Nothing to Fear

“Christianity makes me feel threatened”, you say. Forgive me, but I think this is simply a holdover from your evangelical past. There’s nothing of the sort in Orthodoxy. God doesn’t “threaten” or “punish”, nor does He ever get “angry”; these anthropomorphic expressions do not describe God as He is in Himself, but rather the way in which His presence is experienced by the ego.

I think here of a comment by Schuon: “Hell is the reply of Reality to the ego that wants to be absolute.”

Or, turning to a very different source, there’s the Christian author C. S. Lewis. “The gates of Hell,” he writes, “are locked on the inside”, a line quoted with approval by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware in his book The Orthodox Way. By the way, his Eminence goes so far as to say in that book that Satan himself might be saved, though what God’s relationship with the Devil may be is “none of our business”.

True, it’s the rare Orthodox authority who espouses universal salvation so explicitly as St Gregory of Nyssa or St Isaac the Syrian. But this doesn’t mean everyone else in the Church is convinced of the opposite: that some will necessarily suffer eternal damnation. On the contrary, the Orthodox faithful are entirely justified, without in any way departing from the teachings of the Church, in hoping all may be saved.

The only thing one must not believe or teach as an Orthodox Christian is that people can be saved in spite of themselves, or as it were against their will. On the contrary, repentance (metanoia = a radical “change of mind”) is necessary, whether here or hereafter—a free act of self-abnegation, a willing “death” of the ego and its passions.

But is this really so different from Pure Land Buddhism, the tradition you say you are now considering? The Bodhisattvas don’t save those who don’t wish to be saved: the nembutsu must be uttered with total faith, which means not without a struggle, not without effort, not without putting aside all our likes and dislikes, our attachments and fears.

For a different, but I think complementary take, on what I’m saying, I suggest you listen to this podcast (courtesy of Ancient Faith Radio):

http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/prayingintherain/what_does_god_look_like

The speaker is an Orthodox priest in Canada. What he says in these reflections is standard Orthodox teaching on the subject of God’s “anger”; there’s nothing at all idiosyncratic about it. I hope he helps to convince you that (to appropriate Roosevelt for quite a different purpose) you have nothing to fear but fear itself!

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