Monday, November 1, 2010

Some Thoughts on Guilt

This particular post was solicited by my old friend from seminary, Pastor Eric Brown. He commented in a previous post, saying, "How does the East use the term guilt. How is it similar and disimilar? I think that might have an impact upon the differing approaches. So while I am thinking in terms of application to vicarious attonement, feel free to take whatever tact and provide whatever observations you have seen."


Okay. I think this subject will be something I continue to learn about, but at this point I think guilt tends to be defined in two ways:

1) as a cognitive and/or an emotional experience, and

2) as an objective state, usually associated with an adjudication process.


Guilt as a Cognitive or Emotional State (i.e. Subjective Guilt)

Guilt in Orthodoxy works most poignantly in the heart of the Christian. It works through his conscience. Guilt, when left unchecked, drives one away from God out of fear. For instance, one entangled in the sin of fornication may avoid closeness with God, because of the conflict he or she feels between the love of the sin and the guilt in the heart. In this way, though, guilt also is a bit like a security system, because its presence alerts a person to a dangerous turn of events in one's relationship with God. Yet such guilt does more than cry out for attention; it is itself a disharmony between man and his Creator, a disharmony echoing from within the heart and soul of a person that disrupts one's life of communion with the Blessed Trinity.

Remorse is related to guilt, but differs in that one can feel guilty without feeling remorse (sorry for the cause of the guilt). Sometimes guilt and remorse are used synonymously, so care must be taken to distinguish which is indicated according to context.

In the context of repentance, this personal experience of guilt does not make for repentance, but only identifies one's need for repentance. In and of itself repentance is to change. Guilt does not orient one to God but calls attention to the fact that one has oriented himself away from God, pushing God away. Remorse, tears, and/or mourning are proper to repentance. But such mourning must be carefully distinguished. It is easy to shed tears over one's sins out of pride. "Oh, how could "I" do such a thing!" The tears and mourning that accompany repentance arise not out of pride but out of the loss of God. But did man really lose God? No, man causes himself to be lost from God, to experience God in wrath versus approval, and in this way the repentant person finds his repentance mixed with mourning over this realization - whether that happens in a fully cognitive manner or just at the pre-verbalized emotional level.

Guilt as an Objective State

To be objectively guilty, according to Orthodox teaching, one must do something to be at fault. One must freely sin in order to incur guilt and its subsequent wrath. Guilt is not primarily inherited from Adam, but the objective state that leads to guilt is. Man is born in an objective state of corruption, most clearly identified as mortality. This corruption lends one towards actual sins. Sometimes the state of mortal corruption is identified as being in sin or in its power. But, just as the wages of (actual) sin is death, the sting of death is sin that is empowered by the law of God. All of this is to say that guilt as an objective state does not derive directly from the first sin, but as a consequence of weakened people who no longer know perfectly God's will and choose sinful thoughts and acts over righteous acts. (This situation is compounded by the fact that fallen man is dominated by the kingdom of the Enemy, until released by Christ in Baptism.)

So this is a preface to understanding Orthodox guilt as an objective state. Objective guilt is not inherited, but entered into by one's desires and wills. The Orthodox Christian stands in prayer admitting to his or her objective guilt in every manner of sin and life situation, known and unknown, voluntary and involuntary. As much as is humanly possible the Orthodox Christian strives to unite his or her heart (in the subjective experience of guilt) with the outward realization of being objectively guilty. Yet it should be stressed that the unity of heart and mind in prayer must be given by God through His Grace, the working of the Holy Spirit; the Christian is called to seek this unity of person in God fervently through the One who united Human Nature perfectly to His Divine Nature.

