Where Is God in All of This? God in Providence

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.”

55 comments:

  1. Sorry Father, you lost me. In your comment:
    “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.”

    When I read Hebrews 12:4, I’m not struck by passivity:
    You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin

    What gives here?

  2. In the face of every contradiction, we confess, “Nevertheless, I see His hand.”

    Very difficult. Much like seeing His image in the face of my enemies. Lord have mercy!

  3. Excellent comments and a much needed perspective. I also shared your essay with a friend who complained he had too much to do. Interestingly, we seem to have either too much or too little to do–never, just enough to do.

  4. There is at least one Marine Recruit and a few buddies who have pondered God’s Providence over the past few months. In letters to (and discussions with) that grandson, I have attempted to describe (not explain) signs of God’s Providence in his past and ongoing life. Thank you for past blogs, which have been most helpful, Father Stephen.

    Please pray that his faith in God is growing even now as he finishes “the Crucible”, a three-day test of his training, stamina and endurance.

  5. Thank you for this reflection, Fr Stephen. It is particularly helpful to bring my focus to God’s Providence in the context of contradictions and the expression of Divine Energies in those contradictions as an opportunity to look beyond the plausible and to go deeper beyond the surface. I will continue to contemplate this and ask for grace to hold such faith in my heart.
    And I appreciate the description of the distinction between passive resignation and active faith in Providence. Behaviorally, from the ‘outside’ it might look the same, but to say ‘Nevertheless I see His Hand’ and to express real gratitude for all things are distinctive attributes belonging to faith. Thank you for this Fr Stephen.

  6. Father Stephen,
    Is it correct to say God’s will and His Providence are the same thing? Could these terms be interchanged and if not would you please explain the difference?
    It wasn’t until I entered the Orthodox Church that I came across the word Providence so frequently. For some reason Protestants don’t use it nearly as often. That is why I want to be sure I am understanding the term correctly.
    I will also look into Alexander Golitzin’s Mystagogy if you think it would be helpful.
    Thank you much, Father.

  7. Thank you Father for this post. It is a good reminder that God is with us and yet we have to reach out to Him ourselves. I especially like your point about replacing a besetting sin with action that is ;positive. It is hard to find time to sin when we replace our besetting sins with prayer, worship, visiting the sick or any other of the many small things we can do.

  8. Paula,
    Abp. Alexander’s book is a difficult read – lots of Greek in it. Just a head’s up.

    In general, God’s Providence and His will are pretty interchangeable, though they are not the same thing. You could say that God’s Providence is directed by God’s will. And here’s where things get a bit thick: When we talk about people, we think of the person and their action as two different things. When we speak about God, Who God is (in His essence) and What God does (His energies), are one. God’s actions (energies) are also God.

  9. I particularly like putting people who have injured me on my prayer list asking for the Lord’s blessings upon them. It really works for getting rid of angst over previous affronts. It changes them too which I find amazing.

  10. My mother recently passed. I have had a struggle with family members whose coldness is out of bounds of what I think is normal, expressed in several dimensions. (I am resigned to the fact that I cannot change this.) Thank you for the reminder that with God all things become somehow transfigured. Acceptance sounds easy but what a hard struggle.

  11. I cannot think of anything within the realm of the theological tradition with which I’ve had a harder time over the years than with Providence. As a young man, it felt utterly contrary to freedom and I could barely discuss the topic. I argued a lot with my father-in-law about it (he was right).

    It is not meant to explain evil, much less to excuse it. It does say, however, that evil does not get the last word. I’ve liked Tolkein’s imagery (in his own fantasy world) in which evil is an introduction of a false melody into God’s song, but which God somehow manages to incorporate and bring back into the proper form.

    I am convinced that, to a degree, the knowledge of God is found in contradiction (paradox, etc.) – or it seems to present itself in that way. The contradictions within Providence are those of the Cross. Nothing could be more evil than killing God. And yet. But who among the disciples guessed? The Theotokos, surely. St. John, perhaps.

