Glory to God for all things. For things growing and things that are passing away. For a good walk on a summer day and the quiet of a country lane. Glory to God for all things both revealed and not revealed for He is good and Lord of all.
Archive for October 19th, 2006
God matters and what matters to God matters. I know that sounds very redundant, but I’m not sure how else I want to say it. There are many things that do not matter – because they do not matter to God. Knowing the difference between the two – what matters to God and what does not requires that we know God.
And this is theology – to know God. If I have a commitment in theology, it is to insist that we never forget that it is to know God. Many of the arguments (unending) and debates (interminable) are not about what we know, but about what we think.
Thinking is not bad, nor is it wrong, but thinking is not the same thing as theology. It is, of course, possible to think about theology, but this is not to be confused with theology itself.
Knowing God is not in itself an intellectual activity for God is not an idea, nor a thought. God may be known because He is person. Indeed, He is only made known to us as person (we do not know His essence). We cannot know God objectively – that is He is not the object of our knowledge. He is known as we know a person. This is always a free gift, given to us in love. Thus knowledge of God is always a revelation, always a matter of grace, never a matter of achievement or attainment.
It matters that we know God because knowledge of God is life itself. “This is eternal life,” Jesus said, “to know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.”
The Orthodox way of life is only about knowing God. Everything we do, whether it is prayer, communion, confession, forgiveness, fasting – all of it is about knowing God. If it is about something else, then it is delusion and a distraction from our life’s only purpose.
Knowing God is not a distraction from knowing other persons, nor is knowing other persons a distraction from knowing God. But, like God, knowing other persons is not the same thing as thinking about them, much less is it objectifying them.
Knowing others is so far from being a distraction from knowing God, that it is actually essential to knowing God. We cannot say we love God, whom we have not seen, and hate our brother whom we do see, St. John tells us. We only know God to the extent that we love our enemies (1 John 4:7-8).
And this matters.
This blog does not matter – except that I may share something that makes it possible for someone to know God or someone may share something that allows themselves to be known. This matters.
God took seeds from different worlds and sowed them on this earth, and His garden grew, and everything came up that could come up, but all growing things live and are alive only through the feeling of their contact with other mysterious worlds. If that feeling grows weak or is destroyed in you, what has grown up in you will die. Then you will become indifferent to life and even grow to hate it. That’s what I think.
The Elder Zossima in The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
This small quote from the “Teachings of the Elder Zossima,” is perhaps among the stranger sounding to our 21st century ears. “Contact with other mysterious worlds” sounds like extraterrestrial stuff which would put Dostoevsky in the boat with Jules Verne. But as it is, he is not referring to any such thing, but rather, in an odd turn of phrase, to the fact that everything that exists does so because of its reference to God. The seed of each living thing is its relationship to God – only here Dostoevsky has put that statement into terms that make us stop and think and perhaps see something we’ve not seen before.
Especially helpful is his statement that we only live and are alive by feeling our contact with that “other mysterious world.” Again, it is possible to misread the novelist. Our language has so devalued the meaning of feeling that we risk hearing this as another trite emphasis on emotion and the like. Instead, it is a profound reminder that we can grow cold and hard and sadly unaware of the true nature of our life.
More frightening still is his warning that letting our hearts grow cold we can become indifferent to life and even to hate it. This, in Orthodox terms, is a picture of hell.
In Christ’s parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, He speaks of a “great gulf that is fixed” between the Rich Man in Hades and Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom. I have read any number of metaphysical speculations on the meaning of the “great gulf.” Most venture some sort of impossible barrier between heaven and hell. The great gulf does seem to be a great barrier, but I have come to think that the barrier is nothing other than the hardness and emptiness of the rich man’s heart.
Every day the rich man passed Lazarus at his gate, and in doing so passed the entrance to paradise. Becoming cold and indifferent the gulf of empty hate is fixed. In another place Dostoevsky’s Elder Zossima says, “Hell is the suffering of being unable to love.”
Doctrine is the fruit of a Divine seed (to use Dostoevsky’s imagery). To think about it is necessary, but we must do so with great caution. If we approach doctrine as something inert, a mere idea, then we risk the loss of feeling (truly knowing in an experiential manner) its connection with that other “mysterious world.” In such a way it is possible to do “theology” in hell.
Orthodox life is most properly to be found as the living expression of what Dostoevsky referred to in his “mysterious worlds.” Fr. Georges Florovsky once called doctrine a “verbal icon of Christ.” As such, even the verbal icon (like all icons) has value only because it refers to its prototype. Or, in Biblical terms, “I believed and therefore have I spoken” (2 Corinthians 4:13).
The garden of God is a wondrous place. That’s what I think.