What Matters – A Redux

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Occasionally it is useful to re-run some of my earliest articles on the blog. They remind me of what I’m doing, and inform newer readers of what the blog is about. The following is among my earliest:

God matters and what matters to God matters. I know that sounds very redundant, but I’m not sure how else I want to say it. There are many things that do not matter – because they do not matter to God. Knowing the difference between the two – what matters to God and what does not requires that we know God.

And this is theology – to know God. If I have a commitment in theology, it is to insist that we never forget that it is to know God. Many of the arguments (unending) and debates (interminable) are not about what we know, but about what we think.

Thinking is not bad, nor is it wrong, but thinking is not the same thing as theology. It is, of course, possible to think about theology, but this is not to be confused with theology itself.

Knowing God is not in itself an intellectual activity for God is not an idea, nor a thought. God may be known because He is person. Indeed, He is only made known to us as person (we do not know His essence). We cannot know God objectively – that is He is not the object of our knowledge. He is known as we know a person. This is always a free gift, given to us in love. Thus knowledge of God is always a revelation, always a matter of grace, never a matter of achievement or attainment.

It matters that we know God because knowledge of God is life itself. “This is eternal life,” Jesus said, “to know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.”

The Orthodox way of life is only about knowing God. Everything we do, whether it is prayer, communion, confession, forgiveness, fasting – all of it is about knowing God. If it is about something else, then it is delusion and a distraction from our life’s only purpose.

Knowing God is not a distraction from knowing other persons, nor is knowing other persons a distraction from knowing God. But, like God, knowing other persons is not the same thing as thinking about them, much less is it objectifying them.

Knowing others is so far from being a distraction from knowing God, that it is actually essential to knowing God. We cannot say we love God, whom we have not seen, and hate our brother whom we do see, St. John tells us. We only know God to the extent that we love our enemies (1 John 4:7-8).

And this matters.

This blog does not matter – except that I may share something that makes it possible for someone to know God or someone may share something that allows themselves to be known. This matters.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.


Comments

31 responses to “What Matters – A Redux”

  1. Handmaid Anna Avatar
    Handmaid Anna

    Father Bless
    I am one of the 1500-2000 that reads your blog daily. I come away with much that helps in my daily struggle to know God. “Glory to God For All Things” does not take the place of prayer, communion, confession, forgiveness, and fasting but it does help me to realize that they are the most important. Thank you for your perseverance and kindness to us all no matter where we are in our journey.
    Always in His mercy,
    Anna

  2. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, does sin matter to God? Perhaps that is why He can forgive so completely and why even in His human nature He never sinned? We matter to God, not our transgressions except for the fact that they distract us from Him and twist us in ways that are not of His creation.

    I ask the question because it seems that it is so easy to get caught up in thinking about God and concentrating on our sins (or others sins real and imagined) rather than concentrating on God and giving up our sins to Him.

    Isn’t there a form of dwelling on one’s sins that is actually a refusal to repent?

    I do not mean to trivialize the battle and stuggles we all face because of our sins, but it just seems to me that sometimes I make my struggle even harder than it needs to be by brooding on my sins, almost taking a perverse pride in them at times.

    Am I wrong?

  3. handmaid Avatar

    Pambo aid to Anthony, “What shall I do?” Anthony said, “Do not trust in your own righteousness. Do not go on sorrowing over a deed that is past. Keep your tongue and your belly under control.”

    Anthony said to Peomen, “Our great work is to lay the blame for our sins upon ourselves before God, and to expect to be tempted to our last breath.”

    My son is an Anthony and his Name Day is Thursday, the day we commemorate the wonderful (though he wouldn’t think so) Ven. Godbearer Anthony the Great.

    I look forward to Fr. Stephen’s reply to Michael’s inquiry. As my own spiritual father, another Anthony says: identifying what’s wrong is half the cure…

  4. Fatherstephen Avatar
    Fatherstephen

    Michael,

    I would agree – my experience is much the same. I brood, which is not the same as repenting.

    I have put it this way: we have to learn to pray like a Publican – we often neglect prayer because of our sins and we do not feel worthy, etc. Apparently that’s when the Publican prayed. His prayers were heard. The Pharisee who got everything about right, did not “go down to his house justified.” So I’ve made it a sort of motto for myself – pray like a Publican.

