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Is living in itself the greatest service to God?


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#1 Jan Sunqvist

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Posted 19 August 2012 - 09:17 PM

I posted a reply to the 'Do monastics ever get lonely? thread with the question 'Does God ever get lonely?'. I am aware of the theology that says that we can never know God in His Essence...

Thinking about these questions, in particular the implication that human experience of loneliness is always the result of 'inner brokeness and separation from God', brought further questions about what movement towards 'theosis' really means. If we have a theology that always implies that our God never sorrows, and by sorrow I don't mean in a human 'needy' way but perhaps in His unique, giving and to us incomprehensible way, then I think this minimizes the gift of human life, both in joy and sorrow and its significance and service to God. Perhaps like His Essence, even the significance of our service to Him may similarly be incomprehensible to us. Does it not seem like so much of religious thought is focused on how what we 'do' hits or misses the mark, and somehow in the process we become less and less aware to what extent simply living on this planet is in itself a gift and and the same time a service?

The reason I am linking this question with those of loneliness/solitude and theosis is that it seems to me that 'theosis' or any kind of spiritual growth of an individual would not be possible without the experience of solitude that comes with awareness of oneself. In that sense, I cannot but wonder to what extent the very common human experience of being alone- the common experience of the sense of no one on this Earth (even among 7 billion of our equals) being able to fully and completely understand the depth of our 'individual' being, could be a reflection of God's own solitude in His uniqueness. To what extent is the very Creation itself not only being given a gift but also invited to serve by its own very existence?

#2 Antonios

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Posted 20 August 2012 - 05:39 AM

To what extent is the very Creation itself not only being given a gift but also invited to serve by its own very existence?


The very word 'gift' implies service. It is a service of love. If life and existence comes from God, Who is Love, then ergo our lives in the service of love brings us existence and life (naturally, by His grace). So indeed, our service to God is our gift to God, our 'creation' offered to Him. In such imitation of God and by such service of love, we attain the Holy Spirit and live lives to a fuller existence, in divine communion with the Almighty and Infinite God.

Edited by Antonios, 20 August 2012 - 05:57 AM.


#3 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 20 August 2012 - 12:46 PM

We are not plants. Our gift of life includes Godlike free will, so it matters how we live, not just that we live.

And only living rightly, in accordance with God's will, is truly living, so we are always either living for God or dying for ourselves.

#4 Owen Jones

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Posted 20 August 2012 - 01:58 PM

When Moses says, Chose Life, it is a certain kind of life -- a life in obedience to and devoted to God. Existence is a quality, not a fact.

#5 Jan Sunqvist

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Posted 20 August 2012 - 02:54 PM

I would say existence is both a quality and a fact.

Sure compared to plants we have free will. But in an absolute sense only God himself has absolute free will. No sinner can choose to sin and not suffer and reap the corresponding consequences. In that sense everyone is a servant of God in an absolute sense, even if and when by sinning he is not a servant of God's will for us not to sin. What's wrong with putting it this way?

#6 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 20 August 2012 - 04:49 PM

Sure compared to plants we have free will. But in an absolute sense only God himself has absolute free will. No sinner can choose to sin and not suffer and reap the corresponding consequences. In that sense everyone is a servant of God in an absolute sense, even if and when by sinning he is not a servant of God's will for us not to sin. What's wrong with putting it this way?


Putting it what way? You seem to want to say that we serve God even by our sinning. But sinning is not living; sinning is dying, it is suicide, and that is not a service to God, for God "desires not the death of a sinner, but that he should live."

#7 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 20 August 2012 - 07:02 PM

I would say existence is both a quality and a fact.

Sure compared to plants we have free will. But in an absolute sense only God himself has absolute free will. No sinner can choose to sin and not suffer and reap the corresponding consequences. In that sense everyone is a servant of God in an absolute sense, even if and when by sinning he is not a servant of God's will for us not to sin. What's wrong with putting it this way?


Sounds a bit too Calvinistic to me and definitely NOT what the Orthodox Church teaches. I think your outlook overlooks the role of synergia. We are not mere puppets of God. Free will is free will or it isn't. We do not have a "limited" free will, which would be an oxymoron.

