Why is it that I find people in the Church that for some reason believe that God is out to get them? If this in fact was the reality concerning God I don’t think Christianity would have made it past the first century. It seems these people are constantly guilt ridden and fearful of a mad and critical God, who in essence fulfills the definition of being a jerk. As a Byzantine Catholic Christian I believe our tradition has a unique approach to showing just how wrong this thinking about God is.
As St. Athanasius of Alexandria taught: “God became man so that man could become God’. Properly understood this saying demonstrates how much God wants us to be close to Him. So much so that He wants to share his very divine life with us giving us the ability to love Him forever. Every time I go to the Divine Liturgy I am reminded of this fact. It is in the Liturgy that we discover by faith that we stand in the presence of the saints and angles worshiping before our God. We are not cowering in fear but we find that we have the privilege to stand as a family member before the throne of God. In essence even though we are not worthy Christ has made us worthy to stand before the Trinity and receive all His blessings.
The Apostle Paul also demonstrates how much God wants to be close to us and that He has only the best intentions for us with phrases like: “if God is for us who could be against us-Rom 8:31” or “there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ- Rom 8:1”.The image of God that the Apostle Paul brings forth is one that shows that God has only our best intentions in mind. There is no need for a follower of Christ to live in guilt if they have repented and turned their lives over to the love of God. To remain in guilt in fact is a sin, which is a sin against the love of God. Truly, the inability to make the act of faith and trust in God for forgiveness perpetuates a false image of God.
With such forgiveness of course comes great responsibility. This is where we find the difference between feeling guilty and having conviction. Knowing how much God loves us and how He is working for our Good will change the whole reality of those times when we fall into sin. The false joy of sin is met with the strong conviction of the power of God’s presence within us. As I can tell you from experience, which I am ashamed to say, in trying to practice sin God never leaves you alone and constantly reminds you of his love. In this I have discovered that the practice of sin never truly can be the same as it was before you become aware of such love.
Faith of course is dead without trying to do what is right. However, what is the value of doing what is right in the first place? Not knowing the value I believe sometimes leads to the vision of an angry sky god who is offended by us not working hard enough. I recall one protestant tradition that had a saying that we are “sinners in the hand of angry God”. In contrast, in our Eastern Tradition we discover that our actions of avoiding sin and practice of virtue our for our own benefit not because God needs them. The sin of our ancestors was a step away from God and nowhere in Genesis do we find God becoming this “angry God”. In fact, our fathers show that the punishments of our ancestors were given to lead them back to Him rather than an act of violence or offense.
God truly is on our side. We have a great responsibility as Eastern Christians to show the joy of the resurrection in our everyday lives. This is the joy we celebrate at every Divine Liturgy the same joy those around us need to see. In this New Year we need to proclaim to the world that we have a religion of Joy, which is the true joy only found in Jesus Christ. In John 14:6 Jesus said that he was the way, the truth, and the life. This is the way that he offers us a way that is free of guilt and condemnation a way of complete intimacy and vulnerability to his presence