    For me, the hunger is to know God, truly participatory knowledge. I think it can only be found by pressing deeper into the mystery of Providence. To say, “Nevertheless,” and to walk ahead.

  12. Finding out my husband of fourteen years is currently being unfaithful with at least 2, possibly four or more women, and is deeply involved with hardcore material… And then having the thought that Christ is allowing me a great and terrible intimacy with Him. Is this an example of what you mean?

  13. Father, what a powerful and illuminating reply. Thank you so very much. It’s memorable: “evil does not get the last word.” And it’s a bit like jazz… You remind me, too, that for the Byzantines and the classical world, it was all about that paradox! So much here in your reply, and of course, for me the Theotokos really is a personal answer and help in “nevertheless” and walking ahead. Very grateful!

  14. Providence is a gift from a loving God that loves His children and bestows gifts upon us that we did not earn and do not deserve., Praise God from Whom all blessing flow

  15. Thank you Father for answering my question. Your point about God’s essence and His actions being one, is thick…I like that, and will keep it in mind.
    Also, thank you for the head’s up on Abp. Alexander’s book. I’ll pass on that for now, as it would take me too long and I have plenty else to read.
    Thank you….great post and comments.

  16. Hi Father
    The essay does not address a key issue. A woman (or man) may ask, was my rape at 4 years old by my father God’s will?
    Thanks
    Randy

  17. Anonymous,
    First, no discussion of Providence will seem useful when you are in the midst of such pain. The one thing I would understand in your situation is that God has not abandoned you, nor is He the cause of your husband’s terrible acts. More importantly, this evil will not win or destroy the good He is working despite the evil choices we make. May God have mercy on us!

  18. Randy,
    No doubt, I did not address that properly. St. John of Damascus makes the careful distinction between God’s Providence and our free-will. God’s Providence is His good will sustaining us and always moving His creation towards union with Him. Our free-will throws up all kinds of terrible things. But the terrible things that are done do not become Lord’s of the universe (or we would all be destroyed).

    God’s Providence, however, is not the coercion of His creation. God’s Providence is the Cross. Where is God in the rape of a 4 year old? He was being raped. In the Cross, Christ enters into the very midst of every sin, every evil ever done. Ultimately, He tramples down “death by death.” His Cross destroys the rape, etc. And this mystery is never explainable in rational terms. But I have lived it and know that such things can be destroyed – and are destroyed in the Cross.

    On the other hand, if we insist on thinking about God’s work in terms of coercive control (“Why doesn’t He do something?”) then the puzzle of life will just destroy us and leave us in despair. There is no understanding of any of this except in the mystery of the Cross.

  19. Where is God in the rape of a 4 year old? He was being raped. In the Cross, Christ enters into the very midst of every sin, every evil ever done.
    Very heavy, Father…very heavy.
    I have a list of “thanks” I give to God every morning. One of them says “thank you Father for having condemned sin in His flesh”.
    Who can explain these things but by The Cross?
    So much to think about. God’s love is beyond comprehension…

  20. How deeply true it is that solely through the profound mystery of the Cross will man ever be capable of preserving the vision of God’s good providence – working for our eternal salvation. This is utterly true despite all those seemingly opposite arguments springing up in us, founded upon our looking at the overwhelming “wind and the waves” (Matthew 14:30) of the tribulations that befall us, rather than the ‘telos’ of all, that is Christ. He comes to us upon those waves…
    We therefore suffer from excessive short-sightedness and unfaithfulness when, behind the tribulations that befall us, (all of them, whether brought about from this that or the other), we fail to see God’s providence ministering to our salvation. Moreover, we are clearly also then forgetting that it was through tribulations (His Passion) that He Himself enabled our salvation.

    Furthermore, we ought to remember that an untested, un-tempted person is like a boat that one can’t even trust to sail. If we have not been tested with great trials and tribulations, we cannot even trust our own selves to remain firmly united to Christ. We will all be tempted from those who surround us, from the cruelty of life, from illnesses and from the wickedness of people. If we do not overcome all these, then we are not even at the beginning of the spiritual course. Only once we have tried these and remained in Christ can we have some confidence in ourselves.
    An untested and inexperienced man or woman can find themselves in front of the devil and think it’s Jesus. They’ll tell him something and he’ll instantly fall for it because he lacks experience. He can fall into ignorance, accusation, pain, grief, frustration, through inexperience.

