Our Life in Christ:
Steve: Hi. Good evening. And welcome to this edition of Our Life in Christ. I’m your host this evening, Steve Robinson, in the studio with Bill Gould. Welcome, Bill.
Bill: Hey, Steve. How are you doing?
Steve: I’m doing good.
Steve: Another long day today, and I had a great weekend. I know you guys went to St. Anthony’s Monastery as a part of the inquirers class.
Bill: Yes, it was really fun, and it was really uplifting too.
Steve: This is one of those things that is really off of the radar screen for a lot of our listeners. And I’ve had the privilege and the opportunity to spend a lot of time at both St. Anthony’s and St. Paisius’s Monastery here in Arizona. And there’s just such a wealth of spiritual life there that, as I said, is just so far removed from the experience of most of our Protestant listeners. And there’s just no way that you can go there and not realize that there is something really spiritual going on there.
Bill: Yeah, it’s a wonderful experience. And the other thing about that is our little town of Florence is actually a world destination. It’s a global destination for Orthodox Christians around the world. It’s amazing to me. But when you go inside the gates of St. Anthony’s and you see what Elder Ephraim and the monks there have been able to accomplish, it is just amazing.
Steve: It’s not of this world.
Bill: I was there ten years ago when there were like three trailers, and now it is like a little paradise, an oasis.
Steve: It’s a spiritual oasis in the middle of the desert.
Bill: It’s wonderful.
Steve: So we’d encourage our listeners, if you have the opportunity, and depending on where you live in the country, there’s monasteries dotting all over the United States, and we’d encourage you to look one up or make a call or visit a local Orthodox church, and try to make an arrangement to make a visit. I wouldn’t have said this about seven or eight years ago, but I really think that everybody needs to make a pilgrimage to a monastery sometime and just spend a few days.
Bill: Well, one of the things we learned yesterday was that the monks have, as their example, the angels of God and those that are always in the presence of God, so the good angels, right? And Fr. Monas, who had us there, he was saying that our example, for all of us who are not in the monasteries, is actually the monastics themselves. They know that we can’t participate in all the same things that they participate in, in terms of their spiritual disciplines and so on; that we should strive to do that on a personal basis. And so, we’re all called to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.
Steve: It’s the denial of self, and that takes place in any arena that we find ourselves in life. And the monks have sold all that they have. They’ve given it to the poor. And they devote their entire existence to prayer and fasting and praying for us who are in the world. So, they’re the ultimate prayer warriors.
Bill: Yes, that’s right. But he said that they still have the same problems that we have, in terms of personal foibles and egos. As a matter of fact, we have a saying from the Fathers, anonymous, that’s about two or three monks that we should read.
There were three monks crossing the wilderness, and they came to a river. A loose woman was standing there, and she asked them to carry her over the river. Two of the monks refused, and the third said, “Okay,” and carried her across the river. Miles later, the two monks who refused were still muttering about their companion and his inappropriate behavior. He said to them, “I left her at the river’s edge, but you are still carrying her.”
Steve: I love that.
Bill: That’s a great story.
Steve: And I think it points out what you said, which is that even the monastics still have the interpersonal issues. They still have the tendency to judge. They still have to live in community, and they still have to deal with people. And when you’ve devoted your life to Christ; you’ve devoted your personal existence to serving God, then, in our humanity, we have this tendency to set ourselves up as God; as we are the standard by which everybody else’s spirituality has to be judged. And if somebody does something that we wouldn’t do, then of course, they’re wrong.
Bill: Yeah they’re wrong, right?
Steve: And monastics are not exempt from that thinking.
Bill: No. As a matter of fact, I’m sure that over the years that they spend time together that they get to see all of the problems. Everyone gets to see everybody else’s problems.
Steve: And I think that’s an important thing. When monastics, in a sense sign on for this, they live in community, and they cannot leave it. And under obedience, as the Elder says, you work with Brother or Father so-and-so, and you work with him until you get along and are released from that obedience. You work with him, and you hash it out.
So, it’s not an escape from the world when you become a monastic. It’s actually a delving into the world within yourself in the context of community. And we in the world, we have the opportunity, if we don’t get along with people or like the priest or anybody, we can just pack up and go to another church. We can just go.
Bill: Yeah, or head to the bar and hang with people we like or something or just go off and do something to entertain ourselves or go to bed. But the monks don’t have that luxury. That’s a good point.
