Somewhere along the years, I gained a useful insight about “doing nothing.” On the whole, it’s the lousiest strategy for living that can be found. We were not created to be passive creatures. Our life is a gift of a good God, but we are not called to be passive recipients.
Anyone who has struggled with a “besetting sin” will understand what I’m saying. Trying to “not” do something is the equivalent of doing nothing. It doesn’t work. There is no “energy” in not doing something. If you want to not do something, then you need to do something else, instead. Nature abhors a vacuum; sin loves inactivity.
And this brings me to thoughts of Providence. Turning your life over to the will of God and understanding that all things are truly in His hands – that the outcome of all things belongs to God – can never be a matter of “passive resignation.” Our anxieties will return in short order and even give birth to resentment.
There are two things that particularly come to mind when contemplating God’s Providence. They are “faith,” and “thanksgiving.” Faith with regard to Providence is not an intellectual exercise. It is not simply convincing yourself that it is true and accepting it as a fact: “I believe in Providence.” That would almost be a useless exercise for the spiritual life. Rather, faith must be active and engaged. I have used Vladimir Lossky’s description of faith before since it seems to capture well what I would describe as active faith.
Lossky describes faith as a “participatory adherence to the presence of Him Who reveals Himself.” As phrases go, this one seems well-designed to make the eyes glaze over. But it is rich in its accuracy. First, it is not passive. A “participatory adherence” is a reaching out, a reaching into, and even a risk-taking loyalty towards the “presence of Him Who reveals Himself.”
A “participatory adherence” towards what God is unfolding in your life and in the world around you is very much a first step in the life of transformation. Moment by moment, it is expressed in the giving of thanks for His goodwill that is at work in all things. We seem to want to find God above or beyond everything happening around us. But, properly understood, everything happening around us is the unfolding of God’s Providence, a manifestation of the work of the “Divine Energies.”
When the phrase “Divine Energies” is invoked, most Orthodox immediately leap to thoughts of the “Uncreated Light.” We think of St. Seraphim’s transfiguration or other such reported phenomena, and even sigh, thinking that such wonders belong to great saints and not to us.
It should be of note that Providence itself is a primary (maybe even the primary) work and manifestation of the Divine Energies.
Pseudo-Dionysius (5th-6th-century a.d.) has much to say on the relationship between Divine Providence and the Divine Energies. Alexander Golitzin, Oxford-trained patristics scholar and Archbishop of Dallas and the South, writes:
Providence, God in extension, is God as revealed, and God as revealed is revealed as “the reality of goodness, the cause of everything which is;” therefore, “one must celebrate the Providence of God as source of good in all its effects.” Cause and ground of all, Providence embraces everything, and everything may therefore be seen as in some sense expressive of it. God may thus be called by any of the names of his creation. His name is every name and no name. …As the super-essence, God is beyond any attribute we may conceive while as Providence, in his energies, he leaves no creature without its proper manifestation of the universal ground of being. (Mystagogy, Kindle Location, 3116).
There are, no doubt, events, and elements in our lives and in the world around us that feel like complete contradictions to God’s good will unfolding. St. John of Damascus makes a distinction between God’s Providence and the actions of our free-will. Nevertheless, even our evil actions do not set God’s Providence aside. The contradictions that we encounter present opportunities to go beyond the merely reasonable or plausible. The acceptance of contradictions, or their contemplation, calls us to an adherence that extends the soul in a manner that transcends the surface of events. Again, this is primarily expressed through giving thanks, always and for all things.
There would be very little life in a soul that merely endured its lot with passive resignation. Christ does not go to the Cross in such a manner. Hebrews says that He went to the Cross for the “joy that was set before Him” (Heb. 12:2). The Cross is deeply embedded in the contradictions of Divine Providence. I often think of the joyful bearing of these contradictions being likened to the nails that fixed Christ to the wood. Our participatory adherence to such things is not a form of masochism – for if we enjoyed the suffering there would be no contradiction!
This is at the very heart of the Orthodox Christian faith. The secularized stories of our modern age are a renunciation of the God made known to us in Jesus Christ. Our own anxieties, born of this secular mythology, are themselves enthralled to the delusion of our own control of history. To confess that Christ is “King and God,” is to acknowledge His Lordship in all things. He is Goodness, Truth, Beauty, Kindness, Mercy – all the names that He makes known to us in creation. In the face of every contradiction, we confess, “Nevertheless, I see His hand.”