    Besides, even the mere ease with which we become intensely attached to this [ultimately futile] world –and admittedly forget our Creator– is one very good reason, perhaps even reason enough to make sense of all those apparently meaningless tribulations that can make life horrifying: they can rekindle our yearning for-nothing-other-than-the-only-One-that-can-never-betray-us, Christ.

  21. Thank you for this enlightening post. And I want to thank Anonymous and Randy for their very personal and painful questions. Your answers to them, Fr. Stephen, have helped me clear away some cobwebs in my own reflections about evil and the depravity in this world. The Cross…it’s all about The Cross. Thank you.

  22. I have come to see the sin we commit in our Free Will being analogous to a hand grenade. When we sin we pull the pin and toss it on the floor. We may or may not be personally hurt by it but we hurt many around us, many who are utterly innocent. Sin, therefore, disrupts communion and introduces lasting affects into the world. The sins I have committed in my life will have an effect on my great, great grandchildren; people I will never meet in this world. Sin is contrary to the Providence of God and what never ceases to amaze me is how He takes our sin and reworks it for Good. As I look back at my life, I can easily see all the sin and hurt I have committed and yet, I am very aware of how the Lord has taken my brokenness and made me into something better, not just for my own good (which I am eternally grateful for) but for Him to use to work in others lives.

  23. It seems to me that without the Cross there is no liberation, no defeat of the strong man. Without our participation in God in the face of evil (as followers of Christ who led the way for us) there is no healing of the world. God shares the work with us and invites us into the struggle. How could the Eucharist exclude the Cross from Resurrection and the fullness of His life for us? (Sorry I hope that makes sense to others from my “shorthand speak.”)

  24. Fr Stephen,
    I have read the biblical passage many times and it wasn’t until the synchronicity of these last articles and this article and thread of comments that the words, ‘Christ became sin’ has gained so much substance.

    I am deeply indebted to Paula’s first question, to Anonymous and to Randy for your questions, and Father Stephen’s responses.

    Anonymous, God bless you with strength and peace. Thank you for your willingness to share your circumstances and questions.

  25. I get what you’re saying Janine….we can not partake of Resurrection Life by bypassing our cross. The Eucharist in which we receive at every Divine Liturgy is done in remembrance of this. He did say “follow me”. Yes?

    Anonymous, such a very painful and heavy cross. May God continue to heal…and our Mother too…She knows your pain….

  26. Dee,
    Yes. I think that we have become accustomed to thinking of Jesus doing one thing on the Cross – “one and done” – “sins are paid for, now it’s time to get back to heaven…” or something like that. We fail to see that the Cross is only the last part of the Incarnation. He “became what we were, yet without sin.” He doesn’t Himself commit sin, but, to become what we were, He took upon Himself the sins of the whole world – always, throughout all time. And that is fulfilled on the Cross. On the Cross He says, “It is finished.” I think this means more than “the dying on the Cross is finished.” It’s the whole thing – His total and complete union with us – completed and fulfilled by dying just as we die.

    And then, (and only then) He tramples down death by death and raises us up with Himself. In every place of sin, Christ enters into it and takes it on Himself that He might destroy it and heal us. It is the path of self-emptying love.

  27. Very beautifully said, thank you so much. I ask for His grace to live this self-emptying love.

  28. Thank you, Paula. Yes, He did.

    I don’t see how judgment is possible without taking on the burden of our own captivity to the evil that informs our world of its “reality.” In this way death is defeated. Evil doesn’t have the final word, as Father said. It’s the way that transcendence becomes possible.

