We prove God’s existence by worshiping him and not by advancing so-called proofs. We have here the liturgical and iconographic argument for the existence of God. We arrive at a solid belief in the existence of God through a leap over what seems true, over the Pascalian certitude. According to an ancient monastic saying, “Give your blood and receive the Spirit.”
Paul Evdokimov in The Art of the Icon: A Theology of Beauty
I have been writing and thinking about the “unknowable God” and the “unnecessary God.” These have been but small attempts to give example and expression to what the Church does in the work of “apophatic” theology – a theology which is beyond words – one which cannot be spoken. The quote from Evdokimov’s wonderful book, given above, goes to the heart of things. He fully understands that what we know of God is not something that is subject to rational argument and proof. For God is a living God and not an idea that we can “grasp.” Salvation itself is not such an idea. Though God is utterly beyond our knowing, He has made himself known and the journey we begin towards that knowledge is transformative. To know God in the manner in which he should be known – is to find ourselves knowing in a manner that, in our sin, has been foreign to us. Both who we know and how we know are part of our salvation.
The learning involved in how we know is perhaps the most challenging of all the things we face within the faith in our modern context. For modernity itself has no language nor place for the kind of knowing involved in the Christian journey of faith. Even the meager glimpse that we have of God in our journey is of infinitely more value that the knowing that comes through mere rational consideration.
The great difficulty is the knowledge of God that is proper to the Christian journey of faith, is that is not sought as knowledge, per se. It comes to us as insight, sometimes suddenly and unexpected, but it comes as the fruit of humility and penance in our lives. The proud do not know God for we are told that “God resists the proud.” Humility is a very difficult struggle, for we learn ourselves to be lower than others rather than greater. This is a great mystery for we are surrounded by those whom we would easily judge to be less than ourselves and greater sinners than ourselves. However, in the truth that is revealed by the light of the Kingdom of God, this is simply not the case. That Holy Light reveals us to be less than others and the least worthy of God’s good favor.
This is a great mystery by most if not all objective standards – thus we must abandon such objective standards for it must be that their evidence is not the truth (or not the truth we seek). We seek the excellence within those around us, and if we then judge, we find ourselves beneath them. Only the heart can see such excellence or our own weakness in its presence.
We hate and fear our own failure when it confronts us and scurry about to find something with which to cover our mistakes. This is the scurrying of Adam and Eve as they sought to cover themselves falsely from the presence of God. Humility would embrace such God-given moments (our failures) not to shame ourselves, but because in such moments our hearts are broken and far more able to see God. I also find (sadly) that when such moments come I am easily more aware of my failure than I am of God’s presence – such is my pride.
However, God does not wish to crush us, to break us beyond all recognition. He is, after all, a kind God.
Embrace the failings that come naturally as we are humbled before ourselves and others. Flee from pride and stubbornness. Beware of being “right.” Give thanks for all things, in all circumstances, and always. God will make Himself known.