What’s the Point?

For a man who does not believe in God – nothing points to God.

For a man who believes in God – everything points to God.

So who’s right? There is almost no argument between these two experiences. For someone who does not believe in God my own contention that everything points to God is pretty much meaningless. In extraordinary cases we can listen to each other and struggle to understand what the other sees – but I cannot tell a man that he does not see what he sees.

Having grown up in the modern secular world I can perhaps more easily understand the man who does not believe in God than liturgy_ysuch a man can understand me. Belief in no God is the default position in a secular culture (despite the many polls in which people profess belief in God). Thus the average “believer” will likely see the world about him and not see it pointing to God. Indeed, a hallmark of secular Christianity is its restriction of religion to specifically “religious” items or matters. Existence in such a mode is an on-going crisis of faith.

In a world in which everything points to God, belief is not a crisis but existence itself. Some things may point more intensively than others but everything points.

This, I believe, is the great witness of Christianity in the modern world. The challenge will not likely be between Christianity and atheism – but between Christianity-as-true-belief-in-God and Christianity-as-a-religious-option-for-secularists. The latter makes no difference for it is little more than a lifestyle option. It has no point.

The former is indeed a crisis, a turning point. For to believe in God in such a way that everything points to Him, is to change the entire point of our own existence. In Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).

A driving force in my thought and writing is to find ways to speak about belief in God, all-encompassing-belief-in-God, in the context of our modern secular culture. It is the point within my work with the metaphor of a “one-storey” universe. It is the point of my efforts to extricate our language from the secularity of cause-and-effect. It is the point of writing intensively about the place of the heart. It is because I believe that God is the point.

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37 Responses to “What’s the Point?”

  1. Dn Charles Says:

    Keep up the good work!

  2. George Patsourakos Says:

    A multitude of scientists — some of whom had previously been atheists — now believe that God created the universe, because there are just too many factors working in such a precise and harmonious manner that they could not have been developed by themselves.

    The oceans, the rivers, the lakes, the mountains, the forests, the plains — these are just a few of the inspiring phenomena which exist so harmoniously that they had to be created by God.

  3. fatherstephen Says:

    Of course, I agree. But I also know that some will not see it. For everyone who sees the hand of God in the harmonious manner of the universe, there are also those who see nothing but chaos, or at least nothing Divine, in natural disasters, cancer and the like. As Christians speaking to the modern world, we will have to say more than has been said, or say it differently, I suspect, if what we want to say is to be heard.

    Speaking about God is difficult, I think.

  4. elizabeth Says:

    You describe so perfectly what I have experienced. For 50+ years I was a confirmed atheist, then one day God reached out and grabbed me. I don’t know why He did that. Maybe some day it will become apparent, but if it does not, that is okay. The reason truly does not matter to me (although I do feel “spoiled” by God that He would do that and that I was not alone when it happened — the skeptic that I am, with time, I might have thought that it really had not happened, but with a witness presence, there is no way I could explain away anything so compelling). It is very interesting how before conversion, I was able to find a rational explanation for so many things in my life, and now I see a divine motivation behind all of them. They are the same events. They have not changed, but I have. Thank you for putting it all so clearly.

  5. hilary Says:

    You’re absolutely right. Another way to put it is that when the argument/ battle/ tug-of-war isn’t between atheism and robust Christianity, everything boils down to either being ok with not knowing things or being ok with “mystery.” It’s the difference between seeing God nowhere (and not being troubled by this) and seeing God everywhere (and not being thrown off by “why bad things happen to good people,” etc.)
    It’s the atheist who is most troubled here, that /something/ has to make sense somewhere, and the answer cannot be God — they’re always searching. Trying to make science bigger and bigger to avoid the spiritual. Meanwhile, secularists just don’t worry about anything. They aren’t engaged in the search and generally don’t mind those who are engaged. That’s the mark of our culture in which relativism and social liberalism seem to have the upper hand: “you’re all entitled to your opinion.”
    How can a laid-back secularist be convinced that God is more than an opinion?

  6. Matthew Redard Says:

    Keep on keeping on, Father. You are the voice of one crying in the wilderness.

  7. fatherstephen Says:

    I am convinced that not only those dominated by relativism, etc., are secularist. I would assert that it is largely true of the vast majority of “believers” within our culture. In that matter I would suggest looking at some of my articles on the “one-storey” universe. It’s a larger battle than most imagine.

  8. hilary Says:

    We agree. If you have to put quote marks around the word believers, you’re just avoiding calling them spades: hypocrites. And I mean that with love and concern, not meanness. “Believers” generally value judgment and works — on earth — very secular concerns that go as deeply as do mere opinions.