  29. Randy and Anonymous: My wife was sexually assualted numerous times by her school bus driver when she was 9, her father beat her, her first husband beat her and cheated on her with multiple women; her second husband cheated on her and plotted to murder her. She had to raise five children through it all with little to no money. God was with her, providing for her and her children sharing her suffering and comforting her. At least that is what she tells me. For ten years He stood in as her husband. Eventually He led us to each other and the Church. She struggles still with forgiveness at times but she works at it and she fits her name: Merry.

    When she first came with me to my parish and saw the icon of Christ Enthroned above the altar, she saw the same man who comforted her as she hid from her father when she was five.

    She credits Jesus for pulling her through all of the tragedy, evil and pain she has unjustly experienced in her life. She loves Him deeply and everytime she looks at me and smiles I see Him.

  30. Thank you Michael. Please tell Merry she has a sister out here who gets it. The Mother of God was with me too, even all those years ago.

  31. I commend to all on the subject of Providence, the last section of the small book by David Bentley Hart, The Doors of the Sea, starting at page 82. Wonderful complement to Fr. Stephen’s post here and to this thread…

  32. Father, in your comment to Dee you say “In every place of sin, Christ enters into it and takes it on Himself that He might destroy it and heal us. It is the path of self-emptying love.” I once saw a poster of a man shooting up some drug and directly behind him was Jesus crouched down leaning over him…and the arm he was injecting the drug into was not his arm, but Jesus’…His face was full of pain. It’s a picture you can’t forget. Many would be put off by such a picture of Christ…but I understand it now…especially after our conversation here. And especially because I was that man in the picture. That was many painful years ago. It’s no wonder I cry when I think of His love. The scripture that gets me the most…and always get tearful…is the Good Shepard. I have a picture on my wall of Christ standing on the edge of a cliff, it’s dark and cloudy, and a big raven is flying about. Right below Him He is reaching for His lost sheep…that sheep is staring intently at Him and nothing else. Yes, in every which way, He took my sin and saved me.
    We all have a story here, don’t we. Such a God we serve.

  33. Janine, you do indeed have a sister who totally gets it. I actually met our holy mother in person once too. My baby son had died at birth and I was told I could never have more children. My 3 yr old son, I had nearly died having , was grieving terribly too. I was in a Catholic church -Our Lady of Guadalupe in Topeka, Kansas , feeling so much grief it was overwhelming me. I heard this beautiful womans voice telling me it was for a reason, and someday i would know why. I looked up, and She was standing there-holding my baby in her arms. Almost 47 yrs ago, and tears still flow at Her intense love and compassion for all of us! My own family is pretty crazy and seriously a mess. My mom has five children, one boy and four girls. She is obsessed with my brother .He and his wife and kids are obsessed with money and things. Long story but very dysfunctional family. My kids – yes two more i gave birth to that were absolutely medical miracles and gifts from a very loving God- are all great. 8 grandkids too, and 4 greats. They love Michael but seem to think I’ve joined a cult. Lol. No, I am simply home. Where I belong. I’m sure we have many things in common. Welcome to the family here my/our new sister.

  34. Ha ha! (There’s a laugh of recognition of more than just the holy and great parts of the story.) God bless you Merry. And to all as well — and thank you all

  35. Thank you to all who have shared. Yes, Christ is faithful even when we are faithless. Some of the stories here are wonderful, seeing that our Lord can bring good out of tragedy and hurt. It is impossible to live 70 years without suffering. We suffer with Christ or without Him. With Christ, His sustaining hands always undergird us.
    My neighbor is on hospice. I’ve shared Christ with him, but he thinks he’s okay. He told me he isn’t afraid of meeting God; he hasn’t robbed any banks or killed anyone. He has really suffered in life…alcohol, fighting, 5 wives, broken children, yet he clings to self. I pray. Suffering without Christ is doubly tragic. “Yet you refuse to come to me and have life.”

  36. Thank you everyone, especially Fr. Stephen, for a wonderful and enlightening discussion. Please keep writing, so I may continue learning.

