Creation and God

“If we perceive the spiritual principles of visible things we learn that the world has a Maker. But we do not ask what is the nature of that Maker, because we recognize that this is beyond our scope. Visible creation clearly enables us to grasp that there is a Maker, but it does not enable us to grasp His nature.”  (St. Maximos the Confessor, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 17646-50)

Natural theology has its limits according to the Fathers of the Church.  Creation tells us there is a Creator, but creation cannot reveal to us the nature of the God who created us.  Our ability to read creation like a book of theology requires us to have more experience and knowledge than creation alone can give us.  God the Holy Trinity reveals Himself and His nature to us, a revelation found in the Holy Scriptures as well as in the sacramental life of the Church and also in the spiritual lives of the saints.  Even the Scriptures alone do not give us the full experience of God’s revelation and grace.  St. Basil  the Great notes about the book of Genesis:

In saying, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” the sacred writer passed over many things in silence—e.g., water, air, fire, and their effects—which, all forming in reality the true complement of the world, were without doubt made at the same time as the universe. By this silence, the text plainly wishes to train the activity of our intelligence, giving it a weak point for starting, to impel it to the discovery of the truth.”    (A Patristic Treasury: Early Church Wisdom for Today, Kindle Loc.  Loc. 3593-96)

Scripture does not tell us everything there is to know about creation – it is silent about many things, but for St. Basil, this silence is exactly telling us there is much more to know.  The fact that Scripture does not give us every detail about creation tells us we need to search and discover the truth which is in creation and which leads us beyond creation to the Creator.  The Scriptures speak to us about the Creator, but they are not a scientific text book.  Humans have pursued a study of God’s creation and uncovered a great many facts and truths about the material cosmos.  What we commonly call science is really the result of human study into the truths of the natural world, the things about which the Scriptures are silent.  God reveals to us the natural order and allows us to discover the truth about nature, as when in the beginning God allowed Adam to name all of the animals of creation and God waited to see what the human would name the animals (Genesis 2:19-20).  God rejoices in our scientific curiosity and our search into the nature of the universe.  In allowing the human to name the animals God was giving us opportunity to understand the nature of each part of creation.

Of course some have decided the empirical world is the only reality we can know, but the godly realize just as there is more to know about nature than the Scriptures reveal, so too there is more to be known about creation than science can reveal.  St. Gregory Nazianzus comments:

“For we should not neglect the heavens, earth, and air, and all such things, because some have wrongly seized upon them and honored God’s works instead of God; instead, we should reap whatever advantage we can from them for our life and enjoyment, while we avoid their dangers, not raising creation as foolish people do in revolt against the Creator, but from the works of nature apprehending the Worker and, as the divine apostle says, “taking every thought captive to obey Christ” [2 Cor 10:5.)”    (A Patristic Treasury: Early Church Wisdom for Today, Kindle Loc. 4004-8)

As St Gregory notes, just because some people might use scientific investigation to proclaim the empirical creation as the only thing that exists and so deny the Creator, that is no reason for us to completely reject science itself.  Those denying the Creator’s existence are wrong about God but that doesn’t mean that science is therefore wrong about all of its claims.   Science does know things about the physical creation not found in Scriptures, and we in the modern world live with the many advantages of science, technology, medicine and industry.

Scripture was not written to be science, but do reveal the truth to us.

“The creation stories are ancient and should be understood on that level. Rather than merge the two creation stories—the scientific and the biblical—we should respect that they each speak a different language. The fact that Paul considered Adam to be the progenitor of the human race does not mean that we need to find some way to maintain his view within an evolutionary scheme. Rather, we should gladly acknowledge his ancient view of cosmic and human origins and see in that very scenario the face of a God who seems far less reluctant to accommodate to ancient points of view than we are sometimes comfortable with.”   (Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam, What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins, Kindle Loc. 3131-35)

God chose His own time and place to make His revelations known, and the people to whom He made those revelations recorded them with all the limits of their time and place.  As Peter Enns points out, God was willing to accommodate Himself and His revelation to the point of view of the ancient world.  God did not leave the ancients in the dark saying “no use to reveal myself until the people have a better understanding of creation through modern science.”  God was comfortable with revealing Himself to a people whose “ancient” way of thinking caused them to  understand the revelation and the creation in their own pre-modern terms.  God did not wait until the modern times to make Himself known.  It is we moderns who have trouble with pre-modern understanding, not God.    Enns continues:

