Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Shall Thy Wonders Be Known in That Darkness?

“Shall Thy wonders be known in that darkness?”
In our culture, the words “faith” and “believe” and “truth” have been hijacked by rational assumptions in ways that limit their meaning and usefulness in a Christian context. According to our rationalist assumptions, to believe (or have faith that) something is true means that you assent to the historical, physical reality of something. To say that something is true is to say that it really happened--it could be observed and measured. This aspect of the meaning of “true” is only a small part of the full meaning of “true” in an Orthodox Christian context. It is the case that the facts of Christianity are true in this popular sense, as St. John says of his testimony: “That...which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled….” However, for something to be true in the sense that it is historical and physical, does not make it true in the Christian sense. For example, the idols of the nations, the prophets tell us, are vain (empty) and false, even though they are historical and physical.
For the Orthodox Christian, to have faith that something is true transcends the mere acknowledgement of the historicity of the matter. To some, such a statement seems to open the door to Christian liberalism. They think this because of the rationalist hijacking of Christianity. Let me explain how this happens. Nonbelievers say that they do not believe, for example, in the Resurrection. What they mean is that they do not believe that the Resurrection was a historical, physical event that one could see and touch if one were present. The mistake Christians make in responding to such a statement is to make a counter assertion that the Resurrection is indeed a historical, physical fact. Then to try to win over their interlocutors (or, perhaps more often, to try to keep from looking like fools in their own eyes and, they imagine, in the eyes of their interlocutors), they search for historical evidence and logical arguments--as if accepting the historicity of the event were the essential matter, and thus they allow the nonbeliever to define the terms of the discussion. The rationalist assumptions of the unbeliever hijack the Christian Kerygma (preaching/teaching). For Christians, historicity is assumed, but is not the essential matter.
At the end of St. Matthew’s Gospel, we are told that Jesus appeared to his eleven disciples after the Resurrection. The text says, “When they saw Him they worshiped Him, but some doubted.” Doubted? They saw (and according to other passages even touched) the resurrected Christ, yet some doubted. How can that be? Certainly, doubt here has nothing to do with accepting the historicity and physicality of the Resurrection: they saw Him and touched Him. But, at that point, the Holy Spirit had not yet been fully poured out on the Disciples to reveal to them all things. Their hearts had not yet been fully enlightened. Doubt had to do with the heart, not reason.
I suggest that doubt and faith in an Orthodox Christian context have little to do with accepting the historical and physical facts of the life, death and resurrection of Christ, but have almost everything to do with the “enlightening of the eyes of our understanding” (Eph. 1:18). This is Christian faith, to have an enlightened heart so as to know (not just assert or accept) “what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe...which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead.” This is an enlightenment that must occur whether one has seen and touched the historic physicality or not. After all, didn’t Jesus say, “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe”? Some of the disciples saw and touched yet doubted; and millions, maybe billions, have not seen and yet believed. The Psalmist tells us that those in darkness cannot know God’s wonders. Isn’t it rather foolish for Christians to try to “prove” the historicity of Christianity to those who are in darkness because of their unbelief? Seeing is not believing; much less is accepting a good argument enlightenment of the heart.
Instead of trying to prove the reasonableness of what St. Paul said was a stumbling block to some and foolishness to others, I suggest that Christians focus of becoming the Light of the world. I think unbelievers will much more likely be convinced of the truth of Christianity if Christians just focus on acquiring the fruit of the Holy Spirit than if we try to prove to the world the reasonableness of what St. Paul said is foolishness to this world. Only light dispels darkness. And those in darkness cannot know God’s wonders.

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