Sunday, August 30, 2015

Life is serious business

Thinking back on Stăniloae's writings on human freedom and eternal damnation, it occurs to me just what a profound significance and importance human life and agency have. The life we choose to lead here has irreversible consequences which ring throughout eternity: a life lived in fellowship with God in holiness leads to eternal beatitude; but a rejection of the divine communion in slavish pursuit of the passions and pleasures leads to emptiness and everlasting restlessness. 

Human beings, on this view of things, have an enormous responsibility on their shoulders: to make themselves either into something beautiful, something resembling God, or else into something hideous and demonic. So there can be no lax and loose attitude about life. On the contrary, life is serious business, because of the deep mystery of human freedom.  

So much in our day and age runs contrary to this. Many people—myself included, in many ways—try to live their lives in ways that avoid responsibility and consequences. This is especially true as regards sexual ethics. People try to have sex casually, enjoying themselves without committing to a lifelong relationship or to having and raising children. Or if keeping a child is inconvenient or difficult, the child may be aborted so that the consequences of the sexual act can be neutralized. 

But God has not made us to live our lives this way. The natural consequence of sexual intercourse is procreation and the emotional union of the two parties. They care for each other and for the child they bring into the world. They are vulnerable and depend on one another, so they have to commit to being there for one another. But all this means assuming profound responsibility, and taking one's actions with the utmost seriousness. 

A sinful, vicious life is a life that attempts to avoid commitments and responsibility. It's lazy, it's casual, it's unforgiving, it is not sacrificing, it is not deeply loving, it's not concerned to help others. Not all of us live like this in any extreme way. But the seeds of such a vicious life are planted every time we act in a way that avoids responsibility and commitment in pursuit of instant gratification, and if we water these seeds through continued action in the same vein, before long these seeds will grow into a hideous thicket from which the is no easy escape. 


Mike H. said...

Human beings, on this view of things, have an enormous responsibility on their shoulders: to make themselves either into something beautiful, something resembling God, or else into something hideous and demonic.

For me, far beyond providing a view of life with a sort of sober responsibility, this (Stăniloae's) is a really terrifying vision - that the responsibility is ultimately on us "to make ourselves" into something resembling God. Sounds like hell will be densely populated.

Steven Nemeș said...

I think at one point in the recent past, I would have agreed with you. But not so much now. (As a side note, it is fascinating to what extent our current situation in life and general emotional state can influence our theological and philosophical intuitions.)

I think it is important to remember that human beings, notwithstanding their freedom of will, never act in total isolation from the influence and providence of God which guides all things and which is aimed at the unification of all things under Christ (Eph 1.10). There is a paradox and tension which must be maintained: human freedom, because of which damnation is a possibility; divine providence, because of which salvation can be hoped for and realized.

Mike H. said...

Yes, I definitely agree with you that there is much that influences our theological and philosophical ideas. I'm not passionless or perfectly objective as I think through these things.

As it relates to your post here, Do you think that Stăniloae holds the tension the same way that you do? Having only read his work second hand (over at Eclectic Orthodoxy) he seems to offer up a fairly standard free will defense of hell in which God is ultimately helpless in the face of our choices, and that an irrevocable "free" decision for hell is possible.

Steven Nemeș said...

I'm not sure; I haven't read enough of his work yet to know for sure. I think his rhetoric about human freedom has to be strong because it's not easy to defend the traditionalist picture of hell against alternatives, whether universalism or annihilationism. It may be that self-damnation is a kind of Herculean accomplishment that few people might ever manage. I'd have to read more of his work to know for sure.

I have his whole Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, so I will look for a treatment on divine providence and see what he says. My impression is that he will say that God simply foreknows that some persons will reject him forever.