Thursday, November 20, 2014
As a modern, or post-modern, citizen of this world, I am unduly influenced by cultural beliefs, assumptions and values which are not the same as the ancient world. A-historical Christianity does not exist. The Bible reflects the beliefs of the ancient world. Anyone writing since the Reformation is modern. We who read the Bible, rarely recognize that our mind is full of assumptions, values and prejudices which impact how we read, what we notice and how we interpret it. Exegesis (taking meaning from) and eisegesis (inserting meaning into) are always part of any reading we do. When we visit the ancient church we can gain insights into how faithful believers in another time from another place understood the Christian life. They have values, assumptions and prejudices, too, but they are different from ours. They are also closer to the time the Bible was written...
We assume what we assume without even knowing it is an assumption. People from "other Christian worlds" help us see those assumptions. The Philokalia is probably second to the Bible in importance. It is a four volume collection of teachings from the Ancient Orthodox Church. Skylight Paths Publishing has a nice introduction to these extensive writings called Philokalia: The Eastern Christian Spiritual Texts. It is more manageable (200 pages) with excerpts from the Philokalia and notes to clarify. The first chapter is on Repentance. I want to share what I encountered there (p12): God is better understood as a Physician than a Judge, just as sin is better understood as illness than as transgression... The penitent comes before God and the priest (as God's agent) not to plead guilty but to seek healing.
Heal/Saved is the same word (sozo) in Greek, not so in English. The idea of sin in our time is greatly influenced by the moral/ethical and judicial worldviews. We think about 'right and wrong,' 'good and bad' or 'legal and illegal.' Seeing God as a Judge Who evaluates our life and actions is not wrong. It is certainly Biblical. However, the "court room" as we know it is not exactly the same as the ancient world court room. Words change meaning over time.
The need to be rescued from sin (Paul personifies sin in Roman 6-7) includes the recognition that we are somewhat powerless before it. Pure discipline seems always to cave in at some point. Sin, like water, finds a way to get in whether we want it or not!
I do not advocate ignoring the other insights into sin (moral, legal, relational). All have their place, but illness and the cry for healing/salvation does make sense. In the health model our choices do make sense. We are responsible for nutrition, exercise, etc. We are also responsible to get the illness diagnosed and to take our medicine. That seems to ring true to me. If sin is a disease of the soul which kills us, then it is more organic and less arbitrary than punishments assigned for transgressions. The judgment of a doctor is clinical. It assesses the situation and offers a recommended treatment protocol.
Suffice to say, the oldest Christians have used this understanding and read it in the Bible. If we do not see it there, it may be fair to ask, "Who is missing the point?" The centrality of healing in the church has been sadly lost in our modern age. We need to heal and exorcise more vigorously, especially in this time of grave spiritual illness.