God: Communal or Universal
On the speech of HG Geevarghese Mar Osthathios at St. Thomas orthodox Church on June 1 to 2, 2002 Geevarghese Mar Osthathios thirumeni is perhaps the most influential thinker and spokesperson of Indian Orthodox Christianity today. I had a chance to listen to his speech once again while His Grace visited the USA recently.
Fr. M.V. George (the previous name of thirumeni) was one of my childhood heroes. I waited impatiently to pass 10th grade to go to Mavelikara Gospel Hall for the summer camp conducted by him. Those two weeks I spent there were among the most memorable times of my life. I attended the summer camps two more years. I would look for his articles in the periodicals, and would buy his books as soon as they came out. "Njangal Viswasikkunnu" (We believe) was one of his books I had a chance to read over and over again. Another book was "Raksha Kristuvil mathramo?" (Is Christ the only way of salvation?). "Deivam undennu theliyikkamo" (Can you prove that God exists?) is one of his earliest books I read several times. Although I didn't have an opportunity to read his most celebrated book, Theology of a Classless Society, published in Britain, I could understand its content by reading about it.
It was after a break of about twenty years that I had had this opportunity to listen to him again when His Grace was at Houston St. Thomas Church on June 1st and 2nd.
The general topic of his speech was communal (vargiya) god vs. celestial (swargiya) God. His Grace is very good at playing with words that sound similar. Although his listeners might forget everything else he says, those words would remain in their hearts. Here the play is between the Malayalam words, vargiya and swargiya. The similarity is more in sound than in sense. If sense is considered, the opposite of swargiya should be bhaumika (earthly)or laukika (worldly), and the opposite of vargiya should be sarvalaukika (universal)or manavika (humanistic). The real contrast His Grace meant was vargiya vs sarvalaukika, ie communal god vs. universal God.
Here is a summary of the main ideas in the speech of His Grace:
The Trinitarian God of Christianity as revealed in Jesus Christ is a social God of love, and is totally unlike the monad like Jehovah or Allah. Such monads are communal gods. They belong to a particular community only. No wonder Jehovah makes the Israelites fight against the Cannanites and even make them kill them mercilessly. Allah, who asks His people to fight and kill others, is also a communal god. On the other hand, the trinity is ultimate unity in love. The love of this God is unconditional. He gives rain to both righteous and sinners.
John, the apostle, rightly said, "God is love". Those who believe in this God can easily be identified: not by words, but by deeds of love. He who claims to believe in this God and hates his brother is a liar. Ahumanism (nirmanushyathwam), which is not treating human beings with due respect, is more evil than Atheism (nireeswarathwam), which is the belief that God doesn't exist.
Well, if God loves all alike, then what is the church for? God loves all people in the world—both the people within the church, and the people outside the church. The church is a group of people who have taken a responsibility on themselves—to be a visible representative of God in the world. Jesus is the savior of all humankind—of those within the church, and those outside the church.
The mission of the church is "Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit". Our mission is to make all the nations of the world the disciples of Jesus Christ. We see how Jesus sent his disciples with a mission in Mathew's Gospel chapter 10. He said, "I send you as my father has sent me."
He also told them, "I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves." Ours is a world of wolves. The number of people killed in the last one century is more than all the people killed in the 19 preceding centuries. We have to go to such a world with a mission of love. When I visited Collosseum in Rome I could see the dry bones of martyrs kept in catacombs. They were willing to die for Jesus. In Russia, I could see three kinds of churches: closed ones, broken down ones, and the ones converted to museums.
Today in this third millennium, Christ is calling us to sacrifice ourselves. We have a choice: we can be wolves torturing and killing the sheep. Or, we can be sheep, willing to die. Will we join the group of wolves or the group of sheep? Wolves are never satisfied. They keep on consuming more and more without having any care for others. On the other hand, the sheep, with a vow of poverty, are happy and thankful with what they have. I would call this kind of poverty which they willingly accept "evangelical poverty". This is opposed to the structural poverty we see around us. There are millions of people around the world without enough food and clothing. This poverty is not their choice, but it is forced upon them. Structural poverty is evil, whereas evangelical poverty is good.