God as our Ultimate Concern

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Wade G. writes in his Evolution of the Mystery blog a really nice summary of Tillich's conception of God as our Ultimate Concern. He closes with the following comment:

But, regarding Tillich's conception of God as I understand it... I find that when my days are going rough, it is soothing to the spirit somehow to take a deep breath and ruminate on all of this. I'm not really sure I can express what my "ultimate concern" or "ground of being" is. I just know, somehow, that it is there - that life is not surface only, but deep. It has nothing to do with anything "supernatural" or anything that contradicts the rules of physics or my own perceptions. The closest word I can think of to express my "ultimate concern", which seems to just about fit, is that very simple one "love." Not love of something particular, but love in it's limitless and mysterious ideal. And maybe that is not far off from what the author of the first letter of John was telling us when he said (in the New International version translation) "Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love."
This comes very close to my own understanding. Religion for me isn't about believing in miracles, or in the supernatural, or anything that contradicts the laws of nature. It is instead about a sense of awe in response to the depths of meaning, creativity, love, and purpose.

38 comments:

Margie's Musings said...

I couldn't agree more. God is something much deeper then a miracle worker.

Brian said...

Mystical, you wrote: Religion for me isn't about believing in miracles, or in the supernatural, or anything that contradicts the laws of nature.

I'm trying to understand your perspective with Progressive Christianity. Do you think that God doesn't do ANYTHING outside of the natural laws of nature, or that he/she can't?

Does Prog Christianity see God as Creator? If yes, then God would have to be greater than nature and by extension the laws of nature. If no, then nature is greater than God, therefore by definition, nature is the supreme being/force, and is therefore God.

I'm not sure about the Biblical stories about when God is recorded as intervening in life beyond the natural laws, but I have to believe he/she could, otherwise the title of "God" doesn't fit.

Mystical Seeker said...

Brian, I can't speak for all of progressive Christianity, because different progressive Christians have different views of God's role with respect tot he universe.

But as for your suggestion that the word "God" automatically implies a being with the ability to intervene coercively against nature, I disagree.

José Solano said...

Brian, I think you are right on with your comment.

The game of deconstructionists is to change and/or reject the meaning of words. In this way they create a gobbledygook language that only they can speak with self-satisfying contradictions. And then they actually form groups in which they all enjoy speaking gobbledygook imagining they are somehow in agreement. There basic agreement is to agree to disagree.

They are especially fond of ridiculing people of faith, particularly those that believe that God is a supreme being who is a Person that created the world and intervenes in it as He pleases, that is, a truly sovereign God. This seems to bother them considerably because it not only implies a divine order but an order that demands a particular ethics that they are to comply with or face consequences. They would much rather be “free” to do as they please and set their own rules convinced of their objectivity.

Case in point: You provide the definition of God accepted by almost everyone, that is, God as Creator of the universe, the omnipotent being. And you ask the poignantly philosophically pertinent question from an apparently honestly agnostic perspective: Given such a Being, which would be greater God or nature?

What is the deconstructionist response? Reject the common meaning of the word and introduce the inflammatory language “coercively against nature”! Essentially the response is “I refuse to talk your language and wish to remain within my own gobbledygook in contrary concert with the other gobbledygooker “progressive Christians” who have “different views of God’s role with respect to the universe.” Totally evaded is also your question about whether God does “ANYTHING outside of natural laws of nature.” Of course their answer must be “no” since they are really atheist/pantheists seeking “mystical” illumination.

A better description for these is “progressive gobbledygookers,” not Christians.

Peace.

Mystical Seeker said...

You provide the definition of God accepted by almost everyone, that is, God as Creator of the universe, the omnipotent being.

There is no single definition of God that is "accepted by almost everyone." The Wikipedia article on the subject of God will provide some insight into the immense variety of theisms in existence.

Of course their answer must be “no” since they are really atheist/pantheists seeking “mystical” illumination.

In my case, that is incorrect. If you had read any of blog before jumping into your tirade, you would have been aware that I am a panentheist.

Brian said...

Mystical, you wrote: But as for your suggestion that the word "God" automatically implies a being with the ability to intervene coercively against nature, I disagree.

Your comments are usually much fuller and intellectually developed. You say "I disagree", based on what?

Brian said...

I heard a story once of a cosmonaut who upon arriving in space, declaired that God was not out there because he couldn't see Him. Similarly, athiests say they don't believe God exists, but for that to be a sound statement they would have to have looked everyhwere, but didn't find him.

You said that there are many definitions of "God". Yes there are and there are many "gods" especially in some religions. But we both know that the definition of "God" that christians refer to is a supreme being, so I don't think it helps to introduce that statement into the discussion.

I would suggest that you "don't want to believe" in a supreme being more than you can't find an intellectual reason to believe. I would also suggest that our human intellects cannot understand God (supreme being), so why try??

