The Tree Heals the Tree


Readers of the New Testament are familiar with St. Paul’s description of Christ as the “Second Adam.” It is an example of the frequent Apostolic use of an allegoric reading of the Old Testament (I am using “allegory” in its broadest sense – including typology and other forms). Christ Himself had stated that He was the meaning of the Old Testament (John 5:39). Within the Gospels Christ identifies His own death and resurrection with the Prophet Jonah’s journey in the belly of the fish. He likens His crucifixion to the serpent raised on a staff by which Moses healed the people of Israel. Without the allegorical use of the Old Testament – much of the material in the gospels and the rest of the New Testament would be unintelligible.

Orthodox Christians are very accustomed to this manner of handling Scripture – the hymnography (largely written during the Patristic period) of the Church’s liturgical life is utterly permeated by such a use of allegory. The connections between New Testament and Old – between dogma and the allegory of Scriptural imagery is found in almost every verse offered within a service. Those who are not familiar with the Eastern liturgical life are unaware of this rich Christian heritage and of its deep doctrinal piety and significance.

In the Feast of the Holy Cross, the hymnography at one point makes the statement, “The Tree heals the Tree.” It is one of the marvelous commentaries on the life of grace and its relationship to the human predicament. It refers to the relationship between the Cross of Christ and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The latter was the source of the fruit that Adam and Eve consumed that was the source of their fall from grace. The “Tree that heals” is none other than the Cross of Christ.

I am struck particularly by this treatment of Biblical imagery. The meditation does not say that the Cross destroys the tree whose fruit, along with our disobedience, brought the human tragedy. The Tree heals the Tree. In the same manner, the Kingdom of God does not destroy creation – it makes it whole.

There is a tendency within our lives to view failure and disasters (whether self-inflicted or otherwise) as deep tragedies that derail our lives and the world around us. Our heart becomes confused when the thought of “if only” takes up residence. But the Tree heals the Tree. In God, nothing is wasted.

It is the spiritual habit of the Church’s liturgical life to see the story of Christ in everything. Every story involving wood or a tree seems to find its way into the hymnography of the Cross. The same is true for many other images. I believe this way of reading Scripture is also a key to the Christian life. Our hearts are such that they generally do not see the Kingdom of God – we see only the tree and our disobedience. But Christ Himself became sin that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). He took our life upon Himself that He might bestow His own life upon us. Thus Christ has entered all things that He might make all things new. Nothing is wasted.

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.





33 responses to “The Tree Heals the Tree”

  1. Dean Avatar

    Thank you Father Stephen for reiterating that the OT can only be understood as seen through Christ…”it is they (OT scriptures) which speak of me.”
    Yes, the images that the hymnography in our Church provoke/ provide are simply wonderful. They speak not to my head as much as to my heart. And as Christ is infused throughout them, I find my heart overflows with love and gratitude.

  2. Christina Avatar


  3. Byron Avatar

    Thus Christ has entered all things that He might make all things new. Nothing is wasted.

    Glory to God! This is so wonderful!

  4. Esmee La Fleur Avatar
    Esmee La Fleur

    “Our heart becomes confused when the thought of ‘if only’ takes up residence. But the Tree heals the Tree. In God, nothing is wasted.”

    This is so true. All of my suffering has brought me to Christ, and I would never exchange it for anything in this world.

  5. Janine Avatar

    But the Tree heals the Tree. In God, nothing is wasted. . . . Thus Christ has entered all things that He might make all things new. Nothing is wasted.

    Yes indeed! Thank you for this poetry. Words to remember and live by. Of course it reminds us of “trampling death by death,” another healing for the world. (Talk about nothing wasted!)

  6. Margaret Avatar

    All of this blog post is beautiful, Fr. Stephen, thank you! The words that jumped out at me today, “Our heart becomes confused when the thought of “if only” takes up residence.” So true.

  7. Francois Smuts Avatar
    Francois Smuts

    Eer aan God vir alle dinge!
    Glory to God for all things!

  8. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    The only problem I have with the word allegory is that it is often used to destroy historical reality, therefore I prefer analogy as it is a tight analogy between Adam and New Adam. On the spectrum of analogies, the weaker being more like allegory, I think we are on the other end, the stronger analogy being more like empirical reality spoken in contrast/comparison.

