[Originally posted on Facebook, Friday, May 6, 2016.]
What sense do we Christians make of our continuing sinfulness?
The first matins readings have been coming from I John. What a glorious synthesis of Saint John’s Gospel and his Apocalypse!
Jesus instructs us to remain in Him and in His love and so bear much fruit, in the Vine passage of the Farewell Discourse. But this process is not organic and inevitable as viniculture. It is apocalyptic warfare, this remaining in love.
And how we love rewrites history.
That’s what we meditate upon at matins today:
“And you know that [God] was manifested that He might take away sins, and in Him there is no sin. Everyone remaining in Him is not sinning; everyone sinning has not seen Him, neither has known Him. Little children, let no one deceive you; the one practicing justification is just, even as He is just; the one practicing sin is of the Adversary, because the Adversary sins from the beginning (ap’ archēs). The Son of God was manifested for this reason, that He might destroy the works of the devil.”
To become a saint, that is, to become a Christian in earnest, means spiritual warfare against the unimaginably immense forces panoplied against love.
Does the holy flame of love ever waver in us?
The First Letter of John can be confusing, because there are passages that make clear that we Christians struggle with sin (most emphatically in 1:8), and then passages such as this that seem to disown anyone who sins. The key, I think, is that the process of going from sinner to saint (sanctification, increasing justification), from loving ill to loving well, has something of the flavor of quantum mechanics: when God (Who is Light, 1:5) is manifested, AND we can see Him as He is (3:2), then that fixes the value of our whole personal trajectory to light.
“Let what you heard from the beginning (ap’ archēs) remain in you. If what you heard from the beginning (ap’ archēs) remains in you, then you will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise which He promised to us, the life eternal” (2:24).
Unfortunately, there is a quantum correlative. Again: “Little children, let no one deceive you; the one practicing justification is just, even as He is just; the one practicing sin is of the Adversary, because the Adversary sins from the beginning (ap’ archēs).”
Lucifer was not a sinner from the beginning. But he chose to trade in his identity as child of God (Light-Bearer, Bringer of Dawn) to become the adversary. Instead of ministering to man, to serve the cause of divine justification/vindication, to manifest and communicate the Light Who is God to mankind, he makes the case against us.
This is the office of anti-Christ, and that satanic spirit fills us every time we make the case against our neighbor. All commandments come to this: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (4:7).
Lucifer chose to generate the murk of accusation rather than serve the light of justification. He insisted on self-definition. If we follow him in this, we would be fixing the value of our whole trajectory to darkness.
Let me close with a quote from the pivotal chapter of C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, in which Lewis encounters his Virgil, George McDonald, who has this to say:
“‘Son,’ he said, ‘ye cannot in your present state understand eternity.... But ye can get some likeness of it if ye say that both good and evil, when they are full grown, become retrospective. Not only this valley [the country on the border of heaven] but all their earthly past will have been heaven to those who are saved. Not only the twilight in that town [hell], but all their life on Earth too, will then be seen by the damned to have been Hell. That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say ‘Let me have but THIS and I’ll take the consequences’: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say ‘We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven,’ and the Lost, ‘We were always in Hell.’ And both will speak truly.’”