Mystic Mondays – The Centrality of Faith (St. Irenaeus of Lyons)

“Mystic Mondays” is a series done here at the Christian Watershed in the hopes of keeping us grounded. While we support the rational defense of the faith, we must ultimately concede that our faith is beyond reason; Christianity contains reason, but reason doesn’t contain Christianity. This is because our foundation is not in a system, but in a Person. 

From On Apostolic Preaching:

St. Irenaeus of Lyons

“Therefore, lest we suffer any such thing, we must keep the rule of faith unswervingly, and perform the commandments of God, believing in God and fearing Him, for He is Lord, and loving Him, for He is Father. Action, then, comes by faith, as ‘if you do not believe,’ Isaias says, ‘you will not understand’; and truth brings about faith, for faith is established upon things truly real, that we may believe what really is, as it is, and believing what really is, as it is, we may always keep our conviction of it firm. Since, then, the conserver of our salvation is faith, it is necessary to take great care of it, that we may have a true comprehension of what is.”

It seems that one of the central debates for Christians today is whether we should believe like Christians or live like Christians. One side is adamant that our beliefs are what save us while the other side argues that our works save us, while beliefs don’t really matter (or at least don’t hold that much importance).

For early Christians the distinction between believing and actions simply didn’t exist. To have “faith” meant that we believed what had been handed down to us and then lived according to those beliefs. As Irenaeus elucidates, action comes from faith and faith is established on things that are real. Our faith is in God, who is real, so then we should act on this belief.

We shouldn’t have a dichotomy between how we live and what we believe. Turning to the highly respected 20th century theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, we read,

“And when we exalt orthopraxy, right action, which is demanded clearly enough by Jesus himself…do we have to lose all sense of what the New Testament equally emphatically calls right belief, orthodoxy?” (Truth is Symphonic: Aspects of Christian Pluralism, 13)

It certainly seems like von Balthasar is simply echoing the sentiments of Irenaeus, both of whom seem to point back to St. James (the Less or the Great, depending on who you believe), who wrote,

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

It would appear that even James faced this dichotomy where people were more concerned about works or about belief. To James, there is no difference. If you believe then it will show in your works, and your works will aid in your belief. Thus, faith is both a belief based upon reality, or Ultimate Reality, but because this is the case, faith requires us to act.

One can think of God’s Word, who is Truth (John 14:6) coming down and dying for His creation. Certainly He believed that He loved us, certainly Christ has beliefs about Himself. But He acted on those beliefs. The same God who baffles the greatest theologians and makes them less than children in knowledge came down to lift up the broken of this world so they might not only hear about His love, but experience His love. God cannot be divided, so while He is Truth, He is also action; we cannot merely believe in Him as a purely intellectual object to be studied, because when we gain true knowledge of Him we are moved to action.

This is part of the mysticism of Christianity, that it is a belief, it has propositional truths, it is rational, but it extends beyond these things. It has good actions, it is concerned with the poor, it serves the widows and orphans, but all of these actions are based upon its beliefs. Faith, true faith, is a faith based on reality and one that changes the whole of man.


Rethinking the Problem of Evil: A Unified Theodicy (Part 10) – Conclusion

A Unified Theodicy answers the logical problem of evil, evidential problem of evil, and existential problem of evil with one word: Love. Humans were created to love God and to love each other, but when we turned away from our purpose (which is sin) we introduced the world to evil. The irony, however, is that evil was allowed because God loved us.

He loved us enough to let us experience His love and return His love, which through our free will. But with free will inevitably comes a species that will choose sin, that will allow evil. But were God to prevent our free will because of His foreknowledge of what would occur then evil would have triumphed over God’s plans. Thus, God created us, refusing to let evil triumph over His love.

He loves us enough to allow specific acts of evil so that we might help display His love to those who suffer from evil. While some evils can be and are gratuitous, they only become so when we fail to respond to them with God’s love.

He loves us enough that when we suffer specific acts of evil, He is there to comfort us even if no rational explanation exists for why the evil occurred. What is more is that He experienced evil Himself on a cross, all on our behalf.

