As we honor the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council, we have to consider how they struggled so much with finding a vocabulary to express the revelation of God. They were trying to put into human words the divine: God’s self-revelation. This issue of finding a vocabulary to adequately express what God reveals exists in the Scriptures as well. Scholar Terence E. Fetheim notes:
Thus, for example, one needs to ask what speaking of God’s eyes and ears (2 Kings 19:16) adds to the understanding of the relationship of God to the world that living, seeing, and hearing do not. Such language makes the idea that God receives the world into himself vivid and concrete. God’s experience of the world is not superficial; God takes it in, in as real a way as people do who use their eyes and ears. At the same time, in ways that people do not, God takes it all in (Jer. 32:19), and not with fleshly eyes (Job 10:4).
Nevertheless, while examining each metaphor in its specificity is important, the general conclusions drawn continue to be significant. In addition to revealing God as living and personal, they testify to the intimate relationship between God and the world. ( The Suffering of God, p. 9)
The vocabulary we use in speaking about God is born from our experience of of God. God’s revelation is received by us, we encounter this revelation who is Christ and we are changed by it. The revelation is not ideas about God nor words about God, but rather the experience of God the Word.
The Christian doctrine of Trinity, in Gregory’s estimate, is therefore not an exercise in speculative metaphysical language, but an exposition of how the Church has experienced God within salvation history and, as such, how it prays. (John A. McGuckin, Seeing the Glory, p. 188)
God entered into the human condition in the incarnation – in Christ. In Christ, God experienced sighing, sorrow, suffering and death. God takes on our human condition in order to redeem and transfigure it – not to help us escape it. The beauty of the human condition is found in the fact that God can enter into it, as we are. God loves us in our frailty, in our fears and fragility. It is what makes us uniquely human and yet the very beings with whom God wishes to share his Divinity and to whom God gives eternal life. In God dying on the cross we see the Divine work of creation accomplished – God sharing every aspect of our human existence. God redeems everything in our existence and shares even in our suffering and death so that we might share in His eternity. God’s death on the cross is not the defeat of humanity, but the accomplishment of God’s will that He be fully united to us.
It is finished!
We are much happier with our god in the heavens than with the man lying before us: “I do not know the man” (Matt. 26:72). We want a god who conforms to our expectations: an all powerful and all-knowing puppet-master, not one who confronts us as all-too-human, serving others, crying, dying. Show us the Father, we ask, and it will be enough for us. We yearn for a god who will lift us from our uncertainty, frailty, and fear, to see things from his lofty and implacable perspective, with all things in his providential control, all problems solved as if by magic.
And in so doing, we ask to escape not only from our frailty, our suffering, and our tears, but also our joy and laughter – all the things that make up the particularly fragile beauty of human existence.
Come, let us greatly rejoice in the Lord; Let us shout aloud to God our savior; 2 Let us come before His face with thanksgiving, And let us shout aloud to Him with psalms. 3 For the Lord is a great God, A great King over all the gods;
4 For in His hand are the ends of the earth, And the heights of the mountains are His;
5 For the sea is His, and He made it, And His hands formed the dry land.
6 Come, let us worship and fall down before Him, And let us weep before the Lord who made us; 7 For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture And the sheep of His hand. Today, if you hear His voice, 8 “Do not harden your hearts as in the Rebellion, During the day of testing in the desert, 9 Where your fathers tempted Me; They tested Me, and saw My works. 10 For forty years I was treated with contempt by that generation, And I said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, And they do not know My ways’; 11 So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’ ”
For the monk as well as for any human being, the fundamental question at the core of our existence is not whether or not God exists (in fact, a reasonable case for this can be made on purely natural grounds); the real issue is whether or not God has spoken – indeed, speaks – and if so, what does he say?
If God does communicate, then the most pressing issue in our lives is to learn how to hear and to respond to this. Silence is no less a part of this than speech. As in any language, we have to learn to understand what the silence means. (The Monks of New Skete, In the Spirit of Happiness, p. 144-145)
You have made the moon to mark the seasons; the sun knows its time for setting. (Psalms 104:19)
The first day of fall 2017 came on September 22. The Autumnal Equinox marks the beginning of autumn with there being approximately the same amount of daylight and nighttime darkness. We have been in a dry spell with unseasonably warm temperatures. So far the color change has been slow in coming. Though I do see brown, dry leaves on the ground, the trees are still mostly green with color only slowly appearing among the leaves.
Daniel said: “Blessed be the name of God from age to age, for wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons…
I really do enjoy fall weather – the passing of high humidity days brings a drier warmth and pleasing breezes. I love to see the colors of the leaves as they mark the passing of the seasons. They are a harbinger of winter but I enjoy their current beauty, not what they are pointing to.
For both we and our words are in his hand, as are all understanding and skill in crafts. For it is he who gave me unerring knowledge of what exists, to know the structure of the world and the activity of the elements; the beginning and end and middle of times, the alternations of the solstices and the changes of the seasons, the cycles of the year and the constellations of the stars… (Wisdom of Solomon 7:16)
I walk in the woods, enjoying God’s creation and the changing nature of the world. I have lived through more than half of century watching summer end replaced by autumn’s tones. It is always the same and yet each season is new and wonderful.
