, tribe and language’ (Revelation 6:9).

That’s why I think, when I go to Bali, an island of the sea in which a form of Hinduism is practiced, that we who know the ‘God who leads to God’ have only to show these people Him who has been walking among them, who has been present in their shrines, at their altars and in their offerings, for two thousand years. We have only to show these people, and all who worship What they do not know, His face, His wounded head, His pierced hands and feet, His gashed side, from which we come.

Not crushing, not demanding, not punishing, lying or stealing, not ruling and not forcing ourselves on the nations, not doing what Caesar does, but doing what Jesus does: loving the people and sacrificing Himself for them, in us, in our witness, in our meekness, our willingness to meet all men as brothers, as sharers of the Divine Nature, ‘Who was, Who is, Who is to come,’ coming to them as beloved John came to them, ‘I am your brother and share your sufferings, your kingdom, and all you endure’ (Revelation 1:9).

Not being offended by the religions and gods of the nations, nor offending them, but showing to them Who it is that is asleep in the boat with them, Who it is that impresses on their hearts all devotion to goodness, to beauty, to light, touching that One in the willingness to share with them in their sufferings, bringing them to the knowledge of the Kingdom by what we endure for them, being ourselves men just as they are, in need of mercy, in need of affirmation, in need of Truth.

This is what I mean when I sometimes say, we are not post-Christian but post-Church, yet even this saying doesn’t meet the Truth where He stands, but falls short, as does everything I say and do. We are still dealing in truths, second-hand, still not meeting Him where He walks today and every day and everywhere, still using our religion to cover us and to hide us from Him, instead of letting Him cover us and reveal Himself in us, to us, and to the world. Still not understanding our own words, ‘God is with us.’

Again I plead, for myself the lowest of sinners, that I see Christ in my neighbor, coming to meet me where I stand, or even where I fall, coming to raise me up; that I not give offense to Him hidden or asleep in my neighbor who, like myself, seeks the good, the bright, the beautiful, the true; that I hide myself that Christ be revealed in me, that I let sleep my pride that Christ awake in him, even that I die to myself that my neighbor live. Yes, brothers, for ‘the only purpose of this instruction is that there should be love…’ (1 Timothy 1:5).

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