The Will and the Good

When this post was first written, I had in mind to speak about the topic of silence as a way of seeing more clearly the way of being good. This relates directly to other recent posts about humility as something which is not self-abuse but a lack of self-consciousness through watchfulness. Silence is essential to this watchfulness.

Some way into the writing it became obvious that quotes and introductory material should be included before writing on the main topic, so silence became the title of tomorrow’s post. After rereading this post it seemed incoherent to me–merely a string of precursory thoughts and quotes. So it has been rewritten. What follows below the line is better preparation for tomorrow, and stands on its own.


First, two definitions and then a question.

The human will is the faculty by which we act. This is not to say that it is some some sort of personal prime mover, but it is the agency by which we can chose to do take action based on our experiences.

The human will operates in two different modes, one is limited by human understanding and degraded by such things as fear, envy and pride; the other is unlimited and in harmony with the will of God. We call the later the natural will and the former, lesser operation the gnomic will.

This is the question proposed: How will we do the good and turn our minds from the purely pragmatic and limited gnomic operation of the will? Or said differently, how can we be like Christ, living in harmony with the Father though the power of the Holy Spirit? How does this actually work?

The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is unclouded, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is dark, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

If the human eye is clouded, if human beings cannot know perfectly how to act and in fact often react in fear or out of other psychological malfunctions, how can we possibly do good? Of course, the short answer is revelation from God. God says one thing is good and the other is bad; but it does not take a great deal of investigation to realize that persons of good intent still disagree on what God says or how to apply it.

There must be a way–a method or approach, not to perfect instant knowledge, but to being perfected in Christ though a way of knowing. This is more than baptism, communion or keeping rules (though these are essential elements). This is about the way to live our lives in Christ. And we know this way must be available to all, for He calls sinners, little children, and fools.

Here there is an important philosophical aside.

There are two popular philosophical positions which state that if God is to be considered good, free will must be crushed; and the contrapositive, if free will is to be preserved, God cannot be perfectly good. These positions arise from the problem of evil and whether or not God is responsible for it.

But these assertions both assume that the goodness of God is simple, that it is singular. Christ shows us that is not the case in the scriptures, for He asks that the cup pass from him (Christ certainly did not will an evil here) but voluntarily submitted (emptied Himself of his equality) to the Father.

This is critical. Christ willed something different, but that difference did not constitute opposition. This frustrated the early Greek Christians until they realized that the One wasn’t simple, but infinite (apologies to the Neo-Platonists). That is there are limitless goods in God which all His images fulfill (this is why Orthodox Christians are synergists).

This too is how healthy communities can function. That each member might retain his will for the good of the community, but submit that will to harmony. We need not solve the problem of individuality with absolute oppression (just as we do not need to solve the problem of salvation through Monergism).

I do not accept that there are two alternatives, oppressive preexistent authority and chaotic unfettered individualism. It is possible to have cooperation through voluntary submission.

Here the philosophical aside ends.

To illustrate this way of going about living in Christ, these quotes and comments round out my introduction to tomorrow’s post about silence. They are offered for your consideration:

First, a quote about our need for a cure.

There are some who would like to discover pure and unchanging truth by themselves before believing. But only a heart that has been purified can enable them to contemplate it. ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’ Otherwise they would be like the blind men thinking they can be cured by turning their unseeing eyes towards the sun. Who can possibly contemplate its light before recovering his sight? (Augustine of Hippo)

And then about what this cure is, that is being wounded by love:

The Bride says, ‘I am wounded by love’. By these words she designated the arrow that sinks deep into her heart. [God shoots his chosen arrow, his only begotten Son.]
Thus the soul is uplifted by this divine elevation and sees in itself the sweet arrow of love with which it has been wounded, and glories in its wounding in the words; ‘I am wounded by love’. (Gregory of Nyssa)

Christ’s life wounds us. In fact, we must be wounded unto death itself. As the scriptures say, we must die with Him to be raised up with Him. And again they say, we must suffer with Him to share in His glory.

Now from the sayings of the desert fathers, concerning what is good:

Many have ruined their bodies with no discernment and gone away without finding anything. We may have evil-smelling breath because of our fasting, we may know the Scriptures by heart, we may recite all the psalms and still lack what God is looking for — love and humility.

Such a quote is not so different that Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians that without love all our other feats of righteousness and virtue are worthless. So then we come to this next point by John Chrysostom, that the mixture of sin and humility is worth more than the mixture of virtue and pride:

Imagine two chariots. Harness virtue and pride to one, sin and humility to the other. You will see the chariot drawn by sin outstrip that of virtue. To understand why remember the Pharisee and the publican, one relied on his own righteousness, the other needed to say only a few words to be free of all his sins. This is precisely what Christ wanted to demonstrate when he said, ‘Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’.

Isaac of Nineveh called humility the ornament of the godhead. That Christ clothed himself in our flesh in humility made our knowledge of God (that which was impossible) possible. Christ’s humility was the first step in the curing of our spiritual blindness. The second step is our own humility in concert with Christ, In His presence make no pretence of knowledge. Approach God rather with the heart of a child. Go into His presence to receive the loving care with which fathers look after their little children.

And so we find the key to set free on our will from its clouded bondage, When God sees that in all purity of heart you are trusting in Him more than yourself, then a strength unknown to you will come to make its dwelling in you. And you will feel in all your senses the power of Him who is with you. If we depend on our own strength to will the good, to keep virtue, we will fail; but if we voluntarily submit in humility then it will be to us as if our greatest feats are mere trifles. If we are wounded by love–If we are silent.

This is the righteousness reckoned of Abraham and exclaimed by James as the proof of faith, that we are able to work goodness. That it is possible, by faith to live in accordance with the will of God. Not by being perfect, but by submitting to being perfected by His power.

With this rewritten version, I believe the groundwork is better prepared to address silence tomorrow. And I thank and apologize to those who read, or attempted to read, the first version.

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