Faith, Doubt, Theology and Suspicion


I have been slowly reading my way through John Gray’s book, Seven Types of Atheism. It is not an argument with Atheism so much as a study of its underpinnings, strengths and weaknesses (Gray himself is an atheist). Apparently, what someone does not believe in is just as important as what someone does believe in. Not all atheisms are equal.

I was particularly struck by this note regarding the non-belief of John Stuart Mill:

Mill never claimed to have formulated a unified view of the human world. Even so, he founded an orthodoxy – the belief in improvement that is the unthinking faith of people who think they have no religion.

It will sound quite odd to many readers, but good Christian theology has much in common with good atheist thought. Indeed, some feeble attempts at atheism are often the first genuine efforts of theological discipline taken up by many people. An inadequate God inherited either from poor teaching or mere cultural assimilation is fertile ground for unbelief. The nakedness of such a thing (“it’s just me and the universe”) can also provide a fertile ground for serious thought.

The general dividing line within atheism seems to be between versions that represent little more than godless examples of bad Judaeo-Christian thought and versions that take seriously the absence of meaning implied by the rejection of a God-story. These latter accounts seem to fall out with either a semi-oriental mysticism in which the universe itself plays the role of God (think Carl Sagan in his last years) or true nihilists whose world is perhaps the least comprehensible of all (and the rarest).

Human beings seem to be created with a longing for meaning. We not only experience the world, but want to make sense of it as well. That sense-making is a thread of continuity that joins every religious tradition in history. The scope of the story may vary from place to place, but the existence of “story” is ubiquitous. Meaninglessness is not a condition that is easily embraced – indeed, it could be viewed as a form of mental suicide, with or without the dying.

Stanley Hauerwas famously defines modernity in terms of story:

The modern project is the attempt to produce a people who believe that they should have no story except the story that they choose when they had no story.

This is another way of describing the “unthinking faith of people who think they have no religion.”

The 19th century was marked by a number of key figures whom the philosopher Paul Riceour dubbed the “Masters of Suspicion.” He specifically named Freud, Marx and Nietzsche. I would add a number of other 19th century names as well. Their critique (suspicion) was turned towards various aspects of life that were often taken for granted. Freud “unmasked” the commonly accepted figure of God (at least as found among 19th-century Austrian Jews) and saw it as nothing more than a projection of the “super-ego.” Marx unmasked the dark drive of history as a story of exploitation. Nietszche reduced the world to the story of the raw will to power.

These “giants” have had many followers, both intentional and unintentional. What they created can best be seen in their “suspicion.” Is what we perceive in fact the case, or do we live in a world of self-deception? When we suspect the actual process of thought and understanding itself, every answer has a way of being unsatisfying.

The latest iteration of modern suspicion has been directed towards traditional perceptions or understandings of gender/sex (I’m never sure which is the right word anymore). A traditional “binary” approach is now deconstructed as a false world-view, imposed from above. In truth, the “technique” of questioning and replacement has been going on for nearly two centuries now, and shows no sign of abating.

The Masters of Suspicion were not entirely wrong. Much of what passed for Christian belief deserved questioning. An inadequate account of God should be as problematic for Christians as it was for Freud. The glib certitude of the wealthy deserved to be unmasked. A proper Christian understanding of justice had been set aside and left the world “upside-down.” Marx forced a conversation. Nietzsche is another matter, one that I am not well able to articulate. For me, he seems to unmask the naked forces of dominance that claim to be otherwise.

There is, however, a conundrum within these suspicions. When everything is suspect, even the suspicion is suspect. We can be left with a paralyzing agnosticism, that doubts even its own agnosticism.

Nevertheless, many Christians themselves continue with an “inadequate” God. Gray points out that the notion of improvement, held by “unthinking people with no religion,” is a belief learned from Christians who had begun to secularize their faith. Improvement (“better world,” “progress”) is bad Christian theology that serves little purpose other than to underwrite the modern nation-state and consumer capitalism. It is certainly not the story of Jesus Christ.

A very deep strain of Orthodox theology is described as “apophaticism,” or the “via negativa.” It describes a knowing by “not knowing.” It is, if you will, a denial of everything God is not, in order to know who God is. As such, it is constantly deconstructing the many efforts of humanity that seek to create false gods.

Conversations that seek to unravel the circular reasoning of suspicion often end in frustration. Everything can be questioned, including the questioning. However, the Christian faith rises and falls with the death and resurrection of Jesus. Everything flows from that moment. All Christian thought is, properly, a commentary on Pascha. It is not, at its heart, an argument from reason. Reason and its various theories, whether of meaning, or human nature, or social existence, science, etc., did not create the resurrection of Christ. It comes like an event that inserts itself into the futility of our existence.

I take comfort in the thought that the Scriptures bear witness to the lack of understanding that greeted Christ’s resurrection. The disciples did not get it. His resurrection is not an answer to a question they were asking. It seems, at first, to have confounded them. Nevertheless, He rose from the dead. The life of repentance is a constant embracing of Christ’s Pascha. It is a giving of ourselves to what has been given to us. It is the rejection of every pretense that would erect life on some other basis (as though there were another basis).

That single event of Pascha is the beginning of Christian thought. The best of Christian thought (in my estimation) continues to allow the resurrection of Christ to unmask its every attempt to build a world (or a faith) on any other basis. The resurrection of Christ is the judgment of this world. Its judgment is truly kind. It is truth demolishing the falsehoods that imprison us, freeing us even from ourselves.

Christ is the Master of Truth, the Master of Life and Death, the Master of Love and Forgiveness. He even forgives our suspicions.


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.



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74 responses to “Faith, Doubt, Theology and Suspicion”

  1. Isaac Avatar

    “All Christian thought is, properly, a commentary on Pascha. It is not, at its heart, an argument from reason. Reason and its various theories, whether of meaning, or human nature, or social existence, science, etc., did not create the resurrection of Christ. It comes like an event that inserts itself into the futility of our existence.”

    I cannot thank you enough for those lines. As an inquirer of Orthodoxy right now, those lines helped me grasp several things about the faith that have seemed elusive. I think you encapsulated well the way the Orthodox approach theology and the risen Lord.

  2. Christopher Avatar

    I really like this line of thinking Father (but of course I would 😉 ). My reading of Sagan is that he is an example of the Atheism that is “godless examples of bad Judaeo-Christian”. I remember listening to an interview with him just before he died, where he was confessing his strength of will in not having given in to a theistic understanding during his last brush with death (liver cancer if memory serves), and how all human beings were progressing toward such via (evolutionary) progress.

    My current favorite example of:

    “…Improvement (“better world,” “progress”) is bad Christian theology that serves little purpose other than to underwrite the modern nation-state and consumer capitalism. It is certainly not the story of Jesus Christ…”

    For Orthodox who think that we are different and free of this is Papanikolaou’s “The Mystical as Political: Democracy and Non-Radical Orthodoxy”

    Putting faith, or more accurately I think a repentance, at the heart of Christianity (and not reason as such) is the cross that puts to death the Cartesian Self once and for all. If only Christians (Orthodox or not) actually did this. Everyone I know is a schizophrenic in this, and when push comes to shove, usually choose the Self…

  3. Nils Avatar

    Thank you!
    Darwin might also fit well into the gang of bearded 19th century men that paved the way for western atheism.

