January 23, 2008 Length: 58:45
In part four of our discussion of relics, we tackle the nature of God and the nature of the human being and how we can "know" a person. What is the relationship of "nature" to a "person"? What is an "energy"? How are a nature's energies expressed? The proper definition of nature, energy and personhood form the cornerstone for a proper definition of salvation and the goal of our existence in God.
In series Relics
Mr. Steve Robinson: Mr. Steve Robinson: O heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, who art everywhere present and fillest all things; Treasury of good gifts and Giver of life, come and abide in us and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O gracious Lord.
And good Sunday afternoon and welcome to this edition of Our Life in Christ. I’m your host today as usual, Steve Robinson, in the basement catacomb, subterranean studio with Bill Gould. Hey, Bill.
Mr. Bill Gould: Hey, how are you doing, Steve?
Mr. Robinson: Well, I’m doing okay. There’s a lot of happy Patriots fans out there, I guess.
Mr. Gould: They beat the Chargers.
Mr. Robinson: I napped through the game, so I guess that showed how important that was to me! [Laughter]
Mr. Gould: You’re so spiritual.
Mr. Robinson: I know! [Laughter] Yeah, I should have said I was praying in my closet! [Laughter] No, I was sleeping. Well, my son is happy. He lives in Boston and is coming out to visit us in Super Bowl. He doesn’t have tickets, but he’ll probably watch it on our big 25”-screen TV here at the house.
Mr. Gould: That’s right, and I’ve heard that to buy a ticket right now to the Super Bowl costs you a cool $2500, minimum.
Mr. Robinson: Oh my gosh. That’s probably for nosebleed.
Mr. Gould: That’s probably just to get in the door, that’s right.
Mr. Robinson: Oh, man. Well, God bless those folks! [Laughter]
Mr. Gould: That’s right. We can buy a few Bibles with that.
Mr. Robinson: Yeah, we could! Somebody go and eBay, auction off one of your Super Bowl tickets and send the money to us! [Laughter]
Mr. Gould: No, don’t do that.
Mr. Robinson: We could send a lot of Bibles to Africa with that. Well, anyway, Bill, it’s good to be back in the studio.
Mr. Gould: Two weeks in a row. It’s not bad.
Mr. Robinson: Two and a half weeks, but still…
Mr. Gould: We made it in under there. Okay.
Mr. Robinson: Two shows in the space of a month. Let’s put it that way. [Laughter] Not too bad.
Well, we’re actually really excited about this series that we’re doing. We’re also very intimidated and very reticent about it, because we have launched into a discussion of the essence and energies of God in relation to the topic that we started with, on relics. As we mentioned in our intros before, the topic of relics really does get to the heart of the Orthodox understanding, the Orthodox view of what it means for the human being to have union with God.
Mr. Gould: When we talk about the transformation of the whole person—body, soul, and spirit—it has radical implications.
Mr. Robinson: And again, always wrapped up in the Incarnation. How does the immutable, transcendent, omnipresent, omniscient, infinite, unknowable, wholly other God become human—truly human, not just appear as human? And that, in itself, is the hope of our salvation. That defines our salvation.
Mr. Gould: Exactly. Suffice to say, it’s a mystery, but here we are in the deep end of the pool… [Laughter] We’re probing it.
Mr. Robinson: We started out launching off into the deep waters probably in a sailboat. Now we’ve abandoned the sailboat and manned the submarine.
Mr. Gould: That’s right. But last week we left off talking about Moses, and actually about the fact that when Moses was up on the mount with God and participated, literally participated in his glory, it was a transformation for him.
Mr. Robinson: He comes down from the mountain, and St. Paul references this in 2 Corinthians—I believe it’s chapter 5—where he says Moses comes down from the mountain, and he had to wear a veil over his face. We go back to Exodus 34: Moses comes down from the mountain after he’s been in the presence of God and God gives him the Law, and it says:
When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face, but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take off the veil until he came out, and whenever he came out and spoke to the sons of Israel what he had been commanded, the sons of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone. So Moses would replace the veil over his face until he went in to speak with him again.
Mr. Gould: Wow.
Mr. Robinson: So this is the foundation for, first of all, the discussion on relics, because what we see here is a literal physical transformation of the human being, of a created thing, due to the presence of God, due to the glory of God, somehow infusing this matter.
Mr. Gould: These energies that infused Moses—and we said it before—they are not created energies. This is God.
Mr. Robinson: And I think this is in a sense the philosophical issue that gets unpacked throughout Church history for probably, well, if we go back to Exodus 34…
Mr. Gould: A long time!
Mr. Robinson: A long, long time! At least up until the 13th century, when we have the Barlaam and St. Gregory Palamas debate over the uncreated energies of God and whether or not the human being can literally see the uncreated light of God. What is the nature of the presence of God to the human being?
Mr. Gould: No, that’s right. When we’re doing the services in the Church on the feast of the Transfiguration, we reference these Scriptures in Exodus, talking about the transformation of Christ, the transfiguration of Christ, where sort of his veil is lifted off.
