The Christian paradigm, the Christian claim.
by Fr. Jakob Palm
To be or not to be? We, just like the English play writer, have asked the question before. Because it is the question. Christianity claims to have the answer, or rather be the answer. Christianity proclaims that there indeed is an existence. It also proclaims, and it is this very claim that is exclusive, that without Christ, there is neither true freedom, being or meaning/purpose. Without Christ there is no reality. How can Christianity make such a claim? And if the claim of Christianity is true then each one of us must answer the question, “will we be Christian?”
While there are many ways to approach and discuss this question.1, the answer to them can, only end up in one place. However, there are several ways to formulate this answer for Truth is both complex and simple and it is of some benefit to begin with the method that the Hellenistic world presented to us, the method of logical reasoning in a cataphatic system. So let us begin by observing the world and record the observation. Lets look at the different parts of the whole. And then later, try to interpret what these observations mean.
We recognize by way of intrinsic moral values and in the experience of pain that the world is broken. People of the world are broken on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level. By casual observation and personal experience this is undeniable. Brokenness is a fact as real as any other. And everyone is more or less involved. The brokenness is ontological, a part of our nature (but it is not our true nature). Real peace, joy and happiness eludes people.
Christianity proclaims that everyone is broken except One.- the Christ, the “anointed one”. That He alone is whole. He is peace manifested in the mystery of the two natures that He brings together in His Person. So the logical, cataphatic, argument is that if everyone is broken except One, it is only rational to somehow become a part of that One Person who is whole, since we know by observation that everybody is seeking wholeness, meaning and peace? Would it not be rational to be as close to the source of peace as possible? It seems logical that people would rather be a part of a successful company than imitating it’s concept, hijacking the idea, so to speak. Why would one try to invent the wheel again? There is only one reason to reinvent the wheel and that reason is pride – the evasion of God as Lord of the universe and of our lives. So Christianity makes the claim that there is a way to wholeness, that we can truly participate in.
Imitation does not work. Participation does. Teachers know this. There needs to be both a physical and a spiritual connection between two entities to make them one. Marriage is the ideal example. In reality, if one is able to see behind the veil that tends to darken our eyes, the physical and the spiritual constitute the one true reality. It is only in seeing that the two (spiritual, physical) belongs together that we start to experience the true reality of Life. And mere imitation of this “rebirth” by means of incorporating the physical alone (deeds) will not heal our wound. The divine origin of humanity has always caused her to recognize the brokenness, almost seeming inherent within. We are intelligent observers of the physical side, or manifestation, of reality and we easily see that something is wrong. Even animals know when they hurt. Since the fall, humanity has attempted to repair this “brokenness” by way of deeds, by way of law. The law is the revealed “tool” for humanity to diagnose it’s fallen condition, it’s “brokenness”. It was never intended to do more than that yet we have formulated religious structures, edifying systems and morally uplifting deeds. Science also is born out of this ability of man to name, label and structure things. The existential incompleteness in man, revealed by way of morality and law urges man to find an answer to the emptiness within by forever expanding the search into external (space) and internal (soul) reality. But morality, residing in man, will not allow for the discovery of peace until he realizes that it is not he that can solve the “wrongness” by way of action. It is not man who possesses the solution. Sinful pride in man makes him believe that he can walk over the bridge of peace to wholeness in his own strength. That somehow he, by way of physical action can perform his way back to the union of the physical and spiritual. Pelagianism, holiness attained by self effort, still roams the streets of contemporary religious thought, although often unconsciously. But how can the two entities, physical and spiritual, become one if only one side, the physical, is incorporated in our plan of healing? If the problem is ontological then we need an ontological relationship with the answer.
The divine remnant in us, morality, is the subjective reminder from the Objective reality. Our morality, or rather our notion of having a morality, is the personal experience of our divine origin. It is morality that makes us remember that we are no longer in our former state of heavenly bliss and peace. The religions of the world have tried to make sense of this notion of incompleteness within our subjective experience. This, yearning towards wholeness or morality makes us aware of our mortality. We have invented many antidotes – naturalism, atheism, religiosity, sports, work, addictions of various sorts but these all come up short of true healing. Why, because they can only imitate the “solution” they cannot truly be the solution as they are invented by man in the context of corruption.2And if they cannot be the solution then they are rather part of the problem. Every religion, except one (and that religion is really a Person) tries to economize the physical and the spiritual into a harmony by way using solely the physical “side” of reality. Becuase without that Person only the physical is avaliable to use.