    Almost everyone I know is either a progressive atheist or an agnostic. But we actually share the same disbelief: I dismiss the very same “god” that they deny. Sometimes, hoping that it will spur some interest in what Faith is really about, I tell them they are RIGHT in denying that wicked travesty they think is the Christian God.
    But generally, they don’t listen. After all, it’s Sweden ..

  4. Chris Avatar

    What I appreciate about Sagan is his awe of the cosmos. Even if he denied its creator, Sagan’s cosmos was vast, haunting, mysterious, and filled with wonder.

  5. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I have not read Papanikolaou – I started it but found it off-putting somehow. When I was in grad school at Duke, one of the required series of courses was in “Philosophical Theology.” It was my only “B.” I just couldn’t seem to get what was going on. I’m not much given to philosophy – rarely read much in it. Too often, it feels disembodied somehow. That said, I’m glad you like the blog article – it’s just that I’m not sure how far I could go in a conversation on it.

  6. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I agree. I think it was his best side and it had a very religious ring to it. It said to me that the man also had a heart – even if it was not well thought out (as in doing serious theological work). I think it “felt good” more than “thought good.” But having a sense of wonder at the cosmos is, I think, an inherently religious experience – in some cases, the beginning of wisdom. It’s odd to me, that for some in his mindset, ET’s play a sort of religious role. It’s like reinventing angels.

  7. Christopher Avatar

    Chris and Father,

    At the risk of appearing to argue against Philippians 4, IMO awe and wonder is not its own end as it is for Sagan and so many modern people. I like wine, it “gladdens my heart”, but if my world and my religious experience of it stops with wines its gladdening wonder, well then wine fills the horizon and I become a drunkard, and as St. Paul said drunkards don’t inherit the Kingdom. This is a hard lesson it seems to me for many, if not most…

  8. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I do think I disagree. Wonder is not enough – but it is a healthy place to begin – or, at least, just a healthy response to the world in which we live.

  9. Robert Fortuin Avatar
    Robert Fortuin

    “Nevertheless, many Christians themselves continue with an “inadequate” God. ”

    Indeed. The Gospel East and West has been subverted into an unattainable works-righteousness scheme, providing not hope but condemnation. The power of God has been gutted, we gave the world reason to be suspicious. What kind of God creates to condemn, for Whom evil holds the final say-so?

  10. Allen Avatar

    In one of the rebooted episodes of Cosmos, Neil deGrasse Tyson has a monologue about the DNA of life on Earth being descended from extraterrestrial DNA dust being spread by advanced civilizations as the Milky Way Galaxy traveled through time and space. I found it the most ‘religious’ monologue I have ever seen on TV, much more than any evangelical self-improvement blog, radio show, TV program, or book. It fascinated me at the time that the most religious program i had ever seen was from an ‘atheist’.

    It also struck me that for all Tyson’s and Sagan’s claim to modernism and evidence driven rationalism, the rebooted Cosmos episode included such a faith driven, religious monologue. I am still in awe.

  11. patrick kelly Avatar
    patrick kelly

    “All Christian thought is, properly, a commentary on Pascha. It is not, at its heart, an argument from reason. Reason and its various theories, whether of meaning, or human nature, or social existence, science, etc., did not create the resurrection of Christ. It comes like an event that inserts itself into the futility of our existence.”

    Thank you.

    I have been struggling fiercely with doubt, despair, and detachment.

    When I was a professing Christian but outside of Orthodoxy I could easily and succinctly answer the question, “What is The Gospel?” There were many talking points, tracts, seminars etc. to help.

    My few years in the Church now have me struggling to answer that question again.

    What is the Gospel? Why is it good? Why should someone care about it? Why would someone otherwise relatively happy and well want it? ( I am often neither)

    The answer is in Pascha. I still can’t quantify and describe it to my mental satisfaction, but it helps me fight against mental suicide and nihilism.

  12. Dean Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,
    Patrick Kelly reminded me of something that caught my attention recently as I read Mark’s gospel. I’ve read this passage often, but never really saw this before. Mark 1:14 15 says that “Jesus came preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.’” Now, of course, Jesus was preaching this before His death and resurrection. I understand repentance here and that the kingdom has drawn near in the person of Jesus. But is the “gospel” He is preaching here only anticipatory, as in “the Lamb of God slain before the foundation of the world?” What exactly was Jesus asking them to believe in?

  13. Byron Avatar

    Dean, I would say that “the gospel” is not any collected text but “the good news”. After all “Jesus came preaching the gospel of God” refers directly to “…saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand”.

    Of course, most modern views of this scripture will leave out the word “repent”.

  14. Byron Avatar

    Oops, should have added: He was calling them to Himself. “…the kingdom of God is at hand” is a reference to Himself and His ministry. Just my thoughts.

  15. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I’ll share how I understand this. Though we read the gospels historically, like a story unfolding, they are not really written quite like that. All of the gospels are written after the resurrection and they know the answers to these questions. And so, they are careful to keep pointing things out to us that Christ said that look towards the inbreaking of the Kingdom in His Pascha.

    But, apart from that, Christ Himself is His Pascha already and always has been. He is the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” St. John sees Him and says, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” He doesn’t say, “Who will take away the sins…” He speaks as though it were already accomplished (because, in a sense, it always has been).

    Jesus preaches, “The Kingdom of Heaven (or God) is at hand.” The most obvious thing would be to ask, “What do you mean by that?” but we’re not told that anyone asks such a thing. You get the impression that they thought they knew what He meant – even though they did not – and could not – until everything is made known and revealed in His resurrection.

    Christianity can rightly be described as “apocalyptic,” that is, “something hidden that is revealed.” Christ preaches of something hidden (the Kingdom of God) that is already present (for where the King is, there is the Kingdom). And what He does (blind see, lame walk, poor have good news preached to them, etc.) are signs that point to what is going on.

    The Kingdom of God is the cosmic fulfilling of the “Day of the Lord” in the Old Testament, that is, a cosmic Jubilee Year. The Jubilee (every 50 years) was marked by the cancellation of debts and the restoration of all things. In Christ this is about more than property and money – it is about everything. This remains the reality that the Church should preach and embody. The resurrection of Christ is also the cancellation of debt, the restoration of all things, the restoration of sight, etc. It is why His “ethical” teachings have the precise character that they do. We forgive, etc., because that is what the Kingdom of God itself is.

    No one of His hearers knew exactly what He was asking them to believe in until after His resurrection. The gospels make it clear that even the disciples did not understand (even though they followed Him). I would say that Mary knew – but she had a union with Christ that goes beyond that of any other human and always had.

    That’s how I think about this, for what it’s worth.

  16. Dimitri Christo Avatar
    Dimitri Christo

    Father, your answer to Christopher was value-packed!: “Wonder is not enough—but it is a healthy place to begin—or, at least, just a healthy response to the world in which we live.” Beginnings and a healthy response to the world made me think of little children and our Lord’s discourses about them. In Luke 18:16-17 (and, similarly in Matthew 19:14) we read: “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of God. Verily, I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.” What is early childhood but an innate beginning to respond to the world with a sense of awe and wonder. Everything in one’s environment is explored and questioned—not for the sake of spinning philosophical questions leading nowhere, but for the honest attempt at obtaining an answer.