Mr. Robinson: He doesn’t become something other than what he is as the God-man, but he manifests what he is.
Mr. Gould: And Moses and Elijah are both there, and so are Peter and James and John. It’s pretty cool how God kind of ties us all together, but it leaves us again, as you said, with a question of what was really going on there, what was happening, what was the nature of this revelation.
Mr. Robinson: The nature of the union of the glory of God, the nature of the union of whatever it is that God is, that has the capacity or the ability to unite itself to that which he has created.
Mr. Gould: Yes, there is no doubt that Christ’s physical body is a created thing. He took his flesh from Mary.
Mr. Robinson: If we don’t believe that, then we’re Gnostics, Apollinarians, or any number of heretics.
Mr. Gould: And this is again what the Church really fought in the early centuries to define, was the nature of Christ, and as we’ve always said that has radical implications for us.
Mr. Robinson: So when we talk about this glory of God… Bill, when we were in services this morning, and it just kind of amazes me, because we read these psalms, we read these Scriptures, and we hear these things over and over again, but it just seems that whenever we’re preparing for a program or doing a series on a topic or something like that, there’s just these passages that just jump out at me. It’s like: oh, gosh, that’s been there for how many decades of my life?
Mr. Gould: How many times have I read that?
Mr. Robinson: How many times have I read that and never saw that? But we talk about the glory of God, the energies of God. We go back to the Old Testament. When we go back to Exodus and Leviticus and we see the presence of God with the nation of Israel, we see God manifesting himself to the Israelites in various forms—through the pillar of fire, the pillar of smoke, when they build the tabernacle, it says the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle…
Mr. Gould: The shakinah glory.
Mr. Robinson: Yeah, the light of God and the smoke and the fire, all these things filled the tabernacle, but it’s interesting because Leviticus 16:2 says that God filled the tabernacle. So we don’t have this distinction between the manifestation of God and God himself.
Mr. Gould: That’s kind of what we were saying last week. Just because Moses saw the back parts of God didn’t mean that he didn’t see God. He just wasn’t able to see the face of God.
Mr. Robinson: The face of God, and we have a lot more to say about that. But one of the things, talking about the face of God, in one of our psalter readings this morning… You’re blowing through it at matins. When you’re in the services and you’re reading 15 psalms, your mind kind of floats in and out.
Mr. Gould: You’re focused on trying to read.
Mr. Robinson: You’re focused on reading, and I’m focused on trying to listen to them when someone else is reading. But Psalm 17:15, David says, “As for me, I shall behold thy face in righteousness, and I will be satisfied with thy likeness when I awake.” The translation from the Septuagint which you were reading this morning says, “I will be satisfied with thy glory,” but here the psalter is talking about seeing the face of God in righteousness and being satisfied with being in the presence or seeing the glory or the likeness of God.
Mr. Gould: There’s another part of that that says, “When thy glory is made manifest unto me.”
Mr. Robinson: And that’s the thing. We read a lot of the psalter in our services. We’d read a lot more of it if we did all the services, but just the ones that we are regularly going through, the concept of the presence of God, the face of God, the glory of God, the love of God—all of these things are constant themes throughout the psalter, because the psalter is ultimately about a personal relationship with God. It’s ultimately about a person having a deep, intimate relationship with the uncreated, transcendent, unknowable, immutable God, who has revealed himself to David.
Mr. Gould: To Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob.
Mr. Robinson: All those people in the Old Testament! So when we come down to the New Testament—and again, in our reading this morning; we were reading from the Gospel of Luke 6:19, where Jesus has come down from the mountain and this is Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, and it says, “All the people were coming out to him to be healed because of the power that was coming from him.” This kind of hearkens back to the story of the woman with the issue of blood, where she reaches out and touches the hem of Jesus’ garment and Jesus stops and he says, “Who touched me? because I felt the power go out from me through the robe.”
So the question, then, is what healed the people? The Scriptures say it was the power of God. Well, was that God who healed, or was it something that God created?
Mr. Gould: Was it electricity? [Laughter]
Mr. Robinson: And I think this is the philosophical question that kind of comes down through the ages: Was that directly God? Was that God himself who did the healing, and then what is the nature of that power? Is it something that God created as an intermediary between God himself, who is unknowable…
Mr. Gould: Transcendent, unapproachable…
Mr. Robinson: ...and the human being, or is that power something of God himself that is communicated to the human being? So that’s the question.
Mr. Gould: It’s interesting, and we’re going to spend more time on this, but why would we even bother to ask the question? [Laughter]
Mr. Robinson: This seems like a good time… Well, that’s a good question, Bill.
Mr. Gould: In a nutshell—again, we’re going to unpack this for a couple more weeks, I think—the nature of this gets down to what we really believe about God and what we believe about salvation. We are going to get into a situation where we’re going to have to contrast and compare what we believe as the Orthodox view of God, in his essence and his energies, versus other views of God. Believe me, there are distinct differences.