In regard to Vicarious Satisfaction, the state of being guilty seems to be one of the main components. Man is guilty, thus man needs his guilt removed so as to be right with God. In Orthodoxy, as far as the saving crucifixion of Christ goes, objective guilt is a component of the issue without being the main thing. In Lutheran theology it is heavily emphasized that Christ satisfies legal requirements, both in the positive sense (supplying an objective and forensic righteousness) and in the negative sense (purging away objective guilt by the Cross). In Orthodoxy there are many ways to emphasize the Cross. This does not mean that the Cross is open to interpretation, but rather that many very important things are coming together and happening at once with the Crucifixion of Christ.

Regarding the issue of sin and Christ's Crucifixion, the main point is that Christ purges sin, that is, He actually purifies it, expiates it, expunges it, cleanses it, etc. The working concept of sin is something that causes corruption and arises from corruption. If mortality/corruption is a contagion in a wholistic sense, then sin the disease exerting its power to break down and destroy. This is primarily the view of sin, the working of a contagion that infects a person with a spiritual rot (and of course, the physical depends on the spiritual for its subsistence, so the spiritual contagion has physical consequences, some of which we live with every day and call "normal" or "natural"). This is what Christ purifies on the Cross. Somehow, in a way that only God knows, Christ bore the sins of the world in His Body on the Cross, and by His holy Suffering and Death purified human nature of this contagion, this corruption, this sin. He made Himself the Cure, injecting Himself into the heart of the illness - as a True Man who entered into Death. (A True Man is one in full communion with Life, which is the All-holy Trinity.) This is, I think, the primary view of sin and the Cross in Orthodoxy. Objective guilt is dealt with in that where the sin is cleansed the guilt is taken away, too. Thus the forgiveness of sins in Orthodoxy involves a total forgiveness - a release both the bondage/disease of sin and the guilt of alienating oneself from God.

So guilt isn't something that keeps God away, but something that keeps man away from God. I've been reading through the Prophet Jeremiah lately, and it is striking that no matter how vehement God's wrath seems to be against Judah in sending Nebuchadnezzar against them, His ultimate goal clearly is to correct His people so that they will come to their senses and return to Him. They want to worship all the pagan gods (demons) and be like the pagan nations? Then God hands them over to a pagan king to teach them the difference between their choice and serving the Living God, who is a caring Father and Husband to them. Guilt is a problem with God only when one chooses guilt and rejects Him. However, repentance always negates guilt, because God has an unimaginable love for all people. What is guilt compared to one sinner repenting? The angels rejoice over this, and God accepts such a person. Objective guilt becomes an issue when one rejects God. THEN guilt that has piled up speaks against a person, especially on the Last Day.

East and West

I think the East and West both appreciate the need to see one's guilt, both objectively and subjectively. To what end that one sees it, though, may be where some of the tension lies. Do we identify guilt in order to feel a moment of sorrow with the expectation that such a feeling makes everything okay? (I've met plenty who live this way.) Or do we see guilt as a condition that makes God hate me unless someone can smooth over the whole thing? (I've heard many insist on this.) Or do we see guilt as something that highlights our inescapable relationship with God, and something that marks out the difference between the Way of Life and the way of death? The light in which we place the issue of guilt is going to beam from how we claim to know the All-holy Trinity.

These are just some thoughts. Sorry I took so long to gather them.

5 comments:

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

A few thoughts in response.

1. I tend to think the East does sell short original sin (big surprise) by disconnecting mortality from sin. If sin brings death, sin and mortality must be linked (in fact, the fact that Christ dies shows that He who knew no sin indeed became sin for us).

2. I do think sometimes folks in the West can overreact against the East when it comes to issues of wrath, or at least with a lack of precision. You note: "Or do we see guilt as a condition that makes God hate me unless someone can smooth over the whole thing? (I've heard many insist on this.)" I think that is an overstatement (or perhaps out of context) on the hand of folks from a Western approach. And I think I can describe the nuance.