Is an intellectual understanding more important than faith? There are things we don't know today, how gravity works, the unified force theory, how big is the universe, but that doesn't stop us living full and eventful lives. We don't reject the natural world just because we don't understand how it works, so why reject the definition of God as supreme being because you don't understand it.

José Solano said...

Wikipedia essentially agrees with what I have said: “God is most often conceived of as the creator and overseer of the universe. Theologians have ascribed a variety of attributes to the many different conceptions of God. The most common among these include omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, omnibenevolence (perfect goodness), divine simplicity, jealousy, supernatural, and eternal and necessary existence.” I said “almost all people” and Wikipedia says “most.” You confound variety of beliefs in god/God with how people commonly define God.

As for your “panentheism” faith, this is a term that can mean a wide range of things and does not say much about what you believe. I’m a panentheist myself. My comment refers to your evasion of Brian’s comment. The common definition of God, how Brian uses the term, is what you needed to address not produce a disclaimer to the definition. Is there or is there not a Creator of the universe in your panentheism, even if the Creator now permeates (omnipresent) the universe.

Do try to avoid personal attacks as it does nothing to support your thinking.

Peace.

PS: I'll try to comment on your last comment when I have the time.

Mystical Seeker said...

I would suggest that you "don't want to believe" in a supreme being more than you can't find an intellectual reason to believe. I would also suggest that our human intellects cannot understand God (supreme being), so why try??

I'm not sure what you mean by "Supreme Being" in that context. I believe in God. The attributes of the God I believe in do not include omnipotence; it was only once I realized that omnipotence is not a necessary attribute for the concept of God that it became possible for me to believe in God again.

As for the idea that we cannot know anything about God so why try--I don't subscribe to that sort of complete despair about belief in God. I take a middle ground of sorts--I do think that God is not completely knowable by us finite humans, but I also think that God is partially knowable and that through reason and intellect we can reasonably discuss and debate theology. The fact that when you yourself are assigning an attribute to God when you say that God is omnipotent; thus you are implicitly making a statement about God's nature, even as you say that none of us can do so.

I don't think that intellectual understanding is necessarily more important than faith, but I also think that we should not have to check our brains at the church door. Reason and intellect are important human attributes, and the world is full of unreasonable and anti-intelelctual assertions about religion--as evidenced, for example, by creationists.

Brian said...

Omnipotence - all powerful. Here's a very succinct definition that I think most people would agree with.

I don't think that it automatically means that the power is used to intervene at every opportunity.

I believe that God has given us free will, which means that he has chosen to limit his control over us (see "Bruce Almighty"). This doesn't mean he is not omnipotent.

I do wonder if something happened in your life that may have left you disillusioned with God, because you had previously seen him as omnipotent, but he didn't intervene when you expected. But that's just speculation.

Can I take you back to my earlier posting:
Mystical, you wrote: But as for your suggestion that the word "God" automatically implies a being with the ability to intervene coercively against nature, I disagree.

Your comments are usually much fuller and intellectually developed. You say "I disagree", based on what?

I am interested to know your reasoned justification for diminishing the definition of God as Supreme Being. To say "I choose not to believe" is too simplistic for an intellectual discussion. It's akin to parents telling their kids that they can't go out, and when asked why, they say "Because I say so"

Mystical Seeker said...

You say "I disagree", based on what?

Based on the fact that there exist theologies that do not posit an omnipotent God. So clearly it is not necessary to assume that the concept of God entails omnipotence. It is possible to conceive of a God who is not omnipotent.

am interested to know your reasoned justification for diminishing the definition of God as Supreme Being.

Your question assumes that this represents a "diminishing". I would suggest that, instead of diminishing God, it enhances him/her. I think that it enhances the definition of God by denying that the raw exercise of coercive power represents that than which nothing greater can be conceived.

My reasons for rejecting omnipotence are twofold. First, because I believe in the natural laws of the physical world, and the idea of divine miracles is at best an expression of the God of the Gaps, and at worst a denial of the post-Enlightenment understanding of how the natural world works. Second, I reject omnipotence because it is problematic with respect to theodicy. Once you remove omnipotence from the equation, the problem of theodicy ceases to be a problem anymore.

Harry said...

Sign me up for a denial of the post-Enlightenment view of how the natural world works!

Miracles occur, prayer does work.

Your philosophy simply refuses to face the facts.

Of course even with miracles and prayers you still could have a non-omnipotent God.

What you are arguing for is an impotent God.

José Solano said...

It would appear that your personal brand of panentheism cannot answer or even wishes to face the question. Before you get into God’s omnipotence and how that perturbs your sense of theodicy you should respond to the question of whether in your belief God is the Creator of the universe or not. You may find yourself not only dropping omnipotence but all the other omnis commonly attributed to God.

Peace.

Mystical Seeker said...