The law, the right way of conduct, can never in itself bring salvation or wholeness because that was never its purpose. The law’s purpose is to shine light on the problem. To display the brokenness by reminding our heart what perfection looked like before the fall. To draw our attention to the wound. The law reveals reality as it now is, both by describing the world in scientific formula and by nagging our conscience. The law was put forth into the world so that the world would realize that is in dire straits and in need of help. And it has served this purpose well. Hardly anyone would claim that the world is at peace or whole.
What makes Christianity exclusive is that it invites broken people, weak people (that is everyone), to be a part of the solution. Instead of imitating the road to peace you actually become a part of the road of peace itself. Instead of panicking in pain from the wound, seeking a quick relief by way of painkillers (legalism) or denying reality (atheism, secularism) we are invited to use the pain, revealed by the law, to get to know the eternal solution to our problem. No other religion offers this, they present ways and efforts to imitate a “solution” – deeds or they offer an escape from reality. The more contemporary (yet ancient) philosophical thoughts presents ways to hide and run away from healing. Only in Christianity an offer is made to become a part of a body. Only in Christianity a connection is made with both sides of reality, with reality as a whole.3 The reasons behind the great reluctance to partake of salvation,rather than imitating it, I believe, lies in the world’s false belief that it is no longer salvageable. After trying with deeds, without success, we have embraced the lie that we cannot be saved. That we are not loveable or desirable. That there is no such thing as true Grace. We believe that Paradise is indeed lost and that the City of God is just a dream to keep us in control. Given that false belief we think that now it is every man for himself. Save yourself by works or escape reality, seems to be the two extremes that humanity uses to find a subsidy for peace.
Our doubt in the world to be able to find peace and our suspicion of a reality that does not seem real at all due to our stained vision, has led us to either flee or invent our own structure of righteousness. Rules and routines (word, Physical, Structure , Logos) as well as emotions and stories (Wisdom, Spiritual, Content, Sophia) are easy to invent because those “two sides” are found in everything. The sides are real, but we often fail to adhere to both. It is comfortable to either have a structure to follow or “nice” to give in to emotion only. But it is hard, a baptism of fire, to have both “sides” present. In fact we can’t do it. We must cling to someone Who is able to accomplish what we cannot. Given our ability to deny tension mystery and paradox a fair chance to bring peace into our life, we usually walk right into the thick of extremes. We tend to choose either structure or content. In our experience of pain and suffering, regulated by the Law, we look towards the quickest, easiest way out. The two ways out void of any real work and tension. One way does not challenge our so preciously formulated philosophy of life, our structure or rather our religion. The other way is to escape and hide.Pride and ignorance, those two ancient sins represented in the genders in the garden of Eden still are present in legalism and secularism.
So we misuse our ability to exercise choice. Choice, the reminder of what it was like to have liberty. This ancient remnant of the Objective left in His Subjects. We use this (in) ability of choice to flee pain and suffering rather than to face it. We make time the most determining factor for choices that concerns life and death. How ludicrous that is in a reality that has eternity as its playground. We long for non-suffering, which we see as peace and wholeness, so much that we are prepared to go to the extremes to find it. But in the extreme, away from the Centre, away from balance, we only increase our pain. Following our desire for wholeness (and this desire is also one of the prime marks of what it is to be human) we try every alternative, we try every action imaginable to satisfy this desire. We want more. We find fictive solace in addiction. We numb ourselves towards reality. We view truth with jadedness. We try to do things to appease our soul rather than facing the reality of who we truly are. This panicky reaction from ignorant and prideful man has manifested itself in a world that is segregated. Man has been hiding in the garden, and run so far from the tree of life that the world is torn apart, dualism presents its ugly face(s). The very language I use in this essay is a manifestation of this “torn – apart” circumstance. When I reference two sides, the physical and spiritual of what really is one reality I display with my language just how ingrained the segregation is. We are the ones tearing the One Symbol apart, sacrificing4 Him on the cross. Instead of using the tree for life we have torn it down and made a tool for death out of it. By pushing extremes we have torn apart the “Structure”of reality (physical) from the “Content” of reality (spiritual).