Mr. Robinson: Yeah, and depending on which view you take, it leads you on a path to a lot of beliefs and understandings about God that end up being kind of strange.
Mr. Gould: Suspect, certainly. It’s funny, because most people wouldn’t be able to articulate them, and it’s even difficult for us, even after having been immersed in this for weeks now, to articulate specifically, but we’re going to try to do that. It does get down to the idea that God is a Person and not just an idea but a truth, that God is Person. God is not abstract; he is not…
Mr. Robinson: He is not a philosophical concept.
Mr. Gould: It doesn’t start with man.
Mr. Robinson: You bring up a good point, Bill, because ultimately when you look at the God of the Christian faith, whom do we talk about? Remember that poster that has all the names of God throughout the Scriptures.
Mr. Gould: Wonderful Counselor, mighty God; from Isaiah.
Mr. Robinson: And it goes on and on and on.
Mr. Gould: There’s probably a zillion of them.
Mr. Robinson: Such a cool poster, but these are the names of God. When we read the Old Testament, we read the New Testament, ultimately God has a face. God reveals himself. He has a name. God manifests himself.
Mr. Gould: When you even say, “the God of Abraham,” you’re assuming a relationship.
Mr. Robinson: You’re relating the unknowable, transcendent God to a human being, and that’s why it says, “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob. That’s an interesting statement in itself, though, because when you read the Old Testament, it doesn’t say, “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” They always say, “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” Why do they do that instead of putting the commas in? Because this God relates personally to each of those people. He is the God of each of those individuals.
Mr. Gould: And rather than a philosophical abstraction, there’s history bound up in that. It’s not just this sort of silent, invisible, ethereal mind-game, as we talked about, the mind-meld sort of thing, where God just sort of says something silently and then, oh, yeah, I just heard God tell me something—which reminds me of some people I’ve met in the back woods. [Laughter] “God spoke to me” kind of thing. But when God speaks to someone, it’s not just that God speaks, but God acts as well, and there’s history behind this. When God speaks to one of the prophets, the stuff happens.
Mr. Robinson: God is intimately related to history because God created the world. We exist in time because God created us.
Mr. Gould: Contrast that—we won’t go into this now, but contrast that with the kind of language and the descriptions that come out of classic Greek philosophy.
Mr. Robinson: Or even modern philosophy: God as The One. God as Cosmic Energy.
Mr. Gould: The Prime Mover. Pure Essence. Simple.
Mr. Robinson: The Absolute Divine Simplicity. Those are abstract concepts; those are not the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob: God with a name, God with a face, God with a back side, God who shows his loving-kindness upon generation to generation, who visits the iniquity of the fathers onto the future generations.
Mr. Gould: The third and fourth generations, exactly. So there’s this real difference, depending on how we see it. Unfortunately—and we have a few articles, again, that we’re going to go over—what we find, if we look at Church history, is that some of this abstraction has crept back into the mindset of the Church.
Mr. Robinson: We would probably venture to say that this abstraction that has crept into the Church is evidenced by some of the attitudes or some of the concepts that modern Christians have about God. We constantly reference this kind of neo-Gnostic kind of attitude toward matter and toward…
Mr. Gould: Well, the Church is invisible, the focus of our spiritual life is really ethereal and invisible.
Mr. Robinson: It’s a change of attitude of God toward the human being; it’s a change of God’s heart toward a human being; it’s the transformation of the mind of the human, and the flesh follows only insofar as it’s evidence of the change of mind. But the whole concept of salvation has lost its materiality; it’s lost the reality of the true nature of the union of God with the human being as evidenced by the incarnation of Christ. Just something as simple as the topic of relics and the fact that they’re holy and the fact that they can still in fact in some way manifest the glory of God to the human being and be the source of miraculous power from God… [Laughter] Like we talked about in the story from 2 Kings, I believe it was, where the Midianites were throwing the guy in the grave, in Elijah’s grave. He touches the bones and jumps out alive.
Mr. Gould: And we tend to dismiss that.
Mr. Robinson: That’s an Old Testament story.
Mr. Gould: That’s an Old Testament story. That was just God doing something really special.
Mr. Robinson: Yeah, that was a hat trick of some kind, the fireworks of God or something like that. This is where the Orthodox Church takes all of this history of God with his people and brings it all down to the present, because if it happened in the Old Testament before the incarnation of Christ, before the full manifestation and the full revelation of God in Christ, then what keeps anything like that from happening today? If Peter, James, and John can see the transfigured Christ, can see the glory of God through the flesh of Christ, then why can’t that happen to Christians today? It happened to St. Paul.
Mr. Gould: Sure did.
Mr. Robinson: Why can’t it happen today, then?
Mr. Gould: But it can, and it does.
