[Ancient Faith Radio; May 28, 2008]
Today I wanted to touch on a couple podcasts from the past, one recent, one a little longer ago, because I’ve had some other interactions since those podcasts were posted, and it’s given me some more to think about.
One is the very recent one, about light and darkness. I got an email from someone who said, You know, I always pictured that before creation, God was in darkness; that darkness came first, because after all, it says that when God was creating the heavens and the earth, in the beginning of Genesis, Genesis 1: “The earth was without form and void, darkness was upon the face of the deep, God said, ‘Let There be Light’, and there was light”. I always thought that since he had to create light, that the first thing was actually darkness.
And I can see how that can be confusing. The thing to recognize is that we are talking in Genesis about God creating the heavens and the earth. We’re not talking about God in Himself before the creation of the world. We really don’t know much about God before He created the heavens and the earth. That’s a part of history we’ll probably never know. But it would be erroneous to picture God inside of a space, and that space is dark. There is no space going back that far. But you picture God, I think it’s not unreasonable to picture Him shaping with His hands, making the earth out of mud. Kind of like later on, he makes Adam out of the dust of the earth. But Adam is not alive yet, and God breathes life into his nostrils and Adam receives the gift of life and becomes a living being.
Similarly, in this very first chapter of Genesis, God is forming the heavens and the earth, and it reminds me of Adam lying there, a figure immobile, without life. “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep, and the spirit of God was moving upon the face of the waters.” That’s Genesis 1:1-2. “And God said, Let there be Light, and there was Light.” That’s the third verse. A word that interests me there is the earth was without form and void, that is it was empty, it was like that little clay figure of Adam lying there, that didn’t have breath. It was empty. Even though it was full of water, apparently, and there is solid land in the next verse, God is going to divide the water from the dry land. Nevertheless, that’s empty. “And God said, Let there be Light, and there was Light.” So God speaks light into this setting, just as He breathes life into Adam.
There are many things Scripture says about God, that God is light and life, that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and all those other I AM statements about God. Of course they’re not separate characteristics. It’s not like He has eyes and He has ears, it’s all just ways of trying to identify this unidentifiable thing. But I think in a way, that light and life actually are the same thing, that light is energy, and the ability that our bodies have to breathe and to move is also energy. I’ve said before on this podcast that one of those Greek words, energy is a Greek word that Paul uses over and over again in the New Testament, but we don’t see it in our English translations because they use the word ‘works’ instead. This being the result of St. Jerome when he was translating the Bible into Latin, there was no Latin equivalent to energy, so he used ‘operate’. Like a puppetmaster operates a puppet or a marionette artist pulls the strings of the marionette. It’s operate, instead of “energize”, the very life of God within us.
So the Eastern Christian, Biblical Greek and Orthodox view is that God’s energy is filling us, is present within us. In Western Christianity, though, there was always this uncertainty, because there just wasn’t a word to convey it. And also because of St. Augustine, the preeminent church Father in the West, who is not as significant in the East. St. Augustine had come out of a Neo-Platonic background and retained some of that division between matter and spirit which the Jews didn’t have and the early Christians didn’t have, but through St. Augustine’s influence that became a problem, I think, in the West.
How did I get over here? I’m swimming against the stream. I’m going to get back to my topic if I possibly can. I was talking about light and life, and how they’re kind of the same thing. And this is an insight, I think I got this from Vigen Guroian, the Armenian Orthodox ethicist and writer whom I admire very much. I think it was in an essay that he wrote. The realization that light and life are actually the same thing, it’s the food that we take in, but that food is actually made out of light. That is, every plant exposes its leaves to the sun, and through photosynthesis, converts sunlight into a bigger plant. Into fruits and vegetables and more leaves. You might say that the roots of that plant are going deeper and deeper into darkness, but they won’t go anywhere if the top of the plant is not being exposed to light. So through light hitting the leaves, it converts energy into matter. And then we eat that broccoli or lettuce leaves; we eat that apple. We eat the fruit of what the plant has managed to produce by converting that light into matter. Or, we eat the animals that eat the plants. By one remove or another, we are always converting light into life and into matter and into energy.
So we hear that God has separated the land from the waters, but it’s dark and it’s void, it’s without form, and He says Let there be Light. This is that mysterious thing that is an attribute of God, Light and Life and Energy being breathed into this setting. “And God saw that the light was good, and He called the light Day and the darkness He called Night.” It doesn’t say He called the darkness good. God saw the light was good, and He separated light from darkness. And here’s the primary division that you now have, day and night. There’s a time for light and there’s a time for less light. That’s the first day of creation. And you come down a few more days, on the fourth day of creation, God says, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the Heavens to separate the day from the nights. And He created two lights, the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night.”
