Thursday, April 2, 2009

Christ, the Light of the World

...and of our hearts, and of our minds

Countless volumes have been written about the relationship between faith and reason, so at first I thought the idea of writing a little essay on the subject would be daunting. Turns out, though, that in Orthodoxy, it's a comparatively simple matter, so there doesn't seem to be much to write! (Or maybe there is and I just don't realize it yet.) Here is all I could find to say.

Reason is the wrong instrument for seeking God. God is beyond all thought and all words, and is to be sought with that part of us that is also beyond both.

But the error is not corrected by sinking into irrationality and illogic! That is still more dangerous and inhuman, because we were created in the Image of God, with intellect. Thinking is something we were meant to do and to the extent we refuse to do it, we are refusing our very humanity. To advocate that we “reverently” stop thinking is also unchristian, because Christ Himself, with Whom we are to be united, is the Logos of God, the Mind of God, the Wisdom of God.

The correction of the rationalistic error is NOT that at a certain point we should, in the name of reverence, stop thinking! Nor is it, as some advocate, to subordinate reason to “the service of the Gospel,” because that always ends up meaning, subordinate your thinking to this or that person’s idea of the Gospel, to whatever doctrine is proposed, usually an illogical one, or thinking wouldn’t be forbidden. Only falsehood has anything to fear from clear thinking; Truth never has.

Rather, if we are seeking Truth, the first and indispensable step on the correct path is to give ourselves wholly to God, Who IS Truth. In other words, the first step is faith:

My son, do not forget my law,
But let your heart keep my commands;
For length of days and long life
And peace they will add to you.

Let not mercy and truth forsake you;
Bind them around your neck,
Write them on the tablet of your heart,
And so find favor and high esteem
In the sight of God and man.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the LORD and depart from evil.
It will be health to your flesh,
And strength to your bones.

(Proverbs 3:1-8)

Faith, then, in this context, means we should seek prayerfully.

Faith means keeping God’s precepts while we are searching. It means continuing in devotion and obedience. Resolve to remain faithful during the period of questioning. Remember what our Lord said: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” (Matthew 7:7, Luke 11:9) Remember, too, that it is the pure in heart who shall see God. The closer we approach purity, the more our understanding is enlightened. The more we polish the mirror of our souls, the more they will reflect God.

Orthodox experience teaches us to have faith in the Church as well. (“I believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church…") Again and again, we find our own answers proven wrong, and the wisdom of the Church, vindicated after all. Usually we feel a bit foolish when the answer appears; it seems to us we ought to have seen it all along.

After we’ve done this a few times, our confidence in the Church builds, and our search is accompanied by a rather high degree of anticipation that an answer will appear that fully satisfies both mind and heart. This is the correct attitude when we are trying to resolve intellectual difficulties with the Christian faith.

Along with faith, we need to search with great humility. We need to remind ourselves, “I can’t be the first genius who ever thought of this objection.” Therefore, there must be some good answer out there somewhere. Humility means being willing to ask and willing to be corrected. Ask your parish priest. Ask your spiritual father or mother. Seek out the holiest person(s) you can find and ask them. (Note, the holiest, not necessarily the smartest or most educated.) No one person in the Church knows all the answers, but in Orthodoxy, the answer to every objection is known by someone. Keep looking until you find that someone.

Humility means being open to the answer, open to a different way of thinking, and being prepared to feel foolish and even judged by the answer when it comes, because it was in front of us all along and some fault within us has prevented our noticing it.

Orthodox Christianity has a logic all its own; it is the logic and the language of Love. A loving heart thinks and acts differently than an unloving heart, or a heart insufficiently loving. (That's why our tradition of oikonomia, for example, scandalizes so many.) There’s a charming Greek story that illustrates the difference love makes, even to our perception:

Mrs. Dove and Mrs. Owl both realized one morning that their children had left for school without taking their lunches. Mrs. Dove said to Mrs. Owl, “Since you’re going to the school, would you please take my son’s lunch to him as well?

“How will I know which one your son is?” asked the Owl.

“Oh, that’s easy! He’s the most beautiful bird in the class.” (In Greece, doves are considered beautiful, and owls, particularly ugly.)

So the Owl agreed to deliver both chicks’ lunches.

Upon her return from the school, the Dove asked eagerly, “Well, did my son get his lunch?”

The mother Owl replied, sadly, “I’m sorry, but no. I couldn’t find him. I just couldn’t see any child there more beautiful than my own.”

Love thinks in its own, idiosyncratic way. Love has a different logic, and a higher one. That’s why the things of God are truly understood only to the degree we ourselves love one another and Him. Many of the answers to our issues become clear only as we learn to love better. Love, therefore, is the key ingredient in any search for truth.

God’s own Logos (which should be translated “Reason,” as in articulate reason) obviously far exceeds our own. In Orthodox Christianity, this means that everything does make sense so far as our minds can reach. We are allowed and, yes, encouraged to use our minds to the fullest; for God is always greater (not less) than our minds. We are to stretch our minds to capacity, our minds not being left behind as we grow in Christ (even though they are NOT the correct instrument for finding Him, either). We can question anything and everything, as much as we like, so long as our hearts are toward Christ, as long as we are wrestling with these issues in the Holy Spirit, so long as we search with obedient faith, with humility, and especially with love. We are never forbidden to challenge, to question, to test. In doing so, our minds will acquire the answers our hearts probably already knew, and the whole being will be satisfied in the Lord.

Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
(Romans 14:5)

For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.
(1 Corinthians 2:16)

And be not conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what [is] that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:12)

And be renewed in the spirit of your mind;
(Ephesians 4:23)

For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
(2 Timothy 1:7)

Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, I am the light of the world: he that follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.
(John 8:12)