Monday, April 28, 2014

Stăniloae on God's special care for me

I love this passage from Dumitru Stăniloae's The Experience of God: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, vol. 1:

In this knowledge I no longer see God only as the creator and the providential guide of all things, or as the mystery which makes himself visible to all, filling all with a joy which is to a greater or lesser extent the same in all cases; but I know him in his special care in regard to me, in his intimate relations with me, in his plan whereby, through the particular suffering, demands, and direction that he addresses to me in life, he leads me in a special way to the common goal (p. 118).

Stăniloae's emphasis in this final section of the sixth chapter is that God tries to make himself known to us in all the various aspects of our lives -- through the impressions of our conscience, for example, and as noted here, through the concrete circumstances of our lives. Stăniloae affirms here that God reveals himself personally, to me, through the way in which my life goes forward. God is leading me in a special way to a common goal I share with the whole cosmos -- the goal of union with him in deification, for which Jesus Christ acts as an exemplar and a model to be realized in my own case.

All of this is doubly impressive and moving in light of the very lofty and paradoxical descriptions given of God earlier in the chapter. Stăniloae regularly speaks of God as an infinite reality who, in my experience with him, always surpasses my capacity to perceive and comprehend him. This is apophatic knowledge for Stăniloae: an experiential knowledge of God which at the same time is of such a quality as to evade explication or formulation altogether.

Yet this Infinity of Being who always surpasses my capacity to understand and name him, this Infinity of Being which gives existence to everything else in the world, this Infinity of Being became like I am so as to bring me into fellowship and communion with himself! And this Infinity of Being exercises his special care for me and leads me along the path to this goal in the everyday circumstances of my life! This is the amazing and bewildering claim of Christianity -- that God who gives existence to the entire universe and conserves it in being, without whom nothing could exist whatsoever, is fundamentally for me and wants to unite himself to me in a special, salvific way.

How do I know that it is a good and salvific goal? Because of the events of last week, of Holy Week. As John says, Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4.8-10). This God who stands behind the scenes shows us his purpose is a good one because he comes to give life to the dead and to atone for the sinful.