Before you get into God’s omnipotence and how that perturbs your sense of theodicy you should respond to the question of whether in your belief God is the Creator of the universe or not.

I have addressed my view of God's creative role in the universe about a zillion times in this blog. But you wouldn't know that, would you? You came barging in my blog with an agenda, without knowing a thing about my beliefs or having read what I have said countless times on a host of subjects, and you immediately start attacking me and my views. You immediately labeled me a "pantheist" without knowing what I believed, and know you talk about my "personal brand of panentheism" without knowing what that is. I am under no obligation to repeat myself or to respond in detail to every question that is put to me, especially ones that come from trolls with a chip on their shoulders. This is my blog, dude. If you don't like it, too frickin' bad. I can engage in a dialogue with and be as responsive to anyone I well please.

Fred Herman Anderson said...

Religion for me isn't about believing in miracles, or in the supernatural, or anything that contradicts the laws of nature. It is instead about a sense of awe in response to the depths of meaning, creativity, love, and purpose.

What a wonderful way to put it, seeker! I couldn't agree more.

Mystical Seeker said...

Thanks, Fred.

José Solano said...

Well well, Mystical Seeker, it appears you may need to seek out an anger management therapist in addition to a good course on rational and courteous discourse. I have no interest in reading your entire blog and only commented on one issue to which you could only respond with vagaries and evasions to the simplest of questions.

Bye bye, keep talking to your fan club as you are too fond of responding with ad hominems to those that disagree with you or ask you potentially exposing questions. Hasta la vista.

I wish you wellness.

Luke said...

there's no division between science and religion. so when someone asks "Does Prog Christianity see God as Creator?" -Brian, i say absolutely! but how that happens is much different that what the fundies think.

God takes God's good creation and allows it to work for itself in Gen. 1. God makes the plants and trees on the land and the land produced vegitation. notice the bible doesn't say God produced it... God empowers the land to do something. God gives it that capacity and empowers creation to make more.

therefore even the literalists aren't reading their bible literally. the bible is in complete agreement with the theory of evolution... just look at the process! creationists are magical thinkers and have no business being anywhere near a classroom.

Luke said...

" In this way they create a gobbledygook language that only they can speak with self-satisfying contradictions." -Jose

hate to burst your bubble but Christianity is a religion of contradictions! Jesus wins by losing, lives by dying, conquers hate by loving. we are a religion with a built in paradox! the bible is contradictory too! which creation story are you going with, Gen 1. or Gen 2-3, or the psalmist version? they're all in there and they don't match up!

Luke said...

"Omnipotence - all powerful. Here's a very succinct definition that I think most people would agree with." -Brian

Traditional Process theology (i.e. Whitehead) says that God is not omnipotent. others have disagreed saying that God would never do anything against our free-will, so it's not that God can't, it's that God won't (Cobb and Epperly).

God's power is much different that our human and traditional understanding of power. God's power lies in us, our ability to create, self-replicate, and destroy. God has created us and empowers us, but we're responsible for our decisions and their consquences.

God lets us fail and empowers us to try again.

Brian said...

Luke, I agree with what you are saying. I have always believed that God allowed creation to develop, by setting the laws of nature and physics in place then allowing the process to develop. The concept of seven 24 hour days for creation is not viable, and one that I've never held to.

I also appreciate your other comments.

To MS and Luke I ask: How does Prog Christianity deal with the fact that humans are the only animal on the planet that is aware of its own mortality, and that has a belief in God or some power outside and greater than ourselves. I'm not even sure how christianity deals with it except to say that the bible records "God said, 'Let us make man in our own image'"

I think, given the evolutionary process, that it is very interesting that this huge leap occurred for humans only.

Luke said...

"How does Prog Christianity deal with the fact that humans are the only animal on the planet that is aware of its own mortality," Brian

that's simply not true. in the April 2008 issue of National Geographic it talks about the reasoning power of animals. We've taught apes, chimps, birds, dolphins and many other animals to communicate with us. the most surprising is a bird that had a 400+ word vocabulary. what we've found is that this bird started making up it's own words like "chi-nana" for apple because an apple looks like a cherry but tastes like a banana for this bird.

what we've found is an alien consciousness who doesn't view the world in any way, shape or form to how we do. this bird has a memory, cognitive abilities and reasoning skills but because we're so stuck looking for reasoning that resembles our own, we missed it!

and isn't that the case with God too? how much are we missing when we're only looking for God to do things we recognize as divine?

Cynthia said...

Mystical,

My heart goes out to you. Not only are you an eloquent writer, well-read, and a seeker after truth, but you also have the courage to do all this in 'the presence of mine enemies'.

As far I have witnessed, you do not say others' beliefs are wrong; their beliefs are just not yours. Why does disagreement have to entail negation to some?

You rock, Mystical. Keep it up.

Mystical Seeker said...