    Regardless, this is very hopeful and I appreciate that very much. If Christ couldn’t redeem what I am, where is hope?

    Matthwe Lyon

  9. Christa Avatar

    just an hour ago I was trying to say to someone, that the very sorrow and pain that I carry in my heart from unreconciliation with my son and his family, and the difficult life my daughter has, also opens me to compassion, beauty, and humility; as I throw myself to Gods grace. only there do I find strength, and courage and even joy to live. to dare to believe I can be a vessel of His love. The pain and sorrow don’t leave, but grace transforms my experience of them from self pity to love, Thanks be to God!

  10. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I’m not sure it is possible to destroy historical reality. In my experience, reality tends to smack one on the face if it is ignored– good-ole gravity, among other such real things. And there is no stopping Truth even if there are those who wish to make a lie. As the Lord said, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life…”

    Fr Stephen’s use of the word allegory works without fear of destroying anything. And he clarifies his usage at the beginning of the article.

  11. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Esmee, my suffering caused me to reach out to Jesus. He has responded in abundance. Even when I have gotten lost in things. He is always there

  12. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    “Allegory” is a term used by St. Paul in the NT, and a common word in the Fathers. It has to be defined as it is used – but “analogy” is utterly insufficient. First, I think “allegory” as the Fathers (and St. Paul) are concerned carries a “strong” meaning that is more like sacrament. It carries the “thing” within it that it represents. When we read the Scriptures in a patristic allegorical manner (which never just stands by itself), it is an act of discernment, seeing that which is actually (truly and really) beneath the letter. It does not destroy history – but reveals the true nature of the historical. But – I’m also wary of a tyranny of the historical – in which something is only thought of as valid and true if it is “historical.”

  13. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    I’m not disputing Paul’s use or the Father’s, but that today allegory can be used to demythologize the Bible and other texts. The place Paul uses the word allegory is in his overall defense of the Gospel, that it cannot demand circumcision of the Gentile or other observances, due to the fact/historical reality that Christ defeated the animosity created at Babel. It is just as much an analogy as it is allegory. Paul’s use of Hagar is an analogy/allegory of going back to the slavery of the law. Why go back to slavery if we are set free due to our death with Christ? By way of analogy, it makes no sense to return to the demands of the law when we are free from them in union with Christ’s death and Resurrection. But Paul seems self-aware that he has verged into allegory/helpful picture in the Sinai and “Jerusalem from above” language, but he also retains an analogy.

    I just submit that we clarify that allegory doesn’t mean demythologizing, mythologizing with a different purpose, divorcing from historical reality, and that allegory carries with it – usually – the tightness of an analogy. For me, saying Christ is New Adam, allegorically, is less than saying, Christ is New Adam by way of analogy – only that he fulfills what the analogy/type was to be. Analogies have their end in the prototype, do allegories? In our modern use? I’m just doubtful. Adam was a type/analogy of “the coming one”. Christ is the prototype/fulfillment of the analogy. In terms of allegory, Christ moreso fulfills the Pagan hope as Christianity is True Myth. But even here the historical Christ validates the hopes/longings of the Pagan.

    I Corinthians 10:6 6 Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we should not be desirers of evil things, just as those also desired them,

    The word for examples is typos. Historical reality is linked to type/analog. If he used allegory instead of type, wouldn’t the historical feel less important? “These things happened as allegories?” I know some people want it to say that. The other uses of type are more like blueprints/patterns/instructions – Hebrews 8:5 has Moses erecting the tabernacle according to the typos revealed to him. It’s more copy than looseness in allegory. When Thomas wants proof of the historical reality he puts his hand into Christ’s typos/wound/imprints. It seems there is good reason to use type/analogy when referencing historical reality and when we are not, or when the argument does not depend as much on historicity, then allegory. But, forgive me if I am making a mountain out of a molehill.

  14. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon


    I’m more concerned that people whose sympathies lean toward Marcion use allegory to avoid problematic readings of the OT. And I’m not saying Fr. Freeman is one of those people, but they’re out there, and there’s plenty of them. Allegory can clean up every hard thing in the OT, but it comes at a cost, a historical one.

