The Orthodox Truth

Eastern Orthodox Christianity

Panentheism Explained — June 29, 2017

Panentheism Explained

Panentheism is a belief system which posits that God exists and interpenetrates every part of nature, and timelessly extends beyond as well. Panentheism is distinguished from pantheism, which holds that God is synonymous with the material universe.

In panentheism, God is viewed as creator and/or animating force behind the universe, and the source of universal truth. This concept of God is closely associated with the Logos as stated in the 5th century BC works of Heraclitus (ca. 535 BC — 475 BC), in which the Logos pervades the cosmos and whereby all thoughts and things originate; e.g., “He who hears not me but the Logos will say: All is one.” A similar statement attributed to Jesus by the John 10:30.

While pantheism asserts that God and the universe are practically the same thing, panentheism claims that God is greater than the universe and that the universe is contained within God. Panentheism holds that God is the “supreme affect and effect” of the universe.

In Eastern Orthodox Christianity, creation is not “part of” God, and the Godhead is still distinct from creation; however, God is “within” all creation, thus the parsing of the word in Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Christianity is “pan-entheism” (God indwells in all things) and not “panen-theism” (All things are part of God but God is more than the sum of all things). This does not mean, however, that the creation is wholly separated from God, because the creation exists in and from the divine energies.

These energies are the natural activity of God and are in some sense identifiable with God, but at the same time the creation is wholly distinct from the divine essence. God creates the universe by His will and from His energies. It is, however, not an imprint or emanation of God’s own essence, the essence He shares pre-eternally with His Word and Holy Spirit. Neither is it a directly literal outworking or effulgence of the divine, nor any other process which implies that creation is essentially God or a necessary part of God. The use of the term “panentheism” to describe the divine concept in Orthodox Christian theology is problematic for those who would insist that panentheism requires creation to be “part of” God.

God is not merely Creator of the universe, as His dynamic presence is necessary to sustain the existence of every created thing, small and great, visible and invisible.[34] That is, God’s energies maintain the existence of the created order and all created beings, even if those agencies have explicitly rejected him. His love for creation is such that He will not withdraw His presence, which would be the ultimate form of annihilation, not merely imposing death, but ending existence altogether. By this token, the entirety of creation is fundamentally “good” in its very being, and is not innately evil either in whole or in part. This does not deny the existence of spiritual or moral evil in a fallen universe, only the claim that it is an intrinsic property of creation. Sin results from the essential freedom of creatures to operate outside the divine order, not as a necessary consequence of having inherited human nature.

 

Advertisements
Orthodox Phenomenology —

Orthodox Phenomenology

A Reformed Christian man and an Orthodox Christian woman are looking at an icon together of the Baptism of Christ called, “The Theophany.” The Reformed Christian states, “I have read about this icon and so I think I understand it. The dove represents the Holy Spirit and the ray of light from above represents God’s declaration: ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with Whom I am well pleased.’ Christ is standing in the river as a symbol of deliverance from the murky waters of death. The small male figure on the left symbolizes the Jordan and the female figure on the right represents the Red Sea, both of which God parted to bring His people to the promised land. It is an allegory of the new life we have by Christ’s death and resurrection. Also, Christ is making the symbol of His name in His right hand and thereby is blessing us to follow in His example, thus He’s ordaining baptism as a practice for the Church.”

The Orthodox Christian turns to her Reformed friend and says, “Everything you described is correct. Yet when I looked at this icon, the first thing I experienced was profound humility. If the Divine Logos submitted Himself to ritual cleansing, how much more so must I? My baptism was only the start of my journey in needing to be obedient to God so that I may by His grace become purified of my sins. Christ is looking at me from the icon to invite me to the same fellowship He has within the Trinity. Tears come to my eyes as I’m reminded of how much I stray from a fuller life in communion with Him, and so I am led to once again seek forgiveness and repent. I want to be worthy of wearing the same pure white garment Christ wears in this icon—the robe that is promised to those who have become ‘washed by the blood of the Lamb.’”