  9. MuleChewingBriars Says:

    It suddenly dawned on me. The best, the most honest scientists are as apophatic as St. Dionysius. They take to heart the coda of Wittgenstein’s ‘Tractatus’: “That of which we cannot speak we must pass over in silence”

    Nevertheless, on both sides of the great divide, there pours forth a torrent of logorrhea that defies belief.

    “Nowadays everybody wanna talk like they got something to say
    But nothin comes out when they move they lips
    Just a buncha gibberish “

  10. fatherstephen Says:

    Hilary,

    I don’t think you understand what I mean when I say “believers.” I mean to make a distinction between Christians whose world view is still largely dominated by the secularist account of the world. But as I’ve noted – that is the default position of everyone born in our culture. It’s the water we fish swim in – which is also to say that most people are not aware of the water. Thus, they live in a faith crisis of sorts because the secularist account of the world makes authentic Christian belief quite difficult and nearly impossible. Such “believers” make adjustments which frequently distort the faith – but this, too, is generally an unintentional matter – simply a mode of faith survival.

    I do not judge them. It’s not judgment that they need but a word of wisdom and healing so that they can find freedom from a false world-view.

    I am the hypocrite. For I claim to know and yet forget.

  11. Michael Bauman Says:

    “Believers”, many of them at least are not really hypocrites. They believe in God, they just think that God is irrelevant in the here and now in any way but the most general sense. As Fr. Stephen points out, they believe “He is up there somewhere”.

    These people are not Christian, although they may claim to be Christian. I think it would be a great help if Christianity would once again reclaim the word and the reality of what it means to be Christian. The Church, if we would ever stop arguing with each other long enough to realize it, has the copyrite on what it really means to be Christian.

  12. Seth Says:

    Though I do believe in God, I do not understand why people can’t accept the logical conclusion that in an universe which seems to be infinite, there would have to exist a place where things fell into place like they in the space we happen to inhabit. To me, it is logical that such a thing not only “could” happen, but “had” to happen eventually. That is if you believe the universe to be infinite.

    Just my two cents.

  13. Darlene Says:

    Father,

    You said, “I know some will not see it.”

    I understand here that you mean seeing God in His creation. Yet, how does that square with Romans 1:18-21:

    “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is PLAIN to them, because God has SHOWN it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been CLEARLY perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened.”

    From this passage, it seems God is saying that He HAS shown Himself to everyone, but not all receive it. They rebel against God’s revelation and persist in their own ways. Finally, I look at the cross of Calvary, where our Lord Jesus gave Himself for the whole world. Some look, and as the unbelieving, mocking crowd of that day, reject Christ’s sacrifice for them. They know of it, they are aware of what it promises, but they rebel instead.

    What I’m trying to say here is for that “man that does not believe in God,” nothing points to God because he has chosen to turn away from God’s life giving grace. Would you agree? I’m not speaking here of those who have never heard of Christ. They cannot reject Someone whom they have never heard of. And yet, even those who have never heard of Christ have tasted of God’s revelation of Himself in His creation.

    I’m just pondering this matter while trying to arrive at a better understanding. You see, I can’t accept or come to the conclusion that those who don’t believe in God and cannot see Him in anything are programmed by our Maker to be that way. In order for this kind of unbeliever to be held responsible before God (they are without excuse), something other than God electing this man to remain in his unbelief must be considered. Free will necessitates that this unbeliever will be held accountable for his/her unbelief.

    Father, what do you think? Am I off track? What are your insights?

  14. fatherstephen Says:

    Darlene,

    I suppose I’m not concerned with their being held responsible for not seeing. Not seeing is responsibity enough. St. Paul, of course, is right. But it’s our delusion that fails to see what is clear in creation.

    It’s not an argument that we need to have with other Christians, nor with those who do not believe. It is a witness and is truly embodied so that when we say the words the reality is manifest as well (whether they’ll see it or not).

    It is of no use for us to worry about anyone being held responsible. Judgment is God’s business. Ours is to be about bearing witness, sometimes with words. Since I do a lot with words, finding the right ones is very important. The good news, in this matter, is that God does not begrudge us the right words. He actually wants us to understand – though the understanding requires the whole of our being.

  15. Ryan Says:

    to Seth,

    The cosmologists tell us that our huge universe is in fact finite, and that our physical laws are universal throughout (with the exception of black holes). It also appears that it came into being suddenly (the Big Bang Theory, rejected by so many “Christians”, is ironically the very thing that has turned atheists so often into people of faith). If you are speaking of the so-called (and intrinsically demonstrable) “multiverse”, I suppose you are correct in your logic. That theory, flabbergastically proposed by certain atheists trying to hold on to their faith, yet does nothing (nor can) to explain how things are being causelessly caused.