  15. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    If Jonah was a parable perhaps, an allegorical/analogical parable about the fact that Israel refused its role to be the light of the world, and if Jesus picks this up, applies it to Himself, would I have some problem with this? Of course not. Just wanted to throw out that I’m not saying the parable would be false (if it is that) if Jonah was never literally swallowed by a giant fish. But if he was swallowed by the giant fish, would it make a difference? Not really, not to me, but that would be cool. But when we talk Adam, though I leave open several scenarios for what Adam was, including the most Traditional, historically, something went wrong, Satan was involved, theosis was thwarted, and then things got worse. Is there a deeper meaning ? I’m sure there is, but to get to that we don’t skip over the historical reality of a fall, that the type was meant to become the Image/Likeness of the Prototype, etc. There’s not much at stake allegorizing Jonah, but Moses, Passover, Adam, “Under Pontius Pilate”, a lot is at stake, and I trust you get my concern though it may be overblown at the moment.

  16. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock


    Perhaps when we use allegory in reference to the Creator, we should understand it as having a broader meaning than what (it seems to me) causes you to resist its more conventional usage. God has no constraint that necessitates fictions.

    In other words, Orwell wrote Animal Farm as a fictional allegory for the Russian Revolution and Stalin because he, Orwell, was limited to his medium of story-telling. The resultant work exists only as something Orwell made up that points to actual historical events. Orwell could not instantiate his mind’s creation except as words on paper.

    God’s medium, however, is reality. He can create stories with every bit as much instantiation to them as the story for which they are an allegory. (For that matter, Jonah is a forward-pointing allegory of historical events that had not yet occurred at all from the time perspective of Jonah.)

    I think viewing Jonah as allegorical, then, does not force us to say that his story is made up. Rather, it helps explain why God chose to have Jonah spend time in the belly of a great fish (i.e., because it was a forward-pointing allegory to Christ’s burial). Allegorical does not automatically mean the story is a fairy tale but helps us understand why God would employ such a fantastical element in creating–and instantiating–the narrative of Jonah.

    In some ways, I can see this view of an allegorical creation being almost essential because it allows what seems insignificant against eternity to matter. All our widow’s mites are meaningful if we understand them as allegories for the infinite Divine.

  17. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I appreciate the concern. If I were writing in a liberal Protestant milieu, I’d probably worry more about it. But, allegory is a word I’m not willing to cede to them. However, sometimes, its ambiguity can also be use.

  18. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    As someone who has been accused of “Marcionism” because, for example, I am troubled by the justification of genocide (as were a number of the fathers) and, in good patristic fashion, will tend to lean towards a “spiritual” or “allegorical” reading rather than coming up with some historical gimmick to explain why it’s ok for God to order the murder of children and cattle. But, Marcion never uses allegory. Marcion was a literalist, and thus he rejected the OT (and for other reasons). It is a charge that has been greatly abused. As someone who’s been on the receiving end of that abuse – I can promise you that I will barely lift a finger to prove I’m not something I’ve never been.

    But literalism has its place. That place is just much smaller than some imagine.

  19. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Oddly, St. Basil’s anaphora says that God expelled Adam out of paradise “into this world.” He doesn’t place Adam (or paradise) in a literal place on earth. St. Ephrem does amazing things with paradise poetically. As to the historical nature of the fall – since I am not a young creationist, but accept that human beings have been around for a very long time, etc., I take the Genesis creation account to be more literary than otherwise. It makes no difference to me theologically. The story works and tells me what I need to know. Christ is the Second Adam.

    But, I think there gets to be an incredible can of worms when the whole sin and death thing has to get worked out on a completely historical level. We have ample cases of a sort of literary ease among a number of the fathers not to be troubled about this.

    As to the question of Christ. History matters absolutely. It matters so much, that despite a fair amount of literary treatments in the gospels (of some sort that isn’t always clear), St. Paul nails the whole matter in 1Cor. 15 with a historical account of the resurrection, complete with a list of eyewitnesses, that would stand up in a court of law.

    It is a mistake, however, to make the Bible be all one thing. It is not. The Bible is the Church’s book – written for us. It is not written for non-believers. It is for us to use and it is written for our use. I work at reading it in concert with the fathers (though there is no single patristic way of reading it).