The above vignette is offered to give an example of a difference between a Reformed and an Orthodox theological approach to epistemology. Neither person above is wrong in their encounter with the icon, but their experience and expression of it is initially different. The Reformed Christian viewed the icon from his mind, whereas the Orthodox Christian viewed it from her heart. After they stated their observations, I’m sure each could relate to one another’s perspectives—the Reformed gentleman could also personally and relationally experience the icon; and the Orthodox lady could also reflect on the symbols via her reasoning. Yet, their initial evaluation, their first perceptual engagement with the icon to answer the question “What does this mean?” is different.

Epistemological Stances

Knowing how sensitive some readers might be, I want to state from the onset that I’m only generalizing: not all Reformed are one way and not all Orthodox are another. I’m not making any kind of absolute or exclusionist claim. What I wish to convey is a subtle difference in theological approach. For the Orthodox Christian, objective understanding tends to take a secondary position to a subjective relationship (e.g., “one’s prayer life informs one’s theology” to paraphrase Evagrius); whereas for the Reformed Christian subjective experience tends to take a back seat to objective reason (for an interesting paper on Calvin and reason see www.jsrhee.com/ST/Reason.htm). This is not to say that a relationship with God is unimportant to the Reformed because that would be absurd! Of course Reformed Christians endeavor to walk in fellowship with their Creator. Nor am I stating that the Orthodox are irrational in their theology which would be equally as absurd. Rather, the difference is one of underpinning and emphasis. The Reformed tend to focus more on a scholarly, analytical, catagorical engagement with the truth; whereas the Orthodox tend to promote more of an organic, synthetic, apophatic encounter. Yet, both want to “know” God.

For the Reformed Christian, their theological approach is based on a Western scholastic epistemology—from Augustine to Aquinas to Calvin to Sproul. The Reformed epistemology is informed by a singular source: the Holy Bible. The evidence for their truth is primarily based on logical consistency within a mostly literal rendering of Biblical accounts. Though secondary sources—archeology, linguistics, cultural anthropology, expert commentary, community consensus, etc—are taken into consideration, each individual determines their theological positions based on what they have reasoned for themselves as being true. Changes in theological position occur when “new”—relative to the individual—evidence is discovered or more logical arguments are deemed valid.

For the Orthodox Christian, their theological approach is based on an Eastern phenomenological epistemology —from the Cappadocian Fathers to Chrysostom to Palamas to Romanides. The epistemology is informed by a pluralism of sources: the Holy Bible, as well as the teachings of Orthodox Fathers and Mothers, Ecumenical Council decisions, the episcopacy within apostolic succession, the Church’s hymns, and the consensus of the laity—grouped together this is the “Tradition” of the Orthodox Church. This Tradition is corporately experienced through the practices of the Church rather than systematically taught. No particular individual can determine his theological position other than his initial decision to become Orthodox. Changes in theological position can only occur if the “organic whole” of Tradition concurs or one decides to leave the Church.

Intellectual Foolishness

A priest told me that when a new person checks out his parish and inquires about what was happening in the liturgy, the priest is inclined to just shrug his shoulders and ask, “What was going on within you as you observed the service?” Though the priest has Biblical and historical answers for the proceedings, it is more important that the newcomer tries to “grok” what is happening. (Robert Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land” is very apropos to being at an Orthodox church service for the first time!) Again, this is not to say that reason doesn’t play a part in Orthodox spiritual life, rather the Church doesn’t teach reason (mental ascent) as being the primary route to save your soul.

Because the theological positions of the Orthodox Church is largely settled, the believer is more free to experience the Church and work out their salvation (Philippians 2:12), rather than continually strive for intellectual satisfaction and security.  I have no doubt there are those in the Reformed Church who have given themselves over to the theological position of whatever their denomination advocates and so they freely experience their Faith. However, if they have even an inkling of curiosity to explore in more depth what Christianity teaches about a particular theological point, they only have to go to their Christian bookstore and become bewildered by the vast array of contradictory perspectives offered to them by their Protestant brethren.

