Truth and Existence: Conclusions to be Drawn

Reflecting on the previous posting on Truth and Existence, there are a number of conclusions that can be drawn for our lives and our communion with God:

1. God is generous. He does not begrudge existence to anything that exists. Even the devil is not begrudged his existence.

2. This generosity of God is not an indication of laissez faire, but of love. God has given us existence as a gift, not as a punishment. And He loves even what we cannot bear to love and blesses all with existence.

3. There is a difference between “true existence” and “mere existence.” The first is to exist in communion with God, where our existence is rooted in grounded in the love of God and the love of neighbor. Such an existence is a continual becoming – becoming like God. Mere existence is just that – it is an existence that has severed its own communion with God and seeks to exist apart from God. It “exists” but without foundation and substance. The longer we “merely exist” the less like God we become and instead become more like nothing.

4. Similar to this is the distinction between “objective” existence and “personal” existence. We speak of “objective” and “objectivity” with a certain usefulness within the secular world-view. However, to exist as a mere object is to being moving towards “mere existence.” To regard something or someone as simply an “object,” and no more than an object, and not to regard everyone and everything as properly an event for communion with God, is to reduce others and the world to “mere existence.” Inherently such a reduction takes us with it. Among objects, we become but an object.

5. There is within “mere existence” a necessity which can seem oppressive. The gift of existence is given to us and thus our existence (mere existence) is not a choice. It does not have within it (or so we perceive) the element of freedom. Existence can become a burden and even hateful to some. On the other hand, existence which is embraced as the gift of God and responded to with love and thankfulness, moves from “mere existence” to true and authentic existence, which can only had through freedom and love. Thus the gift of life given to us in Holy Baptism is a gift which must be freely received and responded to in love. In freedom and love our existence moves towards likeness with God – who is truly free and is love.

In Scripture there is a very simple parable that does much to illustrate God’s generosity towards us:

Another parable he put before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the householder came and said to him, `Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then has it weeds?’ He said to them, `An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, `Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, `No; lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’

The patience of God endures the weeds. The weeds cannot endure the patience 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.


28 responses to “Truth and Existence: Conclusions to be Drawn”

  1. Pastor Chad Avatar
    Pastor Chad

    “This generosity of God is not an indication of laissez faire, but of love. God has given us existence as a gift, not as a punishment. And He loves even what we cannot bear to love and blesses all with existence.”

    I am not sure that this distinction is a good one. Love should not be set in opposition to punishment. Sometimes love includes punishment. Not necessarily punishment as correction (though that is the case as well) but in this case punishment in the terms of letting us continue to exist with our own consequences. God continues to support us and allow us to exist because he loves us enough to allow us to live through the pain of our own choices. This may help us understand the continued existence of the Devil as well, perhaps even of Hell. It is a place of punishment, to be sure, but maybe not one of active punishment (where God stokes the fires daily) but one where we live with the results of our choices (a place where we stoke the fires daily).

  2. fatherstephen Avatar

    Perhaps I said it poorly – but certainly would agree with you. Existence is not a punishment, except that we make it one, and God in His love allows us to live through our consequences (though I think His mercy frequently shields us from the full consequences). But existence is always a gift of love – this is important.

  3. Lucy Avatar

    I wish I had understood, or at least been exposed to, this kind of thought when I was a teenager. The “drama” of life might have made so much more sense. I remember feeling that God was punishing me by even giving me life (no, my life was really not that bad, but my internal struggle was deep and dark). Thankfully, not only did I finally grow up, but in His mercy, God has shown me that life is always a gift, even if it doesn’t look (or feel) like it.

    “The patience of God endures the weeds. The weeds cannot endure the patience of God.” This gives me much hope. Thank you.

    On a slightly different note, I was wondering if you could make a book recommendation. I’m looking for a book that would be a good gift (Christmas, graduation, etc.) for a young person who is not Orthodox, but is a thoughtful type and would benefit from this type of perspective on God and our relationship with Him. Would St. Silouan be a good one? Of course, if you had a book, I’d just give that one, but since you don’t, who else would be accessible to a modern teenager/young adult? Thank you in advance!

  4. fatherstephen Avatar


    There’s not enough written that a young adult, etc., would find accessible. Part of what I do in writing is digest things for others. It seems to be where my talent is best used. Some of it’s the benefit of 54 years and knowing what was not helpful to me and what has been.