#8 Myles Lane

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Posted 20 August 2012 - 07:09 PM

Read Job and see that even evil is under authority. Notice that the will of God is never returning empty. Notice how God will not over rule the freedom that he gave us from himself. Notice those things and see that we render service to God in greater or lesser ways depending on our love for him, but even when there is no love there is still an image of the Creator present wether we like it or not, and that is the intrinsic "service" of creation.

Edited by Myles Lane, 20 August 2012 - 07:45 PM.
Typo


#9 Jan Sunqvist

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Posted 20 August 2012 - 07:55 PM

To me, to say that we have absolute free will is as absurd as to say that we have no free will and that everything is predetermined.

#10 Father Stephanos

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Posted 20 August 2012 - 09:15 PM

As our Holy Fathers did, it might help in this discussion to distinguish between τὸ αὐτεξούσιον (self-determination) and ἡ ἐλευθερία (freedom) when examining this matter.

I hope this helps!

With agape in our Lord Jesus Christ,
+ Father Stephanos

#11 Jan Sunqvist

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Posted 20 August 2012 - 09:19 PM

As our Holy Fathers did, it might help in this discussion to distinguish between τὸ αὐτεξούσιον (self-determination) and ἡ ἐλευθερία (freedom) when examining this matter.

I hope this helps!

With agape in our Lord Jesus Christ,
+ Father Stephanos



Yes, this would help clarify!

#12 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 20 August 2012 - 09:45 PM

Does it not seem like so much of religious thought is focused on how what we 'do' hits or misses the mark, and somehow in the process we become less and less aware to what extent simply living on this planet is in itself a gift and and the same time a service? ... To what extent is the very Creation itself not only being given a gift but also invited to serve by its own very existence?


Back to your initial question, I'm still not sure what you're saying, but there's a difference between life and existence. The damned, for example, continue to exist, but we do not call their continued existence "everlasting life." Neither do we call it "service."

The reason I am linking this question with those of loneliness/solitude and theosis is that it seems to me that 'theosis' or any kind of spiritual growth of an individual would not be possible without the experience of solitude that comes with awareness of oneself. In that sense, I cannot but wonder to what extent the very common human experience of being alone- the common experience of the sense of no one on this Earth (even among 7 billion of our equals) being able to fully and completely understand the depth of our 'individual' being, could be a reflection of God's own solitude in His uniqueness.



I believe this is a postmodern and rather Jewish conception of self-awareness, as something necessarily involving estrangement and loneliness. An earlier and more Christian conception is that self-awareness requires the presence and knowledge of another. As Jacobi says, there can be no "I" without a "thou."

The great thing about the Christian Godhead is that it is both "I" and "Thou" — Father and Son and Holy Spirit, who are never without each other and therefore never really lonely. Theosis leads us out of loneliness. As we become more like God, we become more aware of others, especially of the divine Others, and therefore also more aware of ourselves. In Genesis 2, before the creation of Eve, God knew that it was not good for man to be alone, but there is nothing to indicate that Adam knew this. It is only after the creation of Eve that Adam speaks for the first time about his own self.

#13 Owen Jones

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Posted 21 August 2012 - 08:46 AM

It was St. Maximos the Confessor I believe who said, "it is possible to relapse into a state of non-existence." What does this mean? It means that existence is not a fact, but rather we exist only as something, for something. It may sound like just semantic gymnastics, but I think it is a key Orthodox concept. In a sense, being Orthodox means becoming human. When Moses says, choose life, he is not talking about making sure that you eat properly today! He is talking about choosing the path that makes us really human -- children of God. Now, does this mean that no one is of consequence to God who has not yet found God? Heaven forbid! But that is a different issue.

#14 Rick H.

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Posted 21 August 2012 - 11:41 AM

This conversation about 'living' seems to have echoes of both Schliermacher and Zizioulas running through it as both freedom and existence are discussed. There are different modes of existence, there is a necessity of existence.

It seems like we should not have to think very hard to conclude that there are different modes of existence, but all exist. As has been said, "The ultimate challenge to the freedom of the person is the 'necessity' of existence."

One thing that has influenced me over the years is a quote from Zizioulas:

"The tragedy of the biological constitution of man's hypostasis does not lie in his not being a person because of it; it lies in his tending towards becoming a person through it and failing."

In this case, much as Owen says, man does not need a turkey sandwich, but a new constitution--to be constitued/renewed through baptism.