Though a Western mind set tends to revel in debate to gain an intellectually superior position, an Eastern mind set would see such an endeavor (unless in defense of heresy) as, frankly, “foolish” (1 Corinthians 1:20-30; 2 Timothy 2:23). And I say this knowing full well that by writing this article, I’m engaging in the same sort of foolish mental gymnastics that I did as a Protestant in order to convince my Reformed friends to reconsider their position! Yet, what I would rather be doing is taking you to an Orthodox Church service with me and afterwards asking you: “What was going on within you as you observed the service?” Did you say within yourself: “I don’t understand all of these rituals” or did you respond, “Wow, I’ve never felt such awe and a need to humble myself in worship before”? If you’re a non-believer, I’m more likely to question your experience of life (natural and supernatural) and invite you to a new experience, than logically persuade you via Bill Bright’s the “Four Spiritual Laws.” I’m not saying there isn’t a place for evangelism done by rational debate, something a Western civilized person is familiar with, it is just not the only route to come to know God.

Iconographic Theology

An iconographer is primarily concerned about evoking an experience within the observer. Though the icon must be theologically correct, the symbolic meaning of the icon is secondary to an individual’s “participation” in either the event depicted or in the life of the saint. The strange reverse perspective of the icon, its non-static depiction of the saints in movement toward you or toward Christ, and its light depicted not from a particular location but from both inside and outside of the icon is all meant to include and involve you in the picture. An icon is not meant to be a descriptive snapshot of a particular event or person in Church history, rather an icon is a mysterious portal that makes you a subject in that scene or a friend to that saint. The icon encapsulates Orthodox theology better than anything else about the Church, not because of its symbolism nor its traditional style, but because the icon expresses that Christianity is to be experienced (“taste and see” Psalm 33:9/34:8) more than understood. You can neither fully comprehend an icon, nor the Orthodox Church, from an intellectually objective distance but rather only as an intimate subjective partaker.

The icon within the Orthodox church, particularly within the liturgy, is not meant to be a pretty decoration adorning the sanctuary walls; an icon is not there to give you something attractive to look at if you get bored during the service. Nor, as some non-Orthodox believe, are the icons primarily there to remind the faithful of Biblical events or the lives of the saints—which would be a rational epistemology. The icons are primarily painted to bring the viewer into fellowship with the Church Triumphant. The icons transform our experience—a phenomenological epistemology—from being on earth to being within the Kingdom of God. The icons do not just passively impart a sense of sanctity to the service; rather they actively transport us to the sacred realm that exists when one is fully, experientially, present with God and the saints (who are not dead but alive with Christ—Ephesians 2:4-7). The presence of the icons invites us to belong to a community that mystically transcends time and place. Therefore, “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Via – Orthodox Phenomenology by Michael Bressem

Introduction to Kierkegaard and Christian Existentialism —

Introduction to Kierkegaard and Christian Existentialism

Søren Kierkegaard’s two heroes were Socrates and Jesus Christ. When explaining what he took his purpose as a philosopher to be, Kierkegaard said, “My task is a Socratic task—to rectify the concept of what it means to be a Christian.” This nineteenth-century Danish philosopher (1813–1855) is perhaps best known as the father of existentialism, a school of philosophical thought most often associated with atheist thinkers like Jean Paul Sartre. Kierkegaard, however, had a passionate faith in God. He was a staunch critic of the Danish church as well as a voice urging others to consider their need for God and His place in a truly fulfilled human existence. Much of what he wrote is strikingly relevant to contemporary life.

Kierkegaard is often misunderstood, in part because of the complexity of his approach as an author. Many of his works are written under particular pseudonyms. That is, Kierkegaard takes on a persona as an author and writes from a perspective different from his own. For example, in Fear and Trembling, a book that explores God’s testing of Abraham through His command that he sacrifice Isaac, Kierkegaard writes as Johannes de Silentio (“John of silence”). In the preface, John of silence states that he is not a philosopher. Instead, he is an outsider looking in at the faith of Abraham. He is trying to understand a faith that he does not have.

