The Word isn’t a book

Growing up entrenched in a sola scriptura environment (that assumed verbal and plenary inspiration), historical criticism shattered where I looked for authority. At some point I shifted to a more empirical approach, seeking authority in experience. But in fact, I am often self-deceived and led astray by my own emotions or those of other passionate people around me. Eventually I found myself in a quixotic pursuit of the early church, at various points succumbing to (fashionable) anti-hegemony, but eventually landing at a crossroads between Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism through (misguided) study of (romanticized) history. I opted to cross the Bosphorus rather than the Tiber, but I think in reality I was seeking a new authority—and there are plenty of institutions who are happy to provide that. Trusting an institution is easier; it means there is no burden on me to figure it all out.

But what am I looking for in such an authority? Something to appeal to in order to be right? Something that will make life simple again? A better fire insurance policy? A way to shirk responsibility and assuage guilt over ignoring vocational paths I’ve felt called to in the past (that offer far less safety)? Something else?

But the way, the truth, and the life in the Christian faith is a person, not a collection of texts (John 14:6). And this person is called the Word; He taught that the Scriptures point to Himself, and He invites me to come to Him to have lifenot to get answers.

“‘You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life’” (John 5:39–40, ESV).

Instead of pursuing creation, I am invited to pursue the Creator. And my healing (or salvation) is bound up with that of my neighbor.

No longer a space of common action but rather a space of mutual display

While fashion is a medium of expression for my individuality, it is also inescapably relational, almost parasitic: "The space of fashion is one in which we sustain a language together of signs and meanings, which is constantly changing, but which at any moment is the background needed to give our gestures the sense they have" .... This is no longer a space of common action but rather a space of mutual display—another way of "being-with" in which "a host of urban monads hover on the boundary between solipsism and communication" .... This breeds a new kind of self-consciousness: "My loud remarks and gestures are overtly addressed only to my immediate companions, my family group is sedately walking, engaged in our own Sunday outing, but all the time we are aware of this common space that we are building, in which the messages that cross take their meaning" .... In other words, we all behave now like thirteen-year-old girls.

It is these spaces of mutual display, Taylor argues, that are most prone to being colonized by consumer culture, so that "consumer culture, expressivism and spaces of mutual display connect in our world to produce their own kind of synergy" .... "The language of self-definition is defined in the spaces of mutual display, which have now gone meta-topical; they relate us to prestigious centres of style-creation, usually in rich and power nations and milieux. And this language is the object of constant attempted manipulation by large corporations" .... Indeed, this construction of a consumer identity—which has to feel like it's chosen (consider the illusion of noncomformity in the case of the suburban skater kid whose mom buys him the $150 board blazoned with "anarchy" symbols)—trumps other identities, especially collective identities like citizenship or religious affiliation. "One could argue that for many young people today, certain styles, which they enjoy and display in their more immediate circle, but which are defined through the media, in relation to admired stars—or even products—occupy a bigger place in their sense of self, and that this has tended to displace in importance the sense of belonging to large scale collective agencies, like nations, not to speak of churches, political parties, agencies of advocacy, and the like"....

James K.A. Smith, How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), 86–7. Smith is citing Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, Belknap Press, 2007).

Utterly dissolved

Coming himself into our realm, and dwelling in a body like the others, every design of the enemy against human beings has henceforth ceased, and the corruption of death, which had prevailed formerly against them, perished. For the race of human beings would have been utterly dissolved had not the Master and Savior of all, the Son of God, come for the completion of death.

Truly this great work supremely befitted the goodness of God. For if a king constructed a house or a city, and it is attacked by bandits because of the carelessness of its inhabitants, he in no way abandons it, but avenges and saves it as his own work, having regard not for the carelessness of the inhabitants but for his own honor. All the more so, the God Word of the all-good Father did not neglect the race of human beings, created by himself, which was going to corruption, but he blotted out the death which had occurred through the offering of his own body, and correcting their carelessness by his own teaching, restoring every aspect of human beings by his own power.... For since through human beings death had seized human beings, for this reason, again, through the incarnation of the God Word there occurred the dissolution of death and the resurrection of life....

St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation (Popular Patristics Series, no. 44a), trans. John Behr (New York: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2011), 69–72.

Approximating the will of God

... [M]an in his everyday life is confronted with an endless complexity of situations, and very often does not see what to do to comply with God’s will.

The man who has the love of God in his heart, prompted by this love, acts in accordance with dictates which approximate to the will of God. But they only approximate: they are not perfect. The unattainableness of perfection obliges us all continually to turn to God in prayer for understanding and help.

Not only perfect love but complete knowledge is out of our reach. An act performed, it would seem, with the very best intention often has undesirable and even evil consequences because the means employed were bad, or simply mistaken. People are often heard to justify themselves by saying that their intentions were good. But good intentions are not enough. Life abounds with mistakes of this kind. That is why the man who loves God never ceases to ask Him for understanding, and has a constant ear for the sound of His voice.

Archimandrite Sophrony, Tr. by Rosemary Edmonds. The monk of Mt. Athos: Staretz Silouan 1866-1938 (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1989), 51-52.

What convinces us our knowledge is so final?

If I called myself an atheist at twenty, and an agnostic at fifty and sixty, it isn’t because I’ve acquired more knowledge in the meantime: just more awareness of ignorance. How can we be sure that we know enough to know? As twenty-first century neo-Darwinian materialists, convinced that the meaning and mechanism of life have only been fully clear since the year 1859, we hold ourselves categorically wiser than those credulous knee-benders who, a speck of time away, believed in divine purpose, an ordered world, resurrection and a Last Judgment. But although we are more informed, we are no more evolved, and certainly no more intelligent than them. What convinces us our knowledge is so final?
Julian Barnes, Nothing to Be Frightened Of (London: Jonathan Cape, 2008), 23-24.