Grace and Human responsibility

Today (December 4th) is the Feast of St. John of Damascus on the Anglican calendar.  I recently read a quote of his I'd like to share. 

One should also bear in mind that God antecedently wills all to be saved and to attain to his kingdom.  For he did not form us to be chastised, but to share his goodness, because he is incomparably good.  Yet, because he is just, it is required that sin be punished.  So, the first form of the will of God is called antecedent will and blessing, which has God as its cause.  The second is called God's consequent will and permission, of which we are a participating cause...As to the things that depend upon us, whatever is good God wills antecendently and blesses.  Whatever is evil he neither wills antecedently nor consequently, but permits them to the free will... (from "Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith," as quoted in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Mark from IVP).

What John of Damascus is saying, simply, is that God created mankind to share in blessings, that is his first (antecedent) will for us.  However, God created us a creatures with free will, able to make our own decisions and to participate in the unfolding of our own world.  Thus we can (and do) choose things that are contrary to God's will.  Many evil events, then, are allowed by God's "permissive" will, because he wills that we should be the sort of creatures that can choose, but are nevertheless contrary to his first will for us, which was blessing and not evil.  He is like the parent who wants his teenage child to get a job and learn to manage money but is disappointed when the teen uses that freedom irresponsibly and blows all his money on video games such that he can no longer pay for gas.

We often hear people say, "I don't believe a good God could send anyone to hell."  Part of the issue might indeed be what people mean by the word "hell" and the need for a more sophisticated understanding than simply "boiling in fire forever."  Jesus' use of the image of "outer darkness" in his parables about those who miss out on the Kingdom (especially in St. Matthew's Gospel) and also the Latin root of "damnation" (which can mean "to suffer loss") may begin to give us some food for thought on the question of what "hell" means.

The other issue is whether God "sends" anyone to hell.  We see here that from ancient times the teachers of the Church, such as St. John of Damascus, have insisted that it is not simply the case that "God sends people to hell for being bad" but rather "God (in his grace) permits us to participate in our own destiny even if it means we choose sin and destruction."  And God, in his justice, confirms our choices and their consequences.  For the Christian, life is serious business and the moral implications of our choices absolutely do matter.

The Wesleyan understanding is that God's prevenient grace enables all humans, despite the brokeness of our wills caused by sin, to freely accept or reject the gift of forgiveness and new life in Christ.  Yet God wills that all be saved and in keeping with his own will offers the grace of salvation to all people (see 1 Tim. 2:4, 2 Pet. 3:9; contra any sort of Predestinationism that teaches that God has selected specific individuals for eternal damnation).  For us, then, the emphasis is on God's goodness and offer of salvation to all, though we soberly affirm that this grace may be resisted and rejected, even to the eternal destruction of our own souls.

Christians (Wesleyans and Methodists included) have often struggled to take seriously both the over-abundance of God's grace as well as the serious reality of human responsibility.  Yet even when we fail to choose what is right, we trust that God's grace remains abundant toward us all the same to forgive and restore us if we turn back towards Christ Jesus by faith.

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.  Amen." 

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Blogger Mr. Mcgranor said...

I believe The Roman Catholic soul is destined for death and hell. And its spiritual fruits are such as i mentioned. Which also reflects on an inner darkness that seeks to form an outer darkness to consume the world.

When a Calvinist --or even a Lutheran seeks to discredit the Arminian --they attempt to equate us with a Catholic doctrine of free-will. This doctrine is meaningless in application because they are spiritually lawless, and thus their will is such.

This not to say that all others are not lawless, or spiritually compromised; but that others--even an out-right pagan has a chance. A chance not for redemption on his own; but a chance to come to God.

Satan disguises himself as God. When we speak fondly of an early church many want the Eastern Orthodox to be that. But the early Church is no more. And it will never come back.

The Reformation was on earth as it is in heaven... meaning God's will. Although Satan still attempts to take the heavens.

10:55 AM, December 06, 2012  

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