Committed Christians, as well as, we might say, uncommitted ones, but those who are Christians, and, indeed, many others who are not Christians, are often heard saying this expression: “With God, all things are possible” or “With God, nothing shall be impossible.” It’s important for us to reflect on this expression just to understand what it means, what we’re saying if we say it, what does it entail, because certainly it is a habit, a practice, of Christian people, believing people, to use that expression often and frequently, and even sometimes casually: just say, “Oh, with God, all things are possible. We can do this, we can do that—with God, all things are possible.” Or there’s a line from St. Paul’s letter: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” There’s these popular books by Jan Karon, where the Episcopal minister, the priest in the book, has that has his kind of saying: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
The question is this: What does all that mean? Certainly, what are the things that are possible with God? It says, “All things.” Well, is it really true that all things are possible with God, and what is it referring to? How could we understand it? It’s worthwhile thinking about this.
Of course, if Christians go about it the right way, the reasonable, right way, and you’d say, “Well, gee, I’d like to try to understand what that expression means,” how it’s used in the Scripture would be the first thing we would ask. We would go to the holy Scripture and say, “Well, where do we find that expression?” Here I think that we can say pretty clearly… I mean, the idea is pervasive; certainly the power of our God… God does what he wills and so on, that’s certainly a conviction about God, the Christian God, that’s for sure. But if we take very specifically that particular expression, “With God, all things are possible” or what amounts to the same thing, the flip side of it: “With God, nothing shall be impossible,” and we ask where in the gospels, for example, would that expression be used, it’s very illuminating and very—how can you say?—striking where you find that expression used.
As far as I can tell, in the gospels it’s used three times; it’s found there three times. So let’s look at the times in the Scripture where we find that expression. First of all, it is found at the time of the incarnation of the Son of God from the Virgin Mary, and also with the birth of St. John the Baptist from his mother Elizabeth in her old age. Now, it’s in the first chapter of St. Luke, where the Archangel Gabriel comes to the Virgin and announces that the Lord is with her, she is highly favored by God, she is blessed more than others, and Mary is afraid, and the angel says, “Don’t be afraid,” and then he says, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall call his name Jesus, and he will be great. He will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
And then you have Mary asking the angel, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?” or “I know not a man” actually is what it says—she had a husband; Joseph was her husband legally, no doubt about it—but “that I know not a man.” In other words, she did not have sexual intercourse with a man. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you,” the angel says, “and the power of the Most High shall overshadow you. Therefore the Child to be born of you (some texts say) will be called holy, the Son of God.” And then the angel continues: “And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth, in her old age”—and probably Elizabeth was Mary’s aunt, her kinswoman, her relative, but she was older, and Mary was young, so they are of different generations—“behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth, in her old age, has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.”
And then you have the sentence: “For with God, nothing will be impossible.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaiden of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word,” and the angel departed from her.
So the first instance that we have of this expression, “With God, nothing will be impossible; with God, nothing is impossible; with God, all things are possible,” it’s at the very incarnation of the Son of God and the birth of John the Baptist from his elderly mother who was past childbearing age. Now, that kind of event, the old woman past childbearing age having a child by God’s power, by God’s grace, is what scholars call a biblical typos. It occurs and reoccurs many times through the Scripture, and it occurs every time God is doing a very particularly saving act, where God particularly wants to get people’s attention, so to speak, where God particularly wants to show that he is God and to show that, with him, nothing is impossible.
For example, of course, we know that Abraham’s wife Sarah gave birth to Isaac in her very old age. It says Abraham was a very old man, 100 years old, and his wife, when it was told that she was going to have a baby, she just laughed. That’s why the baby is called Isaac. So you have it with Abraham and Sarah giving birth to Isaac. You have it with Hannah, who was in her old age and childless, and how she prayed to God in her heart, and she was praying and people thought even she was drunk because she was murmuring and so on. And then the Lord God visits Hannah, and she gives birth to Samuel, in her old age, by regular sexual intercourse.
