When Chaos Ruled the World – Part II


The imagery of a cosmic battle with chaos described in part one, is properly the foundation for the Christian life. “Chaos” is a metaphor for so much that threatens God’s good creation and makes war against His saints. It is also an understanding that is almost completely lost in the modern world.

We generally fail to notice that modernity is a phenomenon of the “first world.” It is an understanding that presumes the kind of prosperity and progress that marks the middle class in industrial and post-industrial societies. When the American founders wrote that the project they were initiating was for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” they were repeating the words of Scottish Enlightenment philosophers who created the foundations of the middle class world. England was dominated by its fascination with the privilege of the upper class. Scotland was an outlier whose experiments unleashed the economic and intellectual forces that created a thriving class of merchants. Scotland abolished its parliament in 1707, passing the baton to England and a “British Parliament,” largely for economic reasons. The pursuit of happiness and prosperity became two words for the same thing.

The struggle against chaos has little place in the modern middle class. We do not presume chaos; we presume progress. We live in a world of standards, measures, approvals and rewards. As such, our Christianity is morphed into a bourgeois preparation and testing for a future reward. The Christian life becomes just one version of the middle-class progress in the ultimate pursuit of happiness. Life is good, and is going to get better. Jesus died to open up heaven so that our prosperity and happiness need not end with death.

This, of course, is a distortion that borders on blasphemy. Most of the gospel is alien to this milieu, and is often interpreted in a manner that softens its bite and suggests that Christ was mostly exaggerating. Hell looms not as an existential threat but merely as a place where the unsuccessful (“bad”) people go when they die.

Problematic for traditional Christianity’s confrontation with this false gospel is the fact that the false uses the same language as the true, distorting meanings and undermining the truth with its narrative. We do not see ourselves or our world in the manner God sees it, at least not in the manner described in the New Testament. It is quite possibly the case that only the poorest of the poor in America are even remotely prepared to hear the gospel in its original form (and even they generally live in the same delusion as those who lord it over them, seeing themselves as merely “unsuccessful”).

The material success enjoyed by one segment of the modern world obscures both the fragility of life as well as those injustices employed to make it possible. The economic segregation of modern societies hides much of the endemic poverty within our age. We are able to pretend much about ourselves and about our world that is simply untrue. This same pretense is increased and abetted by false theologies.

Imagine that you live as a “sharecropper” (a form of employment in farming that has largely ceased in America). Suppose, as well, that your family has lived in such a manner for generations. Each year, the income from farming has to cover the year’s living expenses as well as the seed and supplies for next year’s crop. Most years it falls short, but the owner of the fields is “kind,” and willing to extend credit. Year by year, the debt grows and the work continues.

This is much closer to the world in which the gospel was first preached. The gospel (and the Law of Moses) were not alone in addressing the injustice of such a world. In Hammurabi’s Law Code, dating back to around 1500 B.C., we read:

“If any one owe a debt for a loan, and a storm prostrates the grain, or the harvest fail, or the grain does not grow for lack of water, in that year he need not give his creditor any grain, he washes his debt-tablet in water and pays no rent for this year.”

In American sharecropping, the debt simply rolled over and increased. Our modern delusion hides the fact from us that we are all sharecroppers.

Chaos and hell in such a context are much more easily understood. When Israel was in ancient Egypt, hell was their slavery. It was the chaos that prevented them from living. Christ describes his ministry in terms that the poor of the land would quickly understand:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. (Luk 4:18-19)

There were many people in Israel for whom such a proclamation was good news. There were others for whom this was quite the opposite. They were the creditors (in one form or another). Religiously, economically, they ruled Israel and held its poor and brokenhearted in bondage.

In our modernized Christianity, hell has been stolen and used as one of many threats for the poor and brokenhearted. It is “God’s punishment” added to their own. God has been coopted to serve the requirements of the powers that be.