  16. Romanós Says:

    “In a world in which everything points to God, belief is not a crisis but existence itself. Some things may point more intensively than others but everything points.

    “This, I believe, is the great witness of Christianity in the modern world. The challenge will not likely be between Christianity and atheism – but between Christianity-as-true-belief-in-God and Christianity-as-a-religious-option-for-secularists. The latter makes no difference for it is little more than a lifestyle option. It has no point.”

    My world is the one where everything points to God.
    Your evaluation of the challenge is absolutely correct.
    It is not between Christianity and atheism or any other -ism.
    It is between Christianity as life, and Christianity as lifestyle option.
    But that has always been the challenge in every era.
    “No man can serve two masters…”
    Those words will haunt mankind till the end of the age.

  17. Seth Says:

    To Ryan,

    Thanks for the insight! I appreciate you helping me move past that point in my reasoning.

  18. BV Says:

    then why no mention of Christ? Neither “Jesus” nor “Christ” appears in this post. The word “God” itself is meaningless, in my view, if Christ is not raised. You speak of the one-storey universe, but the two converge at Christ. So, no offense, it seems to me that any discussion of this topic must necessarily center around Christ, which I found lacking in your post.

    As Jaroslav Pelikan said: “If Christ is risen, nothing else matters. And if Christ is not risen — nothing else matters.”

  19. Steve Says:

    The concept of “copyright” is interesting, many have come in his name claiming it. But doesn’t this lead to schism, which, as another invention of man is being made subject to the second law of thermodynamics?

    When will we ever learn?

    Carl E Braaten speaks of a “Fifth Jesus” who is not quite identical to the “four” Jesuses presented to us in the New Testament gospels but who is one aspect of the ineffable God presented to us in the Holy Spirit.

    He has made Himself the antidote.

  20. fatherstephen Says:

    BV

    Are you saying that there is no Christian statement in which we may use the name God – that it only has meaning if we say “Christ?” I believe that God may only be known as He has made Himself known to us in Christ. This was intended as a very short, concise post – with a carefully chosen use of prose. I did not intend to offer a systematic theology in less than 800 words.

    Christ is indeed the only possible way in which the “one-storey” universe has meaning – the Incarnation reveals the true character of creation to us.

    “God” is not a meaningless word, however. It is used several times in the Creed and is generally used in Orthodox Christian writing to mean, either the Godhead, as in the Holy Trinity, or the Father, as in “God from God,” in the Creed. And of course it is always correct to say, “Christ is God.”

    The Pelikan quote – is quite true. He was a wonderful Orthodox Christian. I enjoyed the honor of meeting him on several occasions. May his memory be eternal! It held great meaning to me that he and I converted to the Orthodox faith within months of one another (I beat him by about 2 months).

    I’ll reread the post and see if there is a way that would make the Christological meaning of what I have written more clear.

  21. Sea of Sin Says:

    Seth,

    According to the Christian faith there is only one who is infinite, namely God.
    The universe, creation, is not in the same category as the Creator and therefore we cannot ascribe attributes to one that properly belongs to the other.

    Also we believe nothing “had” to happen, as God is not bound by necessity or contingency.

    Logic must be informed by revelation.

    I hope that helps.

  22. Seth Says:

    Sea of sin,

    I meant that to the best of my knowledge, science has told that that the universe may very well be infinite and in such an infinite place “we” and our surrounding would eventually “have to happen”.

    I guess my point (which I obviously did not get across very well) is that it would be to the benefits of both atheist and Christians (or religious people in general) to consider logical posibilities to religious questions.

    I honestly believe both sides could benefit by this.

    Logic must be informed by revelation? Would it still be logic then?

    It would be something more akin to insight perhaps. I would not call it logic if it came from revelation as you would be unable to question something that was revealed to you by a higher power.

    Thanks for the comment.

  23. dale Says:

    the concept of infinity itself is not truly logical at least in the boolean sense so to assume any logic while using the concept of infinity is actually biased at best. our use of logic is dependent on assumptions that are beyond logic. that is the trap of our finite minds.

  24. Sea of Sin Says:

    Dale, very well put.

    Seth, yes logic has its place, and I certainly don’t mean to say that revelation supplants logic. But as Dale points out, logic has its limitations (and its own assumptions) – my point is that we must recognize these. If we don’t, we will make logic our god. We will then operate from a false starting point.