  5. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The words of absolution (in part) “Arise, having no further care for the sins you have confessed…”

    One of my favorite Protestant hymns is “What a friend we have in Jesus”, the tune I can do without, but reflecting on the words over the years has been fruitful. “O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”

  6. artisticmisfit Avatar
    artisticmisfit

    Forgiveness is the hardest part of the Christian life I am finding, and it makes me want to give up. I never knew I had enemies until I became a Christian. Now I have enemies, who are seriously trying to harm me, and have. And a large part of why they are after me is because I am a Christian.
    Also, a lot of priests talk about God not being an idea and about having a relationship with God. I think that is the thing that sold me on Christianity ultimately, God being a person with whom I could have a relationship. Sometimes I find that hard to believe as He is not physically present and my faith is so very weak. Sometimes I don’t even want to pray for an increase of my faith, because I don’t want to be a Christian anymore.
    I guess its true, I do want to deconvert and apostasize, that is my temptation.

  7. fatherstephen Avatar

    Artisticmisfit,

    We all have different temptations. The delusion of temptations is that they would never gives us what they promise if we yielded to them. Being a Christian is hard – exactly as Christ said it would be. As hard as it is He said, “Count it all joy” when we are persecuted. The devil hates it when we give thanks to God. Give thanks to God for all things. Doing this is our most sure defense (though it’s hard). The last words of St. John Chrysostom (who died in exiled, having been persecuted by other Christians and driven from his bishopric, etc.): Glory to God for all things. Hence the title of this blog. We cannot improve on his words.

    I knew a man once who actually lived those words and I watched him do it consistently for better than 30 years. I admire him more than any particular Christian I know. He was not Eastern Orthodox, but I greatly value his prayers for me and my family now that he is with God. When I think on the things he gave thanks for, I am staggered. May his memory be eternal!

  8. artisticmisfit Avatar
    artisticmisfit

    Father Stephen,
    Yes I greatly admire St. John Chrysostom and he has great personal meaning to me for obvious reasons. I did listen to your latest pod cast yesterday and that was good. I was thinking about going back to that de-conversion blog. Maybe I do have a ministry to the apostates now. They are intelligent people, that’s for sure… Anyways, thanks for the reply. It is hard to keep my mind fulfilled while I am doing my work, which is why I said yesterday that at the end that the Jesus Prayer is all that matters…

  9. fatherstephen Avatar

    artisticmisfit,

    Though, unbidden, I will offer advice on the deconversion site. I was once counseled by a priest not to answer questions people are not asking. If the people on the deconversion site want you to minister to them, well and good. If not it just annoys them. My sense is that they have a site for their own purposes and probably draw “helpful” Christians by the handful. They may not want any help right now.

  10. artisticmisfit Avatar
    artisticmisfit

    Father Stephen,
    I was actually invited over to the Forum connected to De-conversion by a member of that site. I sent him a private message and will have a conversation with him in private. The Forum is also a public arena and I have to be very careful what I say out in public now, because of past events. But I appreciate your point of view, I also find that blog site boring. I need to figure out how to download Fr. Arseny on to my computer so I can listen to it while I do my work around my home. And I need to get a router so I can listen in other parts of the apartment. There is a device called a squeeze box that allows you to listen to the internet all over your home. I need to get one of those. I understand that Fr. Thomas Hopko (Fr. Tom) has a 12 disc series on The Lord’s Prayer. Have you heard that?
    I try not to argue with priests anymore, at least not out in public. 🙂

  11. Der Wolfanwalt Avatar
    Der Wolfanwalt

    I’m sorry, I know that this is going to sound nitpicky, but the first paragraph just rubbed me wrong and I’m hoping that you didn’t mean it as I’m taking it.

    Let me explain: To say that there are things that don’t matter to God in the broad sort of sense that I’m reading you with is unacceptable to me. If all things exist solely through a moment-to-moment act of the Divine Will, then it means that God must will every thing continuously. Correspondingly, no thing is without import. No thing does not matter – not the smallest grain of sand, not the smallest living creature, not the most insignificant-looking stray particle in the depths of space. It’s all there and it all exists, and it does so through Him.

    You see my quandary? Now, as I say, I’m hopeful that I’m misunderstanding you. I just need to have it explained to me.

  12. fatherstephen Avatar

    I haven’t heard his series on the Lord prayer, but I’ve listened to hours of his tapes, and never regretted a minute of it.

    Blessings.

  13. fatherstephen Avatar

    Der Wolfanwat,

    Certainly things matter in the manner you described. Forgive me if I gave a different impression. Things matter because they matter to God – well agreed – things that don’t matter, I noted, are things that do not matter to God. Fantasies and delusions that have no real existence do not matter to God, but those who are effected by them do matter greatly. As stated, the key is that we know God. If we know God, we will also see what matters.