But the gospel is quite clear about who stands in true danger of those terrible flames. It is not the poor and needy nor the brokenhearted. In the only illustration of judgment given in the New Testament, it is those who did not feed, clothe or visit the needy who are in danger. In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, we are not told of any good deeds by which Lazarus gains paradise. We hear only that “in his life, Lazarus received evil things.” How does that qualify him for paradise? The Rich Man received “good things.” Now Lazarus is comforted and the Rich Man is tormented. What is going on?

He has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent away empty. (Lk. 1:53)

God is doing that which was prophesied by Mary. It is the result of the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God. That Kingdom is the “right-setting” of the world (probably a better way to translate “righteousness”). It is the slaying of chaos in whatever form in which it oppresses and destroys. Christ has come “that you might have life.” The thrust of the gospel, in the proclamation of the Kingdom, is an invitation to choose sides. The commandments regarding generosity, kindness, mercy and forgiveness (always stated in radical terms) are an urging that we take up the position of the “hungry” and renounce the position of the “rich.” In commandment after commandment, in the Sermon on the Mount, this point is made repeatedly. A “right-setting” is taking place and we need to pay attention to what that means (repent).

Of course, this can be internalized as well. The right-setting that “fills the hungry with good things” is also a healing of the human heart and the transformation of the soul. The promise of salvation is a life in true union with Christ. That union means “we shall be like Him” (Jn. 3:2). We are conformed to the love that is revealed in every word and action of Christ. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (Jn. 14:15).

Hell is the consequence of an allegiance with chaos and oppression. It is putting oneself on the wrong side of the “right-setting” of the Kingdom.

Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low:
and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:
And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together:
for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. (Isa 40:3-5)


The image is by James Laura and belongs to a Private Collection/The Bridgeman Art Library Nationality





About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



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38 responses to “When Chaos Ruled the World – Part II”

  1. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    It is true, Satan tells only enough truth to make the lie believable and deceives by distorting the meanings of what the Lord said.

  2. Byron Avatar

    The economic segregation of modern societies hides much of the endemic poverty within our age. We are able to pretend much about ourselves and about our world that is simply untrue.

    I recall a new story about how California preaches openness to illegal immigrants, but the people in that state build walls around their communities so they cannot see them and they cannot enter their property. The parable of Lazarus indeed….

  3. Esmée La Fleur Avatar

    Wow… Just Wow! Another brilliant article Father. So rich. Thank you once again for setting our thinking right. You have an incredible talent for getting above the chaos of this world and putting it into a meaningful context that we, as Orthodox Christians, can understand.

  4. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I sometimes imagine a Second Coming. Only Jesus appears in communities where most of us would be afraid to go…

  5. Janine Avatar

    I have often felt that the story of Pandora’s Box is a good analogy to the first sun. All kinds of chaos ensues, every crazy thing one could hear preached or thought or taught. Chaos is also an amalogy for the disuntegration of relationships, especially of family or community, which serves as the last safety net. It is the absence of love and its many forms.

  6. Janine Avatar

    Oh my goodness, just saw all the typos in my dashed off post!
    First sun should be first sin.
    Amalogy, analogy.
    Chaos is not allowing for what takes time 🙂

  7. Janine Avatar

    D’oh…disuntegration, disintegration.

    One other note, some economists say that technological advancement drives greater inequality via automation. It’s a serious and growing immediate problem.

  8. Paula Avatar

    Yes, the gated communities! They are all over in America! Here where I live we are by no means wealthy…and when the wealthy move to the area, many are comfortable or feel safe in this type of housing. An odd way of identification with our fellow human beings.
    Father…your comment above … 🙂 !

  9. Matt Avatar

    Father, thank you for recognizing that the oppressive structures of our world are the real chaos.

    Such a truth is not obvious and is easily forgotten when we daily hear chaos opposed to “the law” and “the law” is continuously refitted to perpetrate and enable that oppression.