    Answers are believed to be earnest by the child, because his or her question is posed in earnestness….only later on in life do we learn to be suspicious and puffed-up at answers. Children can readily accept that there is a God, One who is loving, and they easily grasp things like hierarchy and authority. True, this is also a time where narcissism rears its head (“It’s mine, you can’t have it), but, for the most part, little children are more in tune with the Kingdom of God than most adults.

    In Matthew 18:1-10, our Lord is very clear about this: “At that time came the disciples to Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven? And Jesus called a little child unto him. and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily, I say unto you, except you be converted and become as a little child, you shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Whosoever shall humble himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven…” Faith comes easy for children because they are humble enough to let awe and wonder direct their minds and hearts. It is only later, being subjected to the projects of modernity and post-modernism, does the child learn to turn natural responses to the universe into suspicion and scoff….demeaning and shaming others is learned from authority sources and reciprocated among one’s peer group.

    The Zeitgeist of each generation in modern times takes hold this way because a child is seen as a “blank slate”. Gods and creation stories are allowed in entertainment but not in one’s personal worldview. Getting *back* to a Utopian time made sense to previous generations before “progress” pushed utopia into a man-made future.

    I’ll be dating myself with this example, but when I was a small child I had a Close-N-Play record player (a wonder in itself back then!) One of the 45 records I would play over and over on it was a song called “Woodstock” (performed by the Matthews Southern Comfort band in response to the Woodstock music event in ’69). What I recall most about the song was the last line in the refrain”…and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the Garden”. I mention this, perhaps out of nostalgia for a time when the past still had some reverence, but mostly out of concern and empathy for the subsequent generations since who now don’t even question the mantra that the past was bad, repressive and ignorant, therefore so were its ideologies and faith systems. Beauty, Goodness and Truth belong not just in the past (that would be the trap of being merely nostalgic), nor just to the future when our Lord returns, but they can be seen as evident now if we humble ourselves and renew our minds and hearts in a childlike manner. Yes, there’s an increase in ugliness, poverty, and brutality in our world, but we must retain that “awe” that even all the flawed participants in our time still retain the image of God—and that gives on pause for awe and wonder….and for hope.

  17. Dean Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,
    To me it is worth a lot. When something is out of sorts for me you provide a healing balm. For that I am grateful.

  18. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dmitri Christo,
    I like the example of children – their innocence and wonder. That is a key to our life as believers – to be wise (like the serpents) and as meek as children. Time and again in my own life, “wisdom” and “insight” get lost in a heart that is not meek. The meek heart is, by far, the more important of the two. “Out of the abundance of the heart does the mouth speak…”

  19. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Father…regarding your comments about wonder, Carl Sagan, and his observation of the heavens, I think about the wonder, observation, and reason that prompted the three kings, the Maji, to follow a particular star which led them to the place of the birth of The King. They are even called “first fruits of the Gentiles” in our Nativity hymns! And their gifts pointed to Christ the King’s passion. Little did they know….but they came to worship because they “heard”…and I think they had eyes to see. So yes, wonder and awe are good!

    All creation, including the heavens, glorify Him!

  20. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    It is interesting to me and said that so many of those who see the inadequate and destoryed god of bad theology still seem to assume that the bad theology is right about God.

    It is almost as if, deprived of the hope of the Incarnation, they can see only darkness.

    I always felt Sagan’s “wonder” to be cheap narcissistic reductionist sentiment and not really wonder at all. A last ditch effort to stave off any actual encounter with the living God in who’s presence we can only cry out for mercy while at the same time knowing mercy is given.

    It is the cotton candy of modernism.

  21. Dino Avatar

    You reminded me how it can often be the case that counterfeits, like affected ‘wonder’ (just like secular counterfeits of ‘peace’, ‘humility’ or ‘happiness’) can becomes a veil, a defensive wall, between us and our “abandoning of ourselves to” genuine wonder (or peace,’humility and joy).

  22. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Nietzche was deprived of God and the good news by his father, a Luthern pastor who was lukewarm at best not to mention the suffocating and cruel moralism of his time.

    He looked into the abyss and found his hope in the destruction of such hypocrisy and the rise of men who were “natural men” who had the strength to engage in such creative destruction in the context of a Wagnerian neo-pagan dualism. Once the destruction has reached it’s end there is a rebirth of an almost Hindu quality and thus it is an endless cycle.

    Zorba the Greek was written, by the way, to illustrate the Nietzchean triumph and virtue of the Dionysian man over the weak and insipid. Zorba is a Greek ubermensche.

    Actually Nietzche makes a lot more sense than any of the half way measures of the psychological evolutionists and political revolutionists.

    Moving beyond any construct of good and evil to a full Transvaluation of all Values.

    Pretty much the world we live in actually.

    The Cross, the Grave and the glorious third day Ressurection is the only reality that truly overcomes.

  23. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Thanks for the analysis. I had never thought of Zorba in that context. I will say that I like the Greek Ubermensch way more than the German one. 🙂

  24. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    This absolutely reflects my own personal experience. I grew up with a belief in God (first episcopalian, then an East Indian philosophy my mother embrace during my high school years). Two things ended up destroying my belief in the existence of God: 1) i felt terrible on the prescibed Vegetarian diet required for salvation by my mother’s East Indian guru which made me question the supposed truths he was teaching; and 2) my pursuit of a degree in Anthropology, the penultimate subject for learning to master the deconstruction of meaning-making stories created by different human cultures. This, in turn, lead to a massive spiritual crises which eventually resulted in a total collapse of my physical health. I was forced to drop out of college when I found it impossible to get out of bed. I spent the next 10 years in bed with a diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I began to search earnest for the truth without really knowing consciously that that’s what I was doing. When I finally found Orthodoxy 8 years into my CFS diagnosis, i was not looking for Christ and had never heard of the Orthodox Church. When I was finally baptized into the Orthodox faith another 4 years later , i was fast trackedd as a catechumen because i was so sick everyone thought I was going to die imminently. And had I not been baptized, they may have well been right. But I experienced a miracle within the first two months of my new life in Christ after praying to our local Saint John Maximovich, Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco and I was able to find something to eat that did not make horribly sick. Had it not been for this, it’s high unlikely I would have lived to tell this story. No one can tell me that was not a miracle. This profound experience completely cured me of all my doubts about the existence of God., something baptism alone had not accomplished I’m afraid. I have had a lot of ups and downs over the past 12 years since that experience, but I have never again doubted the existence of God. It was entirely and act of God’s grace and mercy.

  25. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Thank you for the story. His mercy endures forever!

  26. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Kazantzakis was a dedicated Nietzchean — one the reasons he was excommunicated by the Greek Church. Although being a Greek it was much softer to he sure.

  27. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I had no idea. I just watched the movie… I noted that I have a hard time saying much about Nietzsche – primarily because he was never really in my purview of reading material. I knew folks in college who read him – but he had no attraction for me.