  37. Father,
    Because of this article (and comments) as I go about the days I find myself in thought being more cognizent of Providence. This morning I read a little homily about the words in scripture “”What sort of man is this Whom even the winds and the sea obey?” It goes on to say :
    ” He stood before men and rebuked the animated wind and unbridled sea in order to dispel the confusion of men as though the winds and the sea are moved and calmed either by blind chance or by some evil power; to reveal the truth for ever that the wise and beneficial power of the Creator directs and commands all the elements according to His Providence.
    It was here I stopped and thought, asking myself questions about God’s hand in nature. The homily also says ” what kind of miracle is it that His own created things obey Him?” So yes, He makes the sun to shine, the grass to grow, the rains to come…and the earthquakes, tsunami’s, hurricanes too. That part is not hard to understand. We readily accept the sunshine and rain, but the questions come with the natural disasters. The homily says He directs and commands the elements according to His Providence. It is easier to understand Providence in conjunction with mankind, as there is synergy and the element of freedom of choice. Nature doesn’t have these things. He directs it. It is here where I can surely understand the question of why God sends natural disasters. To say He “allows” them seems to mollify our indignation of these tragedies. No, He sends them. Then I try to imagine a world without natural disasters. I can’t imagine that either! The effects of evil are not bound to only one place, for instance, just mankind. Creation groans. I also know God as Love, as Good and certainly victorious. His “mind” is nothing of the sort like ours. He does not react vindictively as we do. So Father, would you help clarify my thoughts on Providence in the realm of nature? What is a sound way to think about Him sending disasters, aside from the fact that our world is fallen and it is ultimately for our good… or is that what we should leave it at and say, as you said above, “.. say, “Nevertheless,” and to walk ahead.”…that “the knowledge of God is found in contradiction” and we are to keep pressing into this mystery?
    [By the way, Karen, if you’re reading this…I see that the book you commended by DBH addresses this question. Thanks for that.]

    Thank you so very much Father…your work is such a blessing.

  38. Paula,
    Yes, contradiction. ..It helps me to know that suffering love (Christ’s ) surrounds and sustains us and all things. If I had not the love of Christ to fall back on, I do not know what I’d do. Children sometimes teach us. Our oldest daughter was 11 when we went to Mexico. We uprooted her from what had been a very stable environment. She lost 10 pounds the first month there. She cried every morning before going to school and every night before bed. One night, my wife and I were sitting with her by her bed. She said to us, “I don’t know what I’d do without Jesus.” That’s it, isn’t it? That’s why the martyrs could endure what they did…”I will never leave you nor forsake you….” Christ does hear. Our friends of 40 years have a 47 year old daughter. Three years back she was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkins lymphoma. She suffered much through chemo. Two months ago she was in terrible pain again, in her back. Her family feared the cancer had returned. Hundreds were praying for her. After the 2nd tissue biopsy, results came back yesterday…no sign of cancer nor infection! Surgeon said it looked like scar tissue. Could it have been cancer again? Of course. And we would have to thank God, through pain, for all things. As archimandrite Zacharias has written, while in hospital he started praying, “God, I glorify you for all things.” He said that after a week of praying this, he didn’t want to go home, as he was so blessed…again through pain came praise. We see the jumbled threads on one side of the tapestry (Our pain and suffering). Yet flipped over a wondrously beautiful picture is revealed (Christ’s glorious Providence at work). Our praise and thanksgiving help us to keep turning the tapestry of life over to the right side.

  39. Dean,
    Thanks so much! I don’t know what I’d do either without His love. I’d be twice dead!
    Your 10 year old daughter…out of the mouth of babes. How precious. Children are so much more accessible to Him in their innocence. They haven’t accumulated the baggage yet…but she had enough on her at that time to acknowledge her Savior.
    I appreciate the examples of your friend’s daughter and archimandrite Zacharias…he didn’t want to leave the hospital in the midst of experiencing joy through pain!
    Thanks so much Dean…I will keep these things in my heart.

  40. No matter how ften God provides for me, I still am surprised every time it happens.
    I am not sure what that says about me. I can only say that despite the hardness of my heart, He finds ways.

  41. Perhaps Michael it is a way of keeping us humble that we don’t see Providence coming. Otherwise we might get the idea we deserve it, which we don’t.

