On the Paradox of Creation or, Between Light and Dark


DSC01983If one reads the Bible carefully, it is easy to see that the coming of Christ into the world was a type of second creation. In the first part of Genesis, God speaks into a dark void, into an abyss of nothingness, and draws forth everything. In the beginning of the Gospels, eloquently stated by St. John the Apostle, God sends the Light into the World, a Light not overcome by the darkness. In the first creation the world springs forth from nothing. In the second creation, the world exists, but is spiritually dead and physically dying from the sin thrust upon it. The Light comes into contact with the world, not to condemn the world, but to save it.

In the first creation, human destruction begins in a garden. Adam and Eve rebel against God and choose their own path, they choose autonomy. The first man and the first woman speak for all humanity at that point and direct the human will away from God. In the second creation, human glorification begins in a garden. It is here that Christ says, “Not my will, but yours” to God, deifying human nature. In the second creation, human glorification culminates in yet another garden, the garden of the tomb. In this final garden, Mary mistakes Jesus for a gardener (though not inaccurate). In the first creation, in the first garden, man hid from God and blamed woman; in the second garden, God finds those who have been hiding for so long and instructs the woman to give this news to man.

All of creation has found itself somewhere between these two gardens. We have teetered towards the Garden of Eden or the Garden of the Tomb. When we war with each other, send countless bodies to an early grave over land disputes or selfish ambition, we move closer and closer to the pride and arrogance that forced us out of paradise. While disease and the elements serve as a natural consequence of our rebellion, we remain in the Garden of Eden when we fail to help out the victims of these acts. We push ourselves closer and closer to the Garden of Eden when our own flaws, our own evilness, or worse, our apathy aides in the suffering of these victims.

There is a reason God would not allow us to return to the Garden of Eden, not as some punishment, but as an act of grace. If we were capable of even glimpsing at what we lost we would despair and lose hope. We would go mad and find nothing but regret. There is a reason that only the greatest of saints have ever been allowed a glimpse into what was lost, and it is only because of their humility. Yet, even those who saw the paradise we lost still felt burdened.

We attempt to return to the Garden of Eden, but as some hapless subject in a Greek mythology, the harder we try to move back to Utopia, the further we move away. We have created a myriad of utopias, all attempts to get back to some perfect state. The 18th and 19th centuries gave us political ideologies that implanted these utopias into the minds of revolutionaries. These revolutionaries acted as midwives and in the 20th century we saw the early births of these utopias. In the end, the 20th century became the bloodiest century in human history. We lost 4% of the human population (over 109 million deaths, though many government sanctioned murders are simply not included). In our attempt at various utopias, various Towers of Babels back to the Garden of Eden, we only intensified our hellish experience.

Yet, in other parts of creation we have tended more towards the Garden of the Tomb. While we can never return to the site of our greatest tragedy, we can move forward to the site of our greatest triumph. We have, at times, made strides towards this new paradise. We love and cherish the arts, beauty, poetry, redemption, and the like because they all point to love. Within love there is only beauty, no ugliness, because love is the ruling virtue in the Kingdom that has come and shall come.

Yes, evil happens, but those who move towards the Garden of the Tomb will bring goodness to these evil acts. They will feed the poor, clothe the naked, visit those in prison, and help the helpless. As we move further away from the Garden of Eden and more towards the Garden of the Tomb, we begin to sense the redemption of creation, we begin to see it in our own acts and in the acts of others.

Paul succinctly wrapped up the two gardens in Romans 8. He contrasts the past/present with the future, of a present groaning caused by a past offense that will be removed in future glory. Creation in its current state, then, is quite the paradox; it is beautiful, yet fallen, groaning while knowing it will be made new.

What is good and beautiful is logical and rational, even supra-rational (that is, beyond our ability to reason, but not irrational). Beauty comes from God and God is incomprehensible and supra-rational. God is not irrational in that He doesn’t make any sense, but God is supra-rational in that He is beyond our reasoning. The beauty that flows forth from Him, an uncreated energy of God, is supra-rational.

Evil, on the other hand, is always irrational, yet masked in logic. A dictator commits genocide, which is irrational, but provides an incredible calculus to justify his actions. On a smaller scale, a man will cheat on his wife and provide some logical matrix that justifies his actions. A child steals from his parents and justifies his actions. Evil is always irrational, always illogical, but always defensible via some twisted use of logic. Therein lies the problem of evil and why Christians struggle to respond to it; we are always attempting to provide a logical explanation for something that is by nature illogical. There is no reason in evil, no logic to be found, and therefore it cannot be explained as, “Well A, therefore B.”