Mr. Robinson: These guys weren’t just exceptions to the rule. The exceptions, in a sense, are the rule. This is how God interacts with his creation. And this is why this distinction or this discussion of the essence and energies of God and how the human being participates in God, how we encounter the glory of God, how the glory of God is manifested to us, how the glory of God shines through us, how we share in the glory that Christ had with the Father from the beginning, as St. John says… Let me flip my Bible over real quick to the Gospel of John, chapter 1. I was just reading this before you came over today. Hang on a second. Here we go. This is exactly what we’re talking about. This is the summary statement.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And we beheld his glory; glory as the only-begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Mr. Gould: That’s it right there.
Mr. Robinson: That’s the whole summary statement: The Word, the Logos of God, becomes flesh, and through that flesh, through that materiality, we behold the glory of God that Christ had with the Father from the very beginning, and he’s full of grace and truth. Grace and truth are a human being; grace and truth are Christ. I remember saying as a Protestant lots and lots of times, “Truth is a Person.”
Mr. Gould: Truth is a Person, right.
Mr. Robinson: But what does that mean?
Mr. Gould: That’s our focus today. We’re going to try to tell you what the nature of personhood is and how it relates to God and how it relates to his nature and his essence and his energies.
Mr. Robinson: Well, Bill, I think it’s time for a break.
Mr. Gould: I think so, too.
Mr. Robinson: When we come back from the break, we’re going to talk about persons and we’re going to talk about people. We’re going to talk about natures, and we’re going to talk about: how do we know someone?
Mr. Gould: Well, and— Yes, absolutely. [Laughter]
Mr. Robinson: So we’re going to take a short break. You’re listening to Our Life in Christ. We’ll be right back.
Mr. Robinson: And welcome back to this edition of Our Life in Christ. I’m your host today, Steve Robinson, in person!
Mr. Gould: That’s right. I’m here, too, in person.
Mr. Robinson: Now, how do I know that’s really you?
Mr. Gould: Well, you know… Our audience… This is actually going to work itself out, because our audience hears our voice, and it’s really us, and they’re participating in us!
Mr. Robinson: And we have a quote from St. Maximus the Confessor that proves that. [Laughter]
Mr. Gould: You’ve got another quote there that we want to read first.
Mr. Robinson: Actually I do, because, Bill… Well, I’ll just read this. St. Gregory of Sinai.
Mere skill and reasoning does not make a person’s intelligence pure. For since the Fall, our intelligence has been corrupted by evil thoughts. The materialistic and wordy spirit of the wisdom of this world may lead us to speak about ever-wider spheres of knowledge, but it renders our thoughts increasingly crude and uncouth.
Mr. Gould: Oh boy! [Laughter]
This combination of well-informed talk and crude thought falls short of the real wisdom and contemplation as well as undivided and unified knowledge.
Mr. Gould: That’s really interesting, isn’t it? That gets to the heart of what I think most people experience in their life. If they’re careful to look at themselves, they’ll see that they know a lot of stuff, and the stuff they know may be very nice and good and impressive—mathematics, history, philosophy, theology, how many Scriptures, whatever—but yet there’s that undercurrent inside of us that’s fallen. Just because we know something doesn’t mean that our heart has been changed.
Mr. Robinson: Right, and this is why St. Paul says, I think, take every thought captive to Christ. It’s not: take Christ captive to our thoughts. Our intellect can really, really get in the way of our spiritual life. Kind of what we want to open this segment with, Bill, is to maybe back up a little bit here, because last week when we were talking about Moses wanting to see the face of God, and God says, “You cannot see my face and live,” and we discussed that extensively, but St. Gregory explicates that passage. He says, “How can the face of him who gives life cause death?” So he exegetes this passage and talks about how, for us to want to see the face of God is, in essence, for us wanting to define God, of wanting to put God in a rational, human box. If we can define God in our human minds, then we’ve created an idol; we’ve created an image. So to be safe and to be in our proper relationship to God, to be a true Christian, to be a true disciple, we need to see the backside of God, not be in front of God, looking at his face.
Mr. Gould: We said that. It wasn’t the right position to be in.
Mr. Robinson: Ultimately, this is, I think, the default position. This is where we need to be: that we need to be followers of Christ, that we need to be followers of God. You really don’t need to know all this stuff that we’re talking about to be a Christian, to follow Christ. We’re talking about some really heady stuff here, and we in no way want to leave the impression to any of our listeners that your seven-year-old kids have to understand essence and energies in order to be good Christians—or anybody.
Mr. Gould: Well, no, that’s right. I think the whole point and where much of what we get from the Fathers in terms of the arguments that we put up for essence and energies and everything really comes because we’re trying to set right the philosophical challenges that are presented by those outside the Church, or even heretics within the Church.
Mr. Robinson: Within the Church, right.
Mr. Gould: Obviously, Arius being the big example. So it’s not as if you need this necessarily to be a good follower of Christ, but over time the Church has been assaulted from without and from within, and this is essentially why we cover this.