    To put in different words, there is no conflict between logic and revelation, between reason and God, or science and Scripture. The conflict that is encountered by many is because of the two-storey universe concept. Fr. Stephen has written about this at length – and he is much better words.

  25. Seth Says:

    I agree and thank you both for the insight.

    However I also worry that too readily conceding that our logic has its limitations (which as you pointed out it most obviously does) is somewhat of a slippery slope leading to not willing to question one’s faith. a type of willful ignorance of sorts.

    Now, I guess that is the aim of everyone in a sense. However,I imagine that this type of assurance should come as a result of having questioned one’s faith and come to the conclusion that our beliefs are correct rather than just admitting that our logic will undoubtedly be flawed and not questioning in the first place.

    Again, thanks for the comments.

  26. fatherstephen Says:

    Seth,

    I think the questioning comes if we are seeking. But at some point the search ceases to be about questions and moves to a far more existential level. When my questions ended, things got really dicey!

  27. Seth Says:

    Why is that Fr. Stephen? Can you please elaborate?

    Again thanks for those kind words of support a little while back. I don’t believe i thanked you at the time. They did help.

  28. Seth Says:

    Also, I am afraid that when I stop asking questions it will be because I have grown tired and weary. Not because I have truly questioned. That to me would be a bit like giving in and not respecting both my need to have true knowledge and religion itself.

    Does any of this make any sense?

  29. anonymousgodblogger Says:

    Seth,

    Sometimes it can be helpful to do the following experiment–hope it doesn’t sound too trippy: honor your questions by thanking them, and then setting them aside temporarily in a safe place in your brain–giving them a vacation, so to speak! and don’t they deserve it, being so hard-working?!–and then allow yourself to operate from a different frame of reference for one day (or one week, or whatever seems right to you)–let that part of yourself that constantly churns with questions to be quiet, and instead, open your heart to listen for what questions God or life is asking of YOU, and don’t be too quick to respond–just be present to them, be human and embodied and non-conceptual, since the deepest questions aren’t necessarily propostional or verbal in nature. Agghh–this really does sound trippy, I know. But I don’t mean it that way.
    Blessings to you.

  30. fatherstephen Says:

    Seth,

    BTW, I liked anonymousblogger’s trippy advice.🙂

    My own comment about things getting more dicey when the questions ceased – is probably because I that point I knew the answers to the questions but the consequences of the answers began raining down on me when the questions stopped. At which point things get very serious, existentially. Am I actually going to do anything about the answers, for example.

    Questions are very essential when we are seeking but for many they become a sort of end-in-themselves. It is possible to get so into the “seeking mode” that we forget that seeking is about finding. I do not suggest that this is the case for you – only saying that there will come a time when the questions rightly cease – or the present questions rightly cease.

    I liked anon.’s suggestion – because it gave a pause in the questions and allowed for answers to be given and heard. My prayers.

  31. anonymousgodblogger Says:

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen!

    I’m still struggling to say it better–I think the thing about questions is that SOMETIMES, NOT ALWAYS, having a bunch of them and obsessing about them can mean that you, the questioner, are the one setting the agenda instead of allowing God/Life to set it.

    It can actually be a defense against God.

    God is so strange–so non-linear in some ways–a person can wake up in the morning asking about some theological point or some direction-in-life issue, and that can actually (though not always) be a defense against listening to God ask, “Have you noticed the taste of cinammon?” or “How might your neighbor be feeling about the burden of the day ahead, and what can you do to help, and have you noticed how mysterious and inexplicable, irreducible and blessed even an ordinary conversational exchange with your neighbor can be?”

    Christ is so much nearer than we sometimes like to think, even, especially when we don’t have anything/everything figured out, which really, is always!

    It’s good to study, etc.–but also, it’s all in the heart, in the place of no-defense-against-God. Not the thunder, not the wind, but the still small voiceless voice (1 Kings 19:12) that is more like an aroma or a touch than verbiage.

    I have only experienced this a tiny bit, and briefly, because I am so personally noisy and cranky.

  32. hilary Says:

    I like to think of myself as pretty erudite and bookish (yes, yes, I’m very bright! Look at me!) but there comes a point when you just have to say it plainly. And the plainer, the more real. Because only the plain affects us. It’s like: what part of “my grace is sufficient for you” don’t we understand? That’s plain, and makes strong men weak.