Kierkegaard wanted to help people discover and ultimately live the truth for themselves, which may be one of his motivations for writing from the perspective of different characters. Because Kierkegaard employs pseudonyms in this way, he is often misinterpreted. To understand his views, it is best to look to the works published under Kierkegaard’s own name, such as his series of edifying discourses and Works of Love. We can learn of his views in the pseudonymous works as well, but careful interpretation is needed.

HIS LIFE

Kierkegaard is said to have inherited his propensities for guilt and melancholy from his father, Michael, who was a strictly religious man. Michael believed that all of his seven children would die by the age of 33, the age of Jesus at His crucifixion. The reason may have been that he cursed God as a young boy, or that he impregnated his second wife Anne, Søren’s mother, before they were married. Interestingly, only Søren and one of his older brothers lived past the age of 33.

In 1840 Kierkegaard became engaged to Regine Olson. His inheritance from his father, who died in 1838, was large enough that he would not need to work, but it was not enough to support a wife and children. Ultimately, Kierkegaard broke off the engagement, which he justified as necessary to fulfill his divine calling as a writer. It is clear that his relationship with Regine had a lasting impact on him, and its ending was felt by him to be a painful sacrifice. But he apparently believed that it was a sacrifice with a divine purpose.

EXISTENTIALISM

Existentialists have many differences, but there are some common concerns that guide their philosophical thinking. First, existentialists believe that freedom is the distinct trait of human beings. The existentialist wants to enable people to experience and practice their freedom as they choose what to value and how to live. Second, existentialists also seek to convert their readers. They want the reader to see that she has been deluded in some way, and to take a radically new perspective. This is similar to a religious conversion, and in fact for Kierkegaard it includes such a conversion. For other existentialists, the new perspective may not include God at all, but a purely human point of view. Existentialists argue that if we accept the fact of our freedom and the responsibility that goes along with it, we will be changed.

Another key component of existentialism is the belief that emotions can be a means of understanding. Existentialists believe that human beings can come to know things through certain moods or feelings. For example, if a person feels a sense of fidelity to a friend who has died, this points him to the existence of God, who is the source of fidelity. The emotions of despair and guilt have important roles in Kierkegaard’s philosophy and the human quest for meaning and satisfaction in life.

STAGES ON LIFE’S WAY

Kierkegaard believed that philosophy should focus on life’s deep questions related to God, humanity, ethics, and meaning. He approaches these issues not merely in an abstract sense, but in a way that is both practical and prophetic. In keeping with his belief that philosophy should be relevant to our daily lives and speak to our deepest concerns, Kierkegaard discusses a process by which human beings can acquire deep satisfaction and become authentic persons. In order to understand this process, he often discusses the stages on life’s way.

Aesthetic Stage

The first stage on life’s way is the aesthetic stage. The main goal of a person in this stage is to satisfy her desires. These desires could be for many different things. The hedonist in pursuit of sensual pleasures is the perfect example of life in this stage. Because she is driven by her desires, she is not truly free and fails to have a consistent character. But a problem arises, even if she gets what she wants. Given their nature, humans are not satisfied with mere pleasures, whether from food, drink, sex, or television. We need something more; this type of life is empty. Because of this, a person living in this stage will at some point experience despair. This emotion of despair, then, is a means by which she can come to know that she must change, that life as she is living it is not now and cannot ever be truly satisfying. In response, she may seek out more or different pleasures in her quest for satisfaction, or she may move to the next stage on life’s way. If she does, she can make progress towards living out her freedom rather than being captive to her desires.

Ethical Stage

The second stage is the ethical stage, in which the primary goal is to live according to ethical truth. In this stage, there are moral limits on what one can and cannot do. The individual takes responsibility for herself and her choices, and seeks to become what she ought to be. She seeks to fulfill her duties related to her work and her relationships. The ethical life introduces sacrifice; the self is no longer at the center of everything as it was in the previous stage. However, a new problem arises that prevents her from being truly fulfilled. She reflects on her life and realizes that she does not always do what she ought to do. No one does. This leads to a new problem, the problem of guilt and the despair that it produces. These emotions show her that a further change is needed if she is to be fulfilled. In response to this, she may simply try harder to do the right thing, to be the kind of person she wants to be, or she may move to the third and final stage.