“In my view, reading the Adam story as it was intended to be understood by those who shaped the Bible—primarily as a story of Israel within the larger stage of universal world history—is the most fruitful approach. The Adam story is not an obligatory nod on the part of ancient Israelites to account for how humanity came to be. The primary question Israel was asking was not, ‘Where do people come from?’ (a scientific curiosity), but ‘Where do we come from?’ (a matter of national identity).”   (The Evolution of Adam, What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins, Kindle Loc. 3179-82)

Israel needed to discover its own identity to know its relationship to the rest of history, of the world, of the entire universe.  Scripture gave them that identity which helped them understand themselves in the bigger picture of humanity as well as the entire cosmos.  In understanding themselves, they could then understand creation, the empirical world.  It is in this learning process that they came to know their Creator and the importance of the created world in realizing their place in it.

“Creation is the accuser of the ungodly. For through its inherent spiritual principles creation proclaims its Maker; and through the natural laws intrinsic to each individual species it instructs us in virtue. The spiritual principles may be recognized in the unremitting continuance of each individual species, the laws in the consistency of its natural activity. If we do not ponder on these things, we remain ignorant of the cause of created being and we cling to all the passions which are contrary to nature.”  (St. Maximos the Confessor, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 17632-39)

The created order, the empirical world contextualize our place in the cosmos.  Our task is to learn from both nature and the Scriptures about our role in God’s creation.  The scientific study of the empirical world also helps us realize our relationship to the rest of creation including our moral responsibilities since we are creatures with free will whose choices have consequences for the rest of creation.

O LORD, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.

(Psalms 104:24)

 

Advertisements

Praying for Everyone

My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.   (1 John 2:1-2)

“I beg and beseech You, Lord, grant to all who have gone astray a true knowledge of You, so that each and everyone may come to know Your glory.

In the case of all who have passed from this world lacking a virtuous life and having had no faith, be an advocate for them, Lord, for the sake of the body which You took from them, so that from the single united body of the world we may offer up praise to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the kingdom of heaven, an unending source of eternal delight.”

(St Isaac the Syrian, Scriptores Syri, T. 225, p. 18)

Vices vs. Virtues

“Let us rather avoid greed, through which injustice thrives and justice is banished, brotherly love is spat on and hatred of mankind is embraced. Let us avoid drunkenness and gluttony, which are the parents of fornication and wantonness; for excess of every kind is the cause of insolence, and outflow is the begotten child of plentitude, from which fornication and wantonness are hatched. Let us avoid strife, division, seditions, whereof plots are born and murders begotten; for evil crops grow from evil seed. Let us avoid foul speech, whereby those who are accustomed to it slip easily into the pit of evil deeds; for what one is not ashamed to say, one will not be ashamed to do either, and what one enjoys hearing one will be drawn into committing. Let us abominate these things and spit upon them, but let us love the Lord’s commandments and adorn ourselves with them.

Let us honor virginity, let us attain gentleness, let us preserve brotherly love, let us give lodging to hospitality, let us cling to fortitude, let us cleanse ourselves with prayers and repentance, let us welcome humbleness that we may draw near to Christ; for the Lord is near to those who are of a contrite heart, and He will save the lowly in spirit. Let us embrace moderation; let us practice the judgment and distinction of the good from the bad. Let the soul be undaunted by the evils of life, especially if they are inflicted on us on account of Christ and His commandments, for we know that justice will follow, and it is thanks to them that we are easily carried up to heaven.”

(St Photius, The Homilies of Photius Patriarch of Constantinople, p. 71-72)

A Divine Reward Before Doing the Labor

By the inexpressible providence of God some people have obtained divine rewards for their labors before doing them; others during their toil; others after; and some only at the time of their departure.   (St John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Kindle Location 2394-2395)