  10. Beth Avatar

    The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like … those rich people who shut themselves up in gated communities …

    I think we should be careful what we assume and imagine about ‘people’

  11. Dean Avatar

    I grew up in a working class family. I managed to get a couple of degrees (with my wife earning a PHT, put hubby through!) and teach. We are fortunate. retired and live in a mobile home park. Lots of people here live on social security, some on $1,200 a month…barely scrape by. There is free bread distribution on Mondays. This helps many. I’m sure corporations get a tax right off for this, but I know Costco and Trader Joe’s give food stuffs and other items to churches and food pantries. The local Trader Joe’s gave over $500,000 in food last year that was about to expire, but still good. Mexico has no help, outside the family, for elderly and disabled. When we lived there it was common to see 70 and 80 year olds collecting cardboard and the like to simply be able to buy beans and tortillas. Our government could do more, and better, I’m sure. But thank God for the aid millions of the poor and disenfranchised do receive. Thank Him for thousands of store-front churches in inner cities too.

  12. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dean (and Beth, perhaps),
    My point isn’t that we need to figure out how to fix things. America loves to “fix” things – our wars (“on poverty” “on drugs”, etc.) have done very little that makes a huge difference. Some problems are worse than when we started (i.e. drugs). My point is rightly reading and understanding what is in the gospel.

    There are tremendous dangers in wealth (even of the middle-class version) – particularly to the soul. The Scriptures and the Fathers are pretty forthright on this. I offer no judgment for those in gated communities of any sort – but simply the content of the gospel which we need to understand and consider. What people do with it will be whatever they want.

    But we need to de-Americanize the gospel. Our culture, which is exceedingly powerful as a mental thing, distorts the faith in so many ways. Just chew on the article, and re-read the gospels with it in mind.

  13. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    The reason our “fixes” of societal problems (War on Poverty,Drugs,Unwed Mothers etc) do not work is because they always address the “Supply” side of the problem. We try to pass out money or deny drug shipments and we fail because Supply is not the problem. The problem is Demand. People demand welfare, drugs, free sex etc but this is the symptom not the cause of the problems we have to address.
    Our culture is the problem and to fix it we must become a culture of communion. The American Colonies were never founded to have communion, although in the early days it was forced upon us. The early settles had to band together and they did so mainly in family groups as well as groups of families (who later became related by marriage). A group of pioneers in a wagon train was certainly bound by communion.
    Faith (even though Protestant mainly) helped to glue communities together in the common bond of communion. With Industrialization, the Depression, and the coming of WW II communities drifted apart and the individualism that drove the pioneer spirit became a destructive force. Today, even in our gated communities, we do not know any or many of our neighbors and we view each other with almost suspicion. This has created a huge social and psychological problem in this country and in Western society as a whole (but somewhat less so). This has created the demand for diversion filled by drugs and entertainment. We are isolated so we ignore the plight of others. Families have disintegrated and many children are born into single parent homes which simply aren’t the equal of God’s plan.
    In Hebrew society, the family was held liable for supporting their poor relatives and getting them on their feet. They failed in many cases and it would not surprise me if in the story of the pauper Lazarus that he might be a distant cousin of the rich man. This is the reason that the Lord gave His Mother to John because He had no earthly family other than her and hers was deceased so there was no one to look after her.
    The solution is in Scripture but good luck in getting politicians and the people to buy in. However, there is no other way than His way to set things right.