So He’s already given His gift of light, which seems to be an attribute of God, something that is His. He’s given this into the world and there’s already day and night. But on the fourth day of creation, He creates a sort of vehicle, or means, of transmitting that day and night, the sun in the day, and the stars and the moon and its reflective light at night, so these regulate. They rule the day and they govern how light is distributed upon this Earth. And God saw that the light was good, and there was evening and morning, a fourth day.
So I think that’s interesting, and instead of seeing God within a space and that space is dark, I think we see that light, he calls light good, he doesn’t call darkness good, that darkness is emptyness, without form, it’s void, and He breathes His light, He speaks His light into that. I think it’s very much like breathing life into that clay or that dust figure of Adam that He made. And we can jump from Genesis all the way down to the end of the whole Bible, Revelation, one of the last chapters of Revelation, Revelation 21. It’s a beautiful chapter where the “beloved disciple,” St. John the Evangelist, sees the last day. He says, “Then I saw a new Heaven and a new Earth”- it’s recapitulated, what happened in Genesis for the first Heaven and the first Earth- “For the first Heaven and the first Earth had passed away and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of Heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” So everything that we see now has passed away, and been transformed. There’s a way we’re going to get these bodies back at the resurrection of the dead, though every molecule of our body will be separated and they’ll go into other bodies of plants and trees and animals, before that day. Somehow it all passes away, and somehow it’s also restored to us in a new form.
So come on down to Revelation 21:22. So here’s a new Heaven and a new Earth. Well, what about light and darkness? What will there be to regulate, and to rule the day and to rule the night, and to manage the light that hits this new Heaven and this new Earth. Revelation 21:23. “And the city had no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” So you don’t need the sun and moon and stars anymore, because the Lamb Himself is the light. He provides the light for the new Jerusalem, the holy city, the new Heaven and new Earth. The glory of God is the light of this place.
So anyway, just to wrap up, I think if we want to talk about what was it like for God before He created light, what was the situation like when God said “Let there be Light” and there was Light, what about a minute before that? I think we see that God is Light. “God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all”, as the scripture says. The Lamb is the light of the city of God, new Jerusalem.
So we can see that His nature is Light, even before the creation of the world. Of course, this is stuff that, we can’t even understand what we’re talking about. But that seems to be the hints that we would draw out of the scriptures.
That was the first thing I wanted to talk about.
The second thing I want to talk about is, I had talked about how on September 11th I had that weird experience—I woke up in the middle of the night, I was praying, and I just was so impressed with a sense that God loves America, and God spares America because of the simple fervent and sincere love that so many Americans have for His Son.
After that podcast came out, somebody contacted me and said, “Did you know that Fr. George Calciu said the same thing?” I didn’t know this. Fr. George was a witness, a living martyr of the Communist yoke in Romania, and he reposed in 2006. He had been my spiritual father. This is, let’s see, No. 255 of “The Orthodox Word” journal, from 2007. The entire issue is devoted to Fr. George. There’s a quote here at the end, and it kind of knocked me out, because I never heard him say this, but by golly, it’s right here. This is transcribed from a speech that he gave at Holy Transfiguration Church in Syracuse, NY in 2001. Somebody had asked the question— this is the last of the Q&A at that event- someone asked the question, Do you see a persecution of the Church in this country at all? And Fr. George said, “That is a difficult question, because I know that America is a free country at least in word. But I don’t think there would be a political philosophy in America to kill and torture people.” And he goes on from there… oh, it’s only three paragraphs. Maybe I’ll read the whole thing.
“I don’t think there would be a political philosophy in America to kill and torture people. This is specific to pagans and to communism. But looking at the mass murders, looking at the cruelty in this country, that young boys, 14 years old, kill people en masse, and premeditate doing this- I think we need to pray to God to protect America and not allow such people to gain important positions in this country. Because with the technical means that America now possesses they are able to check or control any thought that you have. Technology is so advanced in America that they can follow you anywhere. Think about credit cards. If the American authorities wanted to check on you, they could take your credit card and see everything you bought. They could ask you, Where did you get so much money? Your salary is not this big. They have the means to control your every movement. May God protect us and not allow bad people to arrive in positions of leadership in this country. But I think God is good.”
And he sort of reflects on that thought and kind of goes off in a different direction.