John Donne writing in the 17th Century offers a wonderful reflection on seasons and time as related to God’s own love for His Creation. The version below was adapted to conform to 21st Century spellings and grammar.
“God made sun and moon to distinguish seasons, and day and night, and we cannot have the fruits of the earth but in their seasons.
But God made no decree to distinguish the seasons of his mercies. In paradise, the fruits were ripe, the first minute, and in heaven it is always Autumn: his mercies are ever in their maturity.
We ask panem quotidianum, our daily bread, and God never says you should have come yesterday. He never says you must [come] again tomorrow, but today if you will hear his voice, today he will hear you.
If some king of the earth has so large an extent of dominion in north and south, as that he has winter and summer together in his dominions, so large an extent east and west as that he has day and night together in his dominions, much more has God mercy and judgment together.
He brought light out of darkness, not out of a lesser light. He can bring your summer out of winter, though you have no spring.
Though in the ways of fortune, or understanding, or conscience, you have been benighted until now, winter and frozen, clouded and eclipsed, damped and benumbed, smothered and stupefied until now,
now God comes to you, not as in the dawning of the day, not as in the bud of spring, but as the sun at noon to illustrate all shadows, as the sheaves in harvest to fill all penuries, all occasions invite his mercies, and all times are his seasons. ” (LXXX Sermons; Sermon II)
The sense of the presence of God. Something I pray everyone I know may have. I wish everyone in the world could have it.
In Paradise, Adam and Eve lived in the presence of God, they would consciously have to ignore God, intentionally block God from their hearts/minds, not to be aware of God. Literally, they lived in His presence, in the Paradise in which God was the gardener. They were protected by God and so nothing could hurt them. And yet Eve, and Adam chose to banish God from their thinking. They expelled God from their lives in order to experience the world without God’s presence. They felt they could think more clearly if not living in that bright cloud in which God speaks (see Psalm 99:7; Matthew 17:5). [Note – in Paradise, Satan knew he could not harm God’s creatures; they were protected by the Almighty Creator. Humans could be harmed only if they did it to themselves by choosing to wean themselves away from God. Satan does not make Eve or Adam do anything. In Genesis 3, Satan only hints and suggests, he never even tells Eve or Adam what to do. They make those choices of their own free will and to their own demise. Satan has no power over Adam and Eve, and if we Orthodox would follow our own prayers at the baptismal exorcism, we would realize that like Adam and Eve in Paradise, Satan has no power over any sealed, enlisted warrior for Christ.]
How was it possible to exile God their Creator from the world which God had made? And yet the first humans did just that – they created some kind of limit to God, blocking God from their own sensory experience, so they could chose for themselves apart from God. Amazing! Yet, we all – every human being – have that same power: each of us can put God out of mind, can function as if God does not exist, can forget God completely in our daily lives.
God for God’s part has chosen to limit His own omnipotence. When God created human beings with free will, the Almighty chose to limit divine power. God allowed creatures to think apart from divinity and to make choices against God’s own will. Clearly in Scriptures, God limited His own powers – in the burning bush for example. God reveals that being all powerful means even being able to limit that power. The burning bush was simply a foreshadowing of the real intention of God’s limits – the incarnation in the womb of Mary in which the uncontainable God limits His presence and powers. One of the powers of the almighty God is to limit His own omnipotence! Mary as Theotokos is both the mystery of God limiting His own omnipotence as well as the miracle of a human being able to contain divinity.
If we want to live in a world in which God’s power is limited – which we chose when we chose like Eve and Adam to follow our own will rather than God’s – God is willing to be at work in that world as well since it is still part of God’s own creation. The Old Testament in which God appears in shadows and is veiled in mystery is the history of God limiting His almighty self in order to deal with us on our terms. In giving us free will, God decided to deal with us on our terms for He certainly did not predestine our choices. Just look at Genesis 2:19 – “So out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.” God even waits to see what Adam will call each species of animal. God doesn’t predetermine even such a simple thing as the names of the animals He creates. Humans have a creative role to play and they do choose and determine many things for themselves and for all creation. [At least in Genesis of the Jews and Christians. In the Quran, conversely, God determines everything, even the names of the animals. Adam’s task is simply to memorize what God has predetermined the names of the animals to be. Adam is not a creative being, but merely an obedient one in Islam’s creation story. God tests Adam to see if he has in fact memorized what God has done. Unlike in Islam, in Judaism and Christianity, humans have clear free will from the beginning and God observes what the humans choose – God’s love means the almighty God exercises restraint over God’s own omnipotence.]
The world of the Fall is a world in which God has limited His omnipotence, in which we do not always or automatically sense God’s presence. We are not guaranteed His protection either, for example, God does not protect us from the consequences of our own behavior.
And yet, God continues to love us and care for us and to work out His plan for our salvation. Law, prophets, promises, saints, miracles – all were given to us to help us be aware of God’s presence. The Old Testament is the witness to God’s continual and uninterrupted love for us humans.