  14. Suzie Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,
    Can you give your thoughts and perhaps clarification about those who do happen to be blessed at this time with good jobs, a house, etc. Are we saying that those who have good things and have not “received evil”, as Lazarus did, are on the wrong side of God,? Or is it those who have the means but do not share it to care for the poor, hungry, orphaned and widowed that are on the wrong side of God? The rich man in the parable “received good things” but the problem is not that he had good things, it is that he did not honor God and use his blessings to help others. Riches were his god. In the Old Testament we see Job, who had great flocks and holdings, which God restored after his trials. Being well off can certainly be a stumbling block as we see in scripture, but are we saying all who are rich are evil? We can all give to the Kingdom of God with time, treasure and talent as we are able. Having some extra money allows many people to help fund the feeding and clothing of the needy, training programs for jobs, support for those who need drug rehabilitation, etc. As we are taught to look at our own sins and not to judge in Orthodoxy, we should be careful not to judge people just because they have money or live in gated communities . We can make a discernment about people based on how they conduct themselves, the fruit they bear, but we are not to judge. There was a day, perhaps in our grandparents time, when we lived in communities where people knew each other, held the same values, crime was rare, people didn’t lock their doors. Today crime is rampant and safety is a concern. Our society is disintegrating. We should not judge people because they have money, just as we should not judge people because they are poor. Some have money because of hard work and they share; while others step on their fellow human beings to get riches. Some are poor because they do not have a relationship with the Triune God to know what is good, or have walked a path to ruin; and others are poor because of the way our world is structured through no action of their own. Being careful and discerning in a chaotic society in which there are “robbers, evildoers and murderers” does not mean we are like the Pharisee who thinks he is better than everyone else. I appreciate your thoughts.

  15. Paula Avatar

    As I sit here removing my foot from my mouth, I apologize for my misspoken words about gated communities. I should have realized before I clicked “post comment” that not only would my words may be taken wrong, but especially by those here who actually live in gated communities. I should have chosen my words more carefully. Although I fail, I try my best to not be offensive. I can assure you though, that sweeping statement was in reference to the concept of living in a gated community, and not judging the people within. In the 1980’s there were no gated communities in this area…now there are many. The landowners sold out to the developers, who hired the contractors….the city council was overjoyed but the locals…did not roll out the welcome mat. It was ugly. Over the years we all adjusted. But this is all in the name of “progress”…and “gain”. But gain for some was loss for others. Where once you were able to go into the desert and hike, camp, ride horses, ATV’s, you now see gates, fences and “Keep Out” signs. So, this is the reasoning behind my comment. It has nothing to do with rich=bad and poor=good, but how our society takes her form…it’s is conducive to separation rather than community. And it distressing.
    Forgive me….

  16. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I have not suggested judging anyone, nor offered a blanket condemnation of wealth. Not everyone who has cancer dies from cancer, but we do well to suggest that it be looked at. The pattern of the gospel – from Old Testament through the New – particularly when viewed in terms of rich and poor – should be alarming to us. In our culture, we have learned to dance around the topic of wealth and its associated structures. We justify it, we modify how we think about its dangers, but, in fact, we do not think it is dangerous. We tend to think that a moral tweak, here or there, will take care of things.

    Of this, I am not so sure. Our wealth and the culture of wealth are related to the culture of our soul. “Where a man’s treasure is, there will his heart be also.” The heart goes where the treasure goes – not the other way around. The pattern of Christ’s commandments place the obedient Christian among those who are weak and without power (in the manner that the world thinks of power). It will be hard to practice that – in truth – while also maintaining a life of wealth.

    It’s not impossible. As Christ said, to this very question, “With God, all things are possible.” But we fail to hear the gospel when we ignore how clearly Christ says these things to us.

    Interestingly, in around the 4th and 5th centuries, a very alarmed upper class in the Roman Empire became concerned over the many ones of their number who were giving everything away and becoming monastics. The gospel had begun to infiltrate the upper class for the first time – and the result was frightening. On the whole, they managed to get it in hand and tame the Christian attitude towards wealth. (I suggest Peter Brown’s good works of wealth in Late Antiquity).

    I am a bit concerned as, I read your comment, that we not psychologize the problem – that we think that what matters is simply how someone feels in their heart about things. Our culture has so deeply infected our minds that most people are able to feel pretty good about whatever they do.

    In my article, I’m drawing attention to some very key patterns in the gospel – across the Scriptures – and a theme that gets too easily suppressed or swept aside. It raises questions about many things within ourselves and within our culture. I leave it to readers to draw conclusions for themselves – and do not mean to make any blanket condemnations or judgments. But I’m underlining, if you will, some passages and themes that we might have overlooked or failed to see.

