Examining the difference between love from God and love from the world
The tripartite man—being comprised of body, soul, and spirit—as defined in the previous chapter, shows us how man is composed, and what each part of that composition needs to sustain itself properly. Just as each piece of man interally can be confused, so too can our interaction with the external. Archbishop Averky now directs us towards a proper understanding of such interaction.
Without love for God and faith in Him, no really authentic good deeds are possible, nor is any true morality possible.
In general, most Christian apologetics says that people can be “good” without belief in God, but they cannot ontologically justify why their actions are good or not. This is not what is being said here. The statement above is far more forceful, for His Excellency states that love for and faith in God are prerequisites. From the previous chapters, we have learned much by way of works of the flesh and works of the spirit, so it should not be a surprise that the comparison is forcefully put here: if a work is not a work of the spirit, it is a work of the flesh, and works of the flesh are not properly understood as “good”. This may irritate many modern readers, who are given to egalitarian consideration of man, but the view expressed here isn’t comparing the results of some deed, but rather at the source of the deed. This is done because to view our works in a worldly sense can have disastrous eternal consequences.
Christ explains that the narrow and sorrowful path of life preached by Him has as its natural end eternal joy, while the broad and easy path, counter to the Gospel, culminates in eternal grief, eternal torment. These are not incentives, not external pedagogical methods to force a person to act in a certain way. They are the natural results of a chosen lifestyle, which He warns against and makes abundantly clear. It is long overdo for us to reject that absurd and even blasphemous notion that floated over to us from Catholicism that God rewards us for good deeds and punishes us for evil ones.
I admit the strong language against Rome here startled me somewhat. I don’t hear much talk of works and merit within Orthodoxy. Most priests I hear speaking on the subject dismiss it with a hand wage saying that such talk is the result of Western thinking, and it’s a debate between Catholics and Protestants. The Archbishop does not do this. Rather than viewing our eternal state as the payment or punishment for our deeds, he frames it as the logical end to a given lifestyle choice.
A person destroys himself, since evil deeds frequently repeated make a person evil in his nature and incapable of experiencing that light and joy, which is the natural lot of those who are good.
This (and the above) fits well with the Eastern understanding of sin as a disease rather than a legal infraction, and salvation as a healing process rather than a system of justice. I appreciate the sharp contrast drawn here from a prominent theologian.
Shifting to the topic of worldly vs. spiritual works, Archbishop Averky defines those “good” deeds from the worldly perspective as “autonomous morality”, meaning a moral system of ethics that acts in and of itself, and apart from God.
what kind of real incentive does autonomous morality offer us? “Good for goodness’ sake”? Such an idea is very obscure. How can such a vague motivation give us the strength to overcome our inborn egoism, or compel us to do what is of no interest or profit for us?
Yes, and Amen. I often find it insufferable when I hear counter-apologists saying things like “I can be good for goodness sake” and “my good deeds mean more than a religious person’s because when I do them I want to, but when they do them, it’s because they’re being told to.” This may sound persuasive on it’s surface, but that’s only because it’s based upon a complete farce. The concept of “Good for goodness sake” takes for granted that a shared definition of “good” in the descriptive sense, and “goodness” in the ontological sense exists between Christians and non-Christians. It doesn’t.
The majority of people have religious feelings, although they are suppressed, they are still active, glinting like a small spark deep in the recesses of the soul. Even if these feelings are hidden, they inspire one towards moral actions, and the person does good, stimulated by these inner feelings, sometimes subconsciously, not fully recognizing the fact.
That small spark deep in the soul is the “goodness” for whose sake we act, even if we reject God. The problem is that a non-believer would never agree to this, and thus discussions on morality with those who do not believe in anything transcendent are doomed to fail from the start. There is no neutral ground on which we can both stand and debate. Our entire moral fabric is based on our relationship to a transcendent God whose very existence is denied. Instead, the non-Christian will take whatever the morality of the day proclaims as good and attempt to accumulate deeds affirming that morality, all the while failing to see that such endeavors are entirely based on vanity. This is why the phenomenon of virtue signalling is so prevalent in Western culture.
If we truly, unhypocritically love God as our Father, then we must love our neighbors as our brothers.
True altruism has its source in love for God. This is why Christian morality is unchanging. We do not sway with the winds of the world as does worldly altruism. We need not acquire the approval of others in our actions for them to be moral, as our actions are not defined as moral from others, but from God Himself.
Therefore, you who are perishing in the wickedness of human pride, humble yourself prostrate your iron will beneath Christ’s blessed yoke. Otherwise you will not find salvation!
Indeed! Worldly altruism just is human pride. It is seeking the approval of our fellow man of our actions in hopes of being considered virtuous in the minds of others. Chasing after this is folly, as anyone keeping up on current events can note. In our world, that which was politically correct days ago can now be seen as the height of bigotry if it serves the political purposes du jour. Keeping up with such shifting morality is a religious discipline in and of itself, but the religion is demonic.
Let us all continue to look to God Himself as the source of all that is good, for goodness sake!