When we take out content from structure we have created what we today call “Nominalism”, the denial of any true Spirit, Presence, meaning or emotion in the physical. When we deny the framework of structure and only give ourselves to content, we have created what we have entered into the old heresy of Gnosticism (“I dont need any structure of religion because God told me!”) We are not running away per see but we pridefully, in the face of our Father, build our own structure. Thus re-constructing the church into either nominalism or secularism and by doing this the church is no longer the Church, the true body of Christ.
We have created an illusion that says that the “world” is separate from heaven. We have relocated heaven into a place “far away in the future”. Leaving the earth with little hope of spiritual/divine presence. We have segregated the divine from the human with the secular notion that everything real must be measurable and defined by scientific law, to be real. Hence the separation of science and theology followed. We have separated the physical from the spiritual hence people behave more and more like animals making the body and its pleasure the prime idol of today and also the excuse to deny life to come forth. Life is compartmentalized due to the separation of cataphatic revelation from apophatic mystery so now we live a horizontal or vertical life, with time or space as measure instead of a life that is present in the eternal moment, hence the Sacraments have been abused almost to the point of non-recognition. We managed to separate time from eternity with our addiction of always living in the past or in the future but never in the now where they both meet. We have separated our heart (as in soul) from our body so that we don’t run the risk of facing the truth about ourselves both in relations (content) and in regulations (structure). We have separated the wisdom of the east (Tradition) from the word (Scriptures) of the west in an attempt to find salvation in one of those paths but we have been found wanting because these “two” only manifest Truth when they stay together. We have separated the evangelical part of orthodoxy by killing the spirit with politics, legalism, false dogma and pride. By our trust that we ourselves, can bring all these things together again, if we only do the right thing. Wrong! Again! The separation is so fundamental on a ontological level that we, after the fall, only have our bodies, works, the physical, left to work with. And the multitude of religions and philosophies is a significant sign of this. We, bringing creation with us, fell from holiness. The same pride that made us fall is still telling us that we can fix the problem we caused. The fall is not only a past event it is a current one as well. And there is only One that can catch us and stop the fall. The fallen, dead, physical body cannot rise up from its fall without filling its lungs with the air of the Spirit.
So what should we do? This is the wrong question. The proper question out of a soteriological vantage point is; Who to be? Our value or purpose for existence as humans, are not determined by our “stories” or our actions. Our value as humans is determined by whom we are. Who are we? We are created in His image. We are heirs to the Kingdom. We are the crown of creation and the joy of our Father. That is who we are. If we are all that, would not the Father seek us out, even if we have separated ourselves from Him in the worst, most obscene kind of way? Would not the loving Father reach out His hands to His child even though the child spat in His face? Muslims do not believe that He would.5 Jews do not believe that He has done it yet. Pantheists are claiming that they do not have a Father (possibly a “mother earth”), Gnostics says that the Father is to far gone for us to be able to “reach” and Atheists have stopped to ask the question; Is there a parental institution at all? (And we wonder why the breakdown of family is so rampant…)
But Christianity claims that “Yes”, the Father does reach out His “hands” of Logic (Logos, the Word, Western approach) and Wisdom (Sophia, the Spirit, Eastern approach) even if we spat in His face. Because our Father is full of grace and love for His children He has never abandoned His creation. We are the work of His hands, not our hands. Salvation cannot be “attained by works” because we are the work. Hence nothing we can do or say can change that. He loves us for what we are, not for what we think that we should be.
Christianity claims that the only way to the Father (to wholeness/salvation) is through Christ. This claim has caused many arguments and wars by people who limit Christ to fit their own religion or structure. “If you are a true believer in Christ, you behave like this, you follow this liturgy” or “if you want to be saved you have to be born again and being born again looks like this…”. Now, these actions are not necessarily bad, but we would be wise in remembering that Christ is so much greater than our actions and attitudes towards or against Him. He fills all things. His power is not dependent on us believing or not believing in Him. Our very existence is the evidence of His transcendent power. He sustains our life with His will. He spoke and the earth was made. And because we are a part of His creation, it is only He that can truly heal the things that we have broken in our life, for He knows us in and out. He can heal our essence because He is the author of essence. But never against our will. In the Divine gift of freedom, which each of us possess, we have the capacity to refuse His love for us.
