I was recently on Instagram, and I was recommended an account of an Orthodox woman, whom I think is a priest’s wife. I clicked over to see what kind of an account it was, and about four posts back, she posted this video of Dr. Jordan Peterson answering a question about Eastern Orthodoxy:
I know that I saw this clip quite awhile back, but whether the interview it comes from predates when Peterson was gravely ill or not, I’m not sure. However, it was a message that I was needing to be reminded of.
One of the reasons that I left Protestantism is really connected to “when things go bad”. Even churches that don’t preach the Prosperity Gospel have kind of let themselves be infiltrated by the idea that if people are “good” and do things that are pleasing to God, they will be rewarded here on earth by health and wealth and peace or whatever. However, the flip side to that inherently is “if bad things happen to you, it must be because of something that you’re doing to cause it”. Certainly there are a lot of people that are responsible for their own misery, but plenty of “good” people suffer, and that is just the way of the world because of the wages of sin.
The thing about Orthodoxy, though, is that this hand-wringing about “why do bad things happen to good people?” isn’t dealt with in a way that tries to justify it. The answer is simply “Because evil exists”. If one wants to delve deeper into it, one can go into the philosophy of how tribulation is a means of purifying the soul and a means to bring us closer to God, and that is true and it is fine, but in the midst of the fire, there’s still a lot of pain, even if it is a cleansing fire.
As I often am, I’m reminded of St. Alexander of Munich, who lived a life of what we’d today describe as privilege, but was faithful until death. He didn’t die for lack of faith, but because of his faith he could boldly ready himself for the next life.
The lesson remains, as Dr. Peterson phrases it here, to pick up your cross and stumble up the hill. Sometimes it’s the hardest thing in the world to do, but it’s the responsibility we’ve been given. So much of what we believe being Christian is stems from the idea of confessing belief in God and Jesus as Savior, and rightly so – yet there is a part of this all that dictates that if one says that they are Christian, that person has to also bear the cross given and just strive to keep going, almost like a physical aspect to what it means to be Christian. It certainly indicates that one’s Christian identity cannot simply be something of the mind, but also requires a commitment of the body as well.
Dr. Peterson has been very careful about claiming to be a Christian or not – in the years since he’s been in the spotlight, he’s certainly been undergoing a journey and struggle of faith. These sorts of things are particularly hard when large parts of one’s life become open to the public, and I don’t want to comment on that. I can’t help but see a parallel, though, between how much he’s talked about just doing things like making one’s bed and the stumbling uphill to the City of God. There have been so many days as of late that my mind wants to tell me that it’s all no use, everything is just too overwhelming, yet at the same time, there are all these tasks that need to get done, laundry, dishes, appointments, what have you where I will just try to take a deep breath, shut out the voice that says that these things are impossible, and put one foot in front of the other to pitch in my little bit against the chaos, and let God take the rest.
2 thoughts on “Stumbling Uphill”
I’ve heard a few Orthodox parishioners refer to Jordan Peterson but haven’t really watched anything more than a few minutes yet… but the video you posted has me intrigued…I’ll try to watch it later this evening. Right now I’m just checking email and those things that need done like you mentioned- like the laundry I was supposed to start this morning but didn’t. But I have to say I agree— there’s so many that ask why bad things happen and I’ve even read that popular book about it back in college I think, but the answer given by most Orthodox is that it’s because evil exists. It just does. It’s awful and it’s overwhelming but it does. All we can do is focus on how we respond to it. And give Glory to God when he shows us a way to make good things happen too.
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Peterson is a very interesting character. Above all, I think he seeks the truth and he feels obligated to speak the truth. A lot of people kind of see him as a charlatan pied-piper to lost young men, but a lot of what his central message is is that there is meaning to life, and there’s a responsibility to fight the chaos in the little corner where we can. It’s a message that has been lost in a lot of modernity, and as strange a messenger as he is – he’s so polite and precise and professor-ish – he hasn’t backed down even though all the stress has pretty nearly killed him.
He gets zinged by some Orthodox for not being Orthodox enough, which I think is unfair, as he doesn’t claim to even be Christian. Others, I think, see him as a pop psychology person, a fad that will just kind of fade away in time and shouldn’t be taken too seriously. My own opinion is that he’s got some very important things to say and that he’s a very brave person… I think that there’s a fair chance that he does eventually become Orthodox, but that that’s his business & my job is to take care of myself and my family and do the best job that I can here.