It is said by some that God has no boundaries regarding us, that He is God and may do with us (and to us) whatever He wills. This, of course, is true in an abstract sense. However, it is not true of God as He has made Himself known in Christ. Christ is a God who “asks.” He is the God who allows a freedom so great that it can kill Him.
-Fr. Stephen Freeman in “Love and Freedom.”
I had just returned from a talk on the Holy Trinity when I read Fr. Stephen’s article quoted above. Our lecturer told us that the Cappadocian fathers of the 4th century, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. Gregory of Nyssa, developed the Trinitarian theology of the church from their answers to questions raised by their knowledge of Greek and Hebrew ideas of God. One idea, from the Greeks, was that God is forced by overflowing love to create man, and they did not believe that God is forced to do anything.
So why did He? Because He wanted to give humans the opportunity, the freedom to respond to His love, and by communion with the Holy Spirit to be transformed into true persons .
In another article Fr. Stephen wrote: The knowledge that comes through communion is not a fact to be considered, rather, it is a knowledge that in the very act of knowing becomes part of you. The knower and the known share some manner of common existence.
A last snippet from Love and Freedom: When I have written that Pascha is at the heart of everything (and I believe this faithfully represents the teaching of the Church) this weakness born of love is its consequence. It is the love of God that surrounds us and calls us to be His friends. It seeks us, face to face, even searching for us when we hide. But it is a love that stands weakly at the border of our freedom, and waits for our invitation.
“Blessed is the man who acknowledges his weakness. This knowledge is the foundation, root and beginning of all virtue. For when someone knows himself and truly feels his total lack of power, then his soul recoils from the sloth that darkens the conscience…When someone realizes that he needs God’s help, he pours forth a multitude of prayer.
“Until the heart of a man is humbled, he will not cease flitting about, for humility gathers the heart. Once man is humbled, he is immediately engulfed by mercy and his heart senses the divine aid. All of these virtues are born in man through knowledge of his weakness. But the righteous one who does not know his weaknesses hold his deeds on the tip of a razor and is not far from a fall, nor from the destroying lion -— the demon of pride.”
—St. Isaac the Syrian
Father Stephen writes about how we don’t often follow the Apostle Paul’s example of glorying in our weakness. The title of his blog post is “Your Weakness Saves You.” We need to pray out of our weakness and not when we are feeling strong; but Fr. Stephen observes that many of us would prefer to glory in our strength:
At some level, we believe that we are not saved through our weakness, but will be saved through our strength, and that the whole life of grace is God’s effort to make us stronger – never suspecting that God’s grace may actually be purposefully developing our weaknesses.
I often tell people who say they are struggling with prayer to quit trying to pray like a Pharisee and learn to pray like a Publican. We often want to pray from strength – to approach God when we at least feel spiritually alive. The Publican refuses to lift his eyes to heaven. The contradiction of his life and the goodness of God are more than he can bear. And yet he prays. And, ironically, it is he who goes down to his house justified rather than the Pharisee.
I find that the Orthodox prayer book cultivates this awareness of my weakness with its many cries of “Lord, have mercy.” Sometimes I am engaged in some activity that doesn’t allow me to give my full attention to prayer, but I am still burdened over a difficult situation or the need of a friend. I can express my helplessness to do anything by human strength, my inability to even think about what a solution might be, by praying “Lord, have mercy,” as many times as necessary to reach a place of quietness of heart.
As Psalm 103 reminds us weekly, “He remembers that we are dust.” When I pray that, I feel the love and tenderness of the Lord. He knows our weakness, and when we know it too, and pray with that understanding, we are near to Him.