18 All things follow from this word / the Word
This phrase, from the longer fragment which probably set the scene for Heraclitus’ book, tries to get at the ambiguity he was exploiting – and to ask the same question of ourselves that he was asking of his readers in the fifth century before Jesus.
Heraclitus uses the word ‘logos’, which previously had been used by writers just to indicate a piece of writing, and is maybe the first to connect it to something deeper, eternal, universally true: ‘the Word’ with a capital letter. For Christians of course it is impossible not to make the connection with Jesus the Word of God, but John’s gospel was five or six centuries in the future when Heraclitus was writing. Logos as he seems to have meant it indicated his key belief that there was a deep underlying order to the universe, that all things are part of one coherent whole. The other point he makes rather forcefully is that human beings are very poor at grasping this truth, even after they have been told about it!
One of the most demanding questions all of us have been asked in the light of the pandemic is whether we are able to make that step of believing that there is order in the world, of any sort. Are we able to live according to a belief in something of which we see little sign? Or will panic, or despair, overwhelm us? It’s a real, and practical question. I have heard ‘theology’ used as a synonym for ‘useless theory with no real world consequences’. It has the advantage of being shorter, but the disadvantage of being completely untrue. The ways in which we act in the world reveal what we really believe about where our security lies, and what is fundamentally real.
For me, the pandemic has made me ask again whether I really believe that the world is genuinely ordered by the God whose face is revealed in the person Jesus Christ. In digging into that question my own faith has changed, in what I believe are good and helpful ways. But it has not been a simple or quick process, and the writing of these fragments is an important part of it.
Fragments on Fragments are written by the Right Reverend Jonathan Clark, Bishop of Croydon in the Church of England. He introduces the whole series here. Alongside the words is an image by Alison Clark of a broken sand dollar, gilded in reference to the Japanese practice of kintsugi: you can find more of her work here.