Religious Stage

The religious stage is where the individual finds true fulfillment, and becomes truly authentic. Here, one realizes that she cannot always do the right thing. This is a fact of human nature that she accepts. She also receives forgiveness from God, which resolves her guilt and eradicates her despair. She is now becoming an authentic individual because she is rightly related to God by a passionate faith in Him. She has been converted; she sees her life from a new perspective. For Kierkegaard, the religious person is no sour ascetic. Instead, she realizes the goodness of creation, and takes the sensual pleasures of food, drink, and sex to be gifts from God to be enjoyed in the right way. By grace she is rightly related to the physical world, other people, and God. Her physical and spiritual aspects are integrated in a way that brings wholeness and integrity to her character and to her life. For Kierkegaard, this is what it means to be a Christian.

Institutional Christianity, or “Christendom,” as he often referred to it, was beset by hypocrisy and consisted of empty ritual. By contrast, an authentic Christianity is a personal, passionate, inner faith that leads one to act in the world.

FAITH, REASON, AND THE ABSURD

Kierkegaard is commonly thought to hold the view that faith and reason are opposed to one another. Many readers of his works come away thinking that for him faith is irrational. This confusion is sometimes due to the way Kierkegaard uses the terms “objectivity,” “subjectivity,” and “absurd.”

Kierkegaard seems to be critical of objective truth and a believer in the subjectivity of truth. But he is no relativist. In fact, his aim is to preserve objectivity but to keep it deeply connected with a passionate subjectivity, or a deeply held inward commitment that moves one to obey God through acting in the world. He believes that one ought to give careful thought to one’s goals and perspective on the world. He believes that there are objectively true moral principles, and that humans have moral obligations connected to the various roles they inhabit (such as parent, ruler, or employee). He also believes that there is an objective reality that can be known and engaged, including divine reality.

What Kierkegaard is critical of, and rejects, is the form of objectivity that undermines a person’s self-understanding as an individual responsible for his actions, convictions, and concern for truth. For example, he would reject the notion that we are merely complex biological machines at the mercy of the laws of nature, because this view undermines individual responsibility. He would also be critical of the person who claims to know the truths of Christianity, but does not live them. These truths must be grasped subjectively and lived out in daily life, if they are to be truly known.

Another reason that Kierkegaard is thought to believe that faith is irrational has to do with the concept of the absurd in his writings. Many interpret Kierkegaard as holding the view that individuals should take a blind leap of faith and believe in something that is contradictory. Contemporary Christian philosopher Robert Adams thinks this interpretation is misguided, however, based on his reading of Fear and Trembling. When a person of faith embraces the absurd, it is not that he believes something that is contradictory. Rather, the absurd refers to a believer giving up his claim but not his care for someone or something that he loves.

Abraham illustrates this when he binds Isaac and is prepared to offer him to God as a sacrifice. Abraham loves Isaac with all that he is. He gives up any claim to Isaac as he intends to offer him as a sacrifice, but never renounces his love for Isaac. By faith he receives Isaac back again as the angel of the Lord tells him to relent. To receive back that which one has given up is the movement of faith. This same faith is important for others as well. Humans are to renounce their claim on the finite goods of the world, but in the same moment receive them back from God by faith. It is this concurrent resignation and reception that is the absurd, for Kierkegaard. But it is also the right thing to do.

RELEVANCE FOR TODAY

First, a central truth in the works of Søren Kierkegaard is that we must obey God, even when this looks preposterous to others. Abraham, Noah, and the apostles are biblical examples of such obedience. Authentic faith is different from dead religion because it produces genuine obedience and love of both God and others.

Second, Christians are to renounce the world but then receive it back from God by faith to be enjoyed and experienced in the ways He intends. Believers are to renounce their claim on, but not their care for, what and whom they love. We can enjoy the finite goods of earthly life, but we must depend on God for our ultimate happiness.