By the way, in the Bible, we can learn very much and profit very much by comparing the canticle of Hannah, when she gave birth to Samuel, to the canticle of Mary, the Magnificat, when she gives birth to Jesus. You have this kind of song of jubilation when the woman becomes pregnant. Then, of course, there’s the mother of Samson, Manoah’s wife; she conceives in old age.
So you have this [type] in Scripture. With Mary and Elizabeth, of course, the whole point in Luke’s gospel is to show the difference between the two. Mary is conceived of the Holy Spirit, not knowing a man, and Elizabeth conceives in old age from Zachariah, her husband, but in both cases it is presented as one of God’s mighty acts, one of God’s dynamis, one of his powerful acts, one of his wonders; one of his great signs of his presence and power is this birth.
Here you have the expression being used for what for Christians is the ultimate mighty act of God, the ultimate wonder of God, the ultimate sign of God. “This will be a sign for you: a virgin will conceive.” It’s right at the heart of the Christian faith. The Christian faith begins with the womb of Mary. The ultimate, magnificent act—what the Scriptures call the megala, the mighty acts of God, or in Latin, what are they called? the mirabilia or the magnalia, these marvelous acts—is connected with the incarnation of the Son of God. That is, right from the beginning, the very heart of Christianity is predicated on the conviction that with God, nothing will be impossible, that even a virgin will conceive and bear a Child, and the Child will be God himself. It’ll be the incarnation of the Logos of God, the Devar Yahweh, Yahweh which is divine himself. In the beginning was the Logos, the Word, the Devar, and the Word was with God. The Word was God, and then the Word becomes flesh of Mary’s womb—because, with God, nothing will be impossible.
That’s one instance. Another instance is in the Gospel according to St. Mark, at the end of Jesus’ life. So you have the expression at the very beginning of his conception in Mary’s womb, and the expression is used at the end of his life. It’s used in Mark’s gospel when Jesus is in the garden of Gethsemane and he’s praying to God his Father that if it would be possible that he would not have to be crucified, “Let this be so, but if it is not possible, then your will be done.” So we have Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, all have this narration about Jesus in the garden, and in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, you have Jesus praying; in Luke, even an angel comes and comforts him and so on. But Mark is what we want to see now. In St. Mark’s gospel, this is what it said:
And they went to a place which was called Gethsemane. And Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray,” and he took with him Peter and James and John and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” (Of course, they fall asleep.) And then going a little further, he fell on the ground, and he prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.
In other words, that he would not have to go through his passion if it would be possible. And then he says: “Abba, Father!” And it’s the only time in the four gospels that you have the term “Abba” being used for God by Jesus. “Abba” also appears in the New Testament in Galatians 4, the Christmas epistle, and in Romans 8, where the Holy Spirit enters into a person’s heart, crying, “Abba, Father!” Now, we know that Abba is the name for Father, and it’s an intimate name, an endearing name, and Jesus called God his Abba in a very particular realistic way, not metaphorically but actually, really, and in St. John’s gospel that’s even the reason why he is killed, because he, being a man, has called God his actual Father, thereby making himself equal with God.
So the “Abba, Father!” is very, very important in the Christian faith. Jesus is his Son, literally; God is literally his Abba, Father. And then Jesus gives to us, all of us, men and women, the status of divine sonship, and pours the Holy Spirit into our hearts once he’s raised and glorified, that we could pray to God, “Abba, Father!” And indeed, the central Christian prayer is: “Our Father, who art in the heavens, make your name be holy, make your kingdom come, may your will be done, as in heaven (in Jesus Christ, raised and glorified), so also in us his members upon the earth.” That’s what Christians are to pray every day, even seven times every day at least, or at least three, or at least once.
But in any case, you have this “Abba, Father!” But then you have the words: “Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee. Remove this cup from me. Yet, not what I will but what thou wilt.” And then it says he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch even one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Which means not be really fallen when the temptations and the trials and the tribulations come. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
Here you have, in Mark, that expression again: “If it were possible, let this hour pass from me.” Then he prays in the actual prayer, “Abba, Father, all things are possible with you.” So there you have the sentence: “All things are possible with you.” “Remove this cup from me”—and that cup is the cup of suffering, the passion, the death—“nevertheless, not as I will, but what you will.” So what Jesus is saying to God his Father here is: “Abba, Father, if it would be your will, I wouldn’t have to go through this passion. And it’s possible for you to spare me this passion. It’s possible for you, I don’t know, to send legions of angels and wipe out all these people. All these things are possible for you; you can keep me alive if you will.”