Mr. Robinson: Some of our listeners may be, too. The fact of the matter is that, frankly, a lot of the people who end up Orthodox are kind of heady folks. They’re Bible students and they’re seminarians and they’ve hit the books and they do a lot of reading. Converts out there are supporting lots of Orthodox presses right now. But on the other hand, if we are simply followers of God, if we simply engage ourselves in the life of the Church, if we simply accept what the Church has handed down to us in the services, in the ethos, the culture, the life of the Church, because everything we’re talking about here is there. We have the relics, we have the icons, we have the services, the funeral service. We have the veneration of the saints.
Mr. Gould: The body of Christ.
Mr. Robinson: We have the body of Christ, the Eucharist. All of these things are present in the Church, and none of this is by accident. This is all founded on what it is we’re talking about, but if we just go there and we just engage that in simple faith and accept that this is the revelation of God to the human being in the body of Christ that has the mind of Christ, that has been taught by the apostles, that has been handed down through the centuries by faithful men who have taught other faithful men also, we don’t need to know all this stuff, because it’s right there and it becomes part of our mind; it becomes part of our heart.
Mr. Gould: We can skip the philosopher stage. [Laughter]
Mr. Robinson: Right, exactly, yeah!
Mr. Gould: Hopefully our kids will do some of that.
Mr. Robinson: Unfortunately for us who have come out of other mindsets and all that stuff, well, this is part of the process that we go through to get ourselves to the point where we can trust that the Church really does have all this right. No, you don’t need to be a philosopher to be a Christian, although Basil the Great and Gregory the Great and all these guys, they were schooled in classical Greek philosophy. They were smart guys.
Mr. Gould: And we don’t want to put down those brothers in the Church who engage in philosophy either, because they’ve helped us a great deal.
Mr. Robinson: I think that’s the thing that I was looking at when I was going through some of these websites. I’ve had a couple of online correspondences with some folks who had some blogs, and they’ve been really, really helpful. They’ve engaged me in trying to clarify some points and things like that. Yeah, these guys are philosophy professors. I’m just sitting there thinking, “Do I need to go and get my doctorate in philosophy to understand what it means to live the Christian life?” Well, no. No, we really don’t. But on the other hand, thank God for people who have gone that route, who are wrestling with these things, so that people like us… [Laughter]
Mr. Gould: And lots of other people who venture into their classrooms and have no grounding in the Orthodox tradition might actually have their thoughts pricked, somehow arrive at it.
Mr. Robinson: Anyway, that’s kind of a little bit of a disclaimer. [Laughter] Because we are talking about hard stuff. It’s interesting, it’s fascinating, but don’t go away thinking that you’ve got to nail this stuff down and be able to go out there and spread the good news of essence and energies and personhood and natures to knock on somebody’s door: “Have you heard the good news about person and nature today?” No!
Mr. Gould: “Have you heard the good news about essence and energies?”
Mr. Robinson: Yeah, right. No, I don’t need to do all that.
Okay. So, Bill, enough of the disclaimers. We came out of the last segment talking about personhood and the fact that every tradition—even when I was a teenager, I was saying, “Truth is a Person. Truth is Jesus.”
Mr. Gould: “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Right.
Mr. Robinson: But what does that mean, and how do we frame that in terms of the existence of God? Again, always coming back to: immutable, transcendent, wholly other, and all of that. Well, how is truth, how is this way, how is life communicated to God’s created things? How is life communicated to the human being? Through the incarnate God.
Mr. Gould: Well, that’s right. We want to say that in the Incarnation, God did not become something different [from] what he really was. He was a Person. He’s been a Person.
Mr. Robinson: Yeah, we confess: One God…
Mr. Gould: As Persons, when he becomes incarnate, it doesn’t change who he is.
Mr. Robinson: God’s nature is not transformed by the fact of the Incarnation. This is one of the things that the Church absolutely went to the mat for, is that Jesus Christ, in taking on human flesh, keeps his divine nature. His nature does not change. He adds to his nature a human nature, but he doesn’t become two people. He is not both a human person and a divine person. He is a human nature and a divine nature in one Person, Jesus Christ, who takes flesh from the person of Mary, who is incarnate by the power of the Person of the Holy Spirit.
Mr. Gould: Yeah, so when we want to look at how God relates to his creation, it’s really okay to look at persons and look at how we relate to each other. We get a pretty good idea of what the nature or essence of a person is versus how we know them.
Mr. Robinson: Or how we know anything.
Mr. Gould: How we know anything, but especially how we know a person.
Mr. Robinson: So when we get into the discussion, Bill… And again, this is kind of going to be tough stuff, because what we’re talking about is how to know a person. How do we know who somebody is and, on the other hand, can we truly know who somebody is?
Mr. Gould: It’s like I listen to Steve, I see Steve…
Mr. Robinson: Right, and sometimes I listen to you! [Laughter]
Mr. Gould: Sometimes you listen to me. Not always. [Laughter] Actually, I don’t always listen to you either… But! [Laughter] But saying that I know you—I only know you from what you say and how you appear to me.
Mr. Robinson: How I act around you.
