Christianity and the One-Storey Universe – Where Do We Begin?

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I read an interesting article today on a blog for those who are “de-converting” or in some sense trying to get over their religious past. For some of my readers it may come as a surprise that I find this interesting – but I find it deeply fascinating. I do not think that those who find themselves in that position are terribly different than myself or many others that I know. I do not think that they are misfits who have fallen off the wagon of faith. In many cases I find that they have asked questions similar to my own (over the years). They have come, generally, to different conclusions, but I think some of this is on account of the experiences and opportunities that have separated us rather than radically different hearts.

This particular article shared the insight that a particular post-believer shared in a group discussion that gave some account of how he made sense of the world without belief in God:

A couple of years ago, as I was shaving one morning before going to work, I was thinking about a book I’d been reading on evolution. I have some educational background in biology, and I started thinking about some of what I remembered about the molecular basis for life — the fact that we (and the living things all around us) are mind-bogglingly elaborate constructions, assembled from raw materials drawn from the environment by the cells that comprise us. Beyond this, we each begin life in the form of a single cell that contains all the information needed to drive a developmental process over many years that eventually leads to conscious beings capable of experiencing love, and beauty, and wonder. In one revelatory instant I realized ! — whether or not God exists, our existence is a wonder. As I thought about this, it became clear to me that although many of us spend much of our lives in “the fog of the ordinary,” feeling that each day is pretty much like the last and wishing for something more, we are in fact swimming in, and even composed of, a sea of wonder. I developed a strong conviction that this is actually the more accurate way of viewing our circumstances.

There is much that separates my own faith from this particular statement – except there are significant things that we share in common. To say that “our existence is a wonder,” is a far more significant statement to me than many religious formulae espoused by many. It comes, first of all, closer to the place where we live and, indeed, where we truly encounter God, than most abstracted statements of doctrine. It is as St. Gregory of Nyssa said:

Ideas create idols; only wonder leads to knowing.

For someone, whether they believe in God or not, to look at the world and realize that they are “swimming in, and even composed of, a sea of wonder,” is far closer to the revelation of God in Christ than a book full of religious syllogisms. And it is much the place we have to begin if we are to live Christian lives in a One-Storey Universe.

The phrase in the Psalms, sung at every Vespers, “O Lord, how manifold are Thy works, in wisdom hast Thou made them all,” is a statement of pure wonder and, when properly voiced, not a description of a two-storey universe. There is nothing secular in such a statement.

The wonder of a Christian is that the “wonder” of this world is, in fact, the act of a good God who has made everything in wisdom. It is the place where the good God became incarnate and rescued this wonder from the darkness of non-being and has made possible a wonder that is itself a transfiguration of the wonder of this world.

My journey in Christ has revealed to me the wonder of this world day by day and the beauty of this wonder has sustained me through difficult days. I accept the promise that the end of all things will be more wonderful than I can imagine, but it is the daily wonder that I find all about me that sustains me through the day.

When I read a well-stated description of the inner life of one who now considers themselves to be a non-believer I do not despair at their lack of faith, but rejoice that here someone has still seen the wonder of the world and believe that this is truly an act of grace, a gift of God, whether acknowledged or not. And I know that without that same wonder the life of a believer can become a cold set of lifeless doctrinal formulae that cannot do more than dazzle our reasoning. We cannot live our life in our heads, whatever name we call it. We must live our lives in the fullness of our being, which requires that we live it in the place of wonder.

It is in this place that the life of a Christian must begin – if ever he is to live where he is and not in a fantasy.

Comments

  1. artisticmisfit says

    Thank you for this beautiful post, Father Stephen. You wouldn’t believe how many I know with your namesake. I take that as a message. A martyr is someone who has seen something. I believe that anyone who is attempting to live out their Orthodox faith in today’s post-modern post-Christian world is a martyr. And I totally agree with you about a sense of wonder being the mustard seed of faith. Sometimes it seems that the honest agnostics have more faith than the self righteous Orthodox, forgive me. I also like what you said about deconverting. I would call it unconverting save for that little story in the Gospel about the dog that returns to its own vomit. I would apologize for that language too, but its in the Bible. Anyways, it is apparent we are forbidden to return to our old ways if we