Whether we live in 'the fortress of indivdualism' (the old mode of existence), or in the 'hypostasis of ecclesial existence' (the new mode of existence), or somewhere in between . . . there are different modes of existence and there is the necessity of existence lest we follow the words of Dostoevsky's Kirilov who said "Every man who desires to obtain total freedom must be bold enough to put an end to his life."

But, then again, as Orthodox, we can draw many comparisons between Buber's "I and Thou" and the logic of Orthodox concerning being and communion. Gotta love those Germans.

#15 Jan Sunqvist

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Posted 21 August 2012 - 12:12 PM

Thank you all for the thoughtful comments.



"The ultimate challenge to the freedom of the person is the 'necessity' of existence."


Not sure who is being quoted, but I think this relates very well with the questions I've been asking for a long time. It almost seems to me that really my thinking is two dimensional and I see that something is missing, like an extra dimension that would put things into proper perspective. Take Judas for example. Being one of Christ's own disciples he performed a necessary predestined role for Christ to perform His greatest miracle. Yet Christ said 'It would have been better for that one not to have been born'. Now where is Judas' freedom of existence? Where was his free will? What agonizing suffering, yet with his betrayal, he served the will of God.

#16 Rick H.

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Posted 21 August 2012 - 12:18 PM

"Being as Communion" by John D. Zizioulas (2002)
St Vladimir's Semiary Press, (pg. 42)

#17 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 21 August 2012 - 01:11 PM

Thank you all for the thoughtful comments.

Quotation Originally Posted by Rick H.
"The ultimate challenge to the freedom of the person is the 'necessity' of existence."

Not sure who is being quoted, but I think this relates very well with the questions I've been asking for a long time. It almost seems to me that really my thinking is two dimensional and I see that something is missing, like an extra dimension that would put things into proper perspective. Take Judas for example. Being one of Christ's own disciples he performed a necessary predestined role for Christ to perform His greatest miracle. Yet Christ said 'It would have been better for that one not to have been born'. Now where is Judas' freedom of existence? Where was his free will? What agonizing suffering, yet with his betrayal, he served the will of God.


But this (at least in the way that I understand your words) is not our view of predestination Jan. As explained in St John of Damascus, people always retain their free will. Predestination then refers to how God responds to our free choice whether it be good or bad, and then this is taken up into God's total providential plan. In other words the sin of the person is real, their choice of this sin is real. But in Christ a unique path is provided so that life results through what is death. In other words after Judas's betrayal the disciples are scattered. But through Christ's resurrection they come through this trial and not only recover themselves but find a new bond together as the foundation for what will become the unity of the Church.

Rick- it's just a question and which I brought up a few years ago on the Forum. But having read Zizoulas and those influenced by this view- how could nature and person be opposed in such a manner as if nature represents necessity and person represents freedom? How does this not end up with a schizoid person acting always in self contradictory way? After all in Orthodox understanding- the very reality of the person is rooted in their nature. Which implies (not surprisingly) that in fact human freedom is rooted in nature and expressed through the person.

In Christ
-Fr Raphael

#18 Christina M.

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Posted 21 August 2012 - 01:20 PM

In the Old Testament, when it says that the Lord "hardened Pharaoh's heart", how are we supposed to view that in terms of predestination / free will? I've always wondered about that.

#19 Jan Sunqvist

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Posted 21 August 2012 - 01:33 PM

It is also said that the demon entered Judas in the presence of Christ before he was to do what he was to do. Does this not imply clear God's will/ God's plan? Say Judas chose not to have the demon 'enter' him, or chose to struggle with his passion of greed, or simply ran away from it all, would he have performed a greater service to God? What about the rebuke Christ gave to Peter?

Edited by Jan Sunqvist, 21 August 2012 - 01:50 PM.


#20 Jan Sunqvist

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Posted 21 August 2012 - 01:40 PM

After all in Orthodox understanding- the very reality of the person is rooted in their nature. Which implies (not surprisingly) that in fact human freedom is rooted in nature and expressed through the person.

In Christ
-Fr Raphael


Not sure what you mean by this, Fr Raphael. This to me sounds like a question that can't be reconciled quite so easily. True freedom represents infinity, and nature is concrete, defined and therefore finite. True freedom would also allow for the possibility of true and complete self annihilation, a way out that is not an option in Christian thought. Therefore I can't see how it can be argued that we have free will in an absolute sense, so I can only consider free will in a relative sense.




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