BY Mark Shea
May 4-10, 2008 Issue | Posted 4/29/08 at 5:31 PM
The Christian faith drives ideologues crazy. And as our ideologies change, so do the things that irritate us about the faith. But there’s always something.
Because, in this fallen world, we do not really progress.
Yesterday’s crazy ideology breeds rebels who throw off the crazy old ideology and establish, not sanity, but a crazy new ideology.
Only the faith is sane because only the faith comes, not from crazy fallen humans, but from God himself in human flesh.
So, for instance, in antiquity, the egalitarianism of the faith was scandalous.
It was all so disgustingly vulgar to a Greco-Roman culture that had not the slightest qualms about saying that some — indeed most — people were naturally inferior.
Pagans came by this notion honestly, because the whole conception of human beings as “equal” owes its entire existence to the Judeo-Christian tradition and absolutely nothing else. It is pure mysticism based solely and exclusively on Genesis and related biblical texts.
Pagans, having no access to this revelation, tended to concur with Aristotle that some people were “natural slaves” and “talking plows” since it is manifestly obvious that people are not equal in terms of intelligence, musical aptitude, facility with languages, strength, speed, mathematical abilities and a million other factors.
Alone in pagan antiquity was the Christian claim that God is no respecter of persons, and that all were equally beloved by him who gave his only Son to save all, right down to the most wretched and seemingly insignificant sinner.
That’s why some of the earliest criticisms of the faith came from elitists of various stripes who could not believe that any self-respecting revelation from God could possibly involve the first century equivalents of trailer trash.
For Jews, the classic complaint was, “He eats with prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners.”
For Gentile philosophers like Celsus, the complaint was similar. It boiled down to “Look at those tacky people! Just look at them! Slaves! Women! Children! The dregs of the earth!”
Celsus lived in a world where such a complaint would be taken as self-evident proof that Christianity was laughable.
Today, however, we live in a world with very different assumptions. That’s because 2,000 years of Christian mysticism about human equality coursing through the bloodstream of Western culture makes us tend to mistake our supernatural advantages for our natural virtues.
Now we tend to “hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” And because we take equality as self-evident something entirely different about the faith offends us: the notion that some people are “chosen.”
There’s no escaping the doctrine. God is constantly choosing people in Scripture. From Abraham to Moses to David to Jesus himself. God chooses this one and not that one. Indeed, according to Paul you and I are chosen, if we are baptized. That’s why he writes:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:3-4).
And Paul says this because his Master said before him, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16).
The fact that God chooses is as offensive to moderns as God’s acceptance of all was offensive to ancients.
Why does God heal this person but not that one? Why does God give this person a gift and not that person? Why is that person blessed with something and not that one?
The answer of the Tradition is as startling and surprising as the answer given to ancients. Just as God calls all because he made and redeemed all in love, so he chooses this one and that one — in love.
The pattern is given in Genesis and never really varies. When God chooses Abraham out of all the nations as the one with whom he makes his covenant, he tells Abraham: “by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves” (Genesis 12:3).
In other words, Abraham alone is chosen out of all the nations, so that, through him, God can bless all the people he did not choose. The chosen are chosen for the sake of the unchosen.
That has huge implications. It means, for instance, that those who, say, miraculously survive the railway catastrophe are not just “lucky”, nor are they “the ones God loved” to the exclusion of those who died. Rather, they are signs of the hope of life for those who did not survive.
Those who are healed are healed not because God loves them more than those who are unhealed, but as signs of the hope of ultimate healing in heaven.
God chooses some for the same reason he calls all — because he is Love.
Mark Shea is the content editor
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