    I’ve never been tempted by atheism. I’ve had really big questions – and serious doubts about various forms of Christianity – but, somehow, Jesus has always been quite real to me – more than real – more like, reality itself.

    Having said that – a serious apophatic approach does not yield anything easy – I’ve just never wanted to give my life to a cultural Christ. It’s worse than unbelief.

  28. juliania Avatar

    Forgive me, Father Stephen, but I’d like to add to the Orthodox understanding of the apophatic description of God in a way that lets the mind, the reason, have a part to play without in any way disagreeing with your message here that all centers on Christ and His resurrection.

    The fathers didn’t entirely throw out the mind as they pondered the difficulties in knowing God, whilst respecting that in His essence he is unknowable, as I think you have often said. I think that is a rational question to ponder, how He is known and yet unknowable. They came up with perhaps an esoteric solution, that it is through His energies that we know, have experience of the divine, not through any rational theory to be sure, but a mind-including understanding nonetheless. Which perfectly harmonizes with our focus on Christ, who is a living being , God Himself, gifted to us in direct experience, as also the Holy Spirit, and through them both we come to know the Father.

    I have always loved the description of prayer which calls it ‘standing in the heart with the mind before God.’ To me that is my whole person personally revealed before Him: the unknowable, mighty in His unknowableness, but knowably intimate in His condescending love for mankind. That is breathtaking.

  29. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes. Everything God has given us is His gift and has a purpose and a use in our life. I would even say that what we call “reason” is really nothing of the sort. Human perception, thought, etc. is, I think, quite complex and difficult to actually quantify the way we often do. The various aspects, such as reason, nous, etc., are handy for thinking about some things – but, when we get too rigid about them – things start becoming inaccurate. So, what you’re saying is true. Good apophatic thought has lots of reason in it – even if the reason is not where it begins. I think you offered a good description of a “whole” approach.

  30. John Westphal Avatar
    John Westphal

    Father, grace and peace to you in the Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks for this post. If I may pose a question regarding a logic/reasoning quandary that I am in. I have trouble reconciling the infinite-ness of God and man: the anthropomorphic emotive language often ascribed to God is one example, i.e. pleasing God through our upright conduct, etc. However, God is not bound by emotion, as he is omnipotent, all-powerful; so, from mans’s perspective, how is there any real relationship between man and God?

  31. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The movie of Zorba is softened even more. In the book it is the Dionysian Greek vs the intellectual, effete, Apollonian Greek, not the Englishman in the movie and Zorba in the book is not as winsome as Anthony Quinn made him seem. Especially when the villagers come to stone the woman who commits adultery with The Boss.

    Still there is a difference between the Dionysian ubermench of Kazantzakis and the Arian/Thor ubermensch of Nietzche. There was an element of autobiography in the book as well.

    I read Nietzche because he was assigned to me in my senior history seminar. It was an experience.

  32. David Brent Avatar
    David Brent

    Last night I was reading Metaphysics as a Personal Adventure (Christos Yannaras in conversation with Norman Russell) where Christos describes what apophaticism is. I hadn’t paid much attention to the word before. And then you use the word today!

    Even more strange, as I was reading Christos’ comments last night, I thought of you. Christos talks about his efforts in the journal Concilium experiment as he calls it, and mentions that he tried to steer the planning of the issues to include “some discussion of the existential “meaning”, of the ontological reality, of the hope that “death should be trampled on by death””, but the journal ended up returning to topics that concerned “the ideological elaboration of contemporary problems unrelated to the illumination of “meaning””. When I read that it was as if I heard you whisper “The Modern Project” in my ear. I have only read through page 80. I would not be surprised to learn that you do not agree with everything he says, but so far the two of you seem like kindred spirits.

  33. Dino Avatar

    Michael I utterly agree with your analysis. The dionysian ubermensch of kzantzakis is very much in line with the overall spirit of poor cerebrally perplexed yet generationally and culturally orthodox mindframe confused Kzantzakis. It is evident that he was almost irreparably influenced by Nietsche in many other works of his like his conversation with a holy ascetic on Athos which would bring him ever so close( yet lamentable without the actual plunge) to repentance.

  34. Mario Avatar

    Thank you for another wonderful article Father.
    I especially love the last two paragraphs.
    Modernism and atheism go hand in hand and often portray God as a “what”, whereas we look to the WHO, the Person.
    The world not only asks what is Truth? But has even moved beyond this erroneous question locking itself into self destruct mode, as is apparent with world events.
    In True Orthodox Christianity we live the Resurrection because Christ IS the Resurrection; live the Life because Christ IS the Life; we live the Truth because Christ IS the Truth; we live the Way because Christ IS the Way.
    Resurrection, Life, Truth, The Way and more – no longer only concepts and morals we should follow – they are Christ whom we have received.

  35. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Good question – and I hope I can be helpful. Think for a minute about the relationship between mother and nursing child. The child isn’t engaging in anything we would describe as anthropomorphic emotive language. Indeed, the interrelationship with its mother is pre-verbal, or non-verbal. And it is a profound interrelationship. The mother is literally providing life and nourishment to the child as well as comfort, well-being, a growing awareness, etc. That interrelationship is probably the most profound relationship we ever experience with another human being in the course of our life.

    If anything, as we age, the words, emotions and images that we carry within us stand between us and others more than they bring us together. When we think of relationship with God – we tend to think of this broken thing we have with one another as adults. In truth, “who” we are is not actually described by our emotions, memories, thoughts. We have those things – but they are not who we are. We were who we are as an infant before we ever had them – and we are who we are even in old age when, occasionally, we lose all of those things.

    The Scriptures teach that “who” we are is a mystery. “Beloved, we are children of God, but it does not yet appear what we shall be. But we know that when He appears we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is.” God is also the revelation of who we are – we only come to know ourselves as He makes us known to ourselves.

    It is interesting how often the Scriptures point us towards the image of being a child. So, as we grow in Christ and come to know Him, we move beyond or beneath the noise of our anthropomorphic emotional imagery (including seeing ourselves in such terms) and slowly come to know Him as He truly is – and as we truly are. He is our life.

  36. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I like Yannaras. He has not been an influence on me in any systematic way – but whenever I read him, I find that what he says resonates within me. We are different generations, and that makes for some differences, I suppose. But I like him a lot.

  37. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Michael, Dino,
    Thank you. I’m learning some stuff here.

  38. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dino, The picture Kantzantakis painted of Jesus in his book The Last Temptation of Christ illustrates perfectly what you say. Jesus as seen by Judas. Human not Human and Divine. It is interesting that all dualism seems to ultimately preculde an Incarnate God who takes on our nature in order to preserve us. With dualism it becomes all about the human will, human emotion.

    That picture has become culturally pervasive since The Last Temptation was an inspiration for Jesus Christ Superstar. Jesus, the man, struggling with the irrational dictates of a distant and unknown “God”. Longing for human love but unable to have it because of those dictates.

    The Two Storey Universe. The Church, when she excommunicated Kantzantakus, repudiated that idea.

    God is with us and His mercy abounds.

  39. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman/Patrick,

    In the news from time to time I have read about the Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte go on crazy rants against God, they are worth looking up, but when I hear what he is protesting against I can say, yeah I would feel the same way I guess if that’s what God was like.