Steve: So it’s a lot tougher there than it seems on the outside. It’s an entering into the spiritual warfare, not running away from it. So, Bill, let’s continue with our topic that we kind of introduced at the end of last week’s program on infant baptism.
Bill: That’s right. We said that we were going to cover a little bit about Augustine and the concept of ancestral sin versus Augustine’s phrase, original sin, and how that has worked its way into our thinking about salvation and what actually happened in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3.
Steve: Now, this is an important thing. We were talking about this across the table here before we turned the recorder on, and this just gets really, really big really fast. And we kind of have to issue a couple of disclaimers up front. We’re dealing with a very narrow slice of Augustine. We’re dealing with a very narrow slice of theology.
If there is someone out there who has actually studied Augustine and has really delved into him and has really delved into the doctrines and dogmas as they’ve developed over the centuries, you can challenge anything. At this juncture in theology, 1600 to 1700 years removed from Augustine, we really have a situation now where we have a framework that is essentially attributed to Augustine that may or may not be exactly Augustine.
Bill: No, that’s correct.
Steve: And I think there’s a lot of thinking and there’s a lot of assumptions about sin, about the Garden, about the consequences of original sin, and the entire juridical framework that is just accepted. It’s an assumption that’s not even questioned in the Christian West, and it can be attributed to Augustine, and it can be attributed to Augustine’s interpreters or whatever. And we’re not here to be scholars on Augustine.
Bill: No, we’re not Augustinian scholars. That’s for sure.
Steve: And we’re basically here to try and give a broad overview of how people think today in general terms. We’re going to find exceptions out there. You’re going to find denominations and systematic theologians, who are going to listen to this; who are probably going to be able to find some nuance of something that we’ve said that they can challenge. But we’re not going to sit here and quote Augustine, and try to justify.
Bill: Well, it might make for a boring program. And the other thing too is that we brought up this whole idea of original sin in the context of our discussion on baptism, which is said in the context of our discussion on the Sacraments, and the claim that the Sacraments aren’t magic and this idea that perhaps some people believe that Baptism cancels original sin.
Steve: Or somehow does away with the guilt that we’ve inherited from Adam in some form or fashion, and that it’s somehow a balancing of the cosmic books.
Bill: So we thought the subject was important enough, because it does set the whole mindset or give us a framework wherein we look at salvation; wherein we look at the work of Christ. And our baptism, of course, baptizes us into Christ. We put on Christ. So what Christ accomplished in his life, death, and Resurrection is made ours through the Sacrament of Baptism. That’s what we say as the Orthodox Church.
So what do we mean by original sin, or as the Orthodox Church likes to call it, the ancestral sin? What is actually going on there? That’s our attempt tonight. We’re trying to explain that a little bit.
Steve: Well, I think it comes back to what we were talking about in the sacramental understanding of creation. We really have two things at work here, Bill, and I think this frames the entire discussion for us.
We either understand the Sacraments as participation in the life of God through the Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection of Christ; that we participate in this life through creation, through water, through wine, through bread, and through all of the creation, or we understand salvation in terms of guilt and justice and punishment, and that baptism somehow ameliorates this punishment we are due, because we have some kind of a connection to Adam’s sin and the guilt of that sin as it’s passed on somehow and some way to the entire human race.
Bill: And I think it’s important to point out, like when we talk about 1 Peter where it says that baptism now saves you. It doesn’t say that baptism now justifies you. It says that baptism saves you. And so, there’s room in there for us to talk about salvation in terms other than specifically legal terms. Although, we do have to point out that we’re not here to deny the language of the law does exist.
Although, we’d have to say that for the Orthodox Christian that is only one particular way to look at things, because Paul was in fact an Apostle who was blessed by God, given the Holy Spirit, and given his Apostolic ministry by Christ Himself. But we’d also have to say that Peter and John and Mark and James, they were all Apostles too, and they all had a take on this too. And so, the law and the language of the law does not completely explain all of this.
Steve: And not only is it just the law and the language of the law, it’s the interpretation of that language. How you approach the language of the New Testament with a certain framework and a certain mind is going to determine how you understand salvation and how you understand the role of Christ, the role of the Sacraments, and the role of the human being in the process of salvation.
