Chaplain’s Corner.  God: The Source of Life’s Ultimate Meaning

Chaplain's Corner
Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California

Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl (1975) puts forth the idea that religion can be defined "as man's search for ultimate meaning."  This implies a spiritual vision of the universe. A science without God would posit that the cosmos is nothing but something that exists in space or space-time. However, as Eastern Orthodox theologian Paul Evdokimov (2001) notes, such a position "offers no constructive explanation to deal with existence." To put it another way, it begins and ends with the question: Is this all there is?

Spiritual perception, however, would begin the search for meaning by looking at the universe and seeing that the meaning of life permeates, from within, the cosmos that we inhabit. In the words of the Psalmist: "The heavens shew forth the glory of God, and the firmament declareth the work of his hands." (Ps 18: 2). But there is another way of knowing God that is beyond any glory possible to be conceived by man, because God is so much greater than the limits of man's perception. The other path for intuiting God is the path of negation. Unknowingly, this is the path many who deny God have stumbled upon.

For those with spiritual perception, such knowledge could be described as a mystical path, an antinomy that is knowledge-beyond-knowledge. The Hebrews had a sense that no word can capture God. They referred to Him as Adonai (Lord) rather than a word they would not speak, YHWH (Yahweh). St. Gregory of Nyssa (1978), describing Moses, said that when "he grew in knowledge, he declared that he had seen God in the darkness, that is, . . . he had come to know that what is Divine is beyond all knowledge and comprehension." The Book of Exodus (20: 21) tells us, "But Moses went to the dark cloud wherein God was." And David the King and Prophet writes of God: "He made darkness His hiding place; as His canopy around Him." (Ps 17: 12).

Russian Orthodox Metropolitan [bishop] Hilarion Alfeyev (2002) tells how this knowledge of God is expressed linguistically: "Using the prefix 'not-', 'in-', or 'un-' (as in not - being ... invisible, incomprehensible...by use of terms 'supra-', meaning beyond ... such as supra existent, supra-good ... [by use of contrary terms] such as divine-darkness ... finally in phrases in which one word is opposed to another: 'to see the invisible', 'to comprehend the incomprehensible' ... or 'wordless hymn'."

Historically, it can be seen that pride has led mankind to serious misunderstanding of almost 'everything'. Up to the 15th Century AD, for example, the earth was seen as the center of the universe. This concept was shown wrong by a cleric and scientist, Nicolas Copernicus. To see God as the apex of life's meaning will take overcoming our prideful inclination to see ourselves as the center of all things. We must see our correct place in the cosmos and in our relationship to God. St. Isaac of Syria (Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 2011) tells us that "the man who has reached the knowledge of the extent of his weakness has reached perfect humility." The fruit of such knowing is beyond description. St. Isaac further tells us: " if [we] ask God with arduous prayer and patience, he will grant [us] His petition and open His door to [us], but chiefly for [our] humility's sake. For 'mysteries are revealed to the humble.'"

REFERENCES

Alfeyev, Bishop Hilarion, (2002). The Mystery of Faith. London, England: Darton, Longman and Todd.

Evdokimov, P. (2001). In the world of the Church: A Paul Evdokimov reader. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.

Frankl, V.E. (1975). The unconscious God. NY: Simon and Schuster.

Holy Transfiguration Monastery. (ed., trans.).  (2011). The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian (revised, 2nd edition). Boston, MA: Holy Transfiguration Monastery.

St. Gregory of Nyssa (1978). The Life of Moses. NY: Paulist Press.

Date posted: May 2, 2012