  20. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman, Mark,

    I’m with you both and I think I explained myself well enough. As to the fall, I’m not worried about how/when and there’s obvious poetry in Genesis, and I’m aware of all the takes on Genesis and have come up with some of my own as speculation, it’s just the need to say: something went wrong, it was real, it’s why the world is messed up in part, etc.

    I’ve held this out but I’m usually told most of the Fathers believe Satan’s fall occurred right after the Creation (which I find odd but it also makes sense if Satan is opposed to the creation of man): the speculation that things were already bad on the earth, and that Eden was/represented a new start, and Adam fails with Eve to become/do what God had wanted. Eden is not the whole earth in Scripture. Outside it needs “subdued”. Eden is to be expanded. This fits extremely well with theosis, the missionary endeavors, Babel, the mentioning of other humans in Genesis, Genesis 6, etc. I am drawing on the work of Greg Boyd a litte. Fr. Freeman, I think you especially would appreciate his work. He’s an Evangelical that leans heavy on Orthodoxy with a seeming honest heart. I disagree with him on a lot but he shares and has put out a lot of work on concerns you share.

    Fr. Freeman, I’m not calling you a Marcionite. But I do not believe there are genocidal commands in the Bible and I don’t believe we should say there are. There is no disconnecting a spiritual worldview from the peoples of the Bible. There are plausible scenarios for dealing with the hard verses. I don’t think it serves an apologetical good to agree with critics and atheists that the Bible condones slavery, is misogynistic, commands genocide and to give the gimmick of allegory.

    Last, the Fathers are often very concerned to find the practial application in the entirety of the Bible. Often they are teaching or we may have no comments. I’ve read St. John Chyrsostom’s Lenten Homilies on Genesis. There’s application everywhere. Now, if that is the case, that practical instruction is a major concern or even the impetus for teaching/discussing the OT in the Fathers, then allegory is the right thing to use for sure in many instances because there is seemingly -no- practical application in the conquest narratives. I think the Fathers operated on a presupposition that everything in Scripture was for our benefit, and this they got from Paul, but that when you read a verse on conquest, how will that apply to me? It won’t, except by allegory and maybe analogy. But I don’t think that they dehistoricized Scripture, they pastorally worked out how the Scripture is beneficial (all of it) but when there was no practical application, allegory was used to pull out a practical application. I’m not familiar with a broad enough survey to know this, but so far I have good reason to suspect it. Had Christians not read some parts of the OT allegorically as it related to their -own personal application- I’m pretty sure a problem might come up. Those people are still problems today, crazy Fundamentalists.

    Thanks for your input and time,
    Matthew Lyon

  21. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar


    You said:

    I think the Fathers operated on a presupposition that everything in Scripture was for our benefit, and this they got from Paul, but that when you read a verse on conquest, how will that apply to me? It won’t, except by allegory and maybe analogy. But I don’t think that they dehistoricized Scripture, they pastorally worked out how the Scripture is beneficial (all of it) but when there was no practical application, allegory was used to pull out a practical application.

    First, the “historical” question just isn’t much of a patristic concern. It’s really a modern problem, particularly post-Reformation. The Reformation, in many ways, seeks to find an authority greater than the Church. It’s one thing to say that the authority is “Scripture,” but that leaves the problem of interpretation. The refuge they sought (one way or another) was in “history.” It gives rise to the fiction that history solves the problem. Of course, we’ve been arguing about history ever since – with the liberal/fundamentalist split – with both agreeing that “history” is the answer.

    That the fathers did nor didn’t think about a particular event as being historical is, in most cases, neither here nor there (and I’m here speaking about the OT – the NT is a completely different matter). They did not tend to make their cases on the basis of historical arguments.

    What we lack in modernity is their feel for a “text,” particularly a “holy text.” You get their feel in Jewish commentaries (Talmud, etc.), and even in how many ancients read the pagan poets. Even the arguments about what should be authoritative in the canon was not, by and large, any kind of argument about historical accuracy, etc., but simply “what is read” in the Churches and what is treated as authoritative.

    There was no disagreement that the text was authoritative – it is holy – it is Scripture. But that is not a statement about history, per se. There is no doubt that many of the Fathers are not terrible reflective about all of this and simply speak about things in a very literal manner – but that’s not the same thing as a carefully reasoned presentation on the nature of literalism and the Scriptures.