    I know many people don’t like to hear this for the sake of ecumenism, but the reason in large part for the Western reaction to God is that Western theology set up the mess and liberal theology tried to save an image of God that was palatable by de-constructing or by modifying Western theology.

    I, as a former Reformed Protestant, was never turned off by the idea (until towards the end of my Protestant days) that people without any knowledge of God would automatically go to hell, that Adam’s sin passed genetically making all of us totally depraved (which is fully compatible with Catholic teaching when you define total depravity correctly), that God must punish Jesus under the full weight of his wrath for us to be atoned for, etc. But that’s what I was taught. People looking from the outside in to Western theology have questions that are quite valid, now I see them.

    As long as Orthodox do not set themselves apart theologically as inherently distinct from Western theology we fail to offer the world the Gospel – that the demonic forces that held the nations captive to sin and death, that death itself, that participation in the family of God in the sweetness of communion with him and it’s members, that the transformation of the self from self-centered love to other/God centered love – on and on – is actual through Christ’s Pascha and possible for us to participate in through cooperation with our entire person.

    Patrick, if I had to tell someone the Gospel, I would have them read the baptismal liturgy – the coming out from under the demonic forces, entrance into the family of God, the initial acquisition of the Holy Spirit, freedom of communion with God and his household, communion with the Holy Spirit, God as Father, ongoing sustenance in Christ’s body and blood, etc.. What confuses us, if I may be presumptive, is that for many the Gospel is the “fact” that Jesus suffered the wrath of God in our place, gives us his righteousness, and we get to go to heaven in the end. This is most certainly not the Gospel. The Gospel is that God loves his creation, desires family participants, Satan, death, sin, have been introduced as foreign intruders and were overcome in Christ’s Pascha, the doors to the family are open for us to now work out our salvation with fear and trembling in the Church Christ shed his blood for. Something like that.

    Last, as to the post, we can appreciate the ethical impulse some atheists have alerted Christians to while seeing that they must assume a Christian worldview to do so. If only the atheists were alerted to the fact that they mostly all, the vocal ones, the well-known voices, were unable to have shed their Christian past, heritage, conditioning, they would see that they were expressing Christian concerns but refusing Christian answers to the concerns. It always seemed to me that agnosticism was crazy because even a fallen world speaks enough to say, “there’s something wrong here.”

    I was thinking recently about diets based on how cave-men might have eaten, or how people are waking up to the reality that things like breast-feeding might actually be good for your newborn. You have people saying progress, and people saying let’s go back to before people ate grains, those darn Egyptians introduced grains into our diets and evolution hasn’t caught up with how we should digest them, etc. You have women who are realizing that child-bearing might actually be normal and others who think they are saving the world by getting dogs, foregoing children, so that they can save the world from another carbon-emitter. There is always this, let’s get back to the beginning – which presupposes something purer about origins – or a let’s move towards progress – which presupposes destiny – and both of these are excluded in an atheistic world. The more we progress the bigger the new problems – atom bombs, media-entranced culture, fast-food, pollution, bacteria-resistance, etc. The more we regress, treating humans as beasts. I haven’t thought out how to be really persuasive in this post, but regardless, the drive inside for God is there and the push toward happiness, confused with drive toward God – all the more exacerbated in Western theology since they see the two drives as one – leaves people without the means of salvation which is theosis, which results in other-centered, creation centered, God centered, self-sacrificial love which would cure us all.

    Western theology doesn’t give theosis to man, they give substitutionary atonement by and large. Substitutionary righteousness, substitutionary wrath bearing Jesus, substitutionary treasury of merits or your merit. Orthodox theology is distinctly different in this regard, it gives the method and means of cure – which when followed and if God so wills results in (as in the end of the evening prayers) – that we may attain unto the unity of the faith and the knowledge of Thine unapproachable glory. That we may be accounted among the saints, at the right hand of the Father with Christ.

    I don’t say all of this to knock Western theology so much, but to say, that if we have a cure, we should make it known.

    Thanks Fr. Freeman,

  40. Dino Avatar

    I think it is as you say indeed.

    you remind me that, in all areas, when man -the invaluable image of God- falls away from God, he either regresses towards beasts or ‘progresses’ towards demons. The classic patristic ‘mindfulness’ saying goes: “a mind separated from God, either becomes beastly or demonic”.
    Our means of salvation is indeed Christ-centerdness…

  41. Dean Avatar

    Thank you…a beautiful post. Yes, the Jonathan Edward’s, God’s wrath “gospel” is a bitter pill to swallow. That’s why I spit it out and was agnostic for 4 years. Yet, oh the “medicine of immortality,” how sweet and smooth to the taste, sweeter than honey and the honeycomb. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” What a blessed place is the hospital of the Orthodox Church for the healing of souls.

  42. Christopher Avatar


    I really like your word to John.

    “If anything, as we age, the words, emotions and images that we carry within us stand between us and others more than they bring us together…”

    Recently the truth of this has really come into the foreground for me. The truth of a normalized sacramental pattern of life (in parish, in family, personally in prayer) is that it is at the very least another way, a sign and time spent away from the noise of our too often overwhelming images/emotions. Some of us find we need more, and find ways into the desert.

    What I question is whether this pattern of life is “enough”. What is its real fruit in mine and your parish and community? A little gain here, a little step back here…but overall, a kind of “status quo”. You will of course council patience, but on the other hand the time is short for all of us – our death is right around the corner. Is this pattern surviving its contact with secularism? Is this pattern yesterday’s adjustment to yesterdays worldly patterns?

    In any case, I think there is much to be expanded on from this comment.

  43. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    No doubt, our communities fail in many ways (they’re not greater than those who are in them). But, a minor thought on the question:

    We’re too protected from death and the questions that rightly surround our dying. Modernity is a youth culture, imagining that the young know more than the old, that newer is always better, etc. Accordingly, we often hide the truth of death and dying from ourselves, and, with that, shield ourselves from the wisdom that could probably only come through encountering death.

    I have a friend whose father died this week. He told me stories of his father’s dying – which included him saying, “I forgive everyone and everything,” and there were former “enemies” who came and were reconciled. Amazing stories of great depth. No doubt, my friend will never be the same, nor could he ever be the same after witnessing his father’s holy death.

    One reason we celebrate the deaths of the martyrs – is because they show us holy deaths. Holy dying also reveals holy living – and holy living can probably only be revealed by holy dying. I talk about death a fair amount in my parish (as I do in various blog posts). I’ve been privileged to see a lot of deaths in my life – and from an early age. I do not think anyone ever gets to the real questions until they are seen in the light of death – it’s the true existential moment.

    The trivial can dissipate in a moment in the face of death – although our culture seeks to protect itself from the naked truth of death by surrounding it with sentimentality. My least favorite of all such examples was a flower arrangement in the shape of a phone on a child’s grave that read: “Jesus Called.”

    Compare that to the sober epitaph: As You Are, I Once Was. As I Am, You Shall Be.