Finally, if Kierkegaard were alive today, he would exhort people to take responsibility for themselves and their choices. He would have little patience for shifting responsibility to genetics, environment, or upbringing. For Kierkegaard, a living faith is one that expresses itself in works of love for God and others (see Gal. 5:16). Ultimately, each person is responsible for who they are and how they live, and can only achieve their full potential through a passionate and living faith in God. This is what it means to truly know God in Christ.

Via – Kierkegaard: Understanding the Christian Father of Existentialism by Michael W. Austin

Orthodoxy and Science  —

Orthodoxy and Science 

This is an excerpt from Divine Action: Naturalism and Incarnation by Christopher Knight. You can read the full essay at Biologos 

The Logos
When most modern Christians read the beginning the fourth gospel—“In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1)—they do so in translation rather than in the original Greek.  They are often unaware that the term “Word” here is a translation of the Greek term Logos (plural logoi), which, as well as meaning word, has many other related meanings, one of which is in the root of the English word logic.

At the time the gospel was written, the term Logos was already widely used, even among pagans, to point to to the world’s origin in some kind of divine logical principle. If they already believed in a divine creator, therefore, the original readers or hearers of the gospel would have almost taken it for granted that it was through the divineLogos that “all things were made” (John 1;7).  Moreover, if they were Greek-speaking Jews, they would already have had a more nuanced understanding of this notion, because in their community this philosophical meaning of Logos had already been refined in terms of the Old Testament’s way of speaking about what happened “in the beginning” (Genesis 1) and about the concept of the role of “Wisdom” in bringing the created order into being (Proverbs 8). What was new in the fourth gospel was simply the assertion that this Logos had, in Christ, “taken flesh” (John 1:14).

In Greek, the term logos did not apply only to the divine logical principle. Each created thing could also be spoken about as behaving “logically” because it had its own logos. The notion of the logoi of created things was, in this way, intimately related to the modern notion of the laws of nature. However, while modern Christians do see the laws of nature as God-given, they only rarely understand that the way in which the term logos was then used suggests a more intimate connection between God and the created order than they usually assume. There was a sense, for those who first heard or read the fourth gospel, that the Logos who was incarnate in Christ had not previously been absent from the world, since that Logos had already been present as the source of that world’s logical behaviour. The incarnation could be seen as the fulfilment of God’s act of creation rather than as some kind of supernatural intrusion into the created order.

When the New Testament was translated into other languages, these nuances tended to get lost. Only in the eastern, Greek-speaking part of the Christian world were they still fully appreciated. There, they were systematically developed, coming to their fullest elaboration in the early seventh century writings of Maximus (or Maximos) the Confessor, for whom the logoi of created things were in some sense a direct manifestation of the divine Logos itself. Since that time, the direct spiritual descendants of the Greek-speakers for whom the fourth gospel was written—Christians of the Eastern Orthodox Church—have advocated the notion of God’s presence in created things through Maximus’s belief in an intrinsic connection between the logoi of those things and the divine Logos.

Western theological scholarship has recently begun to appreciate the way in which this theology of creation has very clear New Testament roots. What is often not understood, however, is that the biblical and Orthodox sense of the intimacy of the relationship between God and the natural world has important ramifications that challenge many of our usual assumptions. Here, it would seem, understanding the way in which Orthodox theology approaches this issue can be helpful to all Christians, enabling us to question the assumptions that we often bring to the question of how God acts in the world.  

Natural or subnatural?

The classic Western separation of grace and nature, for example, simply does not exist in the Christian East, because grace is seen as being implied in God’s act of creation. Similarly, although the term “supernatural” is sometimes used within Orthodoxy, there is no separation between natural and supernatural of the kind usually assumed in the West. (In fact, a comparable distinction is more often expressed by Eastern Orthodox in terms of the distinction between created and uncreated.)

