Thursday, June 30, 2016

The λόγος is at the basis of everything

The opening words of the Gospel according to John are rightly very famous:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being (John 1:1-3).
The human face of the Logos
At the beginning of absolutely everything is the Word, the Logos (λόγος), which carries very many connotations. I understand it as follows. The world owes its creation to the activity of God -- that much is certain. "In the beginning," as Genesis reads, God created the heaven and the earth. But the creation was not merely the unpredictable, unintelligible activity of bare will; the world does not owe its existence to caprice, or to malice, or to a senseless act of play, as some Indian philosophers have tried to argue. Rather, this same God who created the world is also one in being with the Logos, with the Word. The world owes its existence to a rational and thinking act, to one which is supremely rational and reasoned and intelligible.

All things came into being through the Word; that is what John says. Because of that, it seems to me fair to deduce that this world is intelligible and reasonable, even if it might seem otherwise to us. This is a hard thing to say, especially these days.

Many people, when they are confronted by tremendous suffering or grave evils or personal loss, refuse to admit any kind of rhyme or reason to what happened. They may have the feeling that if there were some reason for why it happened, it would take away from the evil of the situation, and thus they would lose their right to protest and to be angry. For this reason, they say that God had nothing to do with the event in question, even though this raises very difficult and problematic philosophical and theological questions regarding the nature of God's providence. They prefer instead to leave it an impenetrable mystery and to shake their fists at a dark, thick cloud of unintelligibility.

I have my doubts about this position, and I question whether or not it is really to be preferred to the alternative. When I read that all things came into being through him, it seems to me proper to conclude that there is no aspect of history or the life of any person which is not under the providential control of the Logos. This doesn't mean that God himself has predestined everything to occur as it does, in the sense that God's will is the logically prior condition of everything whatsoever. Rather, I believe that some things owe ultimately to the free choice of the human person, not to God's will, but that God knows these things and incorporates them into his providence. In any case, however, it is certainly true -- and must be true, if this text from John's Gospel is to be believed -- that all things owe their existence to God, who either determines them to occur or else permits them to occur for some reason he knows.

Why is this view preferable? Because it is (to my mind, anyway) clearly preferable to believe that evil is a force within the ultimate control of God, who is good and loves me and wants my salvation, than to think that evil is utterly outside of God's control and apparently capable of catching him by surprise at times. If evil is ultimately permitted by God knowingly, then at the least I know that there is some rhyme and reason to it, even if I cannot figure it out. And I can know that all things work together for good for those who love God (Rom 8:28), because God himself guides them to a good end. But if God has nothing to do whatsoever with the evil that occurs in the world, if it apparently has its existence and activity utterly independently of him, then there's no reason to think that the verse from Romans is true. Why should all things work together for my good, if they do not come from God? Can all things which come from Satan work for my good, if they are not a part of the plan and purpose of God?

There is nothing easy about this, of course. Who can comfort themselves with the thought that the loss of a loved one or mass killings or anything else of the sort have their place in God's plan for the world, though we clearly cannot see the reason why they should be allowed? It is hardly obvious or intuitive that things should be so. But better that God have a plan, than that these things should have happened randomly and unexpectedly and without any greater purpose than our own destruction. And I think it would be better for us to give up our "right" to cry and to protest and be angry ad infinitum at the things that happen to us, than to disparage God's providence and his wisdom in ordering the world. All this protest and anger may be a way of taking our attention off of our own blame and sin, and finding someone else to blame, so as to ease our conscience...

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