  17. Dean Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,
    It’s good you are underlining. As Evangelicals some of us bought little card boxes of 100 verses. At random you could pick one and read it for the day. Usually they were verses like, “Brethren, I desire that in every way you prosper and be in good health…”
    Perish the thought that the box of blessings would contain, “Weep and howl you rich for the miseries that are coming upon you…” or “Sell what you have and give to the poor.” Makes me uncomfortable just writing this.

  18. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Back in my Jesus Freak days, I knew a guy who had been part of the “Children of God” (cult group). They adopted Scripture names. His name was, “James 4:4.” We called him “James Fourfour.” If you asked what is James 4:4 he would say: “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.”

    It was a great conversation starter! He was martyred in Virginia Beach in 1972.

  19. Esmée La Fleur Avatar

    Father, what i notice about myself and others, Christian or not, is that we tend to increase our comforts according to our income. In other words, as soon as our income goes up, we buy more stuff or get a larger home or purchase a new car, most of which is unnecessary. We are gratifying our desires rather than simply fulfilling our needs. What this means is that we have less to share with our poor brothers and sisters who may actually be in want of the basic necessities of life. I am just as guilt of this as anyone else and it greatly disturbs me.

  20. Nancy Ann Avatar

    This is all just very frustrating and confusing. I am just a simple mom who homeschools her children and trying to do the best I can. Today I am two weeks late sending out Thank You notes for Christmas presents and that is on my To Do List today. I sit down to the computer and eat lunch and try to avoid the news as it’s all so depressing and nothing good, just politics and angry fighting with words. But more, I reach out to religious communities and the arguments still abound. Do I sit here and stew and feel bad for all the blessings God has given me and think maybe I should be living in a cardboard box? Do I feel guilty and repent of all the Christmas gifts my kids got!? Do I become a socialist and jump on the Bernie Sanders band wagon even though he and his like were very happy to take homeschoolers out of the tax bill to get relief! Many others have way more than me and others have way less than me. I think it was an article that said that if you make 35K in America you are in the top 1% of the world! I am not sure what to think and I am to burned out to think about what I should think. One thing I do know is that there is more here than just material stuff. There are more burdens that people have than just poverty. Being a Christian in this culture, whether you are rich or poor is very challenging!

  21. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Nancy Ann,
    I think that no matter how much money a person has, if they are a home-schooling mom, it’s rough. Bless you for the sacrifice you make for your children. Don’t trouble yourself with this article, may God give you grace and joy!

  22. Kevin Lux Avatar
    Kevin Lux

    In light of the recent…umm…storm of excrement prompted by the president’s alleged comments about poor countries, what do we do about immigration policy? I’ve only been exposed to Orthodoxy for six months and your articles are quite a shock to the system compared to what I’m used to reading as a white, American, probably former Evangelical. America isn’t designed like the 7th century Byzantine empire. Church and state are not partners. Our government is never going to operate with Christian motives. How do we have an immigration policy that avoids the burdens certain immigrants put on local services and the labor market while being true to Orthodox values?

  23. Nancy Ann Avatar
    Nancy Ann

    Bless you father and know that though I am struggling today I have received much encouragement and insight with your blog and book.

  24. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    We are not in charge of immigration policy, nor are we called to fix America. An inherent part of the “modern project” makes us think that we can, in fact, do such things. The government will do whatever it does. But whatever it does should not change how we live or keep the commandments of Christ. Those commandments are clear and can be done regardless of what evils a government may do. And we pray…a lot.

  25. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Nancy Ann,
    I had a conversation with my wife last night, reflecting on the last series of articles. It’s interesting to hear what someone so close to me thinks. Her thoughts were on “futility,” reflecting on God having made creation “subject to futility” for our sake (as said in Romans 8). She had recently read Ecclesiastes (the ultimate book on futility) and its sobering thoughts on human accomplishments (“all is vanity…”). But her takeaway was one of peace. Things break or pass into dust. We fail and our greatest dreams disappear. But God has destined us for Himself and He abides. No matter the difficulties of our days, may God give us the grace to draw closer to Him. That is the reality of “becoming poor.” The truth is – we are all of us already poor – but we don’t know it. If we know it, then we are blessed.