However, that would be crazy, because the Lord Jesus Christ came into the world in order to die, and Jesus knew it very well, but in that prayer, he’s saying it still is possible to show that this [is] voluntary and to show that it is God’s will, and, very importantly, to show that what is possible with God in one sense may be impossible for God in another sense, because what we can conclude, both from the conversation of the Archangel Gabriel with Mary and in Jesus’ prayer in the Gethsemane garden is that, with God, what is possible in the human life is what God wants to be possible. He can do whatever he wills, but the question is: what does he will? And this would then lead to the conclusion that it would be impossible for God not to do what he would will as the good, true, right, beautiful, saving, glorifying, deifying actions of saving humanity and the entire creation. In other words, we can really say, it would be impossible for God not to save the world. In fact, some holy Fathers would say it’s even impossible for God not to create the world in the first place!
Now, we could say, metaphysically, using a big word, ontologically, meaning according to the very beings of things, could the world have not existed? The answer, of course, is yes: God could not have created the world if he wanted not to create it. And even to create the world is possible only because creation is a possibility for God. God has the power to create.
Here we would say, yes, that’s true, so the creation of the world is because it’s possible for God to create it and that’s what God wanted to do, but theoretically he didn’t have to do it. It was an act of generous, loving free will that he created the world. But some holy Fathers would speculate and say when you think about it, it’s really impossible that God would not create the world. You can’t imagine God not creating the world. If what we know about God is true, namely, that he is good, that he is powerful, that he is gracious, that he is wise, that he wants the well-being of everything that can possibly exist—he wants even the being of everything that can possibly exist—then you can say: It’s really impossible to think that God would not create the world.
My professor of theology used to say: “Was God constrained to create the world?” And he used to say in fancy, theological language, “Ontologically, no; morally, yes.” In other words, God could not have created, but you can’t imagine him not creating because of his own goodness. And if he’s got the power to create and he’s a good God, why would he not do it? So you can already say maybe there’s a sense in which certain things are… they are impossible to God. You can say maybe it’s impossible to God that he would not create the world.
Then you could go a step further. You could say, well, if God did create the world—it was possible for him to do it and he did it—and then the world got all messed up, at least the planet earth as we know it, was corrupted by human rebellion, and if you even add to that the Christian conviction that even in the noetic realm, even in the realm of pure spirits there was a crack, there was a rebellion, an apostasy, in other words, put in Sunday school language, certain angels became demons because they rebelled against God and fell from heaven; they didn’t accept their angelic rank; they tried to go against the God who created them—so if that is the case, then you can say, well, would it be impossible for God not to have saved the world that he created?
And here, the holy Fathers would say that’s just impossible. It would be impossible for God not to save the world that he created. Once he saved it and decided to make it, and when it goes astray and goes wrong and everything becomes corrupted and sinful and dead, God has to act to save it. The holy Fathers, for example, Athanasius the Great, he says this so very clearly in his treatise on the incarnation of the Son of God, the Incarnation of the Word of God, actually, is the technical title: On the Incarnation. He says it’s totally fitting and proper that God would create and redeem and ransom the world from evil and death, that he made because he loves it.
Of course, St. John says that: God so loved the world (that he made) that he sent his only-begotten Son to save it, that who would believe in him would not perish but have everlasting life. And then everything else that hasn’t the capability of believing, in other words, the stars, the moon, the earth, the rocks, the water, the air, the animals, the plants, the birds, the fish—they will be saved. They will not perish. God will act to save them, even over and against the evils of demons and human beings who pollute and corrupt the universe.
So Athanasius would say you cannot imagine God not saving the world. Of course, the Savior of the world has to be the very Logos, the very Son and Word of God, for whom and in whom and toward whom the world was created in the first place! We can say it is possible for God to save the world, and in some sense it’s impossible for him not to. But he has the power to do it and he has the will to do it and he has the moral righteousness and goodness to do it.