The above quote from St. John Climacus reminded me of an event that happened almost 50 years ago.  A friend of our family had an aging mother who was about 85.  She was having serious trouble walking, suffering a lot of pain in her legs.  Perhaps it was a circulatory problem, but I don’t remember that detail.   She kept telling her son, our family friend, that if she couldn’t walk anymore, she hoped God would take her.  She didn’t want to keep living if she couldn’t go to church and she was afraid that since she couldn’t walk they would put her in a nursing home and that would be the end of her church attendance. She had been several times doctors but they hadn’t so far found a solution to the problem.  Then, one day, the doctor called the man and told him they had a new medication for his mother which the doctor felt would help her be able to walk.  Our friend went to the pharmacy and picked up the prescription and drove it to his mother’s house.  To his surprise, she was not home.   She didn’t drive, so he couldn’t imagine where she went.  He searched the house and began looking around the neighborhood.  A neighbor told him that he had seen his mom walking away from the home earlier in the day.  He became very alarmed knowing she wasn’t able to walk very well.  He drove around the neighborhood but didn’t see her.  He felt somewhat panicked about what might have happened to her.  He called the doctor and the hospital, but could not locate her.  After a considerable time, he drove to the church because it was the one place he knew she liked to be.  And sure enough there was his mom sitting on the front steps of the church.   She had walked nearly 2 miles to get there.  When he got out of the car, he felt a bit angry and said to his mother, “What are you doing here?”   She calmly replied that she had come to church to pray to God to ask him to help her so she could walk and come to church, but if that God wasn’t going to help her, then she hoped He would allow her to die in peace.

The son told her that the doctor had called that very morning with a new prescription for her and he had gotten the medication for her.  She replied, “See, God answered my prayer.”    He said later he felt a little amused by her simple faith, imagining as she did that God had answered her prayer, when he knew that in fact that medication was in production for years before she ever made that prayer.   His problem of course was his good Western mind with its linear view of history – as if God needed to wait for a prayer to be offered before God could  begin to act upon the petition.  Or as St. John Climacus noted in the quote above, some obtain their divine rewards before doing the labor.

St. Gregory Nazianzus: The 10 Commandments

God once inscribed these Ten Commandments on marble tablets

but You write them on my heart;

You shall not know another God, since you honor only one (Ex. 20.3; Deut. 5.7).

You shall not erect an empty facade, a lifeless image (Ex. 20.4-6; Deut. 5.8-10).

You shall never mention the lofty God in vain (Ex. 20.7; Deut. 5.11).

Observe every Sabbath; both the celestial and the shadowy (Ex. 20.12; Deut. 5.12-15)

Blessed are you if you do homage to your parents, as is right (Ex. 20.12; Deut. 5.16).

Flee the guilt of a murderous hand (Ex. 20.13; Deut. 5.17), and of another’s marriage bed (Ex. 20.14; Deut. 5.16), evil-minded theft (Ex. 20.15; Deut. 5.19), and false witness (Ex. 20.16; Deut. 5.20); and desire for what belongs to others (Ex. 20.17; Deut 5.21) is the spark of death.

(St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Poems on Scripture, p. 41)

Being “In” Christ

In the present life those who are blessed are perfect in relation to God in respect of their will, but not yet with respect to the activity of their mind. One may find perfect love in them, but by no means pure contemplation of God. If, however, that which is in the future is present with them while they yet live in the body, they already experience the prize, yet not continually or perfectly, since this life does not permit it. For this cause Paul says, “we rejoice in hope” (Rom. 12:13), and “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7), and “we know in part” (1 Cor. 13:9). Even though he had seen Christ (1 Cor. 9:1, 15:8), yet he did not enjoy this vision at all times.

For “always” looks to the future only, and this he himself showed when he spoke of Christ’s presence, saying, “and so shall we always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:17). Thus, anyone who is in Christ and has received eternal life has it through his will, and through love he will arrive at the ineffable joy. He has the pure vision of the mind in store for the future while faith leads him on to love. This the blessed Peter shows, saying, “though you do not see Him you believe in Him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy” (1 Pet. 1:8). (St. Nicholas Cabasilas, The Life in Christ, pp. 226-227)

Let us Lift Up Our Hearts

Let us lift up our hearts.

We lift them up unto the Lord.

(From the Divine Liturgy)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem writing in the 4th Century describes a portion of the Divine Liturgy which is basically the same as we Orthodox are still doing today.

After the priest cries out, “Lift up your hearts.”

For truly that awe-filled hour it is necessary to have our hearts up toward the Lord, and not below with regard to the earth and earthly activities. For this reason the priest exhorts you with authority in that hour to leave behind all everyday cares and household worries and to have your hearts in heaven with the God who is the lover of humanity. Next, you answer, “We have lifted them to the Lord,” having made by this your agreement with him according to what you confessed. But let not such a one enter who with the mouth says, “We have lifted them up to the Lord,” but whose thoughts in the mind are focused on everyday cares. Always, then, keep God in mind! But if, on account of human weakness, you are not able to do this, try to do it especially in that hour. (Lectures on the Christian Sacraments, p. 123)

Let us who mystically represent the Cherubim … now lay aside all earthly cares as we receive the King of All who comes invisibly upborne by the angelic hosts.  (Cherubimic Hymn of the Divine Liturgy)

Truth Relies on Us All

The Lord Jesus said: “‘He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.’

Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?'”  (John 14:21-22)

St Gregory of Nyssa (d. ca 384AD) offers an answer to the Apostle Judas‘ question as to how it is that God’s manifestation may be seen only by some when “objectively” the event should be visible to everyone.

“…True doctrine conforms to the dispositions of those receiving the word, for although the word presents to all equally what is good and bad, the one who is favorably disposed to what is presented has his understanding enlightened, but the darkness of ignorance remains with the one who is obstinately disposed and does not permit his soul to behold the ray of truth….

In keeping with this insight of mine, consider the air which is darkened to the Egyptians’ eyes by the rod [Exodus 10:21-29], while to the Hebrews’ it is illuminated by the sun. By this incident the meaning which we have given is confirmed. It was not some constraining power from above that caused the one to be found in darkness and the other in light, but we men have in ourselves, in our own nature and by our own choice, the causes of light or of darkness, since we place ourselves in whichever sphere we wish to be.

Jesus & Moses at the Transfiguration

According to the history, the eyes of the Egyptians were not in darkness because some wall or mountain darkened their view and shadowed the rays, but the sun cast its rays upon all equally. Whereas the Hebrews delighted in its light, the Egyptians were insensitive to its gift. In a similar manner the enlightened life is proposed to all equally according to their ability. Some continue on in darkness, driven by their evil pursuits to the darkness of wickedness. while others are made radiant by the light of virtue.”  (The Life of Moses, p. 69, 72-73)

St Gregory’s answer is based in a clear idea of synergy – God’s revelation, God’s manifestation requires also observers who prepared/open to receive what God reveals.  This idea is reflected in quantum physics where the observer affects the outcome of what is being observed.  God does not even impose His revelation on humanity.  Our inner disposition toward God will determine what we experience of God in our life.  Almost 200 years before Gregory of Nyssa’s writing, St Irenaeus of Lyons (d. 202AD) offered a very similar idea:

“In respect to His greatness, and His wonderful glory, no man shall see God and live (Exodus 33:20), for the Father is incomprehensible; but in regard to His love, and kindness, and as to His infinite power, even this He grants to those who love Him, that is, to see God, which thing the prophets did also predict.  For those things that are impossible with men, are possible with God (Luke 18:27).  For man does not see God by his own powers; but when He pleases He is seen by men, by whom He wills, and when He wills, and as He wills.  For God is powerful in all things, having been seen at that time indeed, prophetically through the Spirit, and seen, too, adoptively through the Son; and He shall also be seen paternally in the kingdom of heaven, the Spirit truly preparing man in the Son of God, and the Son leading him to the Father, while the Father, too, confers [upon him] incorruption for eternal life, which comes to everyone from the fact of his seeing God.

For as those who see the light are within the light, and partake of its brilliancy; even so, those who see God are in God, and receive of His splendor.  But [His] splendor vivifies them; those, therefore, who see God, do receive life.  And for this reason, He, [although] beyond comprehension, and boundless and invisible, rendered Himself visible, and comprehensible, and within the capacity of those who believe, that He might vivify those who receive and behold Him through faith.  For as His greatness is past finding out, so also His goodness is beyond expression; by which having been seen, He bestows life upon those who see Him.  It is not possible to live apart from life, and the means of life is found in fellowship with God; but fellowship with God is to know God, and to enjoy His goodness.”  (ADV. HAERESES 4.20.5)

NASA Photo

And this is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.  (John 17:3)

What Time Is It?

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven… (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

Wisdom tells us we need to know what time it is.  Which doesn’t mean we know the time on the clock or our cell phone.  It is knowing the right moment, whenever that might occur.  It is time, as a deacon says at the beginning of the Divine Liturgy, for the Lord to act.   St John Climacus writes:

If there is a time for all things under heaven, as the Preacher tells us, and by ‘all things’ we should know it means all things that concern our sacred life, then, if you are willing, let us examine it so that we may attempt to do at each moment what is fitting for that occasion. This is surely the case for those who enter the games, for there is a time for dispassion (I make this remark for the athletes who are doing their apprenticeship). There is a time for weeping. There is a time for hardness of heart. There is a time for obedience. There is a time to give orders. There is a time to fast and a time to eat. There is a time for struggling with our foe, the body, and a time when the fire burns down. There is a time of spiritual tempest, and a time for spiritual peace.