“Just the other day I was telling the fathers that I visited France. I was completely disappointed, because I love France. I love the French people, I love French culture. I used to be a professor of the French language in Romania. The connection between my country, my people, and the French people is very strong. We borrowed elements of the French culture, so that the second language of my country was French. When I went to France, I saw that it is a lost country. The people are a lost people. You cannot find a religious book in a public library. You cannot find a religious book in a secular bookstore, only in the bookstores that specialize in religious literature. If the president of France dares to say, ‘God bless France’, the next day he has to resign. It is not allowed for officials to publicly announce the name of God. Since the French Revolution, the devil has been victorious in France.
“When I returned to America from France, I took a cab from the airport to my house, and the driver started to talk to me about God, about the Bible. In shops, people often start talking to me about God, about the Bible. As long as simple people speak about God, as long as simple people read the Bible, America is saved.”
Isn’t that amazing. That is exactly the image I had on last Sept. 11th.
“For despite all the mistakes America has made, despite the war against Yugoslavia, despite all the killings of people, despite everything, America is blessed by God. Not because Clinton or another president says, ‘God bless America’, but because of these simple people who speak of God, worship God, read the Bible, and preserve America against every evil and every attack of the devil.”
That was a wonderful thing to read, and a wonderful confirmation to me.
Just one more thought about- these are the people that are called Evangelicals, aren’t they? And they really have a bad reputation in America. Evangelicals are perceived as, at a minimum, as stupid and are laughingstocks. And sometimes they’re perceived as being dangerous, and feared and actually hated. And this causes a problem for Evangelicals, who are always trying to define themselves as “I’m not that kind of Evangelical.” It causes a problem, I think, because if you ask an Evangelical, “What’s the most important thing for you to do, now that you belong to Jesus Christ?” He would say, “Convert other people. I’m supposed to bring more people, non believers, to Christ.” And this is automatic. Most of them, most of their traditions don’t focus that much on personal transformation, on theosis. They don’t even use the word theosis as we would. Instead, they’re supposed to go out and get other people and bring them to Christ, and then those people go out and get other people and bring them to Christ.
We were renovating our church basement and we found some old church bulletins and things. The building goes back to 1911. Among its many different persona over the years, it was a Baptist church for a while. So there was a church bulletin from a Sunday decades ago, and the whole order of the service, you know, it was like, sing a hymn, now have an invocation, now another hymn, now we introduce visitors, now a sermon, now another hymn, and now benediction. And if you’re Orthodox, you look over that and you say, “Where did you worship? When do you get to the part where you fall on your faces before the glory of God and worship and adore him?” Because it all sort of looks like it’s aimed at giving messages to the people who are sitting there.
And also, in this bulletin, there’s all kinds of advice about, if you’re going on vacation, remember to witness to people wherever you go. Remember to take some tracts. And I said to my husband, it’s funny how the whole focus is on getting more people to join the church. And then when those people join, their job is to get more people to join. It’s kind of like a pyramid scheme, isn’t it? Well, not to be unkind, but to recognize how urgent it is to Evangelicals to bring others to faith. And a big problem they have is the bad image that Evangelicals have in this culture, so we frequently hear Evangelicals trying to define themselves in terms as not fundamentalist, and “I’m not like the church I grew up in, because that was a terrible church, they were so narrow-minded.” And “I’m not like other Evangelicals” on this, or that, or the other.
I think that there is a blessing here, though, to be laid hold of. Most of the time, if I have a choice, I will take a stand next to the Evangelicals, next to those despised Evangelicals. Even though there’s a lot I disagree with them about- I’m really not that crazy about guns, for one thing- sometimes people say, “If somebody broke into your house with a gun and threatened to shoot you, what would you do?” I say, “I would be shot!” is my answer. I don’t have a gun. I’m not going to shoot back. I’m not going to fight back. And I do, I tend to lean a little toward pacifism. I tend to question patriotism. I tend to be skeptical of that. There are a lot of ways I don’t look like an Evangelical.
But there’s a precious opportunity here, as the Lord says in Matthew 5:11-12, during the course of the Beatitudes, He says, “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all manner of evil against you on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in Heaven. For so men persecuted the prophet who were before you.” So, who is persecuted? Who is hated? Who is ridiculed? Who is jeered at in this nation? Well, it’s the Evangelicals. So, within the limits of my conscience, I prefer to take a stand with them when I can, because I share a little bit of that blessing they are receiving. Because they are blessed, from that small-scale mild persecution. Christians have been persecuted much worse than that. But this is what’s available. It’s what God is giving us in America today, a small of persecution in being ridiculed and mocked and despised and accused of ridiculous things. That is the crown that He has given to these Evangelicals who love His Son so much. And we can perhaps get a little bit of that reflected glory if we stand next to them whenever it’s possible to do so.