Certainly more can be added to this theory and other parts challenged. The specifics do leave many questions. Yet, I would contend that any future theodicies must take a whole view of the world into order and more importantly they must include the cross. In a theodicy we attempt to offer up an answer for the problem of evil, but we offer no solution. Only God has offered a solution to the problem of evil, something beyond an answer. For it is on the cross that gratuitous, unmerited, freely given, infinite, perfect love is given as God’s solution to evil.

Homosexuality, Bullying, and Christ

When the Pharisees threw the woman at the feet of Jesus they did so in order to entrap Him. Would He let the prostitute go – thus violating the law of Moses – or would He show no mercy and enact the law – showing Him to be uncompassionate? Rather, He responded with the ever-famous phrase, “He who is without sin cast the first stone.” All walked away ashamed because they too realized that they sinned as well.

This passage keeps playing over and over in my mind as I think of the current debates over homosexuality. Even more so, I keep pondering the young people who have taken their lives because of their effeminate actions being brutally mocked or having their homosexual encounters publicized without their knowledge or consent. For young people such as this they feel so ostracized from society, so bullied and beat down, the only viable option is to take their own lives.

To make matters worse there are many self-proclaimed Christians who support such bullying. While they acknowledge all sexual sins are wrong, somehow homosexuality is just ‘different’ and ‘worse’ than other sexual sins. If a man looks at pornography that’s just different than being a homosexual; there’s no reason to mock a man for looking at porn, but if he’s with another guy then maybe our mockery will make them ashamed of their sin.

Others are much more subtle in their silent support for the brutalization of homosexuals, where they argue that such suicides aren’t the result of bullying, but a sudden realization that one’s actions are outside of the norm. Rather than learning to cope with such difference or turn to Christ, they take their own lives. Thus, the bullying isn’t the problem and only receives a hand-slap; the real problem and cause for the suicide is the homosexuality.

As a response to this, many pro-homosexual Christians claim that such vitriol is fostered by the belief that homosexuality is a sin. The mere mention or belief that homosexuality is a sin only entrenches hetero-normativity (the believe that heterosexuality is normal and all other practices are abnormal and therefore wrong) and therefore perpetuates bullies. If a Christian says, “Homosexuality is a sin, but so is watching porn, and while I don’t struggle with homosexuality I do struggle with porn, so I see myself as equal to the act of homosexuality,” according to the pro-homosexual crowd such a Christian is only allowing the bullying to continue. Continue reading

Jesus Loves the Tax Collectors

Think of the person you see as being a spiritual guru, someone you look to when seeking spiritual advice on Christianity. Now imagine that you’ve invite that person to your home for dinner, but instead of choosing to dine with you he or she instead chooses to dine with Bernie Madoff. In fact, the more you learn about this person, the more you learn that he or she is often around people like Bernie Madoff. You notice a repertoire boasting of CEO’s, politicians, and people who have cheated their way into riches. What do you think of that person?

The feeling you get might be akin to the feeling people had about Jesus. Even now we conveniently ignore the fact that Jesus hung around tax collectors. Of course, this term is far more palatable to us today because “tax collector” doesn’t have the same ring that it used to. To get a sense of what a “tax collector” was back then, we need look no further than Wall Street. The operators of Enron, the various companies that gouge prices, the people buying multi-million dollar yachts – those are the tax collectors.

Luke 19 seems a bit starker when read in its proper historical context. Zacchaeus was a rich man and his riches were gained by cheating people out of their money. While being a tax collector would bring in quite a bit of money to begin with, the position left him open to cheat people, and he took advantage of that.

Imagine Jesus sitting at the table with the head of a union, with the CEO of a company that just laid off 300 people, but the CEO never took a pay cut, or with two men involved in price gouging. Not only that, but He chose to go have dinner with them than to go have dinner with you.