    I will think more about a book to suggest. St. Silouan is marvelous, and I first read about him and some of his thoughts when I was in my 20’s, but I don’t think I understood it until several years ago (at least on some level).

    For what it’s worth, I am discussing a book at the moment and plan to put some things together – perhaps by graduation but not by Christmas. It will not simply be reprints from the blog, but will do much the same thing that I do on the blog. Just better organized and put together, etc. Pray for that project.

  5. Fr. James Early Avatar

    I’ll pray for you, buy the book, and get everyone else that I can to buy it also!

  6. Ben Avatar

    Oh I really hope it is on the One Storey Universe view. I used that metaphor the other day when I was talking to my staunchly protestant grandparents (bless them) about why Orthodox ask saints for intercession. It actually made sense to them and made them, being 80 themselves, think about what they had believed for many years. I find myself using that a lot when explaining what has been leading me to Orthdoxy, since I am from a family of staunch protestants.

    Thank you so much, and I hope you are able to make that a book.

  7. isaac8 Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    I think I can speak for many on here in saying that we would love to see a book from you.

  8. Marcus Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    I have been reading “Being as Communion” by Zizioulas and this post rings very similar to it. Zizioulas talks of ontological neccesity (that is, we exist not by choice) of the biological hypostasis and the true freedom of the ecclesial hypostasis (through baptism). It is very, very interesting and deep stuff. Thank you for the great posts every day, it is one of the few religious websites my work has not blocked (for whatever reason). Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

  9. PD Avatar

    A fantastic book that was written for teens is “Who Is God, Who Are You, Who Am I?” by Dee Pennock. The major drawback is that it was written in the 70’s, I think, and is peppered throughout with “groovy” Jesus-movement style illustrations. Anyone over 16 might find it hokey; however, I read it as an adult and generally derived great benefit from it. I guess that shows my level of understanding–maybe I’ll be able to grasp St. Silouan (forget Zizioulas) after another 30 some-odd years!

  10. fatherstephen Avatar

    Depending on the youth, there is Youth of the Apocalypse, that is interesting. A little edgy, but interesting.

    I wonder if Frederica Matthews-Green has made recommendations on this over on her site. It’s just the kind of thing she would do better than most of us.

  11. Lucy Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    I am thrilled that you are working on a book! I, too, will buy it for myself and for everyone I know! 🙂 It’s that “digesting” that I so appreciate. And the exposure to people I might never otherwise encounter, like St. Silouan.

    I poked around on Frederica’s site briefly, but I don’t see anything, which doesn’t mean it’s not there. I’m not very good with search criterion.

  12. Margaret Avatar

    Concerning books, Fr. Stephen, what is your opinion of The Spiritual Life by St. Theophan the Recluse and Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis?

    I also look forward to your book, and also so appreciate your “digesting”!

  13. fatherstephen Avatar

    They are both good books.

  14. […] “Truth and existence . . .” […]

  15. Frank Hawkins Avatar
    Frank Hawkins

    Father,have you ever conjured with the opposing notion-that for some thoughtful people the very fact of unsolicited existence may be in itself punishment?

  16. fatherstephen Avatar

    Yes. The question is taken up in Dostoevsky’s, The Devils, in the person of the character, Kirilov. He does a masterful treatment. I’ve commented and written on it, but not on the blog, I think.

  17. Frank Hawkins Avatar
    Frank Hawkins

    Father,if one construes existence as punishment it may not follow that one is as Kirilov-an atheist.One may construe the deity as inherently evil/or maliciously playful-more like Shakespeare’s Lear than Dostoevsky’s Kirilov.However,it is all
    resolved by faith since apparently reason provides no answers.

  18. fatherstephen Avatar

    Frank, God endues, man contrues. 🙂

  19. Frank Hawkins Avatar
    Frank Hawkins

    Father,I often wonder how an omniscient deity could have been so satisfied with his 6 day creation when he could forsee what a total mishmash man’s free will would make of this sojourn in the universe.One of the many mysteries that reason casts up,I suppose.Again,Genesis has many non-Hebrew roots and is perhaps an early attempt by man to employ reason to fathom the unknowable.Of course,I am uttering heresy but will probably escape burning in this life at any rate.

  20. Sean Avatar


    We have not yet seen the end of the story, have we?