Then what we say is: When the Angel Gabriel says to Mary that she’s going to have this Child who will be the Son of God, for with God, nothing shall be impossible; for with God, nothing will be impossible, what we are saying here, what we are to understand here, is that it is possible for God’s Word to be born of a virgin. It is possible for the Son and Word of God to take flesh. It is possible for God himself to be incarnate in human form. It is possible for God to enter into our world, and not only to become human, as St. Paul says in Philippians, but to become a slave, but a servant; not only a servant, but dead, obedient to God even unto death; and not only just death in general, but death on the cross.
In other words, it’s possible that God can become human, and it’s possible that God can take upon himself the sins of the world, and it’s possible that God can suffer in human flesh, and it’s possible that God can die on the cross, and it is also possible that he can be raised from the dead, the Son of God who offers himself totally to God the Father, that God the Father can act through the Son’s human act of divine love, the divinity expressed in the humanity by his dying, through his death, that God can raise the dead through him, and that Christ can be enthroned on the throne of God’s kingdom.
What we say here—yes, indeed—this is possible for God to do all these things. And then we might even dare add, in our speculation and our reflection, using our theological imagination, we can say, and, knowing that this is the case and that it’s possible with God, we can go the next step and say: And it would be impossible for God not to do this, because God, being who God is and why he is and how he acts, it’s just impossible to imagine that he would not do this.
He has to become incarnate, especially if it is the teaching—which is a Christian teaching—that it is impossible to God to save the world any other way. It is possible for God to save the world, but it is impossible for God to save the world any other way than by the Incarnation and the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ, his only-begotten Son, the eternal Word, the uncreated Image of God himself, the exact Image of the Father’s Person, God’s power, God’s life, God’s truth, God’s glory. There’s no other way for God to create the world except through him and for him, and there’s no other way for God to act than to save the world through him and for him.
On the one hand we say with God, all things are possible; he can become incarnate of the Virgin and save the world. And on the other hand we would say, and it is impossible to imagine that God would not do this. It’s impossible that God would not become incarnate and save the world. He’s got to save the world, and this is the only way he can do it. It’s possible for him to do it, and it’s impossible for him not to do it.
Now let’s move to the Gethsemane garden. In the Gethsemane garden, you have exactly the same dialectic. The same thing is going on there; the same reality is being revealed there. What is it? It is this: Surely it was possible for God not to require his Son to be crucified. Certainly it was possible for God to remove the cup, to save him from that hour. Certainly it was possible for God to prevent the evil-doers from killing Jesus. I mean, externally, formally, that’s possible to God, and Jesus says so. He says, “Abba, Father”; he said, “Abba, Father, with you all things are possible. All things are possible to you.” So, yeah, it’s possible.
But then we can say, in the same way that we spoke about creation and incarnation, that it would be impossible for God to actually remove the cup and save Jesus from that hour. Why would it be impossible? Because God is good, God is righteous, God wants to save us, God loves us. So the only way that he could show that goodness and that love and that desire for our well-being and our eternal salvation is by willing Jesus to be crucified and allowing the evil to kill him. As it says in the psalm, the whole world is united against, and all the nations against the Lord and his Christ. The Jews and the Gentiles and every sinner that ever existed, including you and me, we’re all responsible for the death of Jesus, but God himself turns him over into our hands, and Jesus himself accepts the will of the Father and surrenders himself over unto death. He surrenders himself to the cross; he takes up the cross, and he says we have to also. We’ll get to that.
But in any case, right now what we have to see is that it would be possible for God not to let this happen, but it would be impossible to God to prevent it from happening. He’s got to let it happen. He’s got to make it happen, in some sense. He’s got to let it take its course, and that is his will. He could have not done it, but if he actually stopped it, which he has the power to do, because with God all things are possible, he would be betraying his own being. He would be betraying himself; God would betray himself if he acted in such a way that would be contrary to his own nature as God.