So, there’s a lot involved in this, Bill. It’s not real cut and dry. It’s not something we’re going to be able to succinctly say in 25 words or less that this is going to change your entire mind about salvation. You brought up an important definition when you said. “Baptism now saves us,” because if you look at the word salvation in the New Testament, it literally means healing. It does not mean legally declared not guilty.
Now, again, we come at some language in the New Testament that seems to say that, but the predominant definition of salvation is to be healed. And this is the model; this is the overarching framework that the Christian East comes to – the New Testament, the Old Testament, the concept of sin, the concept of righteousness, the concept of our participation in the life of Christ, and what God does to the human being in process of salvation.
So Bill, we’re coming up on our first break. We’re going to take our break. When we come back, we’re going to talk a little bit about Augustine, the East, the West, death, sin, the Garden, and what in the heck really happened there.
Steve: And welcome back to this edition of Our Life in Christ. I’m your host today Steve Robison in the studio with Bill Gould. Well, Bill, when we talk about sin; when we talk about the fall; when we talk about our current state of humanity and our relationship to God, we really need to go back to Genesis.
Because how we understand how the human being was created; how we understand the situation in the Garden; and how we understand the fall really drives how we understand the work and the nature and the person of Christ, and how we understand our relationship to God, how we understand sin, and how we understand death.
Bill: Right. It’s kind of the whole enchilada all in one place. We have the first prophecy concerning the salvation of mankind through Christ in this chapter as well. So it’s a very important spot.
Steve: If we start at the beginning, it really lays the foundation for the entire building. And I think this is partly where Augustine plays into the whole Western understanding of salvation and the whole Western Christian framework for understanding the human being and the consequence of sin and what it is we’re really being saved from. So, I think we just need to do a little, mini Bible study here and take a look at Genesis 3.
Bill: Right. We’ve covered this in other programs, by the way. I don’t remember each one exactly. But we start off with the fact that God created everything, and He saw that everything was good.
Steve: And it has never ceased to be good. That’s the whole foundation for Sacramental Theology.
Bill: The fact that Christ came into the world and took human flesh is a testament.
Steve: And He became a material being.
Bill: And so, they’re in the Garden, and of course, it’s a blissful state. It’s a state of pure harmony. Man is who he is supposed to be. The woman is who she is supposed to be. The creation is there for the use of man, the trees and fruits. That’s what God says. All the trees in the Garden, you can have your pick, but there’s this one tree that you’re not supposed to eat of.
We all know this story. It’s pretty rote. But what’s important here is that the reason this is given is because God cares about creation; He cares about human beings; He cares about Adam’s state, and it also, at the same time, sets the relationship. In other words, it is in fact God who is God and man who is man. And this establishes the fact that man is to be subject to God; that man is to be in that relationship and that harmony as man and understand that this in fact a gift of God; this is because of God that he enjoys the condition he is in.
Steve: Well, I think this is the created order; that the human being and all creation has its existence in God; that God is our life as human beings. We live and breathe in God. And so when God says to Adam and Eve, “In the day that you eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you will die,” He’s really not making a threat there. He’s laying out a consequence.
Because what He’s really saying is that in the day that you separate yourself from God; in the day that you leave God, this is what is going to happen to you. The day that you become self-sufficient; the day that you become self-aware is the day that you have left your life. So this isn’t a threat as much as it is a statement of fact. When you leave God, who is your life, you enter not life. You enter death.
Bill: Well, that’s right. The creation is set in perfect balance and harmony, and man is placed there; created in the image of God. We’ll talk about that more later. But if you do something to disrupt this balance, things will change, and they’ll change drastically. Again, Adam really has no way of knowing what the word die means.
Steve: Yeah, death is not an experience that they’ve had.
Bill: But Chrysostom, in his writings, makes it very clear that man and the woman are not stupid. It’s not that they had no understanding that this was prohibited for a reason. It’s just that they didn’t know what that reason was.
So again, we have this concept of man being told this, and he now how has to deal with this according to the faculties that God, in fact, has given him. And he is intelligent. He’s named all of the animals. He knows what’s going on in the Garden. He understands what’s going on.
Steve: Yeah, he walks with God.
Bill: That’s right! There’s no reason to believe that man is actually stupid in this situation. He doesn’t know everything.