    Consider this sobering statement: … “human nature is created and so, is unavoidably mortal; with death man’s entire psychosomatic being comes to an end. All of his psychological and mental functions cease to function: his self-conscience, reasoning, judgment, memory, imagination, and desire. Man is no longer able to function through the parts of the body in order to speak, to call to memory, to distinguish, to desire, to reason, to be impassioned, and to see” St. Anastasios of Sinai (Odigos, Migne P.G. 89, 36).

    I’ve been trying to get an English translation of the context of that passage. However, when questions such as John’s come up, that passage comes to mind. I am not who or what I think myself to be.

  44. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dino, I am remembering about Kanzantakis from long ago so I am glad I got it correct. The interplay with the Greek culture modern and ancient with Nietzche an influencer is quite a mix which you would understand much better than I.

  45. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father would it be accurate to say that we have an inter-relationship with God because He wants it?

    If that is true, is not that sufficient?

  46. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It’s certainly true. And it would be sufficient if someone were asking “why?” But though it’s succinct, I think that more would need to be said. Sometimes, such a short answer could be construed as saying to someone, “Don’t ask that.” Which is not helpful.

  47. Byron Avatar

    I am not who or what I think myself to be.

    This is certainly a statement that our current Culture would despise. The entire culture is rooted in the idea of the mind/thought determining who a person is. It is horribly ego-centric.

  48. tess Avatar

    Would it be on the right track to say that though I am not who or what I think myself to be, I am something akin to who and how I love?

  49. Jeff Avatar

    I am commenting blind, i.e., without having read any other comments…

    Fr., the other day I was researching the topic of Christmas for a blogpost (l won’t post the link unless invited, since it’s for a business). I decided to focus on the theme “Christ, a different kind of king.” With that theme and Zephaniah 3:14-20 in mind, I began googling. After a bit, I decided to go to your blog and typed Jesus Christ in the search bar. Of course, it produced a lot of hits. So, I began reading. It was quite rewarding. Your mention of the centrality of Christ’s Pascha in today’s post is, by far, not your first, explicitly or implicitly. 🙂

    Concurrent with this exercise was a burden that day for my younger son (19 and waking up to some of what you’ve mentioned in this post…and he’s troubled). I ask prayers for him.

    All this to say, that in all my reading re Christian theology/thought/comment/guidance, the words I’ve found here are different. Whereas prior to discovering yours and other Orthodox writing, I would be inspired to think more about it or try to square it with what (I thought) I knew, here, my my first reaction is not thought so much, as it is peace. I’ve only recently understood this phenomenon. It seems not to be entirely based on my own cognition. Rather it’s as though the words themselves actually produce a result of their own that I can only identify with Christ. When first trying to articulate this sense, I thought of the Peter’s response to Jesus, “To whom shall we go? Only you have the words of eternal life.” Only, I rememembered it as “You have the words of life.” (Essentially the same thought.)

    So I have been led to think that internal struggle (much like C.S. Lewis’ megaphone of pain) is a path/call to love, to relationship…an invitation to participate in God; to be subsumed by the almighty God so that we might know Him. Because, when I am troubled I eventually end up here. And this blog is an icon of God’s love, inviting me to “take eat, this is my body.”

    Fr., this transformation is by no means your doing. But I’m thankful for the contents God pours into this vessel and in so doing, He comes to me, not as doctrine or morality, but as companion, guide, and comfort for the living of the life given me. A Life that hopefully is an invitation to others to partake in Him.

  50. Jeff Avatar

    I mentioned cognition with other writing. Cognition still plays a huge role, but it’s as though as I intellectually chew the words, they immediately begin entering my bloodstream, as though I were holding the words under my tongue.

  51. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    “…the words themselves actually produce a result of their own that I can only identify with Christ.”

    Yes. I know what you mean. I have that sense in the Liturgy, or when encountering good Orthodox theology. Fr. Georges Florovsky said that doctrine is a “verbal icon” of Christ. Perhaps that is something of what you are saying.

  52. Robert Fortuin Avatar
    Robert Fortuin

    John Westphal,

    You ask a most interesting question – ancient, important and enduring. It’s questions like these that lead me to conclude that innately ‘all theologize, all philosophize’, including the most militant atheist.

    If I can restate your question (correct me if I am misunderstanding you) – how is it possible for God who does not change to have knowledge of, and be in a relationship with, creation which always changes?

    The church East and West has been in broad agreement that God knows not like we know – we know by acquiring knowledge, by moving from ignorance to ‘being in the know’. God however does not acquire knowledge, there is not anything that he doesn’t already have. We can’t really say that God’s possesses knowledge like we do – that is to say that God IS knowledge. (This speaks to God’s perfection – there is no (non-actualized) potentiality in God. God is perfect knowledge, perfect wisdom, perfect truth, etc.) Without falling into pantheism, because God is knowledge God knows creation – and he knows perfectly because he has perfect self-knowledge. (This can be put in another way – as creation’s first and final Cause God knows what he creates.) God’s knowledge is immediate and instant – all of creation, everywhere and each of its moments past, present and future.

    And so the future to us is undetermined and open (maybe I will have that second cup of coffee later, maybe not), but God knows this without determination; my free choice does not change God’s knowledge, it does not change God essentially.

    What you will note in the above is that between doing and being, there is no difference in God. This is strange of course, for us this is not possible. This is an affirmation of God’s absolute transcendence – God is not a supreme being among beings, a genus in the chain of being. As the creator of being, He is beyond being and non-being.

    This is all terribly succinct, but I hope it helps.

  53. Dimitri Christo Avatar
    Dimitri Christo

    You ask a good question: Is their meaning when the results look like it’s all been maintaining the “status quo”? In other words, is there any meaning to the Sisyphean task of perpetually rolling the same rock up the same mountain?…especially, when all seems to be burning around us? I’d say YES.

    As Christians we witness, and in so doing we plant seeds. We witness not just to our peers, but for posterity. It can be very taxing on our motivation to do so when we only look for “fruit” now—in fact, depressing when we give into the culture’s mandate that everything must happen NOW, so we get discouraged when we personally (or as a community) don’t seen results.

    However, unlike the culture at large, we don’t give up hope because we daily strengthen our faith. Recall that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Heb 11:1)”. The Latin phrase Speramus Meliora, Resurget Cinerbus (“We hope for better things, it will rise from the ashes”) comes to mind. But again, as Christians, we don’t stop there because ours is not a cross-your-fingers type of hope—ours is in a Person, Who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. There’s nothing vague about that, and there’s tremendous comfort in knowing he never leaves us or forsakes us when all may appear futile.

    Perhaps, in eternity, we’ll be amazed at the seeds from the past we unearthed while rolling our own rocks around, and at seeing other seeds that we planted that did yield fruit unbeknownst to us. This last thought is not a chance thing, rather, it’s an active roll on our part to participate in the “Great Commission” of our Lord, Jesus Christ. When we let quantity factor into producing fruit we get side-tracked and discouraged. Seeking quantity for its own sake is more the way of the world .

    God Bless.

  54. Jeff Avatar

    Yes, exactly, Father Stephen.