This leads us to make a very important theological conclusion: Not all things are possible to God, because what is impossible to God is for him to deny himself. God cannot deny himself. God cannot do evil, for example. God cannot do stupidities and foolishness. God cannot act to harm anybody in any way, ultimately. He may chasten people. He may in the Old Testament even kill people. He may take the lives of certain people and even will that for the sake of his ultimate goodness to be triumphant in Jesus. But one thing is for sure: It’s impossible for God to do unrighteous things. It’s impossible for God to do evil things. He would betray his own self if he did that.
Also, we could add to this another little point here, [which] is that once God creates creation as he has created it, then it’s impossible for him to change or distort the natures of things that he has already created. It’s interesting that the Scripture says that the wisdom of God reveals the natures of things. That line is actually used in the troparion of St. Basil the Great in the Orthodox Church, that St. Basil, acquiring the mind of Christ and the wisdom of God, revealed the very nature of things.
Once God acts to make the nature of things as they are, then it’s impossible for him to change that. First of all, he’s not going to go back on his own word, but he can’t make something to be something that it is not. The example here, what I’m trying to drive at here, is a very simple thing. We could ask this question: Could God create a human being without free will? The answer is no, because if a creature doesn’t have free will, then the creature’s not human. He can make animals, he can make plants, but if he’s going to make a human being, freedom is part of what it is to be human. The same thing with the angelic realm, the bodiless powers of heaven: God cannot make angels, so to speak, that would just be like robots or machines; he’s got to give them freedom, because their glorification has to be voluntary and true, and they have to resist all the evils of the blasphemies, and they have to do God’s will.
So if human beings—let’s stick with human beings here; leave the angels for a while, for now—human beings. You can’t say God can make a human being without free will. That’s just impossible. It would also be impossible, for example, to say, “Could God make a square circle?” Well, a circle is a circle, and a square is a square. So if you say God is not all-powerful because he can’t make a square circle, it’s an absurdity. It’s just an absurdity. It’s an irrational absurdity, because a square is a square, and a circle is a circle, so you can’t have a round square or a square circle. Or sometimes witty people would say, “God is not all-powerful because you’d ask the question”—I learned this in my freshman class in college in a theology class more than 50 years ago—“where the question was asked: Can God make a rock heavier than he can pick up?” Well, that’s just an absurdity. So it’s impossible for God to be involved in absurdities. It’s impossible for God to be involved in absurdities, and there are laws of reality in the created order that God himself cannot violate.
Sometimes people think that miracles are a violation of nature. In a sense, they are not. In a sense, the powers of God and the wonders of God are the ultimate revelations of the powers that are intrinsically existing within nature so that they could fulfill their nature, namely, could be what God created them to be, and do things that they should have the power to do but don’t—we human beings—because we’re sinful, because we’re against God, because we’re in the power of evil. That’s what makes us weak and impotent.
So it’s really true what St. Paul says: “With Christ I can do all things,” but I can only do all things that are not absurd. I can only do all things that are good. I can only do all things that are according to the will of God. I cannot do all things in general. That’s impossible to think. And in this sense, that’s what it means to be an imitator of God, because God cannot do things that are impossible to himself. God cannot do things that are contrary to his own nature. God can’t do evil or absurd or foolish or ridiculous things, and God cannot not act in ways that will be harmful to his creation.
So God, in some sense, you might put it this way, strangely: God is in a sense bound by his own goodness. He’s bound by his own plan, his own desire. In that sense you can really say: All things are not possible to God. The only things that are possible to God are things that are good, righteous, true, real, and according to the natures of created things once he creates and that are not evil, are not foolish, and are not absurd. It’s important for us to understand that.
However, there’s a third time that expression is used in the holy Scripture, that with God all things are possible, or that things that are impossible for human beings can be possible for God, that he has powers incomparably different from our own. This is a very interesting thing here, this third time that the expression is used. Where is it used? When is it used? How is it used? It’s used in St. Luke’s gospel, the 18th chapter, when a ruler comes to Jesus and is testing him, tempting him, asking him some of these questions trying to catch him—which we know at the end of Jesus’ life, they try to catch him in his words.
