Seeking the incomprehensible life

I posted this quote to a group I’m part of on Facebook. It’s a group started by a friend who works for a mission organisation; his job is to help encourage, ignite, and equip disciple-making movements around the world. The group is largely focussed on how poorly we seem to be doing at this in the white Anglophone world. Part of the problem, my friend has postulated, is that we keep focussing on having “new wineskins”, but we’ve lost sight of the wine (Jesus the Christ) and keep offering Kool-Aid in new packaging.

Anyway, my contribution was the following passage from Archimandrite Sophrony, St Silouan the Athonite:

Strange and incomprehensible to the world is the Christian life. Everything is paradoxical, everything contrary to the ways of the world, and there is no explaining it in words. The only way to understand is by doing the will of God — by observing Christ’s commandments. The way He Himself indicated. (p. 45)

I wrote that this passage “makes me wonder if we Protestants have spent too much time making ourselves comprehensible to the world and too little time pondering Our Lord’s commands.”

My friend who started the group pointed out that observing Christ’s commands from the Sermon on the Mount means moving our focus not only from murder to anger but as far as actively seeking reconciliation. I’m pretty sure that’s radically countercultural. I’m pretty sure most people tear into their enemies with anger or just avoid them. (I’m an avoider.)

Archimandrite Sophrony shows an example of this incomprehensible life in the all-consuming love for others that came upon St Silouan as a result of grace. St Silouan would weep for those who would end up in hell, and pray even for them. He once met a hermit who happily spoke of how the atheists would suffer in hell. St Silouan expressed his grief at this — how is this love for others, to rejoice at their suffering? (I’m sure David Bentley Hart would have some things to say about this, but I’m not one for debating about universal salvation.)

This feeling of sorrow for those who are outside of Christ, this all-encompassing love for others — this is what characterised St Silouan in his outward life. This was the result of his tireless pursuit of prayer, of God, of Christ our God.

In The Cloud of Unknowing, the author says that the increase of love for others is a result of contemplative prayer. The closer we are to Christ, the more we love other humans.

As the Internet increasingly polarises us, we must find ways to live out the radical commandments of love that Jesus gives us. Meditating on the Sermon on the Mount, as my friend suggests, is a place to start. Praying, praying, praying, as St Silouan did, is another.

3 thoughts on “Seeking the incomprehensible life

  1. I really like this quotation but I don’t necessarily agree it’s a “we Protestants” issue- I think conforming to the world is a temptation in any tradition. Part of my family became Christians (Baptists) during Soviet rule in their country- the history of Soviet Baptists is like, that of all Soviet Christians, one of extremely costly yet resolute incomprehensibility to the world’s powers. I know families who have adopted disabled children who will be highly dependent for the rest of their lives. I know people who spend hours each week discipling other Christians even when change seems slow or non-existent. It seems to me there are Christians being thoroughly conformed to Christ, by faith working through love, in every tradition, and who are clearly demonstrating to the world that its ways are not their ways.

    • Thanks for your thoughts! I suppose I’m just more quick to see the sins of my own tradition — and it’s easy to see the virtues of Orthodoxy when all you read are the books by their best and brightest! As you say, there are many Protestants leading countercultural lives of personal cost and personal holiness, driven on by Jesus. They are just too easily lost sight of (awkward phrase, sorry).

      • I guess it’s better to see the sins of your own tradition than someone else’s! Having family in a majority Eastern Orthodox country does mean at least it’s impossible to see only the virtues of another tradition, it’s always balanced with the “real life” outworking of it. Praise the Lord for resources we can learn from though.

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