God and the Universe

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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.

11 Responses to “God and the Universe”

  1. Hartmut Says:

    Father,
    thank you for this post.
    Today we take everything for granted. Our ancestors knew, that is comes out of God’s grace that the sun ascends again in the morning.
    Every morning and every evening I say this in my prayers to God, the “heavenly king, the comforter”: “everywhere present and filling all things” and yet I needed your reminder what that means.
    “Our very existence – at every moment – is a gift of the good God. And our existence itself is evidence of His goodness.”
    Yes, that’s true. Glory to God, who is everywhere present and filling all things. Every day. Now. At this very moment. And forever.

  2. ruhiwarrior19 Says:

    I never knew the Orthodox Church believed in an eternal creation/sustenance. Most Christians in the states believe in a way in a watchmaker God it seems, and prayer is largely petitionary. The Baha’i Faith fundamentally believes that you are saying, and I am surprised to see this similarity. This is a great blog, and you are amazingly cool for the priest, I think of priests as much more boring. You aren’t

    God Bless,
    Gerald

  3. Pseudo-Polymath » Blog Archive » Wednesday Highlights Says:

    […] God is not a watchmaker. […]

  4. James Says:

    In Orthodox theology a distinction is made between God’s essence and His energies. Is it the energies that do the sustaining of the universe?

  5. fatherstephen Says:

    James,

    Yes. Although, in our modern world, the word “energies” can conjure an image that is not quite the same things as the word originally carried. So yes, but don’t try to picture it.šŸ™‚

  6. all things considered Trendy Here! Says:

    […] gives the world existence in the sense of bringing it into existence – but gives the world … credit : […]

  7. James the Thickheaded Says:

    Long ago, I remember reading an exchange between Thomas Merton and Suzuki (the man not the motorcycle) on the Garden of Eden. Always struck me that in Suzuki’s own rendition of the story, the Tree is described as the “Tree of Unknowing”…. almost as if the sentence of death is living here and now but blinded to this true nature of our existence… that indeed we are sustained even to the beating of our hearts and our very breath that we do not consciously (or seldom consciously) control… yet we see it not, and therefore “know it” not.

    Your aside on our tendency to reduce prayer to incantation as in The Snickers Bar commercial for (“then”) Marv Levy’s Buffalo Bills.. also strikes home. The “Let me do it” or “Just do it” approach calls in the big guns only when we think we’re in over our heads, but the reality is not only that all along someone else is trying to get a word in, but that we’re in over our heads more than we realize. Our faith is alive… but so often in other things of far less power, reality, wisdom and certainly less love than God. I’d say we are easily misguided by apparent tangibility… but the truth is – and have mercy on us for it – we tend to place our faith is those things we think we can bend to our will. Even here, even moi. Very hard to get on and especially stay on with “Not my will, but thine”.

  8. Michael Bauman Says:

    James, yes! But isn’t that exactly what got us into trouble in the first place? The knowledge of good and evil gives us the illusion of choice between multiplicities rather than simply between God or death.

  9. James the Thickheaded Says:

    Michael B:

    Sorry to take this off track… but I think that’s exactly right… that’s why Suzuki called it the Tree of Unknowing… as the fruits fed a source of belief in an illusion… fed by a trickster. Of course, our belief in illusion happened first… and then we reached for the fruit. I think the separation in our hearts is reflected in their actions, and disrupts the plan of their generation – in all the ways one might take that to mean. I’d add that the Orthodox understandings of this, of the emphasis on the critical failure to repent, to personally ask for mercy, and submit to God’s will is part of what drove me into the Church. God is good and loves mankind even as he loved our fallen forebearers at that moment.. even to the point of allowing them the decision they had made for death. And it can be seen as a mercy granted as a promised end of our separation, and an end of our penitential labors rather than a sentence: We are allowed to repose. That said, some mercies are both “terrible” and “fearful” all the same. But thankfully, that’s not the end of the story either…. or at least it doesn’t have to be.

  10. Science, Creation and Bones « Entering Orthodox Mystery Says:

    […] not set the ball rolling and disappear; He actively sustains the Universe. Ā This is explained by Ā Fr. Stephen Freeman in his blogĀ post here. There was also a discussion afterwards about relics due to the fact that […]

  11. Ryan Says:

    Amazing post. Puts things in proper perspective. Thank you Father!

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