So the man says to Jesus, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus says, “You know the commandments. Do not commit adultery. Do not kill. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Honor your father and your mother.” The ruler says to him, “All these I have observed from my youth.” And when Jesus heard that, he said to him, “One thing you still lack: sell all that you have, distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. And you come and you follow me.” So the guy was testing Jesus, so Jesus tests him back! He says, “If you’re serious about this and you say you’ve kept the commandments—and perhaps you have, at least formally—and you want real perfection, I’ll tell you what to do. Give it all up, sell everything, give it to the poor, and follow me.”
When this man heard this, he became sad, for he was very rich. Jesus, looking at him, said, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God, for it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle”—and probably it meant a camel going through the Eye of the Needle, one of the gates of the city of Jerusalem, but it doesn’t matter; the point is clear—“it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” So Jesus is saying how riches can enslave a person, how riches can destroy a person, how when we are wanting to acquire everything and we covet everything and we want possessions and we want riches and we want to protect them, we want to build up our life, it becomes virtually impossible then to enter into the kingdom of God.
Here the holy Fathers would say it doesn’t even matter what the possessions are. The holy Fathers say that there can be some people who have lots of possessions but they’re not enslaved by them, because with God all things are possible, as we’ll see; and there can be other people who will fight over a string. Even monks in a desert will fight over some petty little trivial possession. But in any case, the point being that riches, greed, is probably the single most greatest obstacle to entering into God’s kingdom and doing God’s will.
Boy, oh boy, do we Americans ever have to hear this, because we Americans even think that God exists to make us rich, to make us wealthy and healthy and live long and have lots of possessions. Then we say, of course we should share them and we should have them, but God wants us to be rich. Some Christians even say Christ is not on the cross any more and he gives us abundant life and that means goodness in our businesses and so on. There’s not one word of this in the holy Scripture, by the way; not one. Not one: God’s will is much more mysterious than that, and most of the saints really didn’t have much, and what they did have they gave up, and then they suffered terrible affliction and poverty on earth, there’s no doubt about it.
But getting back to our theme for today, when the apostles and those around heard what Jesus said to this man, they asked him this question: “Who, then, can be saved?” In other words, who can do what you’re asking? And not only who can give it all up, but can we even give up just a little? Who can be saved? Who can do your teaching? And this is a very, very, very, very important question for human beings and Christians to ask of the gospels and of Jesus as his words are given to us in the gospels. When we hear those words, “Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who abuse you. They ask for your jacket; give them your shirt. They strike you on the one cheek; give them the other. Do not commit adultery. If your right hand offends you, cut it off. If your right eye offends you, pluck it out. You will be gravely tempted. You will take up your cross.” Who can do all those things!? Who can do all those things? Who can be saved, if that’s what it requires?
But then Jesus answers, and we’ve got that sentence again, the third time in the Scripture: “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” In other words, God can give the power and the grace to people to actually give up everything and to follow him. God can give the grace and the power to people to keep his commandments. God can give the grace and the power to people—let’s say family people, who have spouses and children—he can give them the power to care for their life as well as they can and to share what they don’t need with others.
In other words, God can give the power to a person not to be enslaved by riches, not to have the word of God choked by the cares of this world and the riches of life. God can even give the power for people to endure horrendous suffering. How many people we know who were in prison camps, Jews and Christians—Jews as believers in God, who believed in God and triumphed by their courage and their faith over even those who were killing them! This is possible with God.
When we say, “Who can do God’s will?” the answer is: No human being can do it by their own power, so in a sense, if we ask this question: Who can keep the Gospel? Who can keep the commandments? Who can keep what God wants? And in the most extreme instances: Should it be God’s will, who can be crucified for him? Who could die for him? Or in another very extreme example: Who could actually give everything they have and become completely poor and follow God totally? Who can do that? The answer would be: Nobody! Nobody can do that. Nobody can do that by willpower. You can’t grit your teeth and clench your fists and say, [growling] “I’m going to do God’s will!” You can’t save yourself. You can’t overcome the demons by yourself. You can’t even overcome your own flesh, your own passions, your own fallen will by yourself.
