What it’s all about

The point of the Collect for Purity, the end point of justification by faith, sanctification by whatever means necessary, of the means of grace, of any ascetic life or holy living, is not merely “to be good.” The end point — the telos — of all this God himself. Reading about Richard Hooker, reading The Cloud of Unknowing, thinking about historic asceticism — in all of it I need to keep this in mind.

It is expressed most beautifully by John Cassian, Conference 10.7:

And this will come to pass when God shall be all our love, and every desire and wish and effort, every thought of ours, and all our life and words and breath, and that unity which already exists between the Father and the Son, and the Son and the Father, has been shed abroad in our hearts and minds, so that as He loves us with a pure and unfeigned and indissoluble love, so we also may be joined to Him by a lasting and inseparable affection, since we are so united to Him that whatever we breathe or think, or speak is God, since, as I say, we attain to that end of which we spoke before, which the same Lord in His prayer hopes may be fulfilled in us: that they all may be one as we are one, I in them and You in Me, that they also may be made perfect in one; and again: Father, those whom You have given Me, I will that where I am, they may also be with Me. (John 17:22-24)

(The Orthodox call it theosis.)


A. W. Tozer on the results of improper belief

In The Knowledge of the Holy, Tozer writes:

A right conception of God is basic not only to systematic theology but to practical Christian living as well.  It is to worship what the foundation is to the temple; where it is inadequate or out of plumb the whole structure must sooner or later collapse.  I believe there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God. (2)

Throughout my reading of this book I was trying to think of how a misunderstanding of God’s attributes could lead to the results Tozer relates, for I want to desperately to believe him.

My answer was found in his chapter on the love of God.  One of the points made throughout The Knowledge of the Holy is the interrelatedness of the divine attributes.  A loss to one means a loss to the others.  And thus come the errors through a misunderstanding of God’s love.  Yes, God is love.  However, we must not overemphasise this teaching to the detriment of the other divine attributes.  We must also avoid imagining that love is God, or imagining that God’s love is the same as ours.

There are Christians abroad in my tradition (Anglican) who hold that sexual sins — same-sex sexual acts, pre-marital relations — are not actually sins, and some are even blessable.  Some such people also act as though sin in general is no big deal, or that sin only refers to the big, criminal things, such as murder or only refers to the great social injustices of our age.  This stems, I believe from a gross misunderstanding of God’s love, and, in fact, of love in general.

If God loves people, why would he condemn them for being how they are made?  If God loves people, why would he condemn them for doing things that are perfectly natural?  If God loves people, why would he wish to put any restrictions on them at all?  Does not love mean to seek the pleasure and happiness of the beloved?  If you love someone, do you really want to restrict that person’s behaviour?  A loving God cannot, therefore, condemn certain behaviours that have recently become social acceptable, for to do so would be to marginalise those who behave in such a way.

Yet if we back up and look at every vision of God in the Scriptures, from Noah to St. John the Divine, do we not get a sense of a truly majestic Being, full of grandeur, greatness, and completely different from us?  A Being whom Ezekiel finds himself at a loss of words to describe? (See Tozer, p. 7)  What, besides pure, unbounded love, are God’s attributes?  A. W. Tozer gives us:

  • Incomprehensibility
  • Holy Trinity
  • Self-existence
  • Self-sufficiency
  • Eternity
  • Infinitude
  • Immutability
  • Omniscience
  • Wisdom
  • Omnipotence
  • Transcendence
  • Omnipresence
  • Faithfulness
  • Goodness
  • Justice
  • Mercy
  • Grace
  • Holiness
  • Sovereignty

Such a one as that would surely establish boundaries for our daily living.  God condemns our wrong behaviour, be it socially acceptable or not, because He wants to see us living in the fullest, most whole way possible.  If we think that His love is like what I described above and do not take into account the other divine attributes, we will miss this point and start condoning sin.  And that leads us down a treacherous road to licentiousness and heresy.

Woe is us!