Martin Luther King

 

There is a time for profound grief and a time for spiritual gladness. There is a time for instruction and a time for listening. There is a time for corruptions, perhaps from pride, and a time for purifying through meekness. There is a time for battle and a time for secure rest. There is a time for stillness and a time for distraction. There is a time for ceaseless prayer and a time for devout ministry. Therefore may we not be tricked by haughty zeal and pursue, prematurely, what will happen in its time. That is, we should not during winter seek for that which should come in the summer, or at spring for what is due at the harvest. Because there is a time to sow in toil, and a time to harvest the unmentionable graces. For otherwise we will not obtain even in its time what is fitting for that time.      (The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Kindle Location 2383-2394)

Know what time it is!  For when spiritually we do not know the seasons and the time, we are subject to despair and despondency.

Despondency—in all its complexity and cunningness—arises from a relationship to time that has become broken. It amounts to no less than a perpetual attempt by the mind to flee from the present moment, to disregard the gift of God’s presence at each juncture of time and space.  The path to healing—paved and well trodden by steadfast souls who have gone before us—is one and the same as the path back to the present.   (Nicole Roccas , Time and Despondency: Regaining the Present in Faith and Life, Kindle Location 150-153)

Our Lord Jesus Christ says He is with us always.  If we always are in His presence, then the time is right.  All around us things can be changing, even for the worse, but when we are in Christ we are in the right moment.

For he says, “At the acceptable time I have listened to you, and helped you on the day of salvation.” Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.  (2 Corinthians 6:2)

Baptizing Infants

St. Augustine made the observation that in the Scriptures, circumcision was a sign of the covenant between God and His people.  The community did not wait until a man had proven his faithfulness to God before circumcising him.  Baby boys were circumcised and then the community had the responsibility to help them grown into faithful men.  For Augustine, baptism works in a similar way as part of the new covenant – a sign of God’s faithfulness which each person receives and then works on converting their heart to God.  St. Augustine writes:

“In the case of Isaac, circumcision was performed  as a sign of the righteousness of faith on the eighth day after his birth; he then followed the  example of his father’s faith. Thus, the sign of righteousness had come first in the infant,  and the righteousness itself followed in the growing man. In a similar way, the sacrament  of regeneration comes first in baptized infants and, if they later commit themselves to  Christian fidelity, then the conversion of heart follows, for which there was an earlier sign  in their bodies.”   (Romans: Interpreted by Early Christian Commentators  by J. Patout Burns Jr., Kindle Loc. 2014-17)

Though baptism has a spiritual antecedent in circumcision, it is still something totally new.

In the Old Testament, physical birth determined whether someone belonged to the chosen people. Only the children of Abraham were heirs to God’s promises. Despite the fact that proselytism was especially strong by the time of Christ’s coming – “You traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves” (Matthew 23.15) – the neophytes themselves were not regarded in all respects as true members of Israel, but only their descendants. In the New Testament however, it is spiritual birth that determines if someone belongs to the Church: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3.5). Beginning with the first apostolic preaching on the day of Pentecost, the sacrament of baptism by water and the Spirit is the one and only way of entering the Church, without which salvation is impossible. (Nicholas Afanasiev, The Church of the Holy Spirit, p. 23)

If the only purpose of baptism was the washing away of sin, then there would be no reason to baptize infants.   But baptism is not God’s reaction to sin, but rather God’s own effort to unite each of us to Himself,  so that we might share in the divine life.  Baptism gives a new birth, a new life to each person – a spiritual life in communion with God in Christ.  A baby is fully human and thus capable of being united to God and to share in the divine life.    [for further thoughts about the baptism of infants see my post Baptism or Blindness]   Baptism is a sign and a sacrament so is rich in meaning.  As biblical scholar Geza Vermes writes:

“For Paul, the baptismal pool had a deep allegorical meaning. It symbolized the tomb in which the crucified body of Jesus was laid to rest and where it remained until the resurrection on the third day. Baptism for Paul is a myth-drama. Being dipped into and lifted from the baptismal pool meant an allegorical identification with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Through the baptismal ritual, the effects of the cult drama were transferred onto the new Christian. Baptism seen through believing eyes was a sacramental rebirth.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (Rom. 6:3–4)”   (Christian Beginnings, Kindle Loc. 1708-14)