  26. Paula Avatar

    Father and all,
    I read this this morning on Prolog…so timely:

    “We look not to what is seen but to what is unseen”(2 Corinthians 4:18).

    We see this material and transient world, but we look to that spiritual and immortal world.

    We see earthly joy, often interrupted by tears and sighs and, in the end, always concluded in death; but we look to spiritual joy among the angels and saints of God in the heavens, to joy uninterrupted and eternal.

    We see sufferings and failures of the righteous in this life; but we look at their glory and celebration in that world.

    We see many successes, glory and honor of the unrighteous in this life, but we see their defeat, condemnation and indescribable torment in eternity.

    We see the Church of God often humiliated and persecuted in this world, but we look to the final victory of the Church over all of her enemies and adversaries both visible and invisible.

    Brethren, we often see tyrants and abductors as rulers and wealthy men in this age, and we see saints as poor, dejected and forgotten, but we look at the other kingdom, the Kingdom of God, eternal, sinless and immortal in which the saints will reign without one, no, not one tyrant or abductor.

    O Lord, most patient and most merciful, open our spiritual vision that we may see that which awaits us after this short-lived life and that we endeavor to fulfill Your law.

  27. Eric Avatar

    Thank you for your post, Father Stephen

    I can’t help thinking that the problem of wealth at least for we middle class folks is that it gives us a false sense of agency and control of ‘our world’. Money by and large is a tool of separation and thus disintegration. We don’t have to deal with anything or anybody, we just use the lubricant of money to buy stuff. We don’t have to deal with bad harvests, for our systems promise to find us food (at a price) somewhere unknown grown by people unknown to us. It’s not our problem. We live an almost completely illusory existence. (We might also say that that sense of agency and being in control has led in the West to the ‘near blasphemous’ forms of Christianity you speak of. We have a system. In part perhaps we are the system??)

    Money/wealth lubricates, eases the way, because it disconnects us from one another. If I don’t rely on my neighbour for even basic needs, how might I be schooled in understanding ‘my life is with my brother’, or ‘love your neighbour, as yourself’?

    Increasingly I find this thinking disintegrating families. I think of a family who charge rent to their children when they’re on vacation – to teach them something, I’m not sure what good thing can be taught thus except ‘you’re on your own’. Or the way in which older folk speak of their children being allowed to get on with their own lives and so investing to find a retirement home, where they see out their days alone. Here in Modern NZ this is rife amongst the middle classes. Again Money eases the way, disconnects us.

    The irony is that money in giving this sense of control, gives a sense that We have overcome the chaos. Yet in taking things apart, separating them, we actually create chaos for those who have less, and ultimately for ourselves.

    Again here in NZ, we have the worlds highest youth suicide rate, twice as high as in your country which ranks tenth highest in the world. Our false consciousness here is that colonial conscience writ large. The idea of Us creating the perfect society underlies pretty much everything, and nothing connects. There is at present a lot of money here. Young folk aren’t encountering life, just the peculiar gift of infinite consumer choice, be who you want, do what you want, and more and more are so out of touch with anything to Give them a sense of Place, of belonging, with the necessary suffering which life brings, which might ground them, humble them, and teach them.

    We have become large in our own imagination, through wealth. If as you have suggested on occasion, smallness is the Way, we have lost ours.

    Kyrie Eleison

  28. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    You’ve said it quite well. I don’t think people take Jesus at all seriously when He talks about money – He says far more about money than about hell! I mentioned Peter Brown’s Through the Eye of a Needle, a historical work on the Christian attitude to wealth in late Antiquity. It was a much larger topic for them than us – and we have far more wealth.

