Saturday, April 9, 2011

Origen on justice and goodness

Origen, in refuting the heretics who separate the God of the Old Testament from the God of the New Testament, and thus separate justice and goodness accordingly, seems to rather make the issue of biblical interpretation more difficult, rather than less:
Now I think they must, in the first place, be required to show, if they can, agreeably to their own definition, that the Creator is just in punishing according to their deserts, either those who perished at the time of the deluge, or the inhabitants of Sodom, or those who had quitted Egypt, seeing we sometimes behold committed crimes more wicked and detestable than those for which the above-mentioned persons were destroyed, while we do not yet see every sinner paying the penalty of his misdeeds. Will they say that He who at one time was just has been made good? Or will they rather be of opinion that He is even now just, but is patiently enduring human offences, while that then He was not even just, inasmuch as He exterminated innocent and sucking children along with cruel and ungodly giants?
If I didn't know any better, I'd almost say this was an atheist responding. It would be one thing, after all, if every evildoer really got his just deserts; then perhaps we could make sense of God's wrath in the Old Testament. Since real life doesn't quite work that way, what are we to do with God's "justice"? It gets even worse, as Origen points out the troublesome manner in which the New Testament presents God's goodness:
Again, in a certain parable of the Gospel, where the king enters in to see the guests reclining at the banquet, he beheld a certain individual not clothed with wedding raiment, and said to him, “Friend, how camest thou in hither, not having a wedding garment?” and then ordered his servants, “Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Let them tell us who is that king who entered in to see the guests, and finding one amongst them with unclean garments, commanded him to be bound by his servants, and thrust out into outer darkness. Is he the same whom they call just? How then had he commanded good and bad alike to be invited, without directing their merits to be inquired into by his servants? By such procedure would be indicated, not the character of a just God who rewards according to men’s deserts, as they assert, but of one who displays undiscriminating goodness towards all. Now, if this must necessarily be understood of the good God, i.e., either of Christ or of the Father of Christ, what other objection can they bring against the justice of God’s judgment? Nay, what else is there so unjust charged by them against the God of the law as to order him who had been invited by His servants, whom He had sent to call good and bad alike, to be bound hand and foot, and to be thrown into outer darkness, because he had on unclean garments?
If Origen, in seeking to refute heretics, only plunges us deeper into doubt over the Scripture's portrayal of God, what are we to do? The resolution seems to be this line:
Now, such are their opinions, because they know not how to understand anything beyond the letter; otherwise they would show how it is literal justice for sins to be visited upon the heads of children to the third and fourth generation, and on children’s children after them. By us, however, such things are not understood literally; but, as Ezekiel taught when relating the parable, we inquire what is the inner meaning contained in the parable itself.
In other words, we just need to get back to the Origen-al meaning of the texts.

1 comment:

I love to hear feedback!