St. Theophan the Recluse said in one writing that when people are trying to handle their own life and take care of it by themselves and even try to be Christians by themselves and complete failing and feeling guilty and feeling, I don’t know, stressed and distressed and all that stuff—he said it’s as if God looks at them with his arms folded and said, “When you’re tired of trying to do my will by yourself, let me know,” because we can only do God’s will, what is possible to us from God, by faith and by grace.
There’s no other way that it can happen. By humility, by trust, by self-surrender, by voluntary poverty. That doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody has to, like St. Anthony the Great, go into the desert and live there in a cave or something. That’s obviously the case, at least it seems very obvious, that not everybody is called to that, but everybody is called to do in their life what God wants them to do to keep the commandments of God as appropriate for their particular conditions and situations, and with God, that is possible, because with God, all things are possible—that God wants, that are according to his righteousness, that are possible to do according to the laws of nature.
It is possible for a human being to obey God. It is possible for a human being to be divine by grace. It is possible for human beings to be really holy. It is possible for human beings to resemble God, imitate God, and participate in divine life. It is possible for human beings to be partakers of the divine nature, as Peter says in the New Testament. It is possible for every human being to be a son of God, to have a status of divine sonship, whether they are Jews or Greeks, slave or free, male or female. All of these things are possible. God says: You be holy because I am holy; that’s possible. So with God, it is possible to have a divine life. For with God it is possible for human beings to live the life of God. That is possible, because with God, all things are possible.
Isn’t it wonderful, if we take these three sentences of Scripture and put them together? The Incarnation of God from a virgin is possible. His death on the cross in the human flesh to save the world is possible. And to believe in that, to trust that, and to live by it and to take up one’s cross, and to have Christ born in our hearts every day and to become ourselves children of God by faith and grace and to be begotten of God ourselves by faith, as John says in the first letter in the Bible: “All those who believe in God are born of God,” so it’s possible to be born of God; just as Christ was physically born of God, it’s possible for all of us to be spiritually born of God, if we believe it, if we trust God.
And that means everybody. There are no losers here. Naturally, so to speak—that’s not a good a good word—probably because of human sin, we are all losers; we’re all caught up in sin together. But in Christ we are all victorious; we are all winners. And it’s possible to win. It’s possible to endure anything. Read how St. Paul describes what he had to endure, but all that was possible because, with God, all things are possible. Paul says it that way: I can do everything through him who strengthens me. So it is possible for human beings to be saints. In other words, it is possible for God’s plan to work. It is possible that God’s Incarnation of a virgin and his death on the cross can really serve for the salvation, the sanctification, the illumination, the glorification, and the deification of human beings. This is all possible because, with God, all good, true, and right things, according to nature, are possible. And the human nature is such a nature that it is possible for a human being to live a divine life by faith and grace. That is possible, because with God all things are possible.
So it’s important for us to understand. What is possible with God? And the answer would be: everything that is good, true, and beautiful according to the divine will. What is impossible for God? What is ugly, deformed, sinful, unrighteous, perverse, corrupted, wicked, and evil, and is not according to the will of God. That’s impossible. Is it possible for God to do all things? Yes, according to his own divine nature and his own divinity, because according to himself and not betraying himself, with God all things are possible. Is it possible for God to betray himself? Is it possible for God to harm creatures? Is it possible for God to ridicule us or abandon us or let us perish in our sins? No, that’s impossible.
Let’s think about these things. And the most important thing that we should think about is this: God has done absolutely everything that it is possible for God to do to make us, to save us, and to glorify us. And it is possible for us to believe that, to trust God in that, to give up everything, even all human things; it’s possible for some of us to give up all of our goods and family life and everything and to life solely and completely for God. But it’s possible for married people, families, also, according to their conditions, to live completely and solely for God. It’s possible for us to be saints and to be holy, whoever we are, because—with God, all things are possible.
With God, God has done everything possible to save us, and with God, we can be saved. We can be glorified. We can be what God created us to be from the beginning, and we can be what he saved us, through the Incarnation of a virgin and through his death on the cross, to be for all eternity—and that is to live the possible life of God himself, humanly impossible, but with God, all things are possible, especially for us human beings. All things that God wills for us and wants for us and gives to us, it’s possible for us to be, to have, and to do.