    You put your finger on the spiritual issue – it gives us a false security. Indeed, one of the goals of middle class life is to be secure. In the parable of the man who “pulls down his barns and builds bigger ones” Jesus unmasks our security and calls him a fool. But we’ve also constructed a very middle class version of heaven and hell and judgment, so that when we die (securely) we’re not terribly troubled about it. In America, an increasing number of funerals are simply happy remembrances of the past (with a slide show) and not even a casket present. No death…just memories. No judgment, no assessing, no reality. Only the continued illusion of our present condition. If you work up a decent existential crisis, they medicate you.

    I was “vilified” by someone last year who summarized my work as being “full of existential despair and moral futility.” I was flattered, and thought that I must have sounded just about the right note. 🙂

  29. Ralph Williams Avatar
    Ralph Williams

    We have lived in Ukraine, and now live in East Africa. In both, the “Health and Wealth” gospel is very popular. One man recently told me that Jesus came to earth and suffered so that we may become rich.
    It is a false doctrine which causes great suffering, because it tells the poor and suffering that their poverty and suffering are their own fault. If only they had enough faith, they would be rich and comfortable. If they become sick, they are told to repent. One believer came to me in tears, asking me to identify the sin which was causing her sickness.
    The people who believe this refuse to accept the message of the scriptures and the examples of the early believers.

  30. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    The primary purveyors of this spiritual poison are the Word Faith Group. Their beliefs are really more pagan than Christian but people want their ears tickled. It is indeed sad to see people fall for this, especially educated ones who should know better. Two types of people are really prone to this poison, the wealthy that want to feel good about their wealth and the very poor who are desperate.

  31. learningtobestill2016 Avatar

    Kevin Lux –
    My response has been to continue to love people from the so-called s**t-house countries.

  32. learningtobestill2016 Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    You said, “I was ‘vilified’ by someone last year who summarized my work as being ‘full of existential despair and moral futility.’ I was flattered, and thought that I must have sounded just about the right note. ”

    Thank you for the best belly-laugh I have had in quite some time.

    And thank you, of course, for another wonderful post. Through you and other great teachers – especially the Psalms – I am finally beginning to understand that “God is king” is not merely an expression. It is Reality.

  33. Karen Avatar


    Yes, that breaks my heart, too. Back in the 1980s I was doing short terms missions in Belgium with a Pentecostal mission. A woman who became a dear friend was a student from Nigeria and though a strong believer in many respects, she was also strongly influenced by this false doctrine. Our differing beliefs created some tense moments for us. I was more mainstream Evangelical, holiness movement influenced, and did not buy into the tenets of the “word of faith” movement. Since then, I’ve researched its roots in “New Thought” and understand it as an essentially occult way of understanding the nature of prayer and the spiritual world. It’s understandable those from traditional African religion backgrounds would find it alluring. In a sense it is still their native spiritual language. Orthodoxy is the antidote, but the Cross is a stumbling block to many.

  34. Karen Avatar


    Particularly frightening to me is the push to sell the so-called “New Apostolic Reformation” false signs and wonders movement. Several films have been made about the miraculous phenomena being experienced, “healings” and even raising of the dead purported to be among them and are hosted on Netflix. It really evokes the end times descriptions of false signs and wonders from the Scriptures misleading if possible “even the elect.” Yet those who have been deeply engaged in the occult or Eastern religious practices, like Yoga, recognize these sign manifestations (uncontrollable head movements, “holy laughter”, etc.) as completely occultic, even typical of that afflicting practitioners of “kundalini yoga”. There are numerous video clips available of major teachers in this movement preaching outrageous heresy and betraying their great arrogance. Former “PTL Club” huckster, Jimmy Baker, sadly is among these–giving the lie to his claim of genuine Christian repentance in prison. I always admired the seeming graciousness of Billy Graham, the only Evangelical to visit Baker in prison and vouch for his repentance. When I heard what Baker teaches now, it destroyed the trust I had in the basic genuineness of Billy Graham’s preaching and commitment to Christ as well–especially given what has come out in recent times of the deep corruption of the US presidency and intelligence institutions and Graham’s privileged position from early on as spiritual adviser to every US President since serial adulterer, Lyndon B. Johnson held office. (There are those who have been suspicious of Graham from early on in his career, due to the unparalleled access he was given to the halls of power and his worldly popularity. Now, I understand better why this has been the case.)