Steve: And I think that’s an important point, Bill. Man may not be stupid, but he isn’t mature. And I think this is where the Eastern Fathers and the Western kind of general mindset about the human existence in the Garden really diverges. And for years and years, I just assumed that when Adam and Eve were created, they were created absolutely, completely, and totally perfect and mature and complete in their relationship with God.
Bill: Yeah, you sort of wonder what age were they when they were created. Was it chronologically? Was it 18, or were they 33? Were they in their 40s? It’s kind of a dumb thing, but we try to imagine them, and that’s problematic, because we can’t really.
Steve: But the issue is, in what spiritual state were they created in? And this is where the Eastern Fathers talk about the fact that Adam and Eve were not created either mortal or immortal, but they were created with the capacity for both depending on how they matured in their relationship with God.
And this is ultimately the issue of free will, because if God had created them absolutely, completely, and totally ontologically perfect, then sin would not have been a temptation for them. If they were complete and absolute in their relationship with God, then there would have been no temptation to leave God.
Bill: Well, right. As you say, free will is one of the most important aspects of our character and our nature as human beings, because in fact, it is the image and likeness of God for the Orthodox Church. Now, for other Christian traditions, such as the Reformed tradition, they actually believe that God has to animate everything that man does and that man isn’t truly free.
Now, they’ll say that in light of sin, but when you think about it, it’s like, did God force them to sin, or did God make them sin? How did that actually happen? And we can’t get our heads around that.
Steve: It’s the Western tension with the concept of the sovereignty of God.
Bill: Well, that’s right. How can man be sovereign and free if God is sovereign and free at the same time?
Steve: Well, I think this is the upshot of it is that we would, in a sense, say that God is sovereign that He can create a being who can sovereignly reject His sovereignty. We are in the image of a sovereign God who has, in a sense, free will, and thus, we have free will. We have the ability to make a decision to either choose God or to not choose God.
And we can get into the philosophical concept of love and that love has to be free; if it’s forced or if it’s puppetry. We understand all of that.
Bill: Well, that’s right, and there is that tension that is worked out. In some of the different theologians across the centuries, especially in the Early Church, there are those, like Augustine, who championed the cause of God’s sovereignty at the expense of the human free will. And there are those, like Pelagius, who said that we have to exalt the free will of man to the exclusion of the grace of God. And we fall more like John Cassian who basically said that it’s actually the two working together or synergy.
Steve: This is the Eastern understanding ultimately of salvation and everything to do with the human relationship to God. The human being has to sovereignly and freely submit to the will of God in love.
Bill: Well, that’s right. We’re called semi-Pelagians sometimes, if you want to put that label on us, but the fact is, we do believe in cooperation. And so that is the essence of the relationship here in the Garden. It is a cooperative relationship where man understands his position in the Garden; understands his relationship to God; and he is to be content with that, and he has to cooperate according to reality, which is really what it is.
It’s reality. It’s recognizing the reality of the fact that if you put your hand on the stove, your hand is going to get burned. And it’s not because if you put your hand on the stove, I’m going to burn you, or I’m going to turn the stove on and make sure you burn, but because creation is set up the way it is and because God is God and He has created it and made man in the image of likeness of God; because that is reality, then this potential for sin and for the fall exists.
And again, ask us how to explain it. How do we do that? I don’t know if we have the language or the capacity to fully comprehend. Paul calls it the mystery of iniquity, and how it manifests itself is very difficult. So you really got to be careful here to act, as if we can scientifically and philosophically dissect this too deeply.
But the truth is, somehow man is innocent. He is clothed in glory. He’s not aware of any need that he has. He’s not aware of himself, necessarily. He has some intelligence. He’s able to name the animals. He’s able to function in that relation with God according to who he is and according to his nature, and that is the image and likeness of God.
So here is where the real problem runs into now. If we look at the command of God as a law, then we have one road we can travel with this. If we look at this more as that it’s the will of God being given to man in terms of a parent warning his child about the consequence of what can happen when you do something contrary to the way that reality is set up, then I think that takes us down another road. I think that’s more the road that the Orthodox Church goes down.
Steve: Well, let’s talk about those two paths, Bill, because that’s going to be the crux of the issue. So we’re going to take a quick break here, and when we come back from the break, we’re going to talk about those two paths – understanding the Garden in a juridical way or understanding it in a relational way. So when we come back from the break, more Augustine.