    We read the Scriptures “in the Church.” That might or might not be a historical question (the Church is not unconcerned with history). But, properly speaking, the historical nature of a particular narrative says nothing about its authoritative character. The Scriptures are authoritative. Plain and simple.

    But – viz. apologetics. Most unbelievers, and particularly the New Atheists are constantly arguing against a straw man – a Christianity of their own imagining. I don’t think we should ever be afraid of honesty in such discussions. If the text describes a genocidal event and we’re not horrified by that – non-believers do well to wonder what kind of people we might be. Many of the fathers were horrified by such things, and used allegory or some other means of dealing with such problems (I take umbrage in your calling allegory a “trick”).

    Apologetics, ultimately, depends on the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit. Speak the truth. Practice integrity in all things. It’s God alone who converts the hearts of mankind.

  22. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    I’m with you all the way, just about. I’m not saying the Fathers used allegory as a trick, I have a far higher estimation of them than that. I think we do. The “problem texts” of the Bible are the Christian’s problem, if they are problems. There’s a really good debate on the podcast, Unbelievable, with Greg Boyd and Paul Copan on these topics. I end up siding with Copan but really have a lot of respect for Boyd. Boyd argues that the OT, since it’s common belief in Protestantism for “Progressive Revelation”, and I don’t have a problem with that except it can be a cop-out, that God (and using here Protestant models of inspiration) stooped down/accomodated the false beliefs of Israel at times, in love, but later corrected them in Christ. I can hang with this a little. I think it’s better to see real, valid development than that God gave a reluctant thumbs up to false beliefs, but he makes a case for accomodation that is well nuanced and somewhat persusaive. But this is the sticking point for me Biblically and liturgically:

    Hebrews 11:32-40

    32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, accomplished justice, obtained what was promised, shut the mouths of lions, 34 extinguished the effectiveness of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong from weakness, became mighty in battle, put to flight enemy battle lines. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. But others were tortured, not accepting release, in order that they might gain a better resurrection. 36 And others experienced mocking and flogging[u], and in addition bonds and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they died by murder with a sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, impoverished, afflicted, mistreated, 38 of whom the world was not worthy, wandering about on deserts and mountains and in caves and in holes in the ground. 39 And although they all were approved through their faith, they did not receive what was promised, 40 because God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us.

    I think, especially since our understanding of the Saints has a lot to do with Hebrews as the next verses make the people mentioned in 11 the “great cloud”, that we have to deal with the fact that the NT speaks positively of several violent situtations in that their faith was greater than their fear: they laid their lives on the line in faith. If this is the NT stance (at least partially), and Hebrews again is chock full of this stuff, I think it make sense for us to read the OT in the same way – with some caution.

    I think the reason some Fathers were horrified is – one, it’s horrific, and two, they may have been interpretively removed at times due to circumstance. I mean, by the time many Fathers are weighing in, the Jewish precedent interpretively, how much is it in play when the animosity and danger remains from Jews, when time has elapsed, when Rabbinic Judaism made sweeping changes, etc. I think, if you are right, that without any good argument to the contrary (regarding genocide, but without some interpretive key, or even realizing that the nations Israel warred with were connected to spiritual entities and both sides udnerstood this) allegory would have been right. Either way, practically, it is right if you feel the need to find application in every line of Scripture. And I would not blame them or demean that in any way if that was their concern. I mean, how much Song of Solomon stuff feels, weird. If we try to find a bunch of application in Song of Solomon, it’s going to get allegorical and strange. If it were told as a historical love story or poetic love story, it makes much more sense. There’s a huge amount of wisdom in our infrequent use of the OT liturgically. Anyway, thank you again for you time and effort. I hope my desire to have an Orthodox mind is obvious.

    Matthew Lyon

  23. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    As to an “Orthodox mind,” I must quickly say that the Orthodox are all over the map on such things.

    For myself – a quick bit of autobiography:

    I came to the Scriptures in a pretty fundamentalist setting in my late teens (the Jesus Movement, etc.). In college I was subjected to my first doses of higher-critical studies. That was greatly intensified in my Anglican seminary years. Indeed, just being solid on the resurrection and the reality of miracles set me apart from many in that context.