Mr. Gould: How you act around me, what you do for me, what you don’t do. These are the things, this is how I know Steve as a person. I could turn around and say that’s how Steve knows me as a person. Am I inside Steve’s head? We get back to the Vulcan mind-meld.
Mr. Robinson: You don’t want to go there!
Mr. Gould: You’re right. We don’t. We can’t!
Mr. Robinson: Thank God.
Mr. Gould: Modern psychology tries to do this. Modern psychology tries to probe into the inner workings of a person, to get them to bring it out. They’re always trying to show light or shine light on what’s going on inside someone’s mind, but we never really can get there.
Mr. Robinson: That’s why some people are in therapy for 30 years. [Laughter] It’s because you can never plumb the depths of a person. As much as you know about somebody, and as long as you’re married to somebody or as long as you know somebody, there is always going to be an aspect of them that you cannot know and that you will never know.
Mr. Gould: That’s right. I can say I know my wife pretty well, but I’ve got to tell you…
Mr. Robinson: She can throw you some ringers.
Mr. Gould: She can throw some curve balls, and I say that about anybody.
Mr. Robinson: Absolutely.
Mr. Gould: We never really know somebody at the very, very, very core.
Mr. Robinson: So what we have here is essentially the same relationship that we have with God: that we have the human nature, we have the divine nature. One of the things that we can never, ever get to is a complete and absolute understanding of somebody else who is not us. We can never absolutely and completely know somebody who is other. Ultimately, every nature has an energy. There is the divine nature; there is the human nature. Nature has an energy. This energy is not a part of the nature and this energy is not part of the human being. It’s not part of God. This is kind of like one of those fine philosophical distinctions because it’s not separate from us. It’s not something that’s other than us.
Mr. Gould: Well, give us an example of what exactly do you mean by that.
Mr. Robinson: St. Basil talks about this, and he talks about the personal expression of the energies of a human being. This manifests the nature of the human nature. Now, it doesn’t manifest just parts of the nature; it manifests the entire human nature. So he says things like painting, music, and sculpture are the creative energies of the human nature, but they do not exist except as expressions of a person. You can’t have…
Mr. Gould: You can’t have art without an artist.
Mr. Robinson: Well, yeah!
Mr. Gould: You can’t have music without a musician.
Mr. Robinson: Right. So the music of Mozart, the painting of Van Gogh, Rodin’s sculpture, Michelangelo’s paintings are all personal expressions of the creative energy of the human nature, but as expressed through a person. So what we’re saying is that there is no other way for the energies of a nature to be expressed except through a person. You cannot have a nature without a person attached to it.
Mr. Gould: Well, you can’t have an energy without a person attached to it.
Mr. Robinson: Right, exactly, and this is kind of where we confront Eastern philosophies, we kind of confront Greek philosophies and things like that, that nature does not exist as this kind of pool of stuff out there. It doesn’t have a pre-existence as this vast pot of stuff that God dips into and puts into a human being.
Mr. Gould: There’s no primordial ooze of nature, exactly.
Mr. Robinson: This kind of gets back to the concept of God, that God is not simple divine essence or simple divine nature, as if there’s this blob of nature out there and then all of a sudden out pops the three Persons of the Trinity.
Mr. Gould: Haha, right! We take it as part of our tradition, and I think many Christians do, that God creates, as we say, ex nihilo, out of nothing.
Mr. Robinson: Yeah, if we are created out of nothing, then that means there was not this primordial cosmic pool of energies or substances or some kind of cosmic oneness out there that human beings got formed out of. So nature has no existence except in persons, and energies have no existence except through persons. This is going to have a lot of ramifications in about another three programs! [Laughter] But those are important distinctions that we have to remember.
One of the problems, though: we start talking about the energies of God, we start talking about how we can participate in the energies of another human being… So, Bill, you have a human nature. You are a person who expresses that human nature, and you are an individual who expresses that human nature uniquely and individually and in an unrepeatable manner through the person who is Bill. So there will never be another Bill.
Mr. Gould: That’s right.
Mr. Robinson: Some people say, “Thank God.” [Laughter]
Mr. Gould: I could say that, too.
Mr. Robinson: Me, too! But every individual human being, every person, is an unrepeatable event, and yet we are an expression of the totality of what is human nature, through our energies, through our activity, through the things that we do, through the things that we are, that other people engage because they have a relationship with us.
We talk about communion with God, we talk about the energies of God and our participation in those energies; then is this a part of God and how does this energy get distributed? Is it finite? Does Bill get a little bit of the energy and Steve gets a little bit of the energy, and God creates this stuff as the population grows and he starts doling it out as needed? Does he have an energy manufacturing plant that kind of puts this stuff out as people and the creation needs it? St. Maximus the Confessor has the illustration that you were alluding to about us having an audience of God-knows-how-many people out there, and each individual hears our voice, and yet…
Mr. Gould: Well, it’s my energy, but you, as the audience…
Mr. Robinson: And me, sitting here across the table from you…
Mr. Gould: Get to participate in my energies, because that is the nature of how I manifest myself as a person, to you. You can do the same thing back.
