Yesterday in his sermon our pastor, in a move that seems at least a little bit overdue, commented at some length on the difficulties that are found in trying to separate out the titles and actions of God the Father and Jesus Christ when both of them are in heaven, and commented at least briefly on some of the more obvious heresies that crop up from time to time relating to the nature of Jesus Christ and the failure to recognize His eternal nature by considering Him to be a created being. As someone who has long studied the issue of the nature of God and Jesus Christ and a great many of the heresies about these subjects that have developed over the centuries, it is remarkable that so many heresies have been generated in this subject and that so many of them came about so early on. One book I read, and I believe it, commented that even in “Orthodox” circles that the understanding that most ordinary lay Hellenistic Christians have about the nature of God would itself be in agreement with the heresy of modalism.
At least in theory it is worthwhile to ponder why it is that there are so many heresies concentrated about the nature of God and the nature(s) of Jesus Christ. (This is true no matter what conception of the nature of God one has, for one will view every view that is different from one’s own as a heresy). Given the fact that there are not all that many great heresies, why is it that so many would be focused on the question of nature as it relates to God? Having pondered about these questions myself, it appears most evident that the difficulties spring from the difficulty, to say nothing about the folly, of trying to come to a firm intellectual grasp of that which involves spirit when we are human beings of limited understanding and experience with the full nature of the universe in which we live. When feeble minds with little understanding whose lives inhabit only a small corner of the universe and a narrow aspect of the possibilities of existence, there will be distortions made and there will be a tendency to make firm distinctions and attempt tidy definitions where one simply lacks the clarity to properly make such determinations.
How would one avoid coming to rest in any number of heretical views that are possible to have? A large part of the answer as far as avoiding heretical views must come from understanding what the Bible says as well as possible–for apart from divine revelation we can have no insights as to matters of spirit, being what we are as human beings for whom the workings of the spiritual in our lives are deeply mysterious. Combined with that desire to understand as well as possible from the limited sources of information we have must also be a great deal of humility. We are a great deal less likely to go seriously wrong if we admit that our knowledge is partial and limited and our understanding of such matters is at best incomplete where it exists at all and to refrain from letting our speculations carry the force of firm and convicted beliefs on areas that are slender twigs or thin ice, depending on what metaphor you prefer. To recognize the boundaries of our knowledge and to leave determinations to try to precisely understand such matters and to humbly accept our present limitations and look forward to our future understanding is the wisest of approaches in such matters.
In fact, understanding how the early Church went so wrong, we can grasp how it is that there are so many heresies relating to the nature of God and of Jesus Christ. In many cases, human reasoning sought to demarcate areas where the Bible had not been very precise, and then sought to create a large amount of non-biblical language in order to describe their views (and the views of others) towards scripture. At every point that which was said in the Bible invited people to take things to extremes, to take what applied to one aspect of the workings of God and Jesus Christ and extrapolate it to areas where it did not apply. When you combine this with the desire that various people had to be authorities on matters far beyond their competence in understanding and the fact that human beings tend not to be humble when it comes to admitting their ignorance and would far often prefer to speculate and imagine a firm knowledge of areas where ignorance and error reign, the proliferation of various heresies was in fact inevitable. To be sure, understanding what we can is of great importance, but it is also of great importance to recognize the limits of our understanding and to be aware of where we are vulnerable to improper generalizations or misguided attempts to be surgical about areas where distinguishing is difficult, even if it is hard to do.