  35. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    The whole gambit of stuff that has come out in the last 60 years on TV and now Net Flix is what I call Hoobly Goobly and sadly many people are sucked in by it. But then, Saint Paul says this. The deep attraction is power over the world and God and is the ancient call of paganism. The whole point of pagan religious practices was to gain power over nature and the capricious gods and this modern stuff is more of the same. I still think Billy Graham has his heart in the right place and he may have been fooled by Jimmy Baker. As a long time Prison Minister I got suckered in a few times myself before I got cynical of jail house conversions. Of the hundreds that I baptized and the thousands that I ministered to, I only know of a dozen or so who really meant what they said and have lived it out. The folks that populate prisons are very good at deceit.
    I share your concern and I have met a few of these persons since I converted to Orthodoxy. All I can say is that they were really out there.

  36. Karen Avatar

    “Hoobly Goobly” Lol! Yes, that about sums it up. 🙂

  37. Suzie Avatar

    I was not implying that you were judging people in gated communities. Unfortunately HOAs and such are everywhere. There is a good and bad side to them . 🙂 Just trying to assure we do not polarize to one end or the other about people who have money in a judgmental way.
    My personal story is below. We did buy a house, our first. As long as we can pay the taxes we have a place to live. And we did buy a new car to be safer in commuting. Yes, we could have kept renting and used our other cars.
    Fr. Stephen,
    Thank you for your thoughts regarding my questions about if we are well off we are on the wrong side of God. There was not a definitive answer, which I understand, but it helped some. I was not speaking specifically to your article, but in general to it and comments. My comment was a generalization but now I will share. Personally, I am not about money, thanks to the Grace of God working in me all my life. I do not rely on material things and know that at anytime my circumstances can change and I can have nothing. I take nothing for granted. My parents bought a little one bedroom/one bath house in the 50’s. When I came along years later, Dad turned the screen in porch into my bedroom. My friends had bigger houses, but I loved our little house and never felt I was missing out. My Dad died when I was 5 years old. My Mom worked and we made it. Later, money came in for a time through a source which helped us. My Mother could have bought a bigger house, but did not. She bought a new car. My husband’s family were worked and made a modest living, sometimes hard. I was married and widowed and there were times when I did not know where money would come from to pay the bills, but somehow there always was enough. We met and married in the AF and traveled the world for 24 years, living in military housing or renting. When progressing in rank we could live in bigger or nicer places. During those years, and while my mother was ailing and near her repose, again money came in at just the right time which helped us pay off the debt we had racked up for her care, provided for her and just covered her funeral and finalization of the estate. After retiring, we thankfully have steady jobs at this time, and what I would see as by Providence, money came in. We were able to by a house for the first time. We always had used cars, which was perfectly fine. However, we did buy our first ever new cars. Mainly because of long commuting to work to have a safer car. We gave thanks to God and sought how to use the money for His Kingdom as well. Perhaps some would see our owning a house and buying a new car as being part of the 1%. I totally understand the problems of too much wealth and the greed and problems it can and does bring. I despise the heresy of prosperity gospel. Christ does warn of the pitfalls of material wealth and the avarice that can come from it. But from personal experience it seems that what I needed was there more often than not. Is that just luck, are we saying that God does not provide at all, or can God’s Providence sometimes provide for us?

  38. Esmée La Fleur Avatar

    Suzie – Thank you for sharing your story. I, too, have experienced much needed money come to me unexpectedly in what I can only describe as providential ways. Wealth itself is neither good nor bad in itself, as I understand it, but it’s hiw we use it that matters. There was a news article recently on the world class tennis player Novak Djokovic of Serbia who has given enormous sums of money to charitable works in his home country. I’m sure some might criticize him for not doing it “in secret,” but I personally like having public role models who are Orthodox Christian, who have been blessed with a talent and become wealthy as a result of pursuing that talent, and who continue put their faith first.


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