Monthly Archives: December 2017

The Orthodox Faith – The Symbol of Faith (14B)

As stated in the previous article, God never ceases to love anyone. God loves those who turn away from Him and hate him. However, this love can seem painful to those who hate God. After all, if one hates God’s presence then His presence will make such a person uncomfortable, to say the least.

But how can this be? Why would God’s presence make someone uncomfortable? Let us consider an analogy (not original with this author).  Let’s imagine we love some kind of classical music, say Bach’s piano concerti. We listen to them at home and in the car. We go to concerts as often as we can. We may even read books about them. At some point we get tickets to a live performance by a world famous pianist. We are overjoyed and we sit there enraptured listening to the performance. This is somewhat similar to the way those who love God feel in His presence.

But imagine we hate classical music, maybe we have no interest in music at all. We like to be outdoors, to play sports, etc. In that case, two hours at a Bach concert would seem like a punishment. It would be painful for us. This is the way sinners feel in the presence of God. The music is the same – it acts on people in different ways. God’s love is always present but it acts on people in different ways. As Fr. Thomas Hopko writes,

“The doctrine of eternal hell, therefore, does not mean that God actively tortures people by some unloving and perverse means. It does not mean that god takes delight in the punishing and pain of His people whom He loves. Neither does it mean that God separates Himself from His people, thus causing them anguish in this separation. It means, rather, that God continues to allow all people, saints and sinners alike, to exist forever. For those who loved God, resurrection from the dead and the presence of God will be paradise. For those who hate God, resurrection from the dead and the presence of God will be hell.”

When we think of the punishment of sinners, we sometimes wonder whether hell is eternal. Does it come to an end? There are some passages in the Bible that seem to imply that it does. For example, St. Peter’s speech in Acts 3:21:

“ ….. whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.

Or St. Paul’s letter to Timothy which states the following:

“… desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

There was an early Christian theologian, Origen (184-259AD) who taught that everyone would be saved, including the devil. However, the teaching was condemned at a local synod in Constantinople in 543 AD. The condemnation was repeated at the 5th Ecumenical Council in 553 AD. So Origen was condemned as a heretic for holding this idea of universal salvation (among other things). However, another early Christian writer also taught this. St. Gregory of Nyssa (335-395 AD). St. Gregory is one of the greatest theologians in Church history and he was never condemned as a heretic, although later Fathers of the church did not accept his position on the restoration of all things. So scripture teaches that hell will be eternal and there will be no universal salvation. However, in the 20th century several important theologians taught that punishment would eventually cease and all will be saved. They include Paul Evdokimus, Archimandrite Sophrony Sakharov and Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, among others. So there have been modern theologians who expressed the hope that punishment will not be eternal and all would be saved. These theologians have not been condemned for holding these views, so we can certainly hope and pray that all, in accordance with God’s will, be saved.

Fr. John

The Orthodox Faith – The Symbol of Faith (14A)

There are some people who cannot accept the God of the Bible, the personal God. They prefer to think of God as an impersonal being or consciousness or even impersonal force – “May the force be with you.”
There are no doubts, many reasons, for rejecting the personal God of the Bible. One reason for doing this is some people think that the personal God is a tyrant who only created humanity in order to give us orders, one who punishes us in hell for not following the rules. Nothing could be further from the truth.
As St. John writes: “He who does not love does not know God; for God is love.” (I Jn 4:8) God created us for an everlasting relationship with love. But what are we to say about the situation where it seems God is punishing us? For example, when God casts Adam and Eve out of paradise for eating the forbidden fruit. After all, God says to Adam:
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, `You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil, you shall eat of it all the days of your life…” (Gen 3:17)
And to Eve:
“I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain, you shall bring forth children, yet
your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” (Gen 3:16)
This sounds as if God was punishing them for disobeying Him. No doubt there is that element there because certainly He did not want human beings to disobey Him and there are consequences for that. But that is not the only thing going on. Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But there were two trees in paradise. The other is the tree of life. If Adam and Eve had eaten the fruit of the tree of Life they would have received eternal life. This sounds good, but if they had eaten of this tree their sin would be eternal also. I other words, they would have lived forever with this sin on their conscience. This would be a terrible burden to carry. God knew when he cast Adam and Eve out of paradise that He would send His Son into the world to save Adam and Eve and all humanity with them. In other words, there would be life without sin for all eternity.
Now, what about hell? Jesus certainly tells us about hell. Does this mean that God hates the people in hell? No. God never hates His people or wants them to suffer. However, God respects human freedom. It’s difficult to understand how people can be made for an eternal, loving relationship with God and other people, but then turn away from God and other people. But God does not force people to love Him. God always respects human freedom and will never take our free will from us. But some people refuse this love. For them, God’s love will seem negative. After all, if human beings hate and reject God’s love, they will not accept the love and it will feel like a torment to them.
It is a mystery, but some people choose to reject God’s love and God respects their free will to do so. As St. Isaac the Syrian wrote:
“…. Those who find themselves in Gehenna [i.e., hell] will be chastised with the scourge of love. How cruel and bitter this torment of love will be! For those who understood that they have sinned against love undergo greater sufferings than those produced by the more fearful torture. The sorrow which takes hold of the heart which has sinned against love is more piercing than any other pain. It is not right to say that sinners in hell are deprived of the love of God. But love acts in two different ways, as suffering in the proud and as joy in the blessed.”
But how can love be experienced as something painful? We will see in the next article.

Fr. John