    I recall that Christ told us not to be anxious about certain things – not because they have no value – but because God knows we have such needs and will provide them.

    My experience tells me that I often concern myself with things that don’t matter because they are figments of my imagination or products of my anxiety.

    I hope that clarifies.

  14. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Digression: Father, all of the side material (latest posts, blog roll, etc are missing when I access the site. Is that a problem on my end?

  15. artisticmisfit Avatar
    artisticmisfit

    Father, forgive me for digressing further, but what do you think of not regretting the past? Like we shall not regret the past? It sounds like you do have some regrets. Perhaps you can blog on regret in the future? I hope I have not given others the incentive to challenge you, and that they have challenged you before my arrival on the scene. I should probably read through the archives to see how this blog has progressed thus far.
    Also, the Philokalia and Unseen Warfare has some good words on fantasy, and delusion, in other words, prelest. Saint Herman of Alaska Brotherhood taught me a lot about that in my formation and now I try to teach others. Thing is, a lot of people don’t want to listen. I know even clergy struggle with fantasy, especially monastics, as that is who the Philokalia was originally written for. In fact, the higher up the ladder we go, the more spiritual our struggles become, ie, delusion. I am sorry for taking so long, its just that you bring up a lot of salient points and are very egalitarian in your conversations.

  16. fatherstephen Avatar

    Michael,

    Might be on your end. They’re visible here. Try ctrl and scroll out (making it bigger) and see if that helps. Otherwise you’re talking to a not knowledgable computer guy. Anyone else with the same problem or with a solution for Michael? I do not that if you click on an article, rather than simply being on the opening page, all the side stuff goes away. That’s normal in this format. Click on the title Glory to God for All Things and it will take you to the opening page. If there is nothing on the side then there is a problem.

  17. fatherstephen Avatar

    I especially like St. Ignatius Brianchaninov’s The Arena for its work on delusion. I’m not certain I’ve met people who have conquered delusion completely.

    I have been challenged here. All I ask of someone is that we speak with kindness to one another and respect. I am not the internet guru and don’t want to be.

    It’s why I try to keep things simple – because my understanding is simple.

  18. Bill M Avatar
    Bill M

    In my browser, the large photograph of the mountains and valleys in the “Preaching the Gospel to all Nations” post (from Jan 8) is messing up the margins of the blog article area, and pushing all the sidebar menu items all the way to the bottom of the page. Perhaps resizing that photo to something smaller will clear up the problem.

  19. Bill M Avatar
    Bill M

    Ha… I got an unintended smiley! So much for trying to offer computer advice…

  20. fatherstephen Avatar

    Bill,

    I’ve seen that happen before. I resized the picture and hope it helps. Thanks 🙂

  21. Bill M Avatar
    Bill M

    Yes – that cleared it up for me. Hopefully for Michael too. (It’s a wonderful picture, by-the-way, so it was nice to see it in the larger size!)

    I’ve been enjoying the various conversations going on in the recent postings. I don’t comment much, but I appreciate the insights shared, and the kind tone that you maintain here. Thank you…

  22. artisticmisfit Avatar
    artisticmisfit

    Father Stephen,
    I also have that book.What chapters talk about delusion? Yeah, I do have to say the tone here is very kind, which is refreshing. Thank you. I am always amazed when clergymen such as yourself say that your understanding is simple or that they are a simple man. That’s true humility, and a wonderful quality of character.

  23. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I had a bad cookie.

  24. fatherstephen Avatar

    artisticmisfit,

    Pretty much the entire book treats the subject of delusion.

  25. William Avatar
    William

    There was mention earlier about Fr. Thomas Hopko’s tapes and discs. Are those available on the Internet? If not, where would be a good place to order them?

  26. fatherstephen Avatar

    Go to the St. Vladimir’s Theological Seminary website. Their bookstore will have a good selection of his cd’s. http://www.svspress.com/

  27. me Avatar

    Thanks for posting this. I definitely needed the reminder.

  28. […] Yesterday at Glory to God for All Things, Fr. Stephen posted marvelous words about placing emphasis in our lives on those things that are important to God.  In his post, he […]

  29. T.C. Avatar
    T.C.

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for timely yet gentle words about the aim of theology…knowing God.

    http://takingthoughtscaptive.wordpress.com/2008/01/16/theologyknowing-god/

  30. […] at Glory to God for All Things, Fr. Stephen posted marvelous words about placing emphasis in our lives on those things that are important to God.  In his post, he […]

  31. Andrew Avatar

    To truly know God is to be known by God.

    (Thank you)

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