An example from my own life last night: I stopped at a traffic light in downtown Asheville wanting to make a right turn. The person in the left turn lane pulled up past the white line and I couldn’t see around them. Continue reading Hearing God at the Traffic Light
When something terrible happens, such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, people quickly look for answers. As I mentioned in my post about that horrible tragedy, I think we need to take more time to grieve and heal before we start pointing fingers and assigning blame. Continue reading Cleansing the world of evil
One of the greatest causes of unbelief in God is evil; whether it is through personal experience, something traumatic happening to a friend or loved one, or a tragedy such as tens of children being ruthlessly slaughtered by a mentally unstable man with a high-powered rifle. Events such as these cause an emotional knee-jerk reaction. Something in us is deeply disturbed.
It is good that these things trouble us; it means that we are still in touch with our humanity to some degree.
Essence vs. Energies
I’m going to start this off in a seemingly strange way. A teaching has been passed down through the generations in the Eastern Orthodox Church that helps us to understand a little bit more about God and how we interact with him. It teaches that there is an Essence to God that is purely God. It is the Essence that God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all share. It is a part of God that we will never know.
God’s Energies, however, stream and course through our world. They are uncreated and have always been a part of God. They include love, grace, majesty, beauty, peace, creativity, patience, thoughtfulness, gentleness, mercy, kindness, humility, etc. God invites us to not only share in these Energies, but to become one with him through these parts of him that we can contact. The Orthodox call this invitation to oneness with God’s Energies Theosis.
What is evil?
With that established, we can better understand evil.
Evil is not a created force or entity. It is essentially nothing because it is the absence of or the twisting of God’s Energies. The easiest way to think of evil is to liken it to darkness, which has no properties and cannot be measured or even created. You can remove light from a room, but you can’t add darkness to a room. Darkness is not a thing, it is the word we have created to describe the absence of another thing (light).
So, evil is not a thing, it has no “thingness” about it, it has no measurable properties. It is the word that we humans have created to try to describe the absence of God’s Energies when we can feel they are missing.
The Philokalia quotes St. Diadochus of Photiki:
Evil does not exist by nature, nor is any man naturally evil, for God made nothing that was not good. When in the desire of his heart someone conceives and gives form to what in reality has no existence, then what he desires begins to exist. We should therefore turn our attention away from the inclination to evil and concentrate it on the remembrance of God; for good, which exists by nature, is more powerful than our inclination to evil. The one has existence while the other does not, except when we give it existence through our actions.
So why does a loving God allow evil?
If evil is simply the absence or twisting of God’s Energies, why does he allow them to be twisted?
As Archbishop Kallistos Ware said in the Orthodox Way, “Evil is the twisting of what is in itself good. Evil resides not in the thing itself, but in our attitude toward the thing – that is to say, in our will.”
One example is authority. I believe that authority is a good thing from God. However, it is often abused and twisted. A leader is meant to serve. But we see how twisted it can become when people rule out of fear or a desire to control. Another example is having resources to acquire enough to fulfill one’s needs. However, hording and greed are evil.
So, in short, the answer to the above question is that God created us with free will, which in turn allows us to twist and distort what was meant for good. That of course begs another question:
Why did God create us with free will, or why isn’t it more restrictive?
By definition, free-will is not restrictive, or else it is not free will. So, it is either something we have or we do not have. There isn’t an in between.
The reason God gave us free will is because of love. We could never give or receive genuine love if we had no free will. Love is inherently risky. It reminds me of the movie Bruce Almighty.
The above video shows Bruce speaking to “God” regarding his frustration over his girlfriend leaving him. He has all of this power, but he cannot force the woman he wants to fall in love with him. And if he could, then it wouldn’t be love anyway.
We are all given free will, and with it we have committed the most horrible atrocities that have surely made the heavens weep, and we have completed the most beautiful acts of love and sacrifice that have made mankind and the heavens rejoice. Love is risky.
Was it worth it though?
For some, it may seem that it wasn’t worth the risk. There’s too much pain, too much heart-ache, too much evil. I can understand that sentiment. Yet, because I have experienced deep love from God and others in this life, I can begin to grasp why the Creator of life made us with free will.