    All the talk of logic and willful ignorance can go on forever. I like those discussions, and I understand when someone talks about questions growing more in number and answers getting either scarier or setting off a slippery slope. The answers do both of these things. The point just before conversion is — to take Fr Stephen’s word — dicey. You set off on the slope, and it is slippery (I always pictured my carefully-constructed mile-long line of dominoes going, going going), and all these erudite questions finish their parade of “what if?” on a note of “well, what was I waiting for?” It’s not sunshine and roses getting there, but the amount of joy at the end of the slippery slope is beyond words. I think it’s fair to say you look back and realize how hard you had made it, how much time you put into the struggle (setting up dominoes) — especially when the struggle became a best friend. When the struggle’s mostly gone (rather, it takes new forms), you are so much freer and certainly have more hours in the day to fill with new things. New questions, too. In a different direction.

    Look. We’re talking about really excepting the whole meaning and magnitude of what happened with Jesus. If we try to make virgin birth, miracles, or resurrection logical, in man’s logic, we’ll go mad. But this is also beside willful ignorance. If Jesus fit into the world of ours, his story wouldn’t have been any different than anyone’s story. That he subverted so many man-made laws (physics, math, philosophy, religion) is the point. It’s that plain. Isn’t it?

  33. BV Says:

    Fair rebuttal. I’m not trying to be combative – a concept lost today where any challenge no matter how innocuous is taken as an affront.

    True, all of your work taken together shows that you appreciate the importance of the risen Christ and the implications thereof. My problem is that, in the contemporary (Western) world, the term God is user defined. There is no “universal resolution” of the meaning of the term, and this results from an outright denial of the Resurrection (which is why referred to the JP quote). These days, the challenge for us Christians (granted, I’m a Prot…heretic), is to clearly articulate the mission of the Church. Referring to “God” unfortunately, I think, gets lost in the noise of today.

  34. fatherstephen Says:

    BV

    It’s a good point. Didn’t mean to be so defensive. It’s been a tough week on the personal front. I get grouchy – a real problem if I’m blogging as well.

    Father Stephen+

    Sent from my iTouch

  35. BV Says:

    And please know that I’ve saved your writings on the One-storey universe and refer to them with some frequency. They are a helpful resource!

  36. Seth Says:

    Thanks for the advice. It’s somewhat of a difficult thing to acomplish (setting one’s doubts or questions aside for a while) but it does help. I actually received a tad of insight into a couple of things by simply not over-thinking. The insight just came…wow.

  37. anonymousgodblogger Says:

    Some other thoughts for Seth re. the issue of questions: If I’d understood these things earlier, I might have gone around In fewer circles (please ignore anything/everything in this list that doesn’t speak to you!)

    1. “Love is not a problem, and not an answer to a question. Love knows no question. It is the ground of all, and questions arise only insofar as we are divided, alienated, estranged from that ground.” Thomas Merton

    2. Nevertheless, God does not despise our questions. I’ve found that certain responses to some questions have hugely cleared the way –the goal is not to attain some kind of “mastery” but to remove obstacles: “…take away the obstacles from the way of My people” (Isaiah 57:14).

    3. Some of my questions , especially at first, were motivated by a false belief that if I were to have any integrity at all, I was morally obligated to deeply and thoroughly research every possible religion and way of being—and perhaps somehow experience it as well—before I would be allowed to follow Jesus. The burden of this seemed insurmountable. I didn’t know that it is o.k. to be “espoused as a pure virgin to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:2), “I will betroth you to myself forever, betroth you in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving kindness. I will betroth you in faithfulness. And you will know the Lord” (Hosea 2:19)—I thought I had to be married, in a sense, to every other religion/god first, in order to earn the right to make a commitment to Christ. In some sense, I believed that the ethically honorable default position was skepticism, and anything other than that had to be massively justified and proved. What a way to starve!

    4. In other words, it seemed too good to be true that I could begin to communicate with and try to obey Jesus from a position of wobbliness and uncertainty. But it really is true! And it is still true. I am often wobbly, but He is stable though not at all in a rigid or boring way.

    5. Also, I thought it was some idealized and ever-out-of-reach version of myself that would be allowed to begin to know God. But the truth is that we can “see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living”—not some imaginary idealized land, but the land of the living, a land full of ambiguity and potholes, most of which are inside us. We can even let ourselves to be cheerful in this land!

    6. Even if we’ve had the tiniest and most fleeting glimpse of Christ, we are nearly unbearable blessed: “Blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. For truly I say to you, that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it; and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matthew 13:16-17). Even the moments in church or in prayer, for instance, when we feel most bored, distracted, irritable, incomplete or bewildered, are moments that kings and prophets would have given anything to experience.

    Peace that passes understanding to you!

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