Friday, May 9, 2014

Stăniloae on how to know you're elect

In a discussion on the knowledge God has of individual persons, Stăniloae likewise addresses the question of persons who worry about their salvation, whether they are known by God or not. He is not a universalist, evidently, so he speaks of some persons who will enjoy fellowship with God forever, and others who will be punished forever in God's forgetting them.

Neither is he a Calvinist, obviously, but I enjoyed his discussion here:

Anyone who wishes to be saved gives proof by that very fat that he is not predestine to eternal punishment. It is only those who do not put to themselves, in any way that is real, the problem of whether they wish to be saved, who will go to eternal punishment -- only those who have never once been tormented by the question: am I destined for eternal punishment? Because, were they ever once to feel that torment, they would prove by that very fact that they wanted to be saved and so they would be saved (The Experience of God: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, vol. 1, p. 209).

Now Stăniloae constantly emphasizes the freedom of man's will and the importance of man's own effort in the process of salvation, so he would no doubt allow that it lies within the freedom to ask the question of his own salvation. He does not believe that God has chosen ahead of time the particular details of any person's life, and he certainly is not the ultimate decider of whether a person will believe in him or not. These things lie in the hands of man to choose, one way or the other. Still, the failure ever to pose the question more or less guarantees and itself predestines one to damnation. If you never worry about whether you will be saved, by that fact you show that you will be damned.

Why? Because the default state of a human  person is not a good or even indifferent one; it is a sinful and condemned one, one whose natural end is only death. The most dangerous thing is to think that we are all right at the end of the day, that things will be fine just because. Stăniloae emphasizes that it is only in Christ's own person that humanity has been perfected, and for us to be perfected we must be united with God in Christ. It is only in Christ's own person that humanity knows God and God humanity, and if we are to be known, we must unite with Christ:

In Christ the possibility is given us to advance towards the stage where God knows man as he knows himself, and where man knows God as he knows himself. But to achieve this we must advance in union with Christ (p. 210).

Interestingly, too, Stăniloae seems to make the suggestion that posing the question of your own salvation is enough to win salvation for you. Presumably the line of reasoning is that you will seek the means of your salvation if it is really a concern for you, and since these are readily available, and since God stands ready to help as well, your salvation is guaranteed. This is a nice theme of Eastern Orthodox spirituality, despite its controversy to the Western ear: a constant worry about your salvation is what wins it; complacency is the greatest spiritual danger. Jesus said to keep watch and not fall asleep (Mark 13.35). This was a part of the spirituality of the monks of Christian past:

A hermit saw someone laughing, and said to him, 'We have to render an account of our whole life before heaven and earth, and you can laugh?' (The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks, p. 17).