Archive for April 2nd, 2008

What Makes the World Go ‘Round?

April 2, 2008

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It is a popular theme in music to suggest various possibilities for “what makes the world go ’round.” I know of two immediately: music and love. Both are wonderful sentiments but not very useful to me as answers. I have asked the question in this way to yet again bring our thoughts to the nature of the world in which we live. The simple Christian answer to the question is that “God makes the world go ’round,” or, as the Scriptures would have it, “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

None of this is to deny the “laws” of physics or any such thing, but rather it is to say that beneath everything, whether we think of them as “laws” or “principles” or what-have-you, is the will of God sustaining everything in existence. This is vastly different than conceiving of the universe as somehow “created” by God, but then left to itself and the laws with which it was created. This is not the Orthodox faith. Rather, we believe that God sustains everything and that nothing exists apart from His will. Only God is self-existent.

Some will counter with the question of “What about evil?” God does not sustain nor create evil. Evil, in that sense, has no true existence, but describes only the actions of things that are fundamentally good but have gone astray and act in a manner for which they were not created. And yet existence itself is a “good” thing which God does not begrudge to any of us, and thus sustains us in existence even though we abuse the gift. His will is the well-being and the salvation of us all.

Self-existence and the sort of “autonomy” that is associated with it are generally “givens” in our modern world. However, as we learn more about ourselves from science, we also are learning that we are not nearly as “free” as we often imagine – our genetics are powerful elements in the determination of our lives. Add to that the “randomness” of our birth, birth-order, economic and social circumstances and our “freedom” becomes yet more theoretical. Were we to look to ourselves for any guarantee of our freedom, we would be looking at a very weak source indeed. And yet “freedom” is an absolute necessity for us to exist as persons and somehow distinguish ourselves from rocks and trees.

Of course it is possible to give intellectual assent to the notion that in God “we live and move and have our being,” and at the same time living as though our existence were somehow our own gift to ourselves. But it is God alone who causes us to exist, who sustains us in existence, and who wills our well-being. Learning to live with that as the constant reality of our lives is at the very heart of the spiritual life.

At the same time, though less obviously so, it is necessary for us to learn to live with evil around us. This is not to say that we accept evil actions or refuse to do battle with injustice and oppression. However, the clear teaching of the Gospel is that we are to forgive our enemies and to do good to those who do evil to us. Not only are we told this, but we are explicitly told to do so because God Himself does the same (see Luke 6:30ff.). Certainly at the heart of love and forgiveness is the willingness to grant “existence” to another. It seems to me significant that the second sin described in Scripture is murder. It seems an extreme leap from eating forbidden fruit to murder but murder, we are told, was only one generation removed from Adam and Eve. The refusal to forgive or to love is, at its deepest root, an unwillingness to grant existence to another, or, at the least, a refusal to grant “well-being.”

When we understand that our own existence is itself a free gift, not only in its inception, but in its moment-by-moment continuation, then perhaps we will understand more clearly why we must forgive and pray for our enemies. Thus it would seem that “love makes the world go ’round” is not an incorrect sentiment.

An additional thought: for those who wrestle with the problem of “natural evil” as in a number of the responses, I recommend an interview with David Bentley Hart, an Orthodox theologian, who has written as eloquently and clearly on the subject as anyone in our time. The interview may be found here.