Steve: And welcome back to this edition of Our Life in Christ, and I’m your host today, Steve Robinson, in the studio with Bill Gould. And Bill, before the break, we were talking about the two paths that you can go down when you’re looking at the Creation and the fall.
And we’ve already laid a couple of major divergences between East and West, and that is understanding that when Adam and Eve were created in the Garden, they were created, first of all, not perfect in the sense of absolutely mature. The Eastern Fathers see Adam and Eve created perfect as we would understand an infant is perfect and yet has maturing to do.
And this is the Eastern understanding of the creation. The human being was created perfect in the image of God but still had to, in a sense, attain to or grow into the complete likeness of God. And this is where they fell down; this is what they failed to do is to stay in the will of God, to stay in relationship to God, to stay in love with God, and grow into that fullness of what they could have been as human beings in God if they had stayed there.
Now, the second thing is our understanding of the command of God; the relationship that Adam and Eve had with God and what happened when they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. So this is where we really need to focus, because, as you mentioned before the break, we either see that juridically, or we can see it, in a sense, relationally.
Bill: Right. It’s either the law of God, or it’s the will of God.
Steve: Now, if we take it as the law of God, how does that play out? I think this is the important thing.
Bill: Well then, the relationship between God and man is essentially established in a legal sense. And so then, what happens is man breaks the law of God, and God of course, if He’s posted the law, and it’s almost like in our mind says, “Okay, well God has to obey His own law,” so then God becomes bound by the “law” as well. And now, the whole of reality and the whole of life and the whole of everything that we understand about ourselves and God is cast in the sense of the law is kept, or the law is broken.
That’s helped a little bit by what we experience later on in the Old Testament, because there we do see the Law and the introduction of law and so forth. But we’ll talk about that a little bit more later. But if we see it in this regard now, then we have to look at it like the consequences of the fall are something that “God executes on man as the judge, and as the guardian of the law, He has to do certain things.”
And so, we look at the death of man and the curses that we see coming forth in the Scriptures. And we should cover those, because it seems that God has to do something, and He has to do something legal, and He has to do something to us. He has to execute justice.
Steve: And this is ultimately where Augustine goes with his interpretation of Genesis 3 is that the existential issue; the bottom line issue with the human being and God is guilt and the breaking of the law, and then death becomes the punishment. It becomes the legal consequence. It’s the sentence that God delivers to the human being for breaking the law.
Bill: Well, right, and it’s interesting in the Genesis story, when in fact they eat of the fruit; when they lose their sense of being clothed in the glory of God and see themselves as naked; when they are ashamed, they see that they are naked, and they are ashamed, and they go about the business of trying to sew the fig leaves.
And God is not coming at them yet. He’s not there. He’s not talking to them yet. They’re doing all this on their own. And then now, all of a sudden, we see that God comes walking through the Garden, and He calls to Adam, and says, “Adam, where are you?” And what do they do?
Steve: They hide from God, as if they could hide from Him.
Bill: And you can’t do that. Again, it’s not like God was standing there when they ate and said, “I caught you! You guys broke the law in my omnipotence and omnipresence. I’m doing something to you now.”
Steve: And I think this is the importance of St. John Chrysostom’s take of what happens consequently. When God approaches Adam and Eve, He approaches them, not as a judge, not as an accuser. You could read it that way, but He just really comes and says, “What happened? What’s going on? What did you do? Why are you doing this?”
They could be rhetorical questions. We could read those in an accusatory manner, but I think the way St. John sees it is it’s just a matter of fact discussion between two people who had a relationship, and now there’s something that’s gone really wrong here. And it’s trying to somehow come at this with love; come at this in this relationship and say, “What’s going on? Why are we like we are now? Why are you like you are now?” And Adam and Eve respond.
Bill: Well, right. And they’re response, if you read what they say to God, they conversation is pretty short. It’s loaded for sure, and we can read lots of things into that including blame shifting and all that stuff, and I’m not going to deny that they may be there. But it’s very matter of fact.
It’s like, “Okay, what did you do?” “Well, I took the fruit from the woman that you made,” he says, “And I ate.” And then He goes and asks Eve, “Well, what did you do?” “Well, I was beguiled by the serpent, and I ate.” They tried to hide from God, but at the same time it was very matter of fact. It wasn’t this sort of ominous, judgmental…
Steve: ...Come before the bench.
