Sunday, November 15, 2015

A man-loving God

Ο Μόνος Φιλάνθρωπος, o Mónos Philánthropos, the only lover of mankind, the only loving God. However you translate His name, it comes out the same, giving the lie to all who rely on His fierce anger to incinerate the unbeliever and the unrepentant. Aside from the ample hints throughout the scriptures that there will be a reward for the righteous and punishment for the wicked, we have no details, except what our imaginations supply, clouds and songs of praise and light for the one, fiery lake and demons and darkness for the other. Our imaginations supply us with these images of eternal blessedness and eternal damnation whether we are Christians or not, whether we believe in the Bible or not: these images are the common domain of all humanity. That's what makes them suspect. We cannot, or we should not, second guess God, especially those of us who believe a God who becomes Man and tells us, 'If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.'

I am no universal salvationist, but stay close as I can to the words of holy and divine scripture, yet I do not live in a religious world where God is roasting the unrepentant forever on the points of pitch forks. I don't know what punishments await the wicked or what joys are in store for the righteous, except what He reveals to me about myself here and now, nor who the wicked or the righteous be: I hope I will be numbered among the righteous, though I cannot see how that can possibly be, except only if the righteousness of Christ is covering me. Yet, I still believe in God who is Ο Μόνος Φιλάνθρωπος, o Mónos Philánthropos, the only lover of mankind, the only loving God. If it weren't plain enough in scripture, we have the testimony of the Church, which from the very beginnings has believed in this man-befriending God. How can anyone come away from reading the gospels or the epistles of the New Covenant without coming to this startling conclusion: God is love? Hear what an early father, a desert father, says,

The Lord, indeed, is the Lover of mankind so full of tender compassion whenever we turn completely toward Him and are freed from all things contrary. Even though we, in our supreme ignorance, childishness, and tendency toward evil, turn away from true life and place many impediments along our own path because we really do not like to repent, nevertheless, He has great mercy on us. He patiently waits for us until we will be converted and return to Him and be enlightened in our inner selves that our faces may not be ashamed in the Day of Judgment.

If that seems difficult and troublesome to us because practicing virtue is hard, but, more so, because of the insidious suggesting of the adversary, still He is very full of compassion, long-suffering and patient as He waits for our conversion. And when we do sin, He is ready to lift us up for He desires our repentance. And when we fall, He is not ashamed to take us back, as the Prophet says, “When men fall, do they not rise again? Or if one turns away, does he not return?” (Jeremiah 8:4) We only have to have a sincere heart and live in vigilance and be converted immediately after seeking His help and He Himself is most ready to save us. For He looks for our ardent will, as best we can, to turn toward Him. When we show good faith and promptness glowing from our desiring, then He works in us a true conversion.
Abba Makarios, 4th century

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