Yesterday was our annual prayer vigil. We also kicked off the new Bible study year so it was definitely a long, full day. At one point I read from a volume of the Philokalia (a collection of writings from the early church in the East, for reference see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philokalia ). In the East, many devout Christians hold this collection second only to the Bible in value. The author, the confessor Longinus (Vol 4, p 257), quoted St. John Chrysostom about the state of most Christians. Quoting from both Testaments, John asserted that we should be able to say that our pure prayer allows us to hear the word of God without need for any other source. He then goes on to say that not only monks but all Christians should attain to this level of holy communing. Then the hammer: instead "We do not know whether God exists, or who we are, or what we have become, although through baptism we have been made sons of God, sons of light, and children and member of Christ.... we feel that we have been baptized in water only and not by the Spirit. And even though we have been renewed in the Spirit, we believe only in a formal, lifeless and ineffectual sense, and we say we are full of doubts. Hence, because we are in fact non-spiritual we live and behave in a non-spiritual manner.... But we are unregenerate, even though we have become members of the faith and heavenly, and so the Spirit of God does not dwell within us (Gen 6:30)
So much energy is taken up in the philosophical struggles with evil, the existence of God, why do things happen the way that they do; or with debates and arguments about secondary questions, that we do not focus our time and attention on the matter at hand. We live as a hodge podge, part believer, part unbeliever, mostly indifferent and distracted by many things.
When Jesus is asked by the student of Torah, "What is the greatest commandment?" His response is "Love God with all you have and love your neighbor as yourself." Jesus' instruction assumes that there is a God. If we pause and ponder and debate whether the Father even exists we are stuck in "prologue." Does this mean that we never wrestle with tough questions, of course not. It is simply a reminder that in the end, to spend one's life asking "does God exist" excludes doing what Jesus calls 'the main thing'---loving God.
Tying love of neighbor to love of God is another important insight. This God we love is not far off and disconnected from daily life. We are not invited to mystical escape and a hatred of material reality. Other people are not Hell (though they may be purgatory!) it turns out, but companions with a shared need for redemption. We are all flawed and imperfect. To live together is an exercise in community and a preparation for the time when we will all be together with God.
Today I led morning prayer, taught a class, dealt with various communications and helped a man with his MLGW (electricity) bill and job needs. Each of those in different ways expressed love for God and love for others. It is much more life giving to respond to God's call. It is redemptive.And I think about how easy it is to get pulled into all manner of verbal wrestling matches where we assert this or that and question that or this. We raise objections and counter arguments, all of it focused on affirming or denying the statement "there is a God." Meanwhile, as the ancient writer I stumbled across makes clear, the abundant life in Christ lays fallow and unproductive within us because we are too busy with the wondering if the Mission Director exists to engage in the mission.
At some point a person has to make a decision, and act on that decision. At some point you have to respond Jesus' invitation, come follow Me. In the response is the Light and the Life, and the Hope of better days to come!