It is important to remember that Christ reached out to the tax collectors as well as the prostitutes and the poor. For one, this eradicates both liberation theology and liberation theology light; the idea that Christ came to earth for the fiscally oppressed must face up to the facts that Jesus befriended tax collectors, who were the furthest thing from fiscally oppressed. They were spiritually oppressed, but it was by the Pharisees who believed that tax collectors were unspiritual due to the methods in which they gained their money (think of that next time you label someone a Pharisee).

The other reason it’s important to remember Jesus’ ministry to the tax collectors is so that we understand that everyone needs Christ. All are worthy of our service (though in different ways) and our love. It doesn’t matter if it is the poorest beggar on the streets of Calcutta or the richest man in the United States – both are oppressed by sin and both need the liberator of Jesus Christ.

What we should also take away from Luke 19 is that after meeting Christ, Zacchaeus is changed. He offers to give some of his riches to the poor and to pay back all of his income that he has made through cheating people. This is another important thing to remember; all are welcome at the foot of the cross, but Christ doesn’t leave us there. Christ will change us. We come to Christ in whatever condition we are in, but He will move us and cause us to change. The prostitute ceases to be the prostitute, the tax collector ceases to be the tax collector, the liar ceases to lie, and the list goes on. When sinners encounter the real person of Jesus Christ they come to repentance.

Next time you feel you need to judge the rich for being rich, or quote [out of context] the passage saying it’s difficult for a rich man to enter Heaven, keep in mind that just as Jesus showed love to the prostitutes, He also showed love to the tax collectors. He showed love to the Donald Trumps and the Bernie Madoffs of His time. Just as He showed love to the rich, so too should we.


A Generation Lost in Itself

There are many things in pop-culture that often leave me confused, but I tend to ignore it. After all, I’m not someone who really keeps up with those aspects of American culture. I don’t generally read celebrity gossip, who’s dating or who’s breaking up, what a musicians favorite food it, and so on. When I see someone has his own reality show I tend to think, “Well that person must be famous for something.” So when I saw the Kardashians had a reality show, I figured that one of the daughters or someone did something that displayed talent. Turns out, the Kardashians are simply famous for being famous; they’ve done nothing, except work as an OJ Simpson defense lawyer. The most famous one, Kim, is famous for a sex tape and for being friends with someone who is famous (who was likewise famous for being friends with people who were famous). In other words, the Kardashians didn’t save a Haitian village, raise money to help the poor, or drop a few coins in the Salvation Army pot around Christmas time in order to garnish this fame; they simply existed.

There’s nothing wrong with being famous. Some people come into fame by accident and not searching for it. But often we find people seeking fame. They want to be famous and not always for the wealth that comes with it or invites to exclusive parties. They want to be famous because it means they’ll be known. To be famous plays to the fountain of all human sin, it plays to our pride. But like any sin, while it might bring pleasure in the moment, such pleasure is temporary and will soon subside and fade away.

For instance, ask anyone under the age of 15 about Macaulay Culkin or Kurt Cobain. While some astute youth might know who they are, most of them wouldn’t recognize the names or know what each one is famous for. But if you ask them about Justin Beiber or Paris Hilton, they’ll know exactly who you’re talking about and can say quite a bit about them. Most kids and adults can name the celebrities of their time and culture without hesitation. Generally, those celebrities are famous for being able to play a sport very well, perform music very well, or act very well. In American culture, some people are famous for existing very well.

How many teenagers can recount the lives of Jason Durham or Michael Monsoor? Most will never recognize the names, much less what they did. Both of these men earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for diving on grenades to save people in their squads. They both did this in Iraq (they are 2 of 4 winners, all of whom died for their actions of sacrifice). These men epitomize the idea of self-sacrifice – to die so that someone else might live – yet are completely unknown. How many know Vernon Burger who with his wife has established orphanages in Sudan? He didn’t just go on a telethon to raise money for Darfur; he went there and established orphanages for the people there, putting money into action. There are many more people who had given up their lives in the service of others, either by dying or by sacrificing their dreams and desires in order to serve other people.

