Next to Nothing

There are times when you can’t help thinking that our lives are very much like a little puff of smoke, existing briefly and easily dispersed by the wind.

You realise this in a hospital’s Emergency Department, when you are confronted with shattered human bodies … how fragile we little creatures are! How easily do our lives end! Even the greatest of men can be brought low by the tiniest virus or torn apart by the simplest of weapons. The Psalmists understood this…

Psalm 103:14 For He knows our frame;
He remembers that we are dust.
15 As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
16 For the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
And its place remembers it no more.

Psalm 39:4 “Lord, make me to know my end,
And what is the measure of my days,
That I may know how frail I am.
5 Indeed, You have made my days as handbreadths,
And my age is as nothing before You;
Certainly every man at his best state is but vapour.
6 Surely every man walks about like a shadow;
Surely they busy themselves in vain;
He heaps up riches,
And does not know who will gather them.
7 “And now, Lord, what do I wait for?
My hope is in You.

The metaphor of vapour is particularly apt. Smoke looks big and solid, yet it is made mostly of nothing. You try to grasp it in your hand, but you can’t. God has built this lesson into the cosmos. I find it intriguing that universe has within it such messages of the nothingness of humanity: built into it, but hidden, so that only the most intelligent can discover them. It is as though the Maker built in a safety system: “If you are clever enough to discover how the universe works, then know that in reality, you are nothing”.

For example, the same knowledge that has given us nuclear power (and nuclear weapons of mass destruction) has taught us that we, and the whole physical universe, are made of mostly nothing. The atom which seems so solid is actually like a little solar system: a tiny little nucleus, some shells of whizzing electrons orbiting it, and in between, the huge majority of its volume is emptiness. Nothing. We are 99.999% Nothing.
This fact is not only revealed to the faithful, but to all humanity. For those who discover it, yet lack the support of faith, the realisation is devastating. If man is nothing so much as Nothing, then what is the point? How does living differ from dying, when both seem so empty, so meaningless?

Psalm 90:9 For all our days have passed away in Your wrath;
We finish our years like a sigh.
10 The days of our lives are seventy years;
And if by reason of strength they are eighty years,
Yet their boast is only labour and sorrow;
For it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
11 Who knows the power of Your anger?
For as the fear of You, so is Your wrath.
12 So teach us to number our days,
That we may gain a heart of wisdom.

For the Christian, the realisation of our nothingness leads not to despair, then, but to wisdom; and wisdom in turn leads to humility and purpose. In a universe made by God, to know you are nothing is not to lose meaning, but to find it: it is the understanding of our true state in relation to God. He IS, we are NOT. He is Existence, we are very nearly Non-existence, and it is only His Existence that lends to us any existence of our own. To know what we are in relation to Him, and to know the vast gulf between the Maker and the Made, is to know why we exist…

We do not exist in order to labour for the goals of this world: for money or power, for success or popularity or physical beauty. All those things are made of the emptiness that is this world. They are Nothing. No, rather we are put in this world of Nothing to realise that there is Something, the reality of God, that is worth labouring for. Meaning can never come into our lives effectively through the things that only seem to be Something, but are in reality, Nothing. Meaning can only be found in the things that seem to be nothing, and yet they are Something. Can you hold Love in your hand? Can you fill a bottle with Mercy, or warm yourself with a blanket of Justice? These are things that do not even pretend to have a solid existence, yet it is in them that we hope to give substance to our lives.

We are next to nothing.

Know this, and you will find that He who IS is He who makes you Something.

Fr Ant

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2 Replies to “Next to Nothing”

  1. Dear father and alll …..now we got back to square one and to the heart of the matter ,where our God the father was trying since creation and since our first sin to get back his favorite and beloved human to his green paddocks according to the divine justice which he fulfilled by initially sending a lot of prophets and at the end he send his only beloved son our lord Christ to rescue that stubborn creature ….just before few weeks ago we had been sitting a group of us from different backgrounds orthodox Coptes , Greeks , Catholics mainly Christians and we raised that nice issue of LAZARUS VS THE RICH MAN and that strong dialogue and scenery between heaven and hell and the gap between them and the interest thing that the souls after departure feels what is happening and recognizing one another , any how the point what we raised in this issue we asked “Who Wants To Be Lazarus on earth and keep going to heaven and Who prefer to be the rich man ????!!”” oh mates those all no one wants to go back to the days of “poverty , sickness and ignorance “, most of them worked hard and enjoy life in the fear of God … on the other hand , also they spend their holidays traveling around the world , spend time of the year in the Caribbean , in Varnna beaches in the black sea , in the Greek monasteries and the Greek islands , even some of us got own small airplanes to travel interstate in work “…life changed over the years and i believe if you check any sample of people from our churches including priests and bishops and check about own standard of living i believe most of them they want to own houses and not a house , they want to change the car from model 07 to 09 , they want to put own kids in private school . oh pal NO ONE WANTS TO BE POOR LAZARUS despite the fact that the human realise that our materialistic life is a short period in comparison to the great eternal life and its great life .. look at that big empire of our Coptic Church in Egypt , i believe no body wants to be Lazarus over there ???!! on the same token look at those least Coptic people around this big empire over there most of them are Lazarus and i believe if they could make it to get out of Lazarus shirt , i believe they will never hesitate ??? oh pal sickness and poverty is killing them ….their ambitious to look for a local doctor and local medication to treat them and no ambitious like those inside the empire to jump in an aero plane to be looked after in the best hospitals in the world ….as our lord said in the tongue of our father Abram holding Lazarus in his Arms to the rich man , God sent a lot of prophets aaaaaaaaaaaaand they did not want to listen … then he sent his beloved son ???!! what more than that the human wants to wake up ????!!!!i believe the time is running out and who has got ears to listen , To listen !!! as our wisest person who lived on earth king Solomon said” vanity of vanity , all is vanity “, amen …

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  2. Oh it is sad mate , look at the escalating struggle of power in the empire of our mother church of Egypt … as some said and i believe from their great pain that our Coptic leaders over there they drive cars bullet proof and leave us to be shot by the bullets of the government and others …look how is the bad feeling of our Coptic people over there that they were abandoned by our church leaders !!!!!!! i believe it reached its peak….some they reckon it is time the church needs another Moses to stand courageously and talk the same language of the current pharaoh of Egypt and its government to release our people the Coptes out of the persecution bondage and to be treated as real citizens with a fair go and complete rights like their other patriotic Muslim citizens …others they say better we keep putting our heads in the sand like the ostrich …i wonder why they don,t learn from our lord Christ when that soldier hit him , our lord firmly said, ” why do you hit me?” i did not do something bad …also i believe we can learn from Moses also to stand firm and have faith in God that he will never leave us … i believe time came and the situation started to explode ,either our people to be released off bondage or to die in faith with dignity …i t is better to happen at the time of our Pope Shenouda because the lose will be less than later on when one day he departs our world …may God have mercy on all his people every where …. i believe we need to live as Christians or die as Christians as nothing is there in between ….enough is enough and no more persecution for our people in Egypt …we are not politicians but we ask that our people in Egypt to have a fair go with full rights and to live without fear … we ask our church over there to look really after those least and poor and support the needy , God is the checker of the hearts and minds … every thing is possible in God …

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