  21. Frank Hawkins Avatar
    Frank Hawkins

    Sean,I am not sure that I catch your drift.Do you mean that all shall be revealed at some point in time?The day of Final ,perhaps?

  22. fatherstephen Avatar


    I think the Genesis account is to tell us that all that exists was created good. There are other meanings as well. I think God certainly knew what we would do and created us anyway. God’s good creation rebelled, and God became man that He might save us from our self-destruction. He is a good God.

  23. Frank Hawkins Avatar
    Frank Hawkins

    Father,I respect your faith and belief-would that we all could bring ourselves to this state of being!But,we possess ‘Reason’
    which may not be a gift of the deity but rather may stem from some other source.This ‘Reason’ tempts us to question and brings us doubt rather than consolation.

  24. fatherstephen Avatar

    I don’t find people to be inherently reasonable. Our actions stem for varied and mixed motives – reason (when convenient), emotions, many factors – doubt is complex as well. Faith is a gift from God – which we accept and work with the best we can. When we fall, we get up again and ask for more help, and stumbling, we make it into the Kingdom by grace. He is a good God. But I can’t wait on figuring it all out. Nothing in my life has offered me the opportunity of figuring anything out. You get married, a child is born, you start a job, and you do the best you can, but you can’t say to life, “Wait, it’s not reasonable or I don’t understand.” Reason is useful but is, in my observation, but a part of things, and often a very small part of things.

    But if the issue is that I do not want to follow Christ, then reason or anything else will provide all the substance I need not to follow. There is the cry in Scripture, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!” Let reason do what it will – but it’s not reason that stands in our way – it’s something more fundamental. We are not “reasonable” (in that sense) at the core.

  25. Frank Hawkins Avatar
    Frank Hawkins

    Father,you speak much truth in the first paragraph.However,it is a harsh oversimplification to imply that “reason” is a method of rationalizing lack of belief.Let me cite as an example the Nicene creed formulated at a time of great divisions within the early Christian church.The concept of the Trinity may well have been believable in an age when science and the scientific method was unknown even to the learned.Today,we
    live in an age where science has exploded many of the accepted religious beliefs of the 5th century AD.From childhood we are bombarded with the triumphs of science that call into question immaculate conception,resurrection,miracles a la the Eucharist,the biblical account of Creation-indeed virtually everything that forms the basis of Christianity.Even Thomas in his day had his doubts and he had less of an excuse for this than many of us now for he knew the Christ
    of this world.My question is this-do Christian churches today
    feel any responsibility for helping people to come to grips with these problems?-or like the post Calvinists,do they feel that
    it is not the responsibility of churches to interfere in what has
    been predetermined by the deity?

  26. fatherstephen Avatar

    Of course the Church struggles and assist those who struggle. I have a different take on religion and on the challenges presented by science. I do not see where anything in science presents a challenge to the doctrine of the Trinity (Orthodoxy does not teach immaculate conception – it is a Roman Catholic teaching) certainly science has nothing to say to the resurrection – or miracles for that matter. Thomas had doubts – but probably not similar to those of a modern man.

    I do not think it is reason that creates our problems – but the state of the heart – a much more difficult thing to come to grips with and a much deeper struggle. Our modern culture has a talent for obscuring the heart and thus I think it is harder for modern man to come to grips with the core of his problems viz. God. But it is this that I think the Church must first help people with. Unless the heart is addressed, reason will only be one of many problems – all of which will remain in a state of confusion.

    This is a harder work, and even a slower work – but it yields a more secure result. It is never gained by argument, but by a “perception” of sorts.

    The heart is not “emotions” as would be the case in popular usage – but not in the language of the fathers. There have been any number of Orthodox scientists, some of them saints, who did not find any contradiction between their understanding of science and their perception of God.

    You might find this article (an earlier one of mine – actually several put together) to be of interest to see the larger picture of what I’m talking about. I’d be interested to know what you think.

    I don’t know anything about post-Calvinism. Nor do I know anything about pre-determinism. These are philosophers’ problems – not conundrums for the faith.

  27. Frank Hawkins Avatar
    Frank Hawkins

    Father,thank you for your patience and for your wonderful
    exposition of the “good heart” which I believe Dostoevsky captured in the character of Alyosha,youngest of the Karamazov brothers.

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