Mr. Robinson: Right, yeah, and that’s what Yannaras talks about, and the Fathers, too. When a person acts, when we engage another being, when we engage anything, we are engaging that thing’s energy. It’s in a sense an invitation for us to participate in that thing. It’s an invitation for us to participate in another human being. It is a relationship, to use a modern word. It’s the way that we have a relationship with somebody else.
Now, we’re sitting here at two microphones in the basement, and we have some kind of a relationship with thousands of people out there.
Mr. Gould: That’s right. Through our energies.
Mr. Robinson: And God, through his energies, has a relationship with his entire creation. He has a relationship with every human being that he has ever created. Now, St. Maximus the Confessor has a great illustration of this. I just want to read this paragraph. It’s really great.
Mr. Gould: This is from an article by Christos Yannaras, talking about St. Maximus the Confessor.
St. Maximus the Confessor uses as an image and an example of such communion the human voice, which, being one, is participated in by many, and is not swallowed up by the multitude. The voice, expressed personally, remains unified and indivisible, while at the same time it is singularly participated in by all.
Mr. Robinson: Now that’s a mouthful! But let’s unpack that just a little bit.
Mr. Gould: I think we need to.
Mr. Robinson: Because this is ultimately our communion with God. God is one. That’s the great confession of Israel: our God is one. So how do bazillions of people throughout history equally and completely participate in who God is if God is one? How do we have that capacity? How does God have the capacity to manifest himself totally and completely as he is to each individual person—not every person getting a part of God, but every person fully and completely apprehending all that God is in his energies?
Mr. Gould: Yes. The problem is that God is of one essence. How do you communicate one essence to, as you say, zillions, bazillions, and of course it is through his energies, which are no less God than God himself in his essence, but yet are able to be participated in by everyone.
Mr. Robinson: This is very much like a million people going to the Van Gogh exhibit. How many people went by his painting of sunflowers? How many people saw Starry Night? And everybody encounters Van Gogh through the energies of his painting. This is the person, Van Gogh’s personal expression of the creative energies of human nature through his person.
Mr. Gould: His unique person.
Mr. Robinson: His unique person that nobody else will ever be, and yet he invites—through his energies, through this painting, through this thing that he produces as a human being that’s an expression of his nature—all these people into his existence
Mr. Gould: That’s right. As you were talking, it just struck me: this is why we have laws against plagiarism. No, really. This is why we have laws against counterfeit paintings being painted and being sold: because that person’s genius and their energies are theirs uniquely.
Mr. Robinson: They express something in a way that nobody else has.
Mr. Gould: That nobody else has done it, and there’s value in that as well.
Mr. Robinson: Well, it’s because there is value in persons.
Mr. Gould: That’s right! That’s what makes it valuable. If it were just primordial ooze just spewing out in random fashion, what would make anything more valuable than anything else?
Mr. Robinson: So this is, again, coming back to the concept of nature, is that this is a full and complete expression of the human nature through the person without dividing up nature. This isn’t just a part of nature. Again, nature isn’t a pool that somehow, as the population grows and human beings multiply, this pool of nature is going to get shallower and shallower. No. We all share a common human nature. We all have the same human nature, fully expressed. We have the fullness of human nature.
Mr. Gould: Each one of us.
Mr. Robinson: Each one of us, and we get this from our understanding of who God is as three Persons in one nature. We don’t have a divided nature. A lot of early heresies in the Church—Eunomianism was one of them in the fourth century that talked about God the Father as one nature; Christ was another nature. Arius says he was of a like nature.
Mr. Gould: And created.
Mr. Robinson: Yeah, and a created being. These were important distinctions. So how we understand God, how we understand the existence of God as one nature in three Persons, defines for us the human being and how we understand how God, in one nature, in three Persons, communicates himself to that which he creates, even though he is wholly other and of a different nature from us, because he creates us out of nothing. [That] is going to be how we understand how we as human beings not only relate to one another but how we relate to God who is of a different nature from us.
Mr. Gould: And yet, even though he’s a different nature, he’s still Person.
Mr. Robinson: And as a Person, unites his nature to our nature in Jesus Christ, and gives us the template, gives us the icon, of what it means for us as human beings in a human nature with human flesh with our unique and personal energies to be united to the Trinitarian God who is of one nature and three Persons. So the ramifications of this are huge.
Mr. Gould: Well, that’s right, and we are on a quest as Christians in uniting ourselves to the Person of Christ, in uniting ourselves actually to the Trinity, we are now on a question to realize our personhood in the way that God intended it to be.
Mr. Robinson: And this is what St. Gregory of Nyssa’s great axiom was: “That which is not assumed is not healed.” When Adam sins, everything about us becomes fractured.
Mr. Gould: Adam becomes fractured. And Eve becomes fractured. The persons of Adam and Eve become fractured.
