Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Choosing our daily bread: Part 2

As I continue to ruminate on the choices that we face in life,  I continue to enjoy my sausage sandwich on brown bread. Aside from the problem of Evil that I thought on in my last post, there is the problem of there being free human choice itself. It's a problem that perplexes many Christians. Can we choose to be saved from our sins? Is Salvation in the same category as the white/brown bread problem with which we started?

First of all, is everyone going to be saved? Our Lord Jesus tells us that there will be many who say to Him "Lord, Lord" who will not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. The answer is therefore no, there will be those who are not saved. However, what does it mean to be saved from our sins? St Paul reminds us that the wages of sin is death and St John's Revelation would remind us that this is the second death which eternally separates us from God. If there is no God then there is only death. If there is a God then there is hope of escaping death.

It is clear that that God makes the choice. What would that choice look like? Ah. Now here's the rub because it presupposes that we know how God thinks. Clearly we can't do that. However, God allows us reason about Him because He wishes to communicate with us. So let us try, and put forward an argument which, though imperfect and certainly not worthy of the mind of God, may illuminate things. What is the criteria which will ensure that God will save us?

If He chooses not to save us, what will the reason be? If we have no input into whether we are saved or not, then only God is responsible for our death. He may have good moral reasons for doing so, but it is very hard to see what they are. After all, He chose to create us, and then He chose to reject us. The moral reasons for doing so will have to take into account the fact that we were not responsible and, further, could do nothing to alter the outcome. Our rejection is down to what we are and not what we do. If we are rejected then, as St Paul shows us, we are rejected from Eternal life because of sin. The gospels show us that sin can be forgiven. If we are rejected then it must be because our sin is part of our being and that we possess necessarily the nothingness of Evil. Where did that come from?

Evil must be present in our lives as a result of our ability to choose and the story of Genesis iii shows us that it is by eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil that sin enters the world. Our ability to choose is then infected by the possibility that we are free to choose contrary to the will of God. This infection has Satan as its cause as a result of his free choice. One can assume that angels and archangels have a greater freedom in which they can exercise their choice. To know God means we also need to know what God is not. To know the presence of God means to know the absence of God. It seems reasonable to me that Evil is a necessary privation for Creation.

Evil is where God is not and it is therefore true to say that that which is Evil cannot logically be in the presence of God. Thus God's choice is down to what He considers to be salvageable from Evil. His very presence makes the choice. If our Evil can be purged by His presence in our lives then we will remain. If it can't then we will not remain. The decision as to whether we are salvageable must be God's.

Of course, God makes the choice in His present which is Eternity. We are not eternal but temporal. Whatever choices we make are made in Time and are thus eternally present to God despite the fact that our present as insubstantial as a line in multidimensional space. It seems to me, then, that from God's point of view our free choices are actually part of what we are. Our free choices in Time become what we are in God's perception of us and thus give Him adequate reason for accepting or rejecting us from Eternity. We can freely choose Him in our ever changing present and this choice becomes what we are in God's view of us.

The problem that Christians face is that of standing before God on the Day of Judgement and giving an account of ourselves. We naturally perceive it as a temporal event, however it can't be unless we have a richer sense of Time as God has. We have no power to save ourselves by making an eternal choice. We have the power to make choices in our own narrow time and those choices affect us ontologically. We are saved only through God's choice made from eternity when, from our point of view, our lives are complete.

Can it be that the problems of free-will and Salvation are some forms of category error in comparing judgements made in our time with judgements made from Eternity? Our decision in our time do affect our Salvation because they make us who we are in the eternal standpoint where only God can save. Responsibility for our sins is ours because they occur in Time. If we are saved from Eternity then we are saved only through God's effort because in Eternity we are as complete as we can be of ourselves.

We read in St Mark's gospel that "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (St Mark xvi.16) and in St Matthew, we read "he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved" (St Matthew xxiv.13) The act of believing is a choice given our value-judgements and a choice that must be followed through to the bitter end. We are not saved at a single point in Time, but we are saved from the inevitability of Time. This is why St James exhorts us to have a lively faith, why St John begs us to repent and keep repenting, and why we are in constant need of forgiveness and the concomitant justification. From an point of view beyond Time we are what we have chosen to be.

Do our choices force God's decision? Do we contravene God's authority? St Paul again reminds us that "Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up;Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." St John tells us that, "God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him." The words "Charity" and "Love" are identical and we can see that it is an attribute of God's very self not to seek His own and to endure all things. God is His own limitation. If He permits us free will, then it is not our choice that is the cause of His limitation, but His own Divine nature - His fidelity to us as beings possessing knowledge of Him and of not-Him and the concomitant choice.

It seems reasonable to me that our free-choice affects our Salvation, not as a limitation on the power of God, but rather as a fulfillment of what He intends us to be in His Divine self-limitation. I know that many would disagree with me and even put up a proof-text battle. However, if the argument has existed this long then proof-text battles simply don't work. I simply offer my own limited understanding of what I perceive that I must do to be saved, namely: to believe in the Divine person of Our Lord Jesus Christ, His love for me and the reality of His Resurrection from the Dead and its concomitant promises, to believe this to the end, to receive God's grace in the Sacraments, to promulgate Love which is the substance of God, and seek to be of the Body of Christ which is Resurrected through Him. If I'm wrong, then I pray God will convince me otherwise.

Now, white or brown. Do I get a choice today?

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