One cannot explain darkness by appealing to the properties of light, except to say that darkness results from the lack of those properties. Likewise, one cannot explain evil by appealing to logic and reasoning when evil lacks the properties of logic and reasoning. We can certainly explain things about evil in a logical manner (as to why it is here, what caused it, why it’s bad, and so on), but none of this addresses the ding an sich (thing in itself) of evil, mostly because there is not ding an sich of evil. Evil, in an ontological sense, doesn’t exist and therefore cannot be deduced to a series of equations and argued away via propositions.

Rather, for those of us who live amongst this groaning creation, awaiting the day of reconciliation, the answer to evil is to overwhelm it with good. The answer to the problem of evil is not a logical one, but an existential one. The answer to the problem of evil is not to explain what went wrong in the Garden of Eden, but to point to the Garden of the Tomb and move toward it. The solution to the problem of evil is not to hide behind the bushes of logic to hide our naked ignorance (as Adam and Eve did), but to embrace the mystery of the risen Lord and go and tell others what He has done (as Mary did). There is a paradox behind our beautiful yet fallen creation, and the more we embrace that paradox and recognize it for what it is, the better equipped we are to move our world towards light, towards the Garden of the Tomb.

Advertisements

On Christ’s Entry Into the World (A Poem)


IMG_0813(This is a poem I wrote a few years ago, but wanted to publish it here. I should add that a lot of it is poetic wording, such as the Trinity was not actually divided in the death of Christ. This refers to more of the existential outpouring of Christ’s death rather than any ontological consequences. Please keep that in mind while reading)

Look upon the lonely world and all its error
See how much it is fallen, so lost in despair
Some worship gods, objects made at their own hand
While others make pleasure their only demand
Look upon this fallen world and find it torn
Orphaned, murdered, alone, so depraved we kill the unborn
Some see God’s laws written down, meant to prevent this depravity
But in following this stringent code they place themselves in slavery
What hope do you have, O Sinner, in the mess in which you live?
In our fallen mess, could we dream of a God who could forgive?

It does not please God to see His creation groan
He is love, and displays His love in a way never before known
Our God we witness as He reveals He is Holy Trinity
The Father, Son, and Spirit in love from all eternity
A perfect union that cannot be undone
Distinguished in three, but being in one
The Son is God and is eternally begotten by the Father
But is one in being with God and not a wholly other
From the Father proceeds His Holy Spirit
Distinct but fully God, between them there is no split

This Holy and loving God looked upon the world
He saw the destruction into which it was hurled
In the Incarnation, the veil between God and man was torn
The I AM humbled, to a human mother He was born
Under the curse of sin His chose to live, but no sin was in Him
A perfect life He led, knowing His eventual end was so grim
The same One who had once said, “Where are you” to humanity
Now adorned Himself in their flesh, but with no pomp or vanity
He took compassion on His brothers, on His fallen children
He provided substance in a world that was spiritually barren

Ever-present that sin broke the relationship between His Father and men
He sought to create a relationship to be broken never again
He took the flogging of the Roman condemned
All for our rebellion, for Him to mend
But His pain was so much deeper than the cells of His skin
In His spirit is where He felt the brunt of our sin
Look upon the cross and see a divided Trinity
Father forsaking Son whom He had loved for all eternity
But even in this, the Father took pleasure in breaking His Son
As the spilt and forsaken blood of Christ meant our sin was undone

The Father did not leave the Son in the grave
The Spirit came and raised Christ out of the cave
In His victory all sinners took delight
As God spoke into the darkness once again, and there was light
Light for those trapped in despair and pain
Light for the hopeless to tell them their lives aren’t in vain
In His resurrection He opened the path for fellowship with God
A belief no pagan could fathom, a belief that to the Jew is odd
To be guilty before God, to be His enemy, we are the ones
But in Christ’s resurrection we are adopted as sons

Into the slum, the ghetto, and the shanty town
Rise up all ye hopeless, stand up those who are down
To the blind, look upon Christ all day long
To the deaf, listen to His beautiful song
To the lame, run with Him forever, from west to east
To the hungry, sit and rejoice with Him at His feast
To the weary and worn down, in Him find your rest
To the diseased and unwanted, collapse in His chest
For we are adopted by God and have not a bother
For in our troubles we can cry out, “Abba, Father!”

Random Musings/Prayers


IMG_0355As we (Orthodox Christians) enter the last week of Lent prior to Holy Week, I wanted to post a few random thoughts/prayers that I wrote out this morning pertaining to the essence of Lent and Pascha (Easter). Why do we fast? Why do we lament? Why do we recognize these things? I hope you find these short snippets of my thoughts/prayers to help provide a tiny answer to those questions.

On the Moral Nature of Man

What is man if nothing more than a tree? If we lose our roots, then we become nothing more than fuel for a fire. You, O Lord, are our roots. You are the fertile soil for our wooden souls. It is in You that we grow. But our sin, our passions, everything contrary to You is the wind that uproots us, that rips us from our soil, and it is then that we become deadwood, something to kindle the fire of the Enemy’s rebellion.

We have sought to create for ourselves our own reality. A false creation! A garbage heap! A simulacrum! You are Reality, it is You we seek, but like the wandering tribes in the exodus from Egypt we create golden idols and act like they are You. What folly there is in the desires of man.

On the Created Nature of Man

There are those who say we are evil in our nature. They say your first children tainted our very essence, that there is no good to be found in us. But You said we were very good and in us You found enough goodness to die for. And if we were evil by nature, then how could we say that we sin? All evil actions would be inevitable, it would be in keeping with who we are. There would be no sin if we were evil. Instead, we are as You created us. We are good, very good, in our nature. And this is why we call sin evil, because it is any action that goes against our created purpose. We are morally evil only because we are by nature good.

On God’s Resolution

Into the darkness, You spoke light. Into nothingness, You spoke everything. Into the void, You spoke fulfillment. Into the chaos, You spoke order. Into the violence, You spoke peace. What is sin if not the attempt to undo all you have spoken? Death is the only conclusion to such actions. And yet, into the death, You spoke Life.

On the Two Gardens of Humanity

In the Garden of Eden, man rebelled against You and was cast out. In the Garden of Gethsemane, man rebelled against You and was found. In the first Garden, man sought to be like You. In the second Garden, man sought to kill You. In the first Garden, man needed a covering for his nakedness. In the second Garden, the covering for man’s nakedness was given. In the first Garden, man sweat out of fear for Your judgement. In the second Garden, You sweat blood out of compassion and our redemption. In the first Garden, man sinned to be equal to You. In the second Garden, You died so we could be like You. In the first Garden, man lost his way. In the second Garden, You found man.

On Hope

The pursuit of Good, the pursuit of You, is nothing more than an attempt to get back to our nature, to who we are meant to be. But our wills are not aligned with Your will and so our actions are contrary to You. Yet You have supplied a way to transcend our very selves, to be like You. As Your servant St. Athanasius said, “God became man so that man might become God.” Your servant St. Maximus the Confessor has said, “Man becomes like God in all things except essence and being.” You created us for Yourself and in our redemption we become all for You and therefore become like You, not by nature, but by grace. Our desire for salvation should not be out of want of Heaven or fear of Hell, but out of a desire to be united to You.

On Lent and Pascha or, Lent As an Icon


IMG_0482The Western Church has already entered the Lenten season and the Eastern Church has just begun its journey, yet in many ways the congregants have been on a Lenten journey their entire lives. If we boil it down, Lent is an icon for our present life. Lent requires us to sacrifice certain aspects of our dietary preferences to instill a type of self-discipline. At the same time, Lent works to focus our attention on our sin and guilt before God, all in preparation for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection (Easter or Pascha).

The ancient Israelites held to a strict diet to reflect that God chose them. Contrary to popular belief, this diet doesn’t really have many health benefits (it does compared to modern dietary habits, but that’s mostly due to everything being real food as opposed to chemically enhanced and genetically modified food). The dietary restrictions existed as a type of self-discipline, as something small to be faithful in so that they could be faithful in bigger things. The Mosaic dietary law, or the pre-Christ fast, lasted up until Christ. One Christ fulfilled the Law there was no need for the dietary restrictions; Christ had come into our world and redeemed everything. We were set apart and chosen as God’s adopted children through the sign of the cross and by partaking in His blood and body. We could celebrate by eating all that God put before us.

Of course, if Christ ended the Hebraic fast then why do we continue with a Lenten fast? Because just like the Hebraic fast, the Lenten fast is not solely for self-discipline. Rather, both bring to mind the idea that while we are on this earth, we suffer. In other words, this present life is a type of Lent, one in which we must work to obtain self-discipline, but one that also begets suffering. Thought Christ is risen from the dead, we are not, at least not yet. We fast as a reminder that we are still enduring a Lent. That’s the beauty of Christianity, it is steeped in paradox; we ended the Hebraic fast because Christ came, we fast in self-discipline now because Christ is here, and we fast as a reminder of suffering because Christ will come.

In the course of life, we are birthed from two wombs. One womb is that of our mother. We grow in her and eventually come into this world. The second womb is the earth; we all die and eventually find our way back to the earth (whether through burial or the spreading of ashes). At the resurrection we escape the womb of this earth into the eternal life to come. Lent, therefore, serves as an icon for these wombs and preparation for them.

In the first womb, a fetus will kick his legs, move his arms, and even move his mouth. None of this is vastly beneficial within that womb. However, it prepares the fetus for birth, it prepares him for skills he will need once he is in this world. Within this world, as he grows, he learns certain ethical standards. Many of these standards help him to get along in this life, but others don’t bring vast benefits within this life. These commands, however, prepare him for the life to come. While he is in the womb of the present, he learns the self-discipline necessary that will benefit him in the life to come. Lent serves as an icon for this struggle in that it teaches us to obtain self-discipline by abstaining from certain foods; the foods aren’t evil, but the practice benefits us.

It is what comes after Lent, the celebration of Pascha, that also prepares us for the life to come. The feast that we engage in isn’t just for the now, isn’t just so we can enjoy meat and wine after not tasting it for a few weeks. It’s to prepare us for the ultimate feast, where we will no longer suffer under the Lenten season that is life, but instead shall bask in an eternal celebration of Pascha. Lent is an icon of our present life, while Pascha is an icon of the life to come.

In our current Lent, we are forced to abstain from life. We suffer from disease, deformities, and a whole host of ailments. Our sin forces us into this fast from true life. We war with each other and even against our own nature. We must take on a somber attitude in many places because of how fallen our world is.

We await the Paschal feast, the one that shall never end. We await the day when Lent is no longer necessary because we have been birthed into the new life. We await the day when the disabled must no longer partake in the fast of this life, the fast that prevents them from wholeness, but instead shall run to the eternal Paschal feast. We look forward to the time when the hungry will feast, the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the poor shall be rich, the oppressed shall be liberated, the fatherless shall have a family, the rejected shall find acceptance, and the sinner will be made a saint. Just as we look forward to the Pascha feast throughout our Lenten season, let us be reminded that though we are in the Lent of life, we should also look forward to the eternal Pascha that is to come.

A Prayer on Why Christ Came Into the World (with apologies to St. Augustine)


nativity iconO Father, forgive me, a sinner, for the words I am about to speak to you. For I am a fallen and finite creature, who am I to address the Holy and Infinite one? I am ashamed that the impure should address He who alone is pure. Please forgive me for the inadequacy of my words, the limitedness of what I have to say, and for my ignorance.

I confess that you alone are love, O Lord.[1] There are those who say that you created primarily or solely for your glory, but I know that you created out of love. For what can you do that does not display your glory or love? You had no need of creation, no need of us as humans. Your glory was eternally recognized by yourself; you did not need creatures to recognize your glory for you. You, being the only perfect being that is without limit and lacks in nothing, but is infinite, had no need to gain glory for you are glory. You had no need of us for fellowship, for you have eternally existed as one God in three Persons. Love has existed within yourself for all eternity, for you are love and this love has been displayed in your Triune nature.

Oh what beautiful sacrifice to create us! For you had no need and thus the mere act of creation was an act of sacrifice. Who can add to you, O God? Is there anything you can create that can make reality better? No, because you are Reality. Thus, you plus nothing is ultimate reality, absolute perfection, but in creation something lesser than you has been added, something to which you must divert your attention. Were you to turn your attention away from any aspect of creation, were you to forget about this tree, or that planet, or that galaxy, or the electron in an atom, then it would cease to exist. It is through your attention that creation continues on, for all things have their beginning and sustainment in you.[2] As your Word stated, you are concerned over even the birds and do not turn your attention away from them.[3] You even know the hairs on our heads.[4] You have counted and named all the stars.[5] All of this is done and known through your love.

You created man in your image and likeness[6], calling him to be holy as you are holy.[7] To man alone you bestowed your reason and love, both of which we were to use to glorify you and unite with you. We were created to enjoy your love and grow in you. You, God, are our purpose for living, you are the reason we exist, you are our goal, our happiness, our everything. Continue reading

A Prayer for the Broken Heart of Connecticut (12/14/2012)


IMG_0261Lord, please have mercy

Our world is so dissonant

What do we make of atrocity

The insane claims the life of the innocent

 

Into Your hands we commit their tiny souls

As we are left and our tears swell

And their lives we extol

Accept them Father for they have endured Hell

 

For those left behind we give to Thee

Show grace to those with empty rooms

They face unopened presents under a cold tree

Let their pain be what You assume

 

Lives snuffed out at a madman’s whim

A debate over the gun will tear us apart

We can pass laws against a weapon so grim

But can we interdict the hate of our heart

 

A mother and father cry over their loss

We can only wonder if Thou cares

Yet, for a promise made on a cross

We await our swords to be ploughshares

 

A last plea bring them to Your embrace

Let them run in the fields of love

Allow us not to fight but live in grace

And give us peace from above

 

Lives cut so short on this December day

Futures removed from mankind’s fraternity

But in hope we can always pray

That they remain in your memory for eternity

Children_icon

True Love


IMG_0271A running theme in many love stories is the idea of finding “the one.” In almost every television sitcom, romantic movie, or any work of fiction dealing with love, there is this idea that there is a “soul mate” or “the one” out there and destiny will bring the one to us.  This all sounds very romantic, but it’s not true.

In reality there isn’t a “the one,” at least not in a fated way. Before I begin to get comments about how I’m anti-romantic, let me defend myself by arguing that believing in “the many” is a far more romantic belief. Consider the following:

If it’s true that we’re fated to have just one person…

* How do we know when we’re finally with that person? If there was a “the one,” then wouldn’t our adultery rates be significantly lower?

* If you do know that you are in love with “the one,” then how is it really love? If fate dictated that you and this other person be together, then you’re not choosing to love the person, but instead are being forced to love the person. The love, the kind things you do, the feelings you have, none of that is your own work; it’s all biology/God that’s causing it. The sacrifice between you two is as commonplace as the tide or a bowel movement, that is, it’s nothing special.

* What if your “soul mate” made a mistake and married someone else? Well then, you can either commit adultery or settle for someone less than your “soul mate.”

* What if your “soul mate” dies before you meet, or dies shortly after getting married? How is he or she “the one” in such a case?

The truth is that there are many people that we would work with. There isn’t just one person that we’re destined to be with. Instead, we choose who we love. Yes, that is correct, we choose who we fall in love with, it’s no accident, it’s not some overwhelming force that directs us from bed to bed; we have complete control in who we fall in love with.

See, even in our idiomatic language we use the phrase, “fall in love.” But no one falls in love. Love isn’t something you fall into, it’s something that requires work. It isn’t a hole in the ground you accidentally fall into, but a house you build and maintain. You don’t always have control over who you’re attracted to, but you have complete control over letting those feelings develop into something more.

That means that when you do develop love with an individual, when you choose to become one with that individual, you’ve chosen to love that person. Every morning you get up, you’re choosing to love that person. You’re not fated to love the person, you choose it. That is far more romantic than the idea of having “the one.” Once married, we all have “the one,” but that we chose “the one” and choose “the one” is the truly romantic idea.

It is true romance because it fits our metanarrative as humans. God chose to love us, though He didn’t have to. In return, we choose to love Him, though we do not have to (and many choose not to love Him). In fact, the Bible is essentially a tale of romance between God and His creation, of His creation running away and God wooing it back. This is why the Church is called the Bride of Christ, because she acts as the ultimate lover to God. The Church has reciprocated Christ’s love, she has chosen to love Christ rather than be fated to do so.

Marriage acts as an icon of Christ and the Church. Just as Christ chooses to love the Church, so too does one mate choose to love the other mate. That means when a man’s wife is dying from some disease and he sits by her side, never leaving her, it is not because he is fated to do so, but because he chooses to do. When a man gets old, bald, and significantly overweight, yet his wife still loves him more and more everyday, that’s because she chooses to do so, not because the Universe has decided that it be so.

Love does grow in a marriage, but we must choose to allow it to grow. Love is like an oak tree. When it first starts, it is fragile and susceptible to being uprooted. But a good caretaker will do all he can to protect the tree and ensure its growth. As the years go by, the tree’s roots go deeper and it becomes stronger, to the point that even a mighty wind struggles to destroy the tree. Yet, this tree only grows if tended to early on, if trimmed so that branches don’t die and whither away. So too is it with love, something that is so easily dissipated early in a relationship, but if nourished through self-sacrifice and caring, something that nothing can destroy. But one must choose the self-sacrifice, one must choose the love, because no one is fated to love; and that’s true romance.