Archive for January 29th, 2008

God and the Universe

January 29, 2008

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The material and organic world is not a world of thought. Only man can think, knowing himself and everything that surrounds him. In our mind an entire ideal world is borne in which is reflected everything we know. But we see that the universe is filled with wisdom, that in acquiring the knowledge of the truth we do not invent it but perceive it through our spiritual eyes. The truth about the universe is neither matter nor a human concept.What is the source of this truth and this wisdom, which penetrates all that exists without merging with it, this wisdom which abides in the world but is not the world itself? Philosophers have invented an ideal world or a world soul having, as it were, an independent existence. But everything that is spiritual is personal, and the universe is not a single, living being, such that it could have a soul. The world of thoughts and ideas must belong to someone’s mind. Whose thoughts, then, fill the universe? It is obvious that only an absolute being could conceive of all that exists and of all that has ever existed. Every thought or idea of God is the eternal plan for something that in fact exists. In accordance with these plans God has created everything in the universe, and His creative thought continues to communicate meaningful, unbroken existence to everything. God’s powers and actions are always meaningful and His thoughts always efficacious. It is precisely in the divine ideas that we find an ideal measure of the truth toward which we are striving when we try to know anything.

From Serge Verhovskoy’s The Light of the World

It is always interesting to read books that are nearly 30 years or more old. It even seems strange to me that much should have changed in so short a time. I remember 30 years ago…as though it were yesterday. I was certainly a married man, as I recall.

But much has changed. The words above, penned by Serge Verhovskoy (of blessed memory), spoke rather comfortably of a universe whereas today it would be more accurate to speak of a “multiverse.” The unity of human thought (which has never been a reality) has today clearly given way to an awareness of just how diverse human thought really is.

When I speak with my son about his physics courses and how he thinks of the universe – he is clearly open to thoughts of multiple universes and things that my generation never considered. However, the diversity of post-modern thought does not change the relevance of Verhovskoy’s thought – though it is thought that is addressed to believers.

Of particular significance to me is his statement:

In accordance with these plans God has created everything in the universe, and His creative thought continues to communicate meaningful, unbroken existence to everything. God’s powers and actions are always meaningful and His thoughts always efficacious.

It is the Orthodox understanding that God is not a watchmaker (as the Deists imagined back in the Enlightenment). He did not create the world simply according to a plan and then let it unfold. Creation is more than the original event. It is the clear teaching of the Church that everything exists because God sustains it in its existence: only God is self-existent. It is a very important understanding for everything in our relationship with God.

Part of two-storey thought (itself largely a product of the Enlightenment) is the notion of a God who is distant – somewhere else – whose connection to the universe is, at best, philosophical. For Enlightenment thought, God as Creator, stands at a remove of billions of years. The universe is understood to have self-existence and thus God is reduced to interference if He is to have anything at all to do with the world He has made.

This is nothing like the teaching of Orthodox faith. God is not only “everywhere present and filling all things,” but also the One “in whom we live and move and have our being.” He not only gives the world existence in the sense of bringing it into existence – but gives the world existence by sustaining it in existence. Thus whether we believe in God or not – we existence in Him and through Him.

In this understanding, prayer takes on a very different role. In the world imagined by the Enlightenment – prayer is largely petitionary – asking God to break His laws and intervene to make things as we want them. It is almost always as if we were asking God to do something He does not want to do. Thus the importance of Scripture verses that promise that God will do what we ask (particularly if the formula set forth is carefully followed).

However, if everything that exists is moment by moment sustained in that existence by God, prayer becomes not an interruption of the established order, but communion with the Order itself. It is the central point of prayer – communion with God. The faith of the Church, proclaimed in every service of the Church is that “He is a good God and loves mankind.” Our very existence – at every moment – is a gift of the good God. And our existence itself is evidence of His goodness.

It is finally true, that there is a universe (rather than a multiverse) because there is One who creates and sustains it. Regardless of what diversity we may bring to the world – we share a common existence – a common gift. It is the same gift that will sustain us beyond this material existence and make our memory to be eternal. Glory to God for all things.