You write: "So guilt isn't something that keeps God away, but something that keeps man away from God." I would say this -- guilt is that stain which, if uncleansed, would not let man be in God's presence safely (for the unholy can not endure the presence of the Holy God), so God in love and mercy will not bring man into His presence until that guilt has been atoned for. On this Isaiah 6 is the great image - Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips. That is an expression of guilt - and the answer to that is atonement.

3 - I would say that this guilt is present in man from conception and manifests in in thought, word, and deed until the resurrection of the last day.

4 - The reason the west over-reacts is that it can often understand the East's position as undercutting the need for atonement and perhaps opening the way for Origenist universalism. Also, the East's position can seem to sound as though Isaiah needed no atonement to be in God's presence -- which isn't what the East says, but the vehemence with which the West's language on guilt and wrath is attacked can lead some to think this way.

5. Personally, I find it odd when the East focuses so much on this aspect of the atonement. Even being a Lutheran, with that specific history, discussions of salvation and the Cross have always been more than just forensic - this is simply catechism stuff... the Supper works forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, for where there is forgiveness of sins, there is life and salvation. The fullness, the multitude of aspects or angles of the Cross is part and parcel of the West, just as in the East.

Some of that difference is probably more the fact that the west moved more to an idea of getting to "heaven" rather than being focused on the resurrection of the dead (a focus which flows out of the Papish teaching of Purgatory -- but shoot, if I were told that I'd be spending millions of years in purgatory, just getting to heaven even before the resurrection would be a laudable goal).

At any rate - thank you for your response.

Sbdn. Benjamin Harju said...

Pr. Brown wrote:
I tend to think the East does sell short original sin (big surprise) by disconnecting mortality from sin.

Response:
I must disagree: the East does not disconnect sin and mortality. They are two sides of the same coin. I'm not sure where or how you are drawing the conclusion that the East separates the two.

Pastor Brown wrote:
I think that is an overstatement (or perhaps out of context) on the hand of folks from a Western approach.

Response:
I'm not sure what you mean by "on the hand of folks..." I am relating everything as honestly and fairly as I can.

Pastor Brown writes:
I would say this -- guilt is that stain which, if uncleansed, would not let man be in God's presence safely (for the unholy can not endure the presence of the Holy God), so God in love and mercy will not bring man into His presence until that guilt has been atoned for.

Response:
In Orthodoxy guilt is not a stain, but simply guilt. The word stain is used to translate a word that properly means corruption. The objective condition of being guilty (a legal condition or category) is not the same as being corrupt (an organic condition). If guilt is a stain, then sin and death are merely legal decrees describing offense and punishment, but lacking any real application with the actual human being.

--continued--

Sbdn. Benjamin Harju said...

Pastor Brown wrote:
I would say this -- guilt is that stain which, if uncleansed, would not let man be in God's presence safely (for the unholy can not endure the presence of the Holy God), so God in love and mercy will not bring man into His presence until that guilt has been atoned for.

Response:
You have couched stain in a legal context, which insinuates a legal bind that keeps man from safely enduring God's presence, which requires a forensic solution and forces a forensic interpretation on Isaiah 6. By doing this you have not drawn an interpretation from the Prophet Isaiah, but begun with one.

Atonement in Isaiah six, though, speaks of purging by fire. This transcends the forensic into the organic. In this case atonement first comes from drawing near to God, and is not preparatory to that event. And likewise in God drawing Isaiah to Himself, through faith Isaiah was cleansed by direct purification. If Isaiah needed to be cleansed before he could draw near to God, as you suggest, then the events of Isaiah 6 would need to be ordered differently. The Seraph would have needed to confront Isaiah first, then apply the coal from the altar (or read a legal declaration or supply an indulgence), and only then could Isaiah have been permitted to see the Lord.