Bill: Right. It doesn’t appear to be like that at all. And of course, God doesn’t give much place to the serpent. He says the serpent is cursed. But interestingly, if we read what it says about the man and the woman, this is what God says. He doesn’t say anything about killing them. He doesn’t say anything about death.
In Genesis 3:16, it says, “To the woman He said, ‘I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, and in pain you shall bring forth children. And your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.’ “
Steve: And it doesn’t say, “And I’m going to kill you both, sooner or later.”
Bill: Now obviously, this isn’t necessarily good stuff in the sense that nobody likes pain, but it’s not this ultimate condemnation. And then He says to Adam, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten from the tree, which I commanded you saying, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you.” God didn’t curse the ground.
Steve: He didn’t say, “I’m going to make your life hell as a consequence,” but Adam made it cursed.
Bill: “Cursed is the ground because of you. In toil, you shall eat of it.” So God’s saying basically, “Okay, you’re going to have to work, but you still can eat all the days of your life.”
Then, God goes on to say in Genesis, “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you, and you shall eat the plants of the field. And by the sweat of your face, you shall eat bread until you return to the ground.” So He’s not saying, “I’m going to put you in the ground,” but death is what it is.
Steve: This is what you introduced into creation, and you were taken from the dust, and you’re going to return to the dust. What’s going to happen is exactly what God told you was going to happen if you did that. And I think this is the important part of how the Eastern Fathers have framed this entire discourse that they’re talking about. They see this ultimately as God’s loving response to the fall.
Bill: Well, let me just read Chrysostom here, because I think he says something very good. And this goes back a few verses, but it goes:
“They heard the sound of the Lord,” the text says. Remember, as He strolled in the Garden in the evening. The purpose was for you to learn the Lord’s loving kindness; that He didn’t postpone action in the slightest. Instead, once He saw what had happened and sized up the gravity of the ulcer, He, at once, set in motion the healing process, lest the ulcer spread and opened an incurable wound.
So, I mean, this is the physician.
Steve: The Great Physician.
Bill: Chrysostom uses this language of ulcer and a medical condition on purpose, because he is saying there is healing that has to take place. We have to make sure this ulcer doesn’t spread, and we begin the process of healing.
Now, that famous passage that everyone knows, and we have to go back a couple of verses for that too. It says in Verse 15, which is a very significant verse, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between her seed and you, and he shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.”
Now, we all know what that means now. And we know that that means that a Savior will come from the seed of the woman. And of course, He will bruise the head of the serpent, which really means crush the head of the serpent. And of course, He will suffer in the process of doing that by taking it on the heel.
So, we have this redemption already in view, and God is already setting about to do that. Now, it takes a couple of thousand years for it to work itself out, but that’s really what the Old Testament is all about. It’s all about bringing forth the salvation of mankind from the seed of the woman.
Steve: And I think that this is again the important thing that when we look at the entire vision of what it means to be saved in the Eastern mind is that there are two things at work there.
One is that ultimately it’s the healing of the human person, and the Early Fathers understanding God’s response in the Garden as the beginning of that healing; that everything that happens to the human being as a consequence of the fall at God’s hands are a part of the healing and the ultimate salvation of the human being, including death.
And I think that this is one of those things that we kind of have to get to the root of is what is this definition of death? And predominantly, the Fathers see that as first of all as not something that’s brought about by God, because God can not bring forth evil. God cannot do anything evil. God does not desire the death of the human being. It’s not something that He created. God is life. God cannot create death. God is not responsible for death. God is not responsible for corruption.
Bill: Well, no, but seeing now that they in fact have this capacity and have actually followed through with this capacity to disrupt Creation, to disrupt the relationship, to remove themselves from God, to violate His will, and to violate the relationship, well, now you can’t turn back from that. We have gone down the path. And so, God has to do something in order to, as Chrysostom says, “keep the ulcer from becoming an incurable wound.”
Steve: Well, I think this is the important point, because I always wonder why God placed an angel at the Tree of Life? Why does God keep Adam and Eve, now that they’re fallen, from the Tree of Life? Because, the Fathers say, that if they had eaten of the Tree of Life, they would have become immortal and yet sinners. They would have lived eternally as sinners and waxed more and more evil and lived this entire existence immortal and in sin.