  55. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I would add to that – that the expectation or longing to make an impact, or some such thing, is mostly a passion sown in us by modernity itself. I’ve now been in ordained ministry for nearly 40 years. My early years were in a parish with hyper-growth of around 15% per year. I’ve been at my present Orthodox parish for 20 years (since its beginning). We’ve had, more or less, steady growth over the years – and now number more than 200. But I don’t think about growth now the way I did years ago.

    I like seeing children in the Church – we’ve got over 60 in the Sunday School program – and their presence in the Liturgy is very noticeable. But people are like olive trees. An olive tree, I’ve been told, takes about 25 years to mature and produce a crop. They’ll last for hundreds of years…but they’re really an investment in the future – something one generation does for the next.

    When I think of St. Anne, I mostly think about dying there in some years in the future – with prayers that my grandchildren can be there as well (and the grandchildren of parishioners). I tell our people that the first and most important thing we are doing is being an Orthodox parish. We were the first English-language-oriented parish in East Tennesse. When I was converting with my family back in ’98, there would have not really been any place suitable for us and for my ministry. So, with the Archbishop’s blessing, we started one. Now, lots of people can find us, and we’ve helped start other parishes as well – and pray that, in time, they will mature as well.

    When I think of the spiritual life, I do not think it is something that is revealed particularly in the young – it’s the product of a lifetime. I never knew that until I began to be old (I’m 65 now). It is said that a theologian doesn’t do his best work until he’s over 60 (whereas Physicists and Mathematicians do their best in their 20’s). For example, I do not think the topic of Providence can be seen and understood very well by the young – there’s just not enough scenery in their rear-view mirror. It is an extremely rare thing for the young to be comfortable with Providence. But, without a profound belief in Providence, there cannot be the “Spirit of Peace,” by which a thousand around us can be saved.

    Americans are impatient – because we are modern – through and through. We pretty much never build anything with the intention of it lasting 100 years. Not even Churches. America loves change. God loves stability. What do I value most in a parish? Steadiness – steadfastness. How well do we endure? How well do we help each other endure? Anybody can ride a wave of progress and improvement – no depth is required. Only a tree with roots can abide difficulty. Is the parish family putting down roots? How do you measure that? It takes years. Years.

  56. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Fr Stephen,
    I have appreciated your reference to Providence in past articles and I’m grateful you’ve brought it up again. The process of spiritual ‘growth’ that you describe in which you characterize as having steadiness and steadfastness, also suggests a willingness to bear one’s cross with an open (grateful) and humble heart. Seeing Providence in the events of one’s life helps toward that acceptance, which is far more ‘active’ and embracing than a simple resignation.

    But ‘seeing Providence at work’ is perceived by some to be a construct of an over-active imagination. Alternatively, some of those who claim to “see” the work of Providence in their lives sometimes seem to be self ascribing to themselves a ‘giftedness’, a means of distinction.

    In contrast to these, your usage (what you’re describing) seems healthy, and almost unremarkable in it’s slowness toward fruition. Like the slow growth of an ancient tree. It may seem paradoxical but the very slowness of Providence gives me hope. As you say, I too sense in that slow speed that there is more traction, more scope, and more depth. And for that reason, sometimes I wish that those who are keen to evangelize to ‘cool their jets’ to let Providence take the lead. (And yet, I am remiss myself as I attempt to evangelize those I love dearly) Such action (or indeed the seeming lack of observable action on the part of a Christian) to abide in Christ steadfastly requires both gratitude for all things and humility.

  57. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I had not thought about the over-active imagination part – though I know what you mean. Easy for people to start reading meanings into events that are either not there or are quite delusional – or the like. Not uncommon in certain circles and times. I think Providence, in the short term, is simply a trust coupled with thankfulness – though in the short term, meaning is almost impossible to discern. It is best seen “in the rear-view mirror,” and even then at a distance. That is why I suggest that it is something that comes best with age – with years.

    I think it’s why we are placed in communities. Most trees are not appropriately planted by themselves – they grow in forests and woods. They have connections with each other that are important for their survival. A large tree – hundreds of years old – may be cut down and yet continue a very important role with surrounding trees through the roots that remain (cf. The Secret Life of Trees). Providence may well be discerned best by the old ones in our midst – who provide a steady and steadfast word when the winds and rains pick up.

    Here in East TN, there are very few patches of “Old Growth” forest – places that have never been logged – though the mountains here are famous for their forests. As recently as the late 20’s – East TN was more bare than not – it had been logged and badly marred. The CCC’s during the Great Depression spent a lot of time helping restore what had been lost – such that the young people today think it has always been there.

    America is a land that has, in one manner or another, been spiritually “clear cut.” In some places, that has allowed the storms to wash away all the good top soil. It would take generations to make a difference. That is probably the best image of evangelism – (Christ used agricultural metaphors – though in Israel you can’t use the example of forests). We are restoring the forests of this land. Long, slow, patient work.

  58. Dean Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,
    Your mentioning of trees made me think of the Pando Grove of quaking aspen in Utah. Over 47,000 trees are genetically identical from the same root system. The original root is 80,000+ years old. All the trees are intertwined through the roots, thus seen as one giant organism.
    Reminds me of the Church. All of us connected to the “root of Jesse,” to Christ. Often this deep interconnectedness is hidden from the world as God’s hand of Providence does its quiet work. It also speaks of stability over eons of time. Anyway, as we are wondrously formed into the body of Christ as community, so all of Christ’s creation is wondrous.

  59. John Westphal Avatar
    John Westphal

    To Father Freeman and Mr. Fortuin—

    First of all, thank you for taking the time to respond and engage with me. Father, you have a godly insight that I cannot thank you enough for, and to which I am most grateful. And thanks Mr. Fortuin for attempting to clarify my rather vague question! Orthodoxy truly has set me free in innumerable ways, despite remaining “Protestant” as far as church attendance goes.

    Innately, I guess I’m an existentialist, although I don’t fashion myself as anyone of above-average intelligence. Like Pascal I suppose in his Pensees (which I have not read, just read quotes of), I at times am crushed and despair in the face of infinity and eternity and life eternal. It’s through contemplation that I ponder the deep mysteries of God, wanting to concretely “know” something of and about God. I wouldn’t be honest if I said I truly understood the depth of your insight rendered, however the child-mother analogy is very interesting and helpful.

    I guess to put a twist on my initial question, I often ponder how our relationship is meaningful to God who has not feeling? These type of questions afflict me for some reason. My own answer and antidote to existential crises, is turning to Christ, the God-man; to me, that is the truth that other religions do not even come close to—after all, how does one breach the chasm between the infinite and the temporal? Only Christ!

    Trusting in the mystery of God and the limits of my knowledge is easy said, I just have difficulty at times feeling it.

    It may sound truly funny, but as a balm to existential dread one of the most comforting passages to me in all the scriptures is when Jesus summons the disciples to, “Come and have breakfast.”

    The most utterly rational thing in all the world, at least as I tell my children, the eternal Lord Jesus tells his disciples to do—eat breakfast! Breakfast, a priority to God, how splendid!

