“For, who of the human race understood anything at all about what God is, before His coming? Do you accept of the vain and silly doctrines of those who are deemed trustworthy philosophers? Some of whom have said that fire was God, calling that God to which they themselves were by and by to come; and some water; and others some other of the elements formed by God. But if any one of these theories be worthy of approval, every other created thing might also be declared to be God. But such declarations are simply the startling and erroneous utterances of deceivers; and no man has either seen Him, or made Him known, but He has revealed Himself. And He has manifested Himself through faith, to which alone it is given to behold God. For God, the Lord and Fashioner of all things, who made all things, and assigned them their several positions, proved Himself not merely a friend of mankind, but also long-suffering [in His dealings with them]. Truly, He was always of such a character, and still is, and will ever be, kind and good, and free from wrath, and true, and the only one who is [absolutely] good (Matt 19.17); and He formed in His mind a great and unspeakable conception, which He communicated to His Son alone. As long, then, as He held and preserved His own wise counsel in a mystery He appeared to neglect us, and to have no care over us. But after He revealed and laid open, through His beloved Son, the things which had been prepared from the beginning, He conferred every blessing all at once upon us, so that we should both share in His benefits, and see and be active [in His service]. Who of us would ever have expected these things? He was aware, then, of all things in His own mind, along with His Son, according to the relation subsisting between them.” The Epistle to Diognetus, Chapter 8.
As mentioned in the previous chapter, our author is highlighting that humanity has vainly been searching for God, or even for meaning, in all the wrong places. Some have seen the elements around them and sought God in them and yet others have simply ascribed divine status to any of the elements which they might pass by. This again appears to be true of our own circumstance where we ascribe a (near) divine power to elements that will help accomplish our desired ends. Sometimes we may ascribe a divine status to those ends themselves (“If only I had more money, I would be in paradise”). For the ancients they worshiped fire as it seemed to give them life and warmth and sustenance. For us we may worship our houses, cars, stock market investments, even our own career aspirations in many of the same ways, hoping that they sustain us and give us ‘life’ (or perhaps ‘the good life’ as we call it). Where the ancients tried to seek life or sustenance in that which seemed to yield it (whether idols, fire, stars, etc), we too seek to find the end and purpose of our lives in our pleasures, goals, careers, cars, education, even ourselves. The only place we do not look is He in Whom we “live, move, and have our very being’ (cf.Acts 17).
Interestingly our author then goes on to elaborate that God, the Fashioner of all things is also the lover of humanity (Philanthropos in the midnight praises service of the Church of Alexandria) and not just merely a friend. This God is very opposed to the Greek gods or the elements which prove temperamental and are swayed by their moods and appetites. Those familiar with Greek mythology will know this well. The Greek gods were often violent, cruel, bloodthirsty but also dependent on human beings for their food and drink. It was thought by the ancient greek faithful that offering sacrifice to these gods would ‘feed’ that particular god and afford them victory in their pursuit, whether the god of war or of fertility or otherwise). The Christian God is the One Who yearns for the human being and arranges their salvation that they may return to the fatherly bosom as in the prodigal son.
The Christian God is the One in Whom the economy of Salvation and the well-being of humanity has always been. This God, radical for the Greeks, is long-suffering, He is ‘kind and good, free from wrath’. Thus, our author can state that even where it appears God had ‘forgotten’ about humanity, this was not the case with the God revealed in Christ. However, the same could not have been affirmed of the selfish greek gods. The mystery of human salvation and our very lives are “hidden with Christ in God (Gal 3.3)’. Even today, where perhaps we may have lost hope in God, He has had us in His knowledge from the foundation of the world. He has concern for each of us and seeks us that we might partake of this salvation.
St. Irenaeus of Lyons states similarly, “Long-suffering therefore was God, when man became a defaulter, as foreseeing that victory which should be granted to him through the Word. For, when strength was made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12.9), it showed the kindness and transcendent power of God.” Against Heresies Book 3, Chapter 20, Tract 1.
When we have been broken and come to know that our lives lie not in our own hands but rather is hidden with Christ in God, we can open ourselves to the mystery of our salvation. This is apparent in the relationship of the Israelites with God in the Old Testament as they repeatedly turn away from Him only to run back when finding themselves being put to death and in slavery. Given this background, our author Mathetes, can relate to Diognetus that The God of The Christians is Good, long-suffering, and free from wrath in that He is the true lover of humanity (Philanthropos) who seeks that all might live as in 2 Peter, “His [God’s] desire being that no one should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3.9)” and even in the Old Testament, “Thus says the Lord; As I live, I desire not the death of the ungodly, but that the ungodly should turn from his way and live (Ezekiel 33.11).”
Let us not rely in our own strength or in our own standing with those around us but remember that The Lover of the human being is our God. He is the One Who seeks us and has arranged for our salvation.