So let us set aside all the doing until we have discovered who we are. Let the works of our hands flow as natural consequence of us discovering that we are a part of Christ very body. Let Church be a mission to the world. Let us see clearly. Let us pause from creating smart theological systems explaining how salvation works until we in faith believe that we are a part of that very salvation. Let mind and heart be together. Let Logos and Sophia marry. Let Structure and content travel together. Because all systems tend to sway from one side to the other if they are not anchored in the One Who revealed logic (Logos). Wisdom (Sophia) without the Logos creates segregation, forgets the holistic nature of reality, and separates itself from reality. Theological systems without a true and personal (not private) connection to the Christ eventually forget their origin, that Truth is a Person, not a system. That the Christian path is not a philosophy of love but a love affair. Christianity is not observing a body but an entering into a living body and moving on a journey.
Christ is the head of that body. Therefore, the name “Christians”. The “anointed ones”. It is an exclusive label even as we, persons, are exclusive. We are unique! Really, the whole world has been anointed by the Chrism (Christ) from above. The world has been salvaged, is being saved in this very moment. When we fall, we are falling into His arms. Christ has overcome the deepest depths of the fall. “Nothing can separate us from the love of God through Christ Jesus our Lord”6 Christ has pulled together all the separated pieces into Himself and pruned them into a whole. He is the chief symbol (proper) of salvation, He throws together (symbol, sum (together) + ballos (throw), He unites all that has been pulled apart. He is the One being pulled apart on the cross to heal segregated reality and segregated people because in the mystery of the “morning before the morning” He can not be pulled apart. He makes the invisible, visible again. He binds content and structure together in His Person. He, the Objective, becomes the subject. All out of His great love for us. And He asks: “Would you allow Me to love you, son? Would you stop your hiding in the garden? Would you allow me to show you what Wisdom is? Would you come and be a part of My Kingdom?”
Christianity makes the claim of having the Truth because that is its very nature. Truth is Three Persons in One, eternal, good relationship as reveled to us through Christ.
Is it not time that the “two sides” (Eastern Catholic, Orthodox, Structure, Liturgy – Western Protestant Evangelical, Content, Emotion) of Christianity fell down in humbleness towards Christ, and realized that it is only in this position of humbleness that Christ the Head, will do His work through the body?
This essay is the first in a series of twelve that will be published during the church year 2012 – 2013 with the pace of one per month. The author, Fr. Jakob Palm was born in Sweden but now lives and works his vocation out as a parish priest in the Evangelical Orthodox Church in Saskatoon, Canada. He is 31 years old and took his theological degree at St Elias School of Orthodox Theology. The essays have been edited, read and approved by the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Orthodox Church, Bp. Jerold Gliege. They reflect the theology that is present within the Evangelical Orthodox Church. The essays, as well as the Evangelical Orthodox Church, wishes to stimulate a deeper communication within the members of the body of Christ.
1 Exegesis, Hermeneutics, Language studies, Divine revelation, Method of Prayer, Science
2 Rom 3:9 – 26
3 Only in Christianity the religiosity of the East and the paganism of the West is reconciled or put in proper balance. It is not mere chance that Christ became incarnated at the geographical meeting point of these two.
4 The etymology concerning the word “sacrifice” is still full with “tension” (prophetically so..) One school of thought claims that the word comes from the word “secare” which means “to cut” or “separate”. The other school of thought claims that the word comes from the root sacr-, sacer (sacred) + facere which means to do, to make complete, whole. Maybe the word sacrifice, more then we realize, contains the mystery of the cross. Christ being cut apart, separated, to make the world whole.
5 Those who believed and did good works, We shall blot out their transgressions and shall reward them according to the best of that which they used to do.” (Qur’an 29:7)
“And He (God) answers those who believe and do good works, and gives them more out of His Grace.” (Qur’an, 42:26),
-which of course is not grace at all if its dependent on actions.
6 Romans 8