Tuesday, January 01, 2008

river of fire

I can't believe I'm just now reading "The River of Fire" for the first time. This talk was given in 1980 by Dr. Alexandre Kalomiros. Apparently it's a well-known and well-discussed piece. The subtitle says, "A reply to the questions: (1) Is God really good? (2) Did God create hell?" Dr. Kalomiros's answer is by no means unique. He articulates what I would say is the standard Orthodox view on these matters; along the way, however, he speaks pointedly about the corresponding Western ideas and judges them to be no less than a lie of Satan.

I think in all fairness it should be acknowledged that the Orthodox view, at least in general terms, is not unknown in the West. As usual, C. S. Lewis comes to mind as an example of one who seems to have captured the concept. In my feeble summary, the main point is that hell is something we bring on ourselves when we choose to hate God. God's glory is the same regardless; we simply experience it as torment when we reject his love.

Kalomiros sees as pagan the notion that God is subject to some binding standard of justice, whereby his divine offense can only be satisfied by pouring out wrath on the Son. Like the gods of pagan Greece, such a being is really subordinate to arbitrary and inexorable Fate. From this grows the notion of unconditional election and irresistible grace--because if God himself is subject to such external standards, then surely our freedom is no more than an illusion. He also contends that atheism is a natural result of this Western view--that an infinitely punishing God (especially one who claims to be loving) can only inspire contempt.

As I've said before, I think we can be thankful for some currents in Evangelical thinking that seem to de-emphasize the juridical view of God's relationship to man. I'm not convinced that they do so consistently. The same person might speak in a counseling context of God as healer of the wounded soul, while singing on Sunday about Jesus satisfying the Father's wrath. I suspect (though I hope I'm wrong) that in today's theological climate they are simply ignoring the implications of Protestant theology in favor of a more expedient metaphor. This sort of approach can produce occasional gains, but until there is a fundamental revision of the underlying paradigms, it's going to produce even more contradictions and inconsistencies. My hope is that at least the presence of these ideas, somewhere in the vast array of Evangelical thinking, will open opportunities for some to find the truth.

Even so, it may be too much to hope that an argument as polemical as "The River of Fire" will be well received by Western Christians of any flavor.

No comments: