The Mystery of God


Unless we start out with a feeling of awe and astonishment – with what is often called a sense of the numinous – we shall make little progress on the Way. When Samuel Palmer first visited William Blake, the old man asked him how he approached the work of painting. “With fear and trembling,” Palmer replied. “Then you’ll do,” said Blake.

The Greek Fathers liken man’s encounter with God to the experience of someone walking over the mountains in the mist: he takes a step forward and suddenly finds that he is on the edge of a precipice, with no solid ground beneath his foot but only a bottomless abyss. Or else they use the example of a man standing at night in a darkened room: he opens the shutter over a window, and as he looks out there is a sudden flash of lightning, causing him to stagger backwards, momentarily blinded. Such is the effect of coming face to face with the living mystery of God: we are assailed by dizziness; all the familiar footholds vanish, and there seems nothing for us to grasp; our inward eyes are blilnd, our normal assumptions shattered.

From Met. Kallistos Ware’s The Orthodox Way.

There are several forms of mystery, particularly spiritual mystery, in our culture. One of them enjoys speaking of God in mysterious terms, for so long as God remains mysterious then nothing certain can be said about Him, nor can anything certain be said to us. Thus, such a mysterious God is very comfortable, for we are left only with our spirituality, and only a very vague God.

Another form of mystery is closer to the “whodunit.” It is the mystery of simply not knowing. If left at this point our relationship with God, like the previous form described, simply becomes another means of hiding from God.

Then there is Bishop Kallistos’ Mystery “[like a] sudden flash of lightning, causing [us]to stagger backwards, momentarily blinded.” As His Beatitude notes, “such is the effect of coming face to face with the living mystery of God.” This is not an encounter that leads us to a spirituality or to an agnosticism – but rather to a true knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Such an encounter is that of creature before His Creator – such an experience never leaves us unchanged.

Our Creator has revealed to us a Way of Life – a Way that allows us not only to know Him, but also to be slowly conformed to His image by grace. Our relationship with God does not exist to meet our religious needs (there are no such things). It exists to make us truly human – and as a truly human person – to conform us to the image of His beloved Son. Nothing less.

Metropolitan Kallistos tells the story of his own conversion – how he dropped accidentally into the Russian Cathedral in London on a rainy day and found himself in Paradise. What a fortuitous flash of lightening. May God bless all those who stumble into His path and grant them saving knowledge of the living mystery of God.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.


2 responses to “The Mystery of God”

  1. Joshua W. Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    I’ve read, with avidity, your blog for a few months now, and it has been very helpful, grounding me in Orthodoxy (though my wife and I are attending and members at a local Pentecostal church). My day job is as a hospital chaplain resident and, again, your words have helped me be present with others in their joy and sorrow. To God be the glory!

    My question to you, however, is not so much about the above as it is about my other work, as a songwriter and musician. I am continually beset by feelings that any self-promotion is prideful, that I should, as it were, retreat to the desert and out of public life and the continual hustle of trying to gain acclaim, plaudits, and shows. On the other hand, when I have followed that voice and retreated, I have found that I can’t just sit idly by and write songs for myself in privacy: they, the songs, need to come out and be heard by someone, other than my wife, my cat, and myself. So, in short, I’m torn between feeling like any movement toward self-promotion is prideful and the apparent uselessness of writing and playing songs purely for myself.

    I don’t quite know what I’m asking you to do (other than, of course, pray), but I’m wondering if there is any advice or direction you can give surrounding this. I appreciate your time and effort.

    God keep you,


  2. fatherstephen Avatar

    Thank you for your kind words – and I will pray. It seems to be the inherent nature of the music industry that it engages in promotion, etc. It is filled with temptation – all fame and notoriety are – though many positions will bring that kind of attention no matter.

    Pray, try to avoid the sins you know of. If I had general advice, it would be concentrate more on knowing God than making Him known (not that we do not have a command to do the latter). But without knowing Him yet more deeply, we are marketing a stranger. You must be the best witness you have for Christ, i.e. your own life must be better than your songs. If that’s the case, things will tend to fall in place. It’s when things get out of shape that most problems begin.

    Knowing God matters. The songs may not. Go back and read my posting What Matters. It may say all I need to say.

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