    But, I had begun reading the Fathers while in college (I was a Classics major – it seemed natural). My patristic studies intensified in seminary (often on the side). One of my professors had done his doctorate under Florovsky at Harvard and was very helpful to me – pointing me towards Orthodox sources.

    When I encountered the not-infrequent use of allegory (“reading beneath the letter of the Scriptures”) I was intrigued. What seemed clear to me was that this was no mere literary technique (a “trick” in that sense). It was a genuine effort to see and perceive something that was clearly believed to actually be there. I would describe it as an “allegorical realism.”

    I found that to be of a piece with a sacramental understanding of the world – and – if you will – an “Orthodox mindset.” It is, I believe, how the world is structured. Thus, such reading, when done, is rightly done to perceive a mystery that is hidden within the Scriptures – not an effort to get around a bothersome problem.

    Nothing over the years has pursuaded me otherwise. Instead, it has been confirmed over and over. I do not think it is correct to speak of God acting in an immoral manner (a number of the Fathers say this quite plainly). I long ago encountered various historical theories to explain what this should be acceptable to us – and none of them seem at all satisfying to me. As it is, I do not feel compelled or driven to explain a historical problem. It doesn’t really solve anything.

    As an Orthodox believer, I believe the world is rightly seen and understood through the Cross. Christ and His teachings are central. The Old Testament is read in light of the New, and must frequently be read “beneath the letter” in order to find the meat that is intended for us.

    The rest of it, in my old age, has increasingly become a weariness.

  24. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    When I encountered the not-infrequent use of allegory (“reading beneath the letter of the Scriptures”) I was intrigued. What seemed clear to me was that this was no mere literary technique (a “trick” in that sense). It was a genuine effort to see and perceive something that was clearly believed to actually be there. I would describe it as an “allegorical realism.”

    I found that to be of a piece with a sacramental understanding of the world – and – if you will – an “Orthodox mindset.” It is, I believe, how the world is structured. Thus, such reading, when done, is rightly done to perceive a mystery that is hidden within the Scriptures – not an effort to get around a bothersome problem.

    Father, I appreciate your words. I’ve repeated and emphasized particular words which appear to be most difficult for those with protestant indoctrination. Many of us in this western culture have suffered from such indoctrination.

    Early in the stages of my conversion to Orthodoxy, I asked my priest in my catechism how I was to approach the Bible, he said, “think of it as Liturgy”. I found this thought very helpful. It lifted me out of the quagmire of having to justify the literal interpretation of a wrathful God.

    I had a lot of tragedies early in my life. I verged too close to believing I was God-cursed. I didn’t want to believe it. But there it is in the Bible how God punishes the “bad” and lifts up the “good” people. These tragic events and how Protestant-literalist thinking conceives them were enough to seriously scar a soul and mind.

    But despite this, I could love. That in itself was a miracle, and I sincerely believed that only a God of love can effect such blossoming in a deep abyss of such scars. In some respects, I was emotionally stunted. Sometimes I was very angry with God. Nevertheless, this heart that the Lord shaped in me refused the fundamentalist-literalist approach to the “Old Testament” Bible. And at the same time, I knew parts had a deeper reality. For example, the words in Isaiah, in particular describing Christ, affected me (I didn’t know who these verses were referring to. But I wanted to know him–even identified with him!). And these were my feelings and beliefs even though I did not consider myself a Christian. I drew near to the unseen Reality in any way that I could–hence the deep dive into chemistry. And this was just enough to keep me going, to keep me searching for Him, despite all the tragedy. I loved God for the desert and for the oasis of love that was in my heart.

    Glory to God for all things.

  25. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Isaiah 52:14 As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men…
    Isaiah 53: 3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

    “‘It is written: “And he was numbered with the transgressors”; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.’” —Luke 22:37

  26. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Well said. I cannot overstate how essential all of this is to me – to my faith and my life. The temptation to the emptiness of a world sanitized of God (the secular delusion) looms large in our world. It was my heart’s connection to beauty, above all, including its manifestation as transcendant love, insisted that the emptiness is a delusion. My first and most poignant encounter with Christ, which coincided (quite by “accident”) with my introduction to liturgical beauty (old-line Anglican), was in the reading of the Sermon on the Mount.