  42. I think it is Saint Isaac the Syrian how wisely exclaims that, ‘without tribulations befalling us, God’s providence cannot be perceived’…
    This is challenging to a modern mindset, as we would rather assume that a lack of difficulties and pain is what shows providence, [which it does, but, it does it in a manner that can still be challenged and questioned by an unbeliever] while the saint, in effect, states quite the opposite. It’s God’s strength in weakness if you like – taking tribulations to be synonymous to ‘weaknessess’ here. It’s also a little like CS Lewis’ saying that, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
    Of course this might be visible only with the benefit of hindsight to the person being tested.

  43. Dino…as we speak, I was just reading about St. Ephraim when I switched over to this blog just to “check”. Thank you…I will go back and read more closely…
    Your point that without tribulations God’s providence can not be perceived … that in our weakness God is our strength….so very contrary and such foolishness to the world, is so very true.

  44. It’s Isaac the Syrian. He often makes this point, in his typical style of simultaneous eloquence and succinctness.

    His firm foundation is that, as far as God is concerned we ought to remember that, “as a copious spring could not be stopped with a handful of dust, so the Creator’s compassion cannot ever be conquered by the wickedness of creatures.” But as far we ourselves are concerned, the Saint goads us on be reminding us that, “nobody can acquire real renunciation save him that is determined in his mind to bear troubles with pleasure. …The more you proceed on the way towards the city of the Kingdom and approach it’s neighbourhoods, this will be the sign: that you meet hard temptations. And the more you approach, the more you will find difficulties.
    …If there is a weak soul which is not able to bear a very hard temptation and God deals meekly with it, then know with certainty that, as it is not capable of bearing a hard temptation, so it is not worthy of a large gift.”

  45. Dino…yes, I got the names mixed up. Thanks for bringing that out.
    And thank you for your words and the words of St. Isaac the Syrian.
    “Hard temptations”…I can sure understand the need for a spiritual guide as we proceed toward “the city”.

  46. This comment you made, Father Stephen, “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.‘“ brought to mind a line from a song I heard a while back. The chorus has a line that says, “Walking through a garden of a thousand burning bushes, looking up to heaven for a sign”. I thought this seemed to illustrate your point well.

  47. Dear Fr. Freeman,

    When you say “On the other hand, if we insist on thinking about God’s work in terms of coercive control (“Why doesn’t He do something?”) then the puzzle of life will just destroy us and leave us in despair. There is no understanding of any of this except in the mystery of the Cross,” my heart resonates with this and I agree with you deep down, but I find there’s a nagging thought somewhere in my head that keeps saying to me, “All this talk of humility and embracing your broken-ness is just rationalization to comfort yourself since you haven’t ‘tried hard enough’ or haven’t yet found the psychological tweak that will enable you to ‘succeed at attaining your goals.’ What about your acquaintances X, Y, and Z who seem to reach their personal targets they set for themselves every time? You’re just trying to justify not being as successful as they!”

    Is this what is meant by “Logismoi?” Should I simply ignore this nagging “mental tape” and will it die off if I keep ignoring it? This kind of second-guessing of myself going on inside my head saps my strength and focus and makes it an uphill battle to practice humility and “sitting with my shame” on a daily basis.

    Do the Fathers have anything to say on this subject? I look forward with eagerness to your reply. Your gracious replies to my questions have given me much hope and strength in the past.

    Thanks once again, Fr. Freeman, for your repeated writings on this core area of Christian ascesis & spirituality.

    -NSP

  48. NSP,
    No doubt there are references in the Fathers that would apply…but not at my hand at the moment. I’ve been in ordained ministry for nearly 38 years. I’ve seen lots of stuff, and some very good people. But I’ve not seen anyone “succeeding” in the sense that we’re discussing. Evangelical churches love to bring in athletes, etc., to provide such examples – how shallow can it get. The measure of “success” in the Kingdom of God can never be judged in this life. Even the saints are only canonized in hindsight. Ignore the logismoi – the devil knows nothing about success.

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