Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The only lovers of mankind

I recently heard a fellow Orthodox Christian confidently claim that the God that the Jews and the Muslims believe in is not the same God that we believe in. The reason supplied was that since the Jews and Muslims do not accept Jesus of Nazareth as Messiah but are waiting for another, that proves their God and ours is not the same Being. That came from a ‘cradle Orthodox’, and it was supplemented by the assertions of another, a new convert to the faith, who chimed in that neither is the God of the Mormons the same as our God, because though they use Trinitarian terms, they mean something entirely different.

I suppose there are grounds for saying such things. I suppose there is a frame of reference where such ideas are true, but these sayings are categorical. They mean precisely nothing outside such special frames of reference. Whatever Jews, Muslims, Mormons and anyone else believes about God, even whatever we Orthodox believe, it is all still only human constructs. Beliefs about God do not save, nor do they condemn, contrary to what the zealots of every creed attest. There is One God, One Divine Nature, self-existing, eternal, uncontainable by our temples or our thoughts, but not by the womb of a virgin Mother.

This is what it all boils down to, what Jesus Himself asks His disciples, ‘Who do men say that I am?’ He listens patiently to our answers about men ‘in general’ and then asks again, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ The ball is now in our court. It is we who are now probed by the Lord of all, who knows all, everything about us, our needs before we ask, our doubts before we confess, our sins and sicknesses that we hide from each other so well. After He receives our answer, which Peter speaks in our name for the first time, He confirms and blesses the Spirit in us who teaches us the truth. He doesn’t condemn the others.

It is not Christ, but we ourselves, who condemn those who do not believe as we do, to any number of indescribable punishments. He only asks, ‘Do you believe this?’ when He announces, not argues, the fact of His being ‘One with the Holy Trinity’ and His specific persona as ‘the Resurrection.’ He asks, and we answer, and then He does what only God can do, revivify a man dead and entombed for four days, or a nation dead and imprisoned in darkness for four thousand years. All who do not know Him as ‘the Christ’ in this life are not condemned unless they reject and resist Him when He comes to them in Hades. Yes, even us!

For holy apostle Paul writes, ‘The point of all our toiling and battling is that we have put our trust in the living God, and He is the Savior of the whole human race, but particularly of all believers’ (1 Timothy 4:10). This has always intrigued me ever since I first read it. Considered in combination with the verse, ‘For God so loved the world,’ it reminds me that when Christ descends into Hades, He empties it. Who wouldn’t go with the living God when He finds you where you are, even in hell, and bids you, ‘Come forth!’ as He bids Lazarus? This is the God of us Orthodox ‘believers’ and also ‘the Savior of the whole human race.’

What do we then make of the God of others who do not believe as we do? Can we really say that their God and our God are two different beings? God forbid! It is exactly this kind of ignorance, this kind of barbaric tribalism, that is preventing the world from accepting Jesus Christ, and preventing us from being what Christ Himself calls us, ‘the Light of the world.’ There is only One God, and only One Church, He the Bridegroom, we the Bride, He the Head, we the Body. The Church is a pan-human reality. Everyone was born into it, but all must be instructed, must be told, even us. Only those who resist Him, are lost.

Brethren. let us be lovers of mankind, just as He is, yes, the only lovers of mankind.

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