So death, in a sense, becomes a blessing. It becomes the curb against us being able to live eternally in sin; eternally in corruption and futility.
Bill: Well, that’s right. We have a picture of this further on in the book of Genesis when we get to Noah and the Flood. This is what happens when men are able to live a very long time. Now, in those days, they lived hundreds of years. And we see that hundreds of years living without the Holy Spirit and the connection they had to God in the beginning leads to some pretty bad situations.
Steve: So you mean the New Age spirituality isn’t true; that the human being isn’t constantly evolving to become better and better and more and more spiritual and more and more sharing and caring and loving and giving?
Bill: Yeah, that’s right. We are not evolving into better human beings, because we live longer.
Steve: And I think that Genesis cuts to the chase against that kind of philosophy. This was brought about by the Western philosophy of Romanticism and Enlightenment in which they saw the primacy of the human being, and understood that the human being is evolving into higher intelligence and to becoming better and better and more moral and more spiritual and all these things. It’s a philosophy.
And Genesis says that philosophy is bull. So death then is the blessing, because it keeps us from becoming potentially what we could become.
Bill: Yeah, more wicked than we could imagine.
Steve: Exactly. So ultimately, God permits death, because it keeps the human being from falling further and further and further away from the likeness that we were created to become.
Bill: And another thing that the Orthodox Church teaches is that this is a sickness; an illness that comes upon the human race. But it does not and there’s never an intimation here in the Scriptures, nor is it implied that somehow the image of God in man is dead.
Steve: And I think we’ve covered that before, especially in our topics on the saints. The image of God is always intact in the human being. The image can be covered over. The image can become marred. The image can become tarnished, in the words of the Fathers, but it is never lost. The thing that’s lost is the capacity to attain to the likeness of God; for maturing into becoming the fullness of what we could have been in Christ, in God, and in communion with God.
So, this is the goal of the human being. This is what Christ has come to restore to us. He came to restore the image but to also restore the capacity and the ability to be conformed to the likeness and to grow and mature in God.
Bill: I think we’ve established, and again, we encourage our listeners to read the book of Genesis. You don’t find the word “law,” and you don’t find the word “guilt.” You find broken relationships. You find the devil, in the form of a serpent, being cursed by God. But we find the Creation and the very ground of Creation that Adam came from, he is now going to have to work, and he’s now going to have to sweat over for the rest of his life.
Think about that, especially in Arizona where you sweat everyday. But, these are because of him. This is not God cursing the ground. This is God saying the ground is cursed because of what you did.
Steve: And when we go to Romans 8, we talk about Creation being subjected to futility and corruption, and it’s awaiting the revelation of the sons of God. Well, why is that? It’s because by human beings that it was subjected to futility. God didn’t curse it, and Creation didn’t become evil. It was cursed because of the human being, and it’s through the human being and the redemption of the human being that it’s going to be released from the curse.
Bill: And this is why God comes as the Second Person of the Trinity in human form – to do this work.
Steve: That we were supposed to do in the beginning.
Bill: So, an important point – the Church teaches that we are not guilty of Adam’s sin. We are guilty of our own sins that come because we’ve inherited, not Adam’s guilt, but the death. We’ve inherited the corruption. We’ve inherited that frustrating process of not being able to sin and only getting worse and worse if we do not heed our conscience or if we do not heed the Word of God.
If we continue to move away from God, will we experience of the futility and frustration of the corruption? However, we have again the promise that God is going to save man and change him and heal him. And this is of course the focus of the Fathers as they consider Christ and as they consider His ministry and His work and the love of God.
Steve: Now Bill, when we talk about death and we talk about the fact that we’ve inherited death from Adam, we really need to go back to the New Testament and take a look at a couple of passages. We’re going to have to close with this tonight, but let’s take a look at a couple passages about death, because this is really the unanimous teaching of the Early Fathers about what the real issue is into human existence.
What the real problem with human existence is not first and foremost sin. I mean, sin is an issue, but where does sin come from? Why do we sin? What brings it about? And this is where, when I read the New Testament, I never really saw this, but it’s there.
