Wednesday, February 5, 2014

‘Man was in Danger of Disappearing’

Islam as Consequence of the Fall, and Sign of the End

by Ralph H. Sidway

I have a great appreciation for Fr Stephen Freeman’s writing, for he consistently strives to bring fresh perspective and understanding to the American mind on the great mystery of salvation. Or, as he puts it, Finding a way to understand our reconciliation with God that is not the same set of arguments (wrath, debt, justice, etc.), working from the same set of tired, misused Bible verses.”

To this end, in his recent essay ‘Saving the Atonement’, he relates:

I was struck particularly by something [St Athanasius] said in On the Incarnation of the Word:   
”Man was in danger of disappearing.” 
He was describing the existential position of the human race after the fall. Refusing communion with the only truly existing God, we began to fall back towards the nothing from which we were created. Either we are sustained by grace and flourish, or we increasingly cease to exist. 
I can see that human life is almost always in such a danger… 
And so I’ve been speaking on “saving the atonement,”  What has God done in order for us to not disappear? What does it mean to disappear? What would it mean that we should appear? 
And to all of these things Orthodoxy bears a rich witness. And the richness of that witness is beautiful. For, as Pavel Florensky rightly wrote, “Beauty is the criterion of truth.” For the first tell-tale signs of disappearing come in the forms of ugliness. For our existence, from the beginning, came in the form of the image of God, the truly good and beautiful. 
God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, who took upon Himself our ugliness that we should take upon ourselves His beauty 
It is a tell-tale sign of my sinfulness that I would be satisfied (I lie) with an existence that is mere appearance – that I should merely not disappear. But God will not be satisfied (and this is the true satisfaction theory) with anything less than my appearance in beauty and truth, for to exist in anything less than beauty is to begin to disappear. 
And knowing this is part of “saving” the atonement. For hearts everywhere cry for beauty even as they pursue something less.

Framing salvation and atonement in this way is startling, I think. It pierces the fog of our pre-conceived formulae and familiar frameworks. Being a Christian becomes a cosmic imperative, filled with an existential urgency. Can we rouse ourselves to spiritually and literally throw ourselves into the outstretched arms of the God Who is Love? If we can, we then become alive, beautiful, true, in and through Him. Then we may appear like Him and be joined with Him when He appears at His Awesome and Glorious Second Coming.

What could be more beautiful than the Only-Begotten Son of God stretching out His arms on the cross, so that He might embrace and envelop all people everywhere into the eternal beauty of Life lived in God? The image of Jesus on the Cross is not merely an image of sacrifice (though it is that), but it is the image of God Himself pouring out His very fullness unto the last drop of blood — for us! — to show us His boundless love for us. In doing so, He also shows us how to love and forgive our enemies and persecutors, even those who put us to death. Love forgives hate. Beauty forgives ugliness. 

But this does not mean that ugliness and hate cease to exist.

Rather, and this is the tragic consequence of the fall, there is hate, there is ugliness, and there is a religion from which hate and ugliness ooze like stinking pus from open sores. 

What could be more ugly than a religion which distances Man from God, reduces Man to slave, and demands merely unthinking submission? What could be more ugly than a religion which commands its followers to:

Fight against those who believe not in Allah, nor in the Last Day, nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth [i.e. Islam] among the people of the Book [Jews and Christians], until they pay the jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued. (Quran 9:29) 
Kill the unbelievers wherever you find them, and capture them and besiege them, and prepare for them each and every ambush. (Quran 9:5) 
I will cast terror into the hearts of those who have disbelieved, so strike them over the necks, and smite over all their fingers and toes. (Quran 8:12) 
So, when you meet those who disbelieve, smite at their necks till when you have killed and wounded many of them, then bind a bond firmly on them... Thus you are ordered by Allah to continue in carrying out jihad against the disbelievers till they embrace Islam. (Quran 47:4)

The great tragedy of Islam is that Muslims themselves desire beauty in the depth of their heart (for they also are created in the image of God), yet they dare not leave Islam to seek salvation in the Light of Christ for fear of the penalty their religion and prophet demands:

If they turn back from Islam, becoming renegades, seize them and kill them wherever you find them. (Quran 4:89) 
“[In the words of] Allah’s Apostle, ‘If anyone changes his religion from Islam, kill him’.” (Sahih Bukhari 9.84.57; also Bukhari, 9.52:260, 9.83:37) 
The Prophet said, “The blood of a Muslim... is not lawful to shed unless he... abandons his religion [i.e. Islam] and the Muslim community.” (Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, Reliance of the Traveller, A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law, o1; Al Azhar, Cairo 1991; p 583.)

Threats, murder, warfare, smiting with the sword, striking unbelievers on the neck, beheadings, stonings, kidnapping, terrorism, bombings, death for apostates, conquering infidels and demanding submission: is this not ugliness incarnate? Is this not hatred incarnate?

Today, as it did in the seventh century via the Arab jihad, and as it did in the eleventh through seventeenth centuries via the Ottomans, Islam is waging war against God and His Christ yet again. Islam’s fourteen-century-old war against Christians is actually the devil’s age old war against God and His Christ. And with the rise of Islam, ugliness and hatred are rising too, all around us, in culture, politics, the arts, and even in the Christian world. Islam’s resurgence is a sign of the end.

And Man is in danger of disappearing.