Today, we also have Holy Communion for those united to Christ in baptism and chrismation. The Eucharist is God’s gift to us to enable to further experience God’s own presence in our world, in our lives, as God works out His plan for the salvation of the world.
In the midst of a broken, fallen world, we experience grace in Holy Communion. For in the Eucharist God is present in creation in a way which wasn’t even true in the Paradise of Adam and Eve. We can become aware again of God’s abiding presence in His creation. We can experience God directly and fully. We are not alone in the world, we are not without divine help and protection. Throughout Lent with our increased opportunities for receiving the Eucharist, we have ever more reason to be thankful and joyful and hopeful. We are not completely cut off from God, we are not orphans without a heavenly Father. Every time we come to church, we are placing ourselves in the presence of God. We can experience God in creation as well, but in Church we have the special gifts from God of the Body and Blood of Christ. Christ in our midst and Christ in us. As we pray at the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts [emphasis is mine and not in the text] :
Look upon us, Your unworthy servants who stand at this holy altar as the Cherubic throne, upon which rests Your only-begotten Son and our God, in the dread Mysteries that are set forth. Having freed us all and all Your faithful people from uncleanness, sanctify all our souls and bodies with the sanctification which cannot be taken away, that partaking with a clean conscience, with faces unashamed, with hearts illumined, of these divine, sanctified Things, and by them being given life, we may be united to Your Christ Himself, our true God, Who has said, “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him,” that by Your Word, O Lord, dwelling within us and sojourning among us, we may become a temple of Your all-holy and adorable Spirit, redeemed from every diabolical wile, wrought either by deed or word or thought, and may obtain the good things promised to us with all Your saints who have been well-pleasing to You.
O LORD, do not rebuke me in Your anger, Nor chasten me in Your hot displeasure. Have mercy on me, O LORD, for I am weak; O LORD, heal me, for my bones are troubled. My soul also is greatly troubled; But You, O LORD—how long? Return, O LORD, deliver me! Oh, save me for Your mercies’ sake! For in death there is no remembrance of You; In the grave who will give You thanks? I am weary with my groaning; All night I make my bed swim; I drench my couch with my tears.
(Psalm 6:1-6, Of David, A Prayer of Faith in Time of Distress)
King David, was loved by God, and yet in the Psalms he composed, he offers woeful lamentations about the suffering he experienced in his lifetime. His Psalms certainly speak to those of us who have suffered, as well as expressing the sorrows of our hearts. Distress, pain, sorrow, and suffering can all seem to go on forever with no end in sight. We do wonder with David, how long will God let the suffering go on?
We can also have the same experience of endless suffering just by listening to the news. And depression itself can come upon us like a darkness which will not go away.
What brought this all to mind was the words of St. Paul:
“It is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)
As I mentioned in the previous blog, Light Shines in Darkness, I realized what hope we have in the God who shines out of darkness. God is there present in the darkness. God doesn’t have to shine light into the darkness, for in the darkness we will find God, even if hidden, and we realize we don’t have to get out of the darkness to find our Lord. He is there where we are. The darkness is not darkness to God (Psalm 139:12)
I also realized that while suffering and worry seem to go on forever, there is another scale of time within which I can understand my own existence or even the times we are in. It is the time of the The Cosmic Calendar. The Cosmic Calendar tries to give us a graphic view of time from the beginning of the universe (the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago) as science calculates it, to the present day. It takes this long history of the universe and puts it all into a 1 year calendar. Assuming the Big Band occurred at 1 second after midnight on January 1, and then showing when other things appeared in the universe, based on scientific calculations and assumptions. Here is just a very brief glimpse at when some things appeared in our world:
January 1 – 13.8 Billion years ago The Big Bang
Not until December 25 – is the Age of the Dinosaurs
December 31, 23:59:49 – Invention of the Wheel
December 31, 23:59:55 – Jesus Christ walks on earth December 31, 23:59:59 – The past 500 years
When viewed in this perspective of the universe, we realize that relatively speaking nothing we humans have experienced has lasted all that long. In fact all of human history and experience lasts less than a minute on the Cosmic Calendar. Even if one doesn’t believe in the Big Bang, or thinks the universe is younger than these scientific claims, still we come to realize how whatever we experience in the world is still a very small part of the whole, no matter how much of our thinking and lives it occupies. When we think things last “forever”, or when we worry about why God lets some event happen, we can see things from the perspective of the Cosmic Calendar and realize on the grand scale of things, our troubles are a minuscule part of time.
In the perspective of eternity or of the eternal God, we begin to understand the wisdom of Scripture:
“But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:8-9)
In the absolute immensity of space and boundlessness of time , God shines forth out of the darkness. God is there. The darkness may obscure God to us. The vastness of space and the of enormity of time, may hide God from our eyes, causing us to see only darkness. Sometimes events occur which make us feel the darkness will last forever. But out of this darkness God will shine, illuminating all of time with eternal light and divine love.