Only Wonder Grasps Anything

Archpriest Steven Kostoff


     Recently, I read an article that dealt with the issue of the possible convergence between theology and science.  The specific theme of the article was an analysis of the current Pope’s remarks on the compatibility of belief in God and evolution.  Not addressing that specific issue here, I did want to share an interesting metaphor attributed to Albert Einstein on the wonder of the created universe with which the article closed.

     “The human mind is not capable of grasping the Universe,” said Einstein. “We are like a little child entering a huge library.  The walls are covered to the ceilings with books in many different tongues.  The child knows that someone must have written these books.  It does not know who or how.  It does not understand the languages in which they were written.  But the child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books—a mysterious order which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects.”

     I could never discern exactly where Einstein stood on the “God question.”  Perhaps he was deliberately elusive about this ultimate question.  Yet, a metaphor as the one above certainly has a theistic ring about it, even though I have read elsewhere that he did not accept the notion of a “personal God.”  However, this passage seems to point toward a conscious “Designer.”  I certainly read the metaphor in that light, as the author of the article also read it, for which reason he closed his remarks with it.  Be that as it may, Einstein’s passage reminds me of something Saint Gregory of Nyssa said back in the 4th century—Saint Gregory was clearly one of the greatest minds of that era, and well beyond: “Concepts create idols; only wonder grasps anything.”

     Some of the things said by the Church Fathers are better left to stand without further commentary—as I believe is true of these words of Saint Gregory—but rather meditated, reflected and thought over for their deepest meaning.  As denizens of the information age, the question for us may be the following: Is there anything that truly fills us with wonder?  And what good is a mind packed with information but unable to experience a sense of wonder when reflecting upon the seemingly infinite order of created things, both animate and inanimate?  I am convinced that the Church is the “place” in which we can maintain our sense of wonder to a remarkable degree.  How can it be otherwise when we believe that the very creative Word of God became incarnate as a “little Child,” and that after suffering on the Cross He was raised from the dead?

     Fascinating as it is, the question of the “how” of the existence of the universe—and of our place in it—is insignificant when compared to the “why” of the existence of the universe.  We believe and we affirm that everything that exists does so because God exists, and the God Who exists is the “Maker of heaven and earth of all things both visible and invisible.”

     (Father Steven Kostoff is rector of Christ the Savior-Holy Spirit Church, Cincinnati, Ohio. He is also a member of the adjunct faculty of the theology department at Xavier University in Cincinnati, where he has taught various courses on Orthodox theology.)