Mr. Robinson: This is important. We’re kind of going to dip a big toe into the pool of where this goes, but this is an important distinction, because Adam and Eve each have a human nature, and yet Adam and Eve personally sin. Now, this is important because natures don’t sin; people do. And when people sin and when Adam and Eve sinned, their guilt, their personal guilt, was their own, because they are unique individual, unrepeatable events as human beings. That is why the Church says we do not inherit Adam and Eve’s personal guilt. Now, what Adam did to human nature… because now, everything about Adam, in his brokenness and fallenness is passed on to his progeny as persons, we have now this human nature that is compromised, because Adam has introduced death into the world.
What does Christ do when he becomes incarnate? He takes on fractured, broken human nature and unites it to his divine nature, and he heals that human nature, because, in his resurrection, he destroys death. So everything that stands opposed to the human nature being united to God and being healed and being capable of having union with God has now been removed through the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Christ. That’s the importance of it. That’s really where it all ends up.
Bill, we’ve got to wrap this up!
Mr. Gould: We could go on and on!
Mr. Robinson: We could go on and on, and next week we will!
Mr. Gould: But, no, let’s try to recount a little bit here. What we’re saying and what the Church teaches is that, because God is a Person and because he has a divine nature, that his energies are the way in which we can relate to him as a Person—it doesn’t change his Personhood, it doesn’t change our personhood—it’s actually the way that he created us to relate.
Mr. Robinson: And I think that’s an important point, too, and again one that we’ll have to unpack even further down the line when we start talking about salvation in relationship to God: is that how can we actually have participation in another person? When we start talking about personal attributes, when we start talking about personal energies, one of these things is the will. I know, at least in our relationship, and in your relationship with your wife and mine and my kids and everything, our will as a personal energy, as something that is an expression of our human nature—every nature has a will, but a will is only expressed through a unique individual person… I engage your will, you engage my will, and I can change your will. You can change mine. We do that very often on the program! [Laughter] And we do that to other people.
Mr. Gould: We can actually, yes, change the course of history by acting and expressing our will through the energy of our actions.
Mr. Robinson: If you read the Old Testament and you read these great people’s relationship with God, we find that that same thing happens with God. When God sends the prophet to Hezekiah and tells him, “You’re going to die,” Hezekiah falls on his face, and he prays to God, and God says, “Enh, I changed my mind. I’m going to give you another 20 years.”
Mr. Gould: Or the whole story of Jonah. [Laughter]
Mr. Robinson: Or the story of Abraham, when he chews God down on the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. “Well, yeah, 50 people? How about 40, how about 20?” God progressively changes his mind. There’s places where it says God repented of what he was going to do. So what we have here is the engagement of persons. We have a true, a real relationship with God, and it’s not with his essence. We can never get there, as we said last week; we can never get to the essence of God, but we do have an absolute and true and real relationship with him as persons in relating to the Persons of the Triune God. So, Bill…
Mr. Gould: That’s a good place to leave.
Mr. Robinson: Next week we’re going to unpack this a little bit further. We’re going to talk about probably some of the more philosophical constructs, maybe some more of the heady theological issues that come out of how we understand God and his essence and energies.
Mr. Gould: We might begin to a bit more contrast and compare this with some of the classical Greek thinking on the subject, because that does impact some of the ways some of the traditions in Christianity are actually looking at God and looking at salvation.
Mr. Robinson: And we’re going to try not to get in over our heads, because if anything…
Mr. Gould: I think we’re already in over our heads.
Mr. Robinson: If anything, delving into this subject and corresponding with all these friends who are helping us with the program outlines and everything, it just shows that I think we’re in a little over our heads on some of this. We’re going to stick with what we know or what we can say with some degree of certainty and leave you scholars out there who want to delve into this go out and buy St. Maximus and all of those things. But let’s just suffice to say that how we understand the essence and energies of God is really ultimately about the possibility of the human being, the created human being, to have a relationship in truth and grace, to become sons of God, to be truly united to our Creator.
Mr. Gould: That’s right, and as we tried to hint at last week, it’s not just with our minds.
Mr. Robinson: Yeah, and it’s not just a matter of changing God’s attitude towards us when we sin. As an end note, this is why just forgiveness is not sufficient for us as human beings to define fully our relationship to God, because forgiveness is, in some ways, an act of an attitude, a change of attitude. Forgiveness does open up the possibilities for union with God, but I think this is where modern Protestantism just hits a brick wall, because if forgiveness is the opening of the door to the possibility of a relationship with God, what does it finally look like in the life of a human being if that door to a full and complete and total relationship has now been opened by means of forgiveness? Where do we go from there?
Mr. Gould: What demands does that put on us? Exactly.
Mr. Robinson: So, anyway. [Laughter] Those are some things for us down the road.
Mr. Gould: Somehow we’ll tie it back to relics. [Laughter] Somehow. See maybe if you can begin to figure that out.
Mr. Robinson: I think that’s part of what’s on that other side of the open door. Once forgiveness has opened the door, what’s outside now? Relics is really one of those things. Well, thanks for joining us this week. We’ll see you again next week on Our Life in Christ.