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Friday, November 30, 2007

The Curious Case of the Shrinking "God"

This sounds like a lost Sherlock Holmes story doesn’t it? Instead, think of this as the unhappy story of how God has shrunk in the west, certainly in the 20th century but with roots in medieval Europe. Of course, God has not actually shrunk! He is the same, today, yesterday and forever ... but people? Ah, that’s different. That’s where God has been shrunk into nothingness. His sovereign rule, which is and should be over every aspect of human life, has been progressively cut down in extent by a secularising and atheistic mindset.

The first shrinkage took place in medieval Europe. This was the time of the ascending power of an increasingly centralised and powerful papacy. Inevitably the Pope came into conflict with the rising monarchs of increasingly powerful nation and city states. We all know what happened in England when a certain monarch wanted to dispose of an inconvenient wife! Interestingly, without the support of sympathetic German princes it is unlikely that Luther would have got very far with his revolt against Rome. Of course some of the Protestant Reformers also tried to impose a Christian theocratic state on their hapless subjects but by the time we arrive at the close of 18th century there rise up revolutionary movements right across Europe seeking to banish God entirely from the political order. In America of course this had also happened but constitutionally, peacefully and not inspired by atheism. This former colony had been established by those fleeing from religious discrimination and repression in Europe. The original intention in America, therefore, was to give no favoured position to one particular religion. Only later had God come to sit rather uncomfortably on Capitol Hill, which is why the Bush presidency has been such an exceptional anachronism to many. It look longer in Britain for the Established churches of the Union to see their influence weaken on the national scene but certainly by the 1960’s this process was also virtually complete.

The first shrinking was an understandable reaction against religious tyranny but it was based on a complete misreading of the Scriptures. Anyone who think that God as no place in national and political life should read the 8th century prophets .... Amos, Hosea, Michah and Isaiah (first part). In these books the prophets assert God’s judgement against injustice and idolatry in the corridors of power but theirs was a witness of a spiritual conscience, not, as in the west, a contest between the Church and State as two irreconcilable antagonists. What we have now in Europe is a feeble witness of Christians who have surrendered to the State almost the whole of their prophetic conscience, of God’s claim to sovereignty over ALL aspects of human life. The Byzantine ideal was a symphony of Church and State as both accountable to God in their respective jurisdictions. That ideal died with the fall of Constantinople. This balance between State and Church, between leadership and prophecy has been elusive ever since.

The second shrinkage lay in the natural sciences. Again, the root of the problem is to be found in medieval Catholic Europe and the inability of some churchmen to embrace revolutionary ideas arising from explosion of science. These battles may have started in earnest with Galileo but, distressingly they have persisted into modern times. Some Christians are still fighting over Darwin and atheism has readily used such rearguard actions as evidence that Christianity remains antithetical to truth and progress. Whereas at one time most leading scientists were believers and saw their profession as revealing God’s handiwork; now such witnesses are muted and slight. Occasionally religion merits some analysis in a science journal. Usually many of the facts presented are plain wrong, the comments predictably bizarre and prejudicial and the overall feeling is that a sewerage pipe has broken somewhere nearby. Christianity is now commonly thought to have nothing to contribute in this sphere of human activity and even when the ethical dimensions of controversial research might warrant such input. God, finally, has been banished from the Cosmos.

The third and final area of shrinkage has been in personal life. Whereas once most people looked to religion as a source of ethical inspiration, guidance and self discipline it is now regarded as an intrusive threat to personal autonomy. Inevitably, if Man is the measure of all things, God must be banished as the righteous Judge of all our actions and if there is no such thing as sin, then we need social adjustment to society not salvation from God. This last change is the most troubling of all. If the State is now the arbiter of all that is good and true then human freedom has no safe resort, no court of appeal. Personal autonomy then becomes a sham as humans acquiesce to a new slavery; that of their own passions stalking the corridors of power.

So, with God denied a place in both society and personal life where is there left for him to go? It is as if he has disappeared in the centre of a black hole. Nothing visible in human life of Him remains and people soon forget when they be distracted by the allurements and pleasures of this world. But take care, God will not be denied. He can be no more shrunk than the ocean drained by an egg cup. As human life without God collapses there will only be God left, not this time as a Saviour but as an implacable Judge. The day is not far off when this will come upon us and all will be laid waste. People will cry out but their will only be silence in return. Then Christ will come again. Happy will they be who bear not the mark of the beast but who welcome their Lord.

“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:6-11)

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Finding Our Way Home

Our bodies are seldom in a uniform state of health, particularly as we mature. Our minds may be in good shape but perhaps that waist line is unruly. Our digestion may be good but perhaps there is a little arthritis to contend with. It is the same with any Church community. It will have its healthy strengths and its relatively infirm weaknesses.

This variable diagnosis extends all the way through to our personal lives and our walk with God. We may be reasonably informed about our faith but how is it with our prayer life? We may be faithfully present at the services but do we find it more difficult to relate our faith to our daily lives? In the same way that we need the specialist advice of a good doctor for our physical and mental health we need the counsel of an experienced spiritual father or mother to keep us on an even keel as far as our spiritual lives are concerned.

Such spiritual guides are not easy to come by. In addition to his or her spiritual maturity such a person must have some natural and personal empathy with us as persons. As Orthodox Christians, if we don’t have a spiritual father or mother, we really need to pray and work hard toward acquiring one. This person probably will not be our parish priest, (the roles can be too easily confused), but our priest may be able to help by recommending someone.

Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) has written very powerfully on this matter.

"The Spiritual Father in Orthodox Christianity"

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