The mystery of God…in things?

Brothers, do not be afraid of men’s sin, love man also in his sin, for this likeness of God’s love is the height of love on earth. Love all of God’s creation, both the whole of it and every grain of sand. Love very leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love animals, love plants, love each thing. If you love each thing, you will perceive the mystery of God in things. –Elder Zosima, The Brothers Karamazov1

Currently, I am in the middle of reading The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky. It is quite a large work, but so far it has been utterly satisfying. The previous quote is an excerpt of one of the Elder’s sermons that the main character Alyosha has recorded. To be blunt, it took my breath away when I first read it.

This single quote succinctly captures what I hope to be the aim and purpose of this blog. Expounding on what Dostoevsky really means here, I think, is unnecessary. The prose is beautiful and elegant enough without any of my efforts mucking it up. That said, I don’t think I can resist saying something about it here.

God is willing to come down and engage with sinful humanity, at significant cost to himself. It is only right for us to mirror that precise sort of love. We must be willing to set aside our perceived piety or inflated sense of superiority that we derive from “having it all together” so that we can love others who are sinful and whom in our prideful minds “don’t have it all together.” Just whom might these people be? The homeless, the unemployed, the divorced, the abused, the poor, the addicted; the list could go on.

Further, when we try to love these people we must not distinguish between people who we think are somehow responsible for their situation and those who we deem victims. Often, this is an excuse that we use to justify disconnecting with those in need.

For example, I have often heard from friends and others I know that they will not give homeless people on the streets money because either 1) They are responsible for their own situation and I am not responsible for helping them get out of it. Or 2) They would probably use the money to feed their addiction to drugs or alcohol.

While these things might indeed be true, refusing to interact with these people based upon these two reasons reflects poorly upon the love that Christ has showed the Church. Might the few dollars that you give the homeless man go towards his addiction? Yes. It might. But the act of giving the man a few dollars, finding out what his name is, showing him that you care about him as a person not just as a nagging inconvenience trying to instill guilt in you, will go miles to reflect the love that God has bestowed upon humanity through Christ.

Embedded in this quote is also a rejection of the dualist2 separation between the Creator and the creation. The elder entreats us to love creation, the part and the whole. The last sentence suggests that the mystery of God is somehow infused in the each and every aspect of creation. By developing this love of “each thing,” we become more and more acutely attuned to the wonder of creation and thereby experience God.

If the words of Dostoevsky don’t fully hit home for you here, consider watching The Thin Red Line by Terrence Malick. Malick does something very unusual with the The Thin Red Line. One would expect a movie about one of the bloodiest battles in World War II to present the harsh realities of war, and Malick does not shy away from the horror and insanity that war brings. What is unexpected is how Malick goes out of his way to portray the beauty and goodness present in creation. It seems that he is trying to show that even in the midst of the horror of war, there is something about the beauty of creation that cannot be silenced. Some of Private Witt’s voice-over deals directly with this sort of question: “One man looks at a dying bird and thinks there’s nothing but unanswered pain. That death’s got the final word, it’s laughing at him. Another man sees that same bird, feels the glory, feels something smiling through it.” Without sounding clumsy, this is about as close as a director can come to endorsing some type of knowing God through general revelation. It also sounds strikingly similar to the “[perceiving] the mystery of God in things” that the elder speaks to in The Brothers Karamazov.

1Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov, Translated by Richard Pevear, N.p.: Everyman’s Library, 1992.

2When I speak of dualism in this sense, I mean not only the belief in an immaterial and a material world, but also that somehow the material world and material existence is somehow a significantly lesser mode of being, such that we human beings (who are essentially immaterial under this account) should shun the material and strive for that which is spiritual, holy, and immaterial. Let it suffice to say that the word ‘dualism’ does not always entail both claims. One can have a dualistic view of the human person and not endorse any denigration of the physical. One danger with this view, however, is that if the value of the created, material world is not spelled out explicitly, one easily falls into a denigration of the body and all other things material.

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