But this is not how the Scripture declares it. Rather, the Scripture shows that Isaiah first sees God, and from this is enlightened regarding his true condition (sin). God immediately cleanses Isaiah (through the ministering of the Seraph). If anything, this passage teaches that one needs to be purified from sin in order to serve God (continuing with v.8), but to draw near to God involves the danger of fire, where one will become either like the Burning Bush or like the soldiers that harassed Elijah. The danger involves man's response to God. I do not see how the text can support objective guilt as a barrier to God drawing Isaiah near to Him (or vice-versa). Rather the text suggests that God draws near for the purpose of purifying sin (which addresses both objective and subjective guilt) so man can share in the work of God in His Kingdom.

--continued--

Sbdn. Benjamin Harju said...

However, you are right to say, "That is an expression of guilt - and the answer to that is atonement." I think, we differ on the thrust of the atonement, and the meaning/context/use of the specific words involved.

Pastor Brown wrote:
Also, the East's position can seem to sound as though Isaiah needed no atonement to be in God's presence --

Response:
Atonement in the East is about release from bondage to sin, death, and the devil's dominion. It is comparable to God delivering the Israelites from Egypt through Moses. So the issue may be less about being in God's presence in an immediate sense and more about abiding in God's presence eternally, in communion. Isaiah was seeing a vision, which must fade. However God appeared to many apart from atonement vignettes, and Jacob even wrestled with God apart from any atonement episode. Christ resided in the womb of the Virgin without atonement - to provide atonement. If we adhere to the idea that atonement must precede standing in God's presence, then perhaps we must accept the Immaculate Conception? Otherwise how could the Theotokos receive the Son of God into her womb unless she needed no atonement? However, I think it makes more sense to follow the teaching that God appears and sanctifies by His very coming and dwelling.

Pastor Brown wrote:
[...] discussions of salvation and the Cross have always been more than just forensic - this is simply catechism stuff...

Response:
While Lutheran theology goes beyond the forensic (which is one of its beauties), by founding itself on the forensic (e.g. the Church stands or falls on [forensic] justification) Orthodoxy finds this forensic center alters the spiritual life that Christians are called to engage and grow into in Christ by displacing communion with God. I have noticed that centering around the forensic as the primary starting point changes preaching, liturgy, ecclesiology, and the entire spiritual expectation of the average Christian. Lutheranism preserves much that belongs to historic Christianity, and this is wonderful. However, the way it characterizes God in the forensic-led paradigm is often alarming to those who know Him through the worship of the Orthodox Church, which is centered in communion with the Trinity.

Eric, thank you for your kind discussion.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

On the biggest issue, I do think the East overlooks Judicial themes in Scripture, and as such misses an aspect of salvation, and ends up twisting and deflecting the East's approach (and I think this has developed from and beyond the Schism - a lot of which I blame upon ego and power plays on the part of both Rome and Constantinople).

For example, Isaiah 1 is highly legal - "Hear o heavens, and give ear O earth; for the Lord has spoken. Children I have reared up and brought up, but they have rebelled against me." That is old school legal complaint - and it continues, recounting the transgressions of the Law that Israel has done, until it gets to the climax - "Come now, let us reason together" - that reason is dispute - legally argue our positions... in the Greek let us "dielegxhthomen" - let us have the dialectic argument of guilt and justification - let us be forensic about this - though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow, they are are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.

The West's view of this as legal, forensic is proper, even if not common in the East (if I had to guess, I would think that perhaps this has to do with the relations that the East had with Judiazers and the like -- forensic approaches are sort of a Jewish thing, and I could see the East moving away from these in response... just as I move away from anything smacking of Baptist theology because I am in Oklahoma.)

The forensic is one of the many images of salvation that God gives, and I like it.

++++++

As a note, I was fortunate enough to hear Metropolitan Jonah speak in Tulsa last night. My commentary (from an unsurprisingly Lutheran perspective) can be found here - http://confessionalgadfly.blogspot.com/2010/11/thoughts-on-orthodox-evening.html

++++++++++

And Ben, thanks too for your discussion - although this shows the woefulness of blogs as a substitute for communication. This would be much more interesting over snacks and coffee. Give my best to your family.