I’m not sure any great or clever argument will help someone see differently who feels free will isn’t worth it. It is something we must come to know with our heart, and the only way to do so is to open ourselves to the Energies of God, namely love and trust.
Love is something we must experience. It is not a rational argument. So, I can only invite you to join me in the quest of finding love and connecting with the Divine Energies. When you catch a glimpse of that connection, I can assure you, that you will still see all of the evil in the world. In fact, it will probably grieve you even more. But you will begin to experience and witness love in a way that not only enables you to bare the pain of the world, but heals you and makes you whole. In turn, you may be given the grace to begin healing the world around you.
See my follow up post here: How to cleanse the world of evil
This is a shorty story I wrote about one of my greatest struggles: living in the present moment. While many people wrestle with the past, the future brings me anxiety. Learning to be present is perhaps one of the most important steps toward mastering prayer and contemplation and experiencing the presence of God.
Theophany, sometimes called Epiphany, is upon us (Богоявление in Russian, Θεοφάνεια in Greek). The sixth of January is the official date that the baptism of Christ is celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox Church. It is not to be confused with the Western holiday also called Epiphany which is a celebration of the magi presenting the baby Christ with their gifts.
The word Theophany means “Revelation of God;” Continue reading Theophany Icon Explained
I used to think that I was a terrible, or at best, mediocre writer. I’ve written hundreds of songs, but sitting down and writing sentences was intimidating. About four years ago, my wife began to encourage me with my writing. It started slowly, just a blog every once in a while, but I began to enjoy the writing process.
In late 2010, I compiled several of my writings into a short book Continue reading Imagination and Mystery
I’m hoping the dust settles soon
It seems we are stuck in this perpetual cycle of anti-establishment. Our culture feeds on it, and encourages revolutionary figures. Look at most of our heroes and superheroes in American society featured in movies, TV, and the news. They are often people who work alone and battle the establishment.
We also hold to the Great Apostasy Theory, even if subconsciously, in order to justify our independence. Continue reading Scripture, Authority, and Tradition Part 9
Revolutions and Apostasies
As discussed in my previous post, for every revolution or reformation in the church, there is a counter-reformation. For the past five hundred years, thousands of groups have popped up exclaiming, “Aha! We finally got it! This is the New Testament Church!” Of course all of that begs the question: why should I believe that you are the one who finally got it right? Isn’t there a bit of arrogance in that assumption? Continue reading Scripture, Authority, and Tradition Part 8
The Radical Reformation
“Every revolution carries within it the seeds of its own destruction.” Frank Herbert, Dune.
Bucking the establishment
Very quickly after Martin Luther officially began the Protestant Reformation, further reformations broke out. Many folks felt that Martin Luther did not go far enough because he respected some church authority and tradition. Groups were emerging who felt that after 1,500+ years, they were the only ones who finally got the Bible right. This movement was called the Radical Reformation. These groups would continue to split and schism, sometimes within a few years of forming. Now we have thousands of denominations that fall under the Protestant umbrella.
Why is it that we are so prone to splitting? Continue reading Scripture, Authority, and Tradition Part 7
The Protestant Reformation
This has been the hardest post in the whole series for me to write. I’ve changed it and edited it so many times because I have mixed feelings regarding the Reformation. From a historical/theological perspective, it was an act of rebellion. The church fathers, such as Ignatius of Antioch who was a church leader during the time of the apostles, considered rebellion against a bishop to be rebellion against God.
From the earliest days of the church, submission to church authority was important. But when you consider the state of the Roman Catholic West Continue reading Scripture, Authority, and Tradition Part 6
The East-West Schism
Before progressing any further, I want to briefly review the Great Schism of 1054, aka the East-West Schism as it helps us to better understand what laid the groundwork for the Protestant Reformation. In short, the Christian Church was one Church for the first one thousand years. They had some issues including Arianism and Gnosticism pop up every now and then, but the church as a whole stuck together and weathered through difficulties. Continue reading Scripture, Authority, and Tradition Part 5
Five additional thoughts on the early church and the New Testament
In my prior posts, I discussed the early church and the canonization process. I want to mention a few observations I have made in my studies that I feel are important in understanding the context in which the New Testament (NT) was written:
- As we can see from a study of church history, the Bible is actually a product of church tradition. Continue reading Scripture, Authority, and Tradition Part 4