Now, I’m going to ask a kind of trick question here. In 1 Corinthians 15:56, if I asked 100 people to quote that passage off the top of their head, and I know I’ve quoted it in sermons and in classes, and of course, when you’re quoting Scripture, if you’ve read it a lot, you just quote what you remember, and I remember this passage saying, “The sting of sin is death,” because that fits our framework; because if you sin, you die. This is the consequence of sin. The wages of sin is death.
Bill: But that’s not what it says.
Steve: It’s not? Then, maybe we better read it.
Bill: Yeah, maybe we should. What does it say?
Steve: It says, “The sting of death is sin.” Now, how does that work? The first time I really read that and looked at it, it just kind of twisted my whole brain up, because I couldn’t get it. It was like driving a car 60 miles per hour on the freeway, and then all of a sudden slamming it into reverse. All of a sudden, your whole concept of sin and death and the consequences of everything is backwards.
Well, then I go back to the New Testament, and we look in Hebrews 2. It’s talking about Christ and His work and what He did. And Hebrews 2:9 says, “Jesus, because of suffering death, was crowned with glory and honor, and that by the grace of God, He tasted death for everyone.” Now, we’re going to talk about more in later shows about what this “tasting death for everyone” is.
But, let’s take a look at a couple of verses down at Hebrews 2:14, and this is the clarification. “He partook of our flesh and blood that through death, He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is the devil, and might deliver those that through fear of death were subjected to slavery all their lives.”
Why are we subjected to slavery of sin? Why does sin have mastery over us? It’s because we fear death. Death is the root of the issue. Death is the problem.
Bill: But John Chrysostom says that if you go back and read Genesis, there is no hint or inclination that we could perceive in Adam and Eve that they in fact would have sinned apart from the fact that we see that now the devil enters in. The tempter enters in. Everything is going just fine, but we have the introduction of the serpent, and Chrysostom says that Satan brings his corruption.
And this again goes back to the mystery of iniquity. We don’t know how Satan fell. We have a vision of that in Isaiah that’s pretty famous. We don’t really know what happened there. We know that this is what Satan brought into the Garden with him, and man participated in that. As opposed to participating in God, they participated in this corruption. And so by sin, death enters the world, and now it’s perpetuated because of death.
Steve: Well, this is where we go back to Romans 5, and this scenario is spelled out by St. Paul in Romans 5:17. He says, “Through the transgression of one, death reigned through the one.” This is important, because it’s not sin that reigns in us through Adam, it’s death that reigns. Romans 5:21, “Sin reigned in death.” Death is the issue and sin holds sway over us because of death. Romans 5:12, “Death spread to all, and death reigned from Adam to Moses in spite of the fact there was no Law to break.”
Bill: Right. And so again, it’s not sin that reigned, and it’s not guilt that reigned; it’s death that reigned.
Steve: And it’s because we exist in death, because we exist in this futility that we are sinners; that this corruption that we live in; the fact that we are born to die and we exist in this fallen state is the thing that drives the human being. It has so permeated our nature that we in fact sin, because of death.
And this is the ontological issue. This is the existential issue. This is all the “ological” issues that the human being faces. It’s all wrapped up in death. And so, when we come down to the Eastern understanding of the real focus of the work of Christ, it’s really summed up in our Paschal (Easter) Hymn.
Bill: Right. “Christ is risen from the dead, Trampling down death by death, And upon those in the tombs, Bestowing life.”
Steve: Because that’s originally what we were told to have in God is life. And death is our enemy, and that’s what St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death,” not sin.
So when we look at the whole framework of salvation and the whole understanding of what it means for Christ to become incarnate; to take on our human nature; to experience death, He’s really at the very core and the very root of human existence and doing away with the very thing that brings about everything that’s wrong with the human race since Adam.
Bill: Well, that’s right. And the fact that Christ is sinless is not so much a testimony to the fact that he obeys the Law; it’s the fact that He stays connected to life and that death has no power over Him. This is how He is sinless, because He is God, and death has no power over Him. Therefore, He doesn’t sin.
Now, that’s pretty simplistic, and again, we want to be careful. But really, it’s a testimony to not just, “Oh, I’m a good person. I kept all the Law. Man, it was hard, but I kept the Law.” But it’s more like, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Death has no power over Jesus. He is the Resurrection and the Life.
Steve: There is no death in God, and God is not the source of death. So Bill, we got to wrap this up. Next week, we’re going to continue this discussion, because like you said, it just has so much to do with how we grasp the whole understanding of salvation.