    I was in high school, and something in my reading carried me into Leo Tolstoy (I think my brother had given me a book on Tolstoy). Tolstoy was certainly odd as Christians go, a Russian intellectual who was often less than Orthodox. But the simple beauty of the Sermon on the Mount was something that had not been taught to me in my Baptist youth. It was, I suspect, too little connected with the PSA salvation scheme. So it was ignored.

    The connection between the Jesus of the Beatitudes and the Jesus whose blood warmed me as I took communion (I can still feel those early communions as if it was only a moment ago) was palpable. It was the birth of an instinct.

    I’ve read a lot of theology since then and entertained any number of distractions. But my heart returns to that reality more and more each day now. The darker the world becomes (and, I fear it’s going to get much darker before long) the more important it seems to be able to see beneath the surface – to adhere to the Sermon on the Mount, to allow communion to burn within us.

    Thank you for your sharing. Yes and yes!

  27. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    Thank you. I never meant to suggest that nothing lies under the letter, far from it. I’m sold on the fact that the empirical reality trumps the written word. Again, the analogical gets swallowed up in the Prototype/Person. So, I do see Scripture now, less as direct empirical encounter (leaving that possibility open) and more as, “leading you up the mountain.” I’ve yet to find the balance I’m lookiing for, but you have been helpful. I feel redirected back to the Psalter. Often my desire with an argument is to feel the pushback. I want to test what I’m thinking and I respect you enough, and appreciate your availability, time, and energy, to feel things out on someone with more experience. So, thank you for being that and that you haven’t led me to feel I’ve worn out my welcome.

    Matthew Lyon

  28. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    Our discussion got me thinking. I’ve read a lot of Farrell and he is persusaive for me. But it hit me thinking about Progressive Revelation and Doctrinal Development (just went through DBH’s book and found it lacking) that DD/Progressive Revelation is the basis for the crumbling of the idea of truth in our culture. The rise in textual criticism and historical criticism, especially of the OT but also the NT, took place around the same time that Papal Infalliblity became a thing. And the first giant precedent for DD/PR was the filioque. Now, I don’t want to discuss these, but it hit me that our culture has just moved these principles to the individual (created self). Everyone’s a pope of sorts, not just the Reformed interpreter, and on the basis of PR/DD anything is justified, dogmatized, etc. (same with science). The schism plays on. So, we have to factor into our consideration of the OT, the fact that a lot of OT criticsm was alredy anti-Semitic, that the rise of “getting an original text” was due to beefing up Sola Scriptura againt Papal Infalliblity, that Biblical archaelogy is still pretty new and actually formed the basis for most all archaelogy, the fact that Rabbinic Judaism changed to dodge Christian apologetics, that the presupposition that older means better was wrong and again was wrapped up in the SS concern for authority, the pressure of random evolution on literal views of Genesisi, etc. I think there are a lot of factors that have given people a negative view of the OT besides just the hard passages, and when they come upon them, they don’t realize they’ve already been embroiled in a controversy older (and in some ways newer) than they realize. I’m done now, no more comments from me on this one.

  29. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I do not subscribe to either progressive revelation or the development of doctrine (I think DBH is wrong). The truth is and has always been one and the same. Though it was made known under shadows, types, and images in the OT, it was and is revealed fully and definitively always and for all time in the Incarnation, Crucifixion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. I may write about this in some detail soon.

    St. Ambrose and St. Maximus both taught that the “Old Testament is shadow, the New Testament is Icon, and the Age to Come is the Truth itself.”

  30. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    That last sentence, really helpful. In fact, I’d make it your standard response to people like me.

  31. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It’s an extremely rich image – and the quote is from both a Western Father and an Eastern Father. Can’t beat it!

    But the imagery clearly has the truth as an abiding unchanging reality – seen as shadow in one case and as icon in another, and then, face to face.

  32. Dan Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    This was a short and beautiful reflection. I haven’t sat with it long enough, but I do think I have a question that I don’t know how to form and ask yet. However, I want to say thank you for yet another beautiful reflection.

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  1. Greetings, Father Stephen, Thank you so much for this reflection and all of the tremendous amount of work you have…

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