Furthermore, Eastern Orthodox theology supplements its incarnational understanding of creation, rooted in the fourth gospel, with further biblical perspectives: from various passages that refer to the Christian’s hope for eternal life and from Genesis 2 and 3. These perspectives lead some Eastern authors to use the term natural only to describe God’s original and ultimate intentions for creation (i.e for the original paradise intended for humanity and for the world to come). The “fallen” world as we experience it is, for this perspective, not natural but sub-natural, and miracles may be seen, not so much as “supernatural” intrusions into the world as a return to its truly natural state.

Science and teleology

One of the things that Maximus the Confessor explored as part of this intimate connection between God and the created order was the way in which, as he saw it, created things tend—“naturally” so to speak—towards their divinely-ordained existence in the world to come. An interesting parallel here, I have argued, is the way in which we are increasingly being led to ponder how, from a scientific perspective, the history of the cosmos may be seen in terms of some kind of “pre-ordained” development. In particular, there has been an interesting exploration of the apparent fine-tuning of the fundamental physical constants of the universe, leading to discussion of what is called the anthropic cosmological principle, and of the way in which evolutionary trajectories tend towards certain kinds of functionality, explored in terms of what is called evolutionary convergence.

The conclusions that arise from this exploration may be seen as consonant with the view that God created the universe with a particular goal (or at least interim goal) in view: the naturalistic emergence of beings who are conscious of both themselves and God.  The “laws of nature” as we understand them scientifically are thus not only a way of providing the logic of the functioning of created things. They may also be seen, in a new and scientifically-informed perspective, as part of the way in which, as Maximus insisted, God draws creation “from within” towards its intended final end.

A personally present God

Especially when the notion of “higher” laws of nature is added to this understanding, a kind of strong theistic naturalism emerges that is intimately connected to Maximus’s vision. This has none of the disadvantages with a theistic naturalism that is developed from a purely philosophical starting point. God, in this theological perspective, is not the “absentee landlord” of the deists; rather God is “involved” with the world in a more radical way than is envisaged by those who advocate other understandings of divine involvement.  In this perspective, God truly acts in all events in the world. The “laws of nature” that bring about these events include not only the “lower” kind that scientists study but also the “higher” ones that are beyond investigation through scientific methodology. God’s action through all these laws is truly “personal” because these laws are not part of an autonomous universe, as imagined in most kinds of naturalism. Rather, they are an aspect of the logoi of created things, in which God is personally present.

We are not, of course, necessarily tied to the way in which Maximus himself expressed these insights. We might, for example, develop an alternative or complementary view in terms of another aspect of our Trinitarian understanding: the way in which the Holy Spirit is—as it is put in the classic prayer with which all formal Orthodox prayer begins—one who is “everywhere present and fills all things.” The important thing is that whatever theological starting point we adopt in our thinking about divine action, we must overcome our tendency to begin with a somewhat abstract concept of God, and with the assumption that this God is essentially “outside” the creation.

If we begin with this questionable picture of God separated from created things, it inevitably seems to us that an understanding of divine action requires the development of an understanding of how God can “get in” from “outside.” As we have seen, however, once we have put this assumption aside, we are enabled to think about divine action in a way that is philosophically a form of “strong theistic naturalism” but is almost unrecognisable as such. For what is involved in this alternative picture is not based on this naturalism’s usual denial of “special divine action.” Rather, it is based on a framework in which the distinction between “special” and “general” divine action no longer makes any sense. God’s presence and action in the world are seen simply as two sides of the same coin.

Miracles are not, in this perspective, the result of divine intervention in, or interference with, the world. Rather, they may be seen as reflections of an aspect of the true nature of the world that is usually hidden from us.  The “return” to that true nature, as envisaged in this understanding, represents what some Western theologians have spoken about—in relation to Christ himself—as a “breaking in of the age to come.” However, to speak of ”‘breaking in” would, in this context, be somewhat misleading, since what is envisaged is not a breaking in of something that comes from “outside.” What occurs is, rather, something that the Eastern Christian tradition has often stressed: a ‘”breaking out” of something that is always present in the world, albeit in a way that is, in a “fallen” world, usually hidden from us.