Yet, we don’t make these people famous. We don’t lift up the founders of orphanages or the champions of the homeless on pedestals. Our role models aren’t those who sacrifice themselves for others, but those who sacrifice others for themselves. When we model ourselves after selfish people, we become selfish and lose our identity. Continue reading

God is known and unknown: Thoughts from St John Chrysostom

I have been reading through St. John Chrysostom’s homilies on the mystery of God and have truly found this work to be a treasure. It is my firm belief that all Christians should read this at some point in their lives because it is both deeply theological and deeply devotional.

One point that Chrysostom brings up is that God is not merely incomprehensible, but that God is also unapproachable. He is pulling this distinction from 1 Timothy 6:15-16, which reads:

“…he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords,  who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.”

The commentary that Chrysostom provides on this passage states that, “…Paul did not say, ‘Who is an unapproachable light,’ but, ‘Who dwells in unapproachable light.’ But if the dwelling is unapproachable, much more so is the God who dwells in it. Paul did not say this to limit God to a place, but to prove all the more cogently that God can neither be comprehended nor approached.”

This is sometimes difficult for Christians to grasp. All are guilty of creating an idol of the mind when it comes to God. Often times Christians desire to have a comprehensible God. This is why conservatives act as though they can speak for God on all matters – after all, God is against gays, against abortion, again Democrats, pro-Republican, and watches Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. But the liberals aren’t any better. To them God is all loving, welcomes all religions, hates CEO’s and Republicans, and wears designer jeans. What happens for both sides is they begin to create a God that looks more like them. They conform God to themselves rather than conform themselves to God. Continue reading

We need an Athanasius; we need a William Wilberforce (Part I)

Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. – Matthew 22:37-38

I’m just getting into John Chrysostom’s Homilies On the Incomprehensible Nature of God (CUA Press). The homilies attempt to explain that we can know nothing of the nature of God, but we can still know God. St. John gave these as a response to the neo-Arians who said that we could know the nature of God.

In order to give some background information, the introduction explains the controversy of Arianism and what it brought about. He talks about how how the adoption of the Nicene Creed was a response to Arianism. Yet he points out:

“…Arianism did not die; in fact it grew for four decades and was still a disturbing factor at the end of the fourth century. Indeed, it might have been reestablished after Nicaea were it not for Athanasius of Alexandria.”

For those who do not know, Athanasius is often referred to as “Athaansius Contra Mundum” (Athanasius against the world). Athanasius was a deacon when he attended Nicaea, but in 326 (the year after Nicaea) when Alexander of Alexandria died, Athanasius took his place as Bishop of Alexandria. During Athanasius’ tenure as Bishop of Alexandria he was banished from the city no less than five times due to his refusal to back down on his beliefs concerning Christ.

Eusebius (not to be confused with the church historian Eusebius of Caesarea), the bishop of Nicomedia, was an open Arian and used his position of influence to have the government of Alexandria consistently harass Athanasius. Much to the chagrin of Eusebius, Athanasius willingly faced the persecution; after all, he was raised during the last great persecution of Christians under the Roman Empire (303-311) and watched many of his family friends and his mentors die in the persecution. What was banishment compared to what he had endured as a child?

Athanasius turned away the favor of man and a position of prominence in order to stand for the truth. As C.S. Lewis says of Athanasius in the introduction to “On the Incarnation” (St. Vladamir’s Press),

“He knew that the very existence of the Church was at stake; but he was utterly certain of the truth and he knew that it must in time prevail.”

Athanasius was faithful to the doctrines of Christianity and to Christ not out of some desire to be right or some attempt to win an argument or exert his power and control over people, but because he was dedicated to the Truth who is Christ. In being dedicated to the Truth, he desired that all men know the Truth as He revealed Himself. The Arians created a Jesus who was different from the Jesus of history and therefore Athanasius, in loving loyalty to Christ, stood his ground and suffered for his holy obstinance. Banishment back then was not a simple thing; being in Egypt, he was banished into the wilderness. He had to leave all that he knew five separate times and depart into the unknown (though the first two times he went to the Desert Father Antony, while the last three times he went to the disciples of Antony). Continue reading