    Merry Christmas, John

  60. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    I so much appreciate the conversation between you, Father, and our other commentators. (and I agree, Father’s answers are gems!) Being simple minded, I really do not know what it means to “be existential”. I have read the definition hundreds of times since my earlier days when “existentialism” was hip, and I still can’t grasp it! Yet, if it has anything to do with being “crushed and in despair”, then I am at times existential too!
    Having said that, I can not add anything to this conversation except to your statement that God has “not feeling”. I know there are those who downplay feelings and emotions, I think because ours are so broken, as Father alluded to in our development that follows bonding with our mother (if one even occurs). You also say your antidote is in Christ, the God-Man. Exactly! And He surely displayed emotion, as you know, He cried, He got angry, He grieves, and most of all He loves. Some may say this is the “human” side of Christ. But His human side was deified by His divinity, and He is at the same time, the one God-Man. So His display of emotion tells me that there are godly passions, as in Christ and those which are sinful and ungodly. As for God having “not feeling”…well, Christ is God, and He had feeling! As I see it, His feelings and emotions are pure…righteous and just. Most of the time, if not all, such is not ours. Our emotions are one aspect of the ‘disintegration’ of our nature that He took upon Himself for our healing…which is our salvation! So I encourage you…you are turned and faced toward God…you are on the right track. He will provide, in a way that boggles the mind, all your needs.
    May God grant you (and all of us!) more and more revelation of the knowledge of Him!

  61. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Fr Stephen and Dean,
    I appreciate so much your reference to the “life of trees”, I’m going to read more about this. It’s fascinating and provides valuable insight into God’s creation.

    Father your analogy to ‘clear cut’ spirituality is salient. This culture appears dead set towards utilitarianism including spiritual knowledge itself–something that is decimated, and the residuals “paid for”, ‘acquired’ and consumed. I’ve been a participant in that mindset (particularly in the university ‘knowledge’ system), although my initiation into it was rather late in life. Clear-cut logging–destroying life and ecosystems for profit (I’m actually still using analogy here)–indeed there is a lot of that in Christendom, and I hope the American Orthodox (particularly those of former ‘denominational Christian’ backgrounds) will have learned this lesson before inadvertently falling into that bottomless rabbit hole as an Orthodox Christian.

    Paula I sincerely appreciate your words to John. It is easy to become entrapped into a bogus (possessive) “what I know” trap. Your humility and loving heart shows in what you write and I always appreciate when you ‘pitch’ your thoughts into the comment threads here.

    John, I haven’t been reading Fr Stephen’s comments threads diligently of late and might have missed whether you have commented before this thread. I just want to offer encouragement in your exploration of Orthodoxy. Based on the questions you have raised, you might find Met. Kalistos Ware’s book “Orthodox Way” helpful in its explanations of Orthodoxy as it is written for introducing people in Western culture to ideas and theology that is not all that familiar to Western Christianity. Last but far from least, I also recommend Fr Stephen’s book “Everywhere present”. I have found this book in particular provides insight into our relation to God, by way of introducing another way to perceive God’s presence in the world. The questions you raise are productive for all of us. Thank you for your participation and God bless you with peace and joy in this Christmas season.

  62. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Only halfway through the comments, but I would like to interject that I love and respect both Carl Sagan and Zorba the Greek. “The line between good and evil runs through every human heart” means that there is good in every heart ( and evil in mine). I think there is great good in both Sagan and Zorba and I love them both for it.

  63. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    David, Aside from the fact that Zorba, the Greek is a fictional construct created to articulate and advance a heinous and anti-human philosophy, I agree with you.

    Kantanzakis himself was a confused man who I am sure had as good a heart as any.

  64. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    A wonderful book for those interested in exploring the topic of God’s Providence further is “The Sunflower: Conforming the Will of Man to the Will of God” by Saint John of Tobolsk. I am now reading it for the second time. It’s so rich!

  65. John Timohty Paul Avatar
    John Timohty Paul

    I’m right at half way through. Thankyou for recommending it a few of Father’s post back. It’s really is a wonder book. I like the way it’s divided into short sections of two or three pages. I read a least one section with the reading I do in the morning. Thanks again

  66. Dino Avatar

    Your comment to John (and your use of the imagery of the interrelationship between pre-verbal infant and mother as an analogy of ours with God, including all the elucidation of the unfathomability of who we are and of the existential awakening out of our trivialities in our death), has such depths that many articles would be needed to start to grasp them.

  67. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    J T P – Glory to God!

  68. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    “,God is with us! Submit yourselves all ye nation’s, for God is with us”

    That and the Epistle from Colossians 3 convicted, encouraged and uplifted me today.

    That and Bishop Basil ordained a young man to the priesthood today Fr. Constantine Blizzard who is an Air Force Chaplin. Axios!

  69. E. C. Scrubb Avatar
    E. C. Scrubb

    “Nevertheless, He rose from the dead. The life of repentance is a constant embracing of Christ’s Pascha. It is a giving of ourselves to what has been given to us. It is the rejection of every pretense that would erect life on some other basis (as though there were another basis).”

    Is this what they mean when an Orthodox writer talks about living an evangelical life? Not a sales campaign, but clinging to the life style prescribed by the church? When I first read the term used in reference to fasting , prayer, and attending services, it was a real head scratcher.

  70. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    One possible way of thinking about this is to meditate on our emotions – not projecting them onto God (because we often only know them in the brokenness of our experience), but to realize that in some manner, our emotions are “icons” of something about God. A human being without emotions would not be human – or would be a severe impairment to human experience. But we can at least affirm that what we experience is not unrelated to God.

  71. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes. The “evangelical” life refers to a life conformed to the gospel (the “evangel”).

  72. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Dear Father…your response to John…thank you.

  73. robert fortuin Avatar
    robert fortuin


    It seems to me that ‘God without feeling’ is a subtle form anthropomorphism, for it implies two options in a fixed binary – either God has feelings like we do, or else He doesn’t have feelings at all. It is more congruent with the witness of the church catholic to understand God to be beyond anthropomorphisms, that He exceeds feelings, thoughts, time, space, etc. As truly transcendent He is beyond our created categories, but not devoid of them, not incapable of them. To put it in another way, God experiences more truly than we do, feels more truly than we do, observes more truly then we do, and so forth. This is to say that our emotions are an analogue of God’s emotions – we feel because, and analogically in a similar way like, God feels. We are now far removed from the notion that God is incapable of feelings.

    Perhaps St Augustine’s famous observation that God is “more intimate than my innermost and higher than my uppermost” (interior intimo meo et superior summo meo) speaks powerfully to existential dread.

  74. John Westphal Avatar
    John Westphal

    What good discussion and insight from all!

    Father, what a very interesting insight, emotions as icons. I think that that is most helpful in my understanding, as an emotionless or unfeeling God yields not much comfort. Knowing that I rest in the loving arms of a caring Savior that knows me better than I know myself is salvific knowledge, and I thank you for that.

    Mr. Fortuin, true statement that there is an “either/or” implication there, borne no doubt out of my truly human attempts at understanding God’s incomprehensibility through my own human reason, out of some “need” to try and reconcile God through some means of reduction. Out of pride I am like the pot saying to the potter “how did you make me thus?” Thank you for seeing that.

    Admittedly, one’s own impression of reality is not reality in its essence. Some of our human afflictions, anxiety, depression, etc. get in the way of allowing for the mysteries of God.

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