How does Prog Christianity deal with the fact that humans are the only animal on the planet that is aware of its own mortality, and that has a belief in God or some power outside and greater than ourselves.

I once read an article about gorillas at the San Francisco zoo who mourned the death of one of the silverback in their group. A female gorilla kept throwing apples at the dead gorilla in order to try to rouse it. The gorillas seemed pretty upset. Does that mean that they fully understand their own mortality? I'm not sure about that.

I do think that there is no question that the advances in human intelligence during earth's evolution resulted in a huge leap in consequences.

As for what progressive Christianity has to say about this, I don't know. I would not claim to be a spokesperson for an entire movement. My own feelings are that our responsiveness to God lies as some deeper level than our own consciousness. Thus I think that everything in creation, in a sense, responds to God.

Mystical Seeker said...

Cynthia,

You are way kind. I have lately been feeling a little exhausted, or disillusioned, or disconnected, or something right now, from the whole undertaking of religious inquiry that I've been undergoing since I started this blog. Your words are very encouraging. Thank you.

Brian said...

Hi MS and Luke, I hope you guys aren't interpreting my questions as being picky or judgmental, because I am seriously wanting to know what you think.

With regard to my earlier post about being aware of our own mortality, I didn't mean that other animal species don't have emotions, the ability to learn, mimic, remember, etc., because as you say Luke, this would be patently untrue. What I did mean was that (to my knowledge) only humans live with the knowledge that we are going to die, hence being aware of our own mortality. We seem to have "evolved" beyond instinct-driven actions and responses, to come to a place where we act, react, anticipate, remember, look for inspiration, hope, and so on. Only humans have (again to my knowledge) a spiritual component to our personality, bringing an awareness of God, or at least something greater than ourselves.

So my BIG question is this: How did this happen to us and no others in the natural world?

In 2001: A Space Oddessy, the apes had increased knowledge after touching the TMA. Was there an intervention in human history that gave us an understanding of the spiritual dimension?

What do you believe was the source or origin of our spiritual component?

Luke said...

" hope you guys aren't interpreting my questions as being picky or judgmental, because I am seriously wanting to know what you think." -Brad

sorry to come off like I took it that way.. my point being is that i'm not so sure we're alone in understanding death or reasoning things out. i think animals have their own methods we haven't picked up on yet.

"What do you believe was the source or origin of our spiritual component?" -Brad

here's my round-about answer that only i can atest to... so i speak for only myself here:

i'm reminded on a joseph campbell story about a tribe in australia whose social order was maintained with the aid of bullroarers. those are long flat boards with a couple of slits cut in them and a rope tied at one end. they are swung around over one's head and the low humming sound is other worldly. when the gods were angry they would sound the bullroarers in the woods at night... no one in the tribe knew this of course. the males of the tribe would explain why the gods were angry and what behavior had to change.

in the initiation rite of young men into manhood in the tribe is very violent and bloody. it's culmination is the revelation to the boy by the cheif priest of "We make the noises"

we do. when it comes to God, we make the noises.

however, i tend to look at the similarities and the shear fact that you and i are here on this planet... as it could have been otherwise. we are made of stardust and tied to the universe. life on earth is very linked and intraconnected. authoritative claims take away this connection and the church has been a large section of this.

so this leads me to think that there's something behind it all... some higher order behind the chaos. i call this something God. which leads me to a different take on the incarnation... what if we are the incarnated universe trying to figure itself out?

so with that in mind we're called to wrestle and figure it out! your question is at the core of this search!

Brian said...

MS, I hope you don't mind Luke and me using your blog to chat like this.

Luke, I agree that these are core questions about faith. I have got three dogs and two cats, all of whom have definite personalities, and all have their own emotions. Sometimes they get playful, sometimes they don't like being bothered by other pets. They get tragic when they miss out on a walk, and excited when I come home. The one thing they have in common is that they all live in the present - whatever is happening now is the only important thing.

Yes I can't deny that there may be senses and awarenesses that they have which we don't know about, so it is possible that they are aware of their future, including death, but I have not seen this type of awareness acted out.

It just seems to me that humans are the only species that do actively act out of our spiritual dimension. Which leads me back to my BIG QUESTION (in previous posting).

Christianity, unlike many other religions, is based on our interaction with a personal God rather than a one-way placation of vengeful gods. One we can interact with. If all the miracles (God's interventions in human life) are struck out, then out goes the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection. This is not a choice, but a logical extension of a belief that God does not interact outside the laws of nature.

Can a faith based on this premise still be called Christianity, since God is no longer personal and no longer interacts with us. We are left with a new age energy force (aka the Universe) that can only be acknowledged. No further interaction is possible.

Luke said...

" then out goes the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection. This is not a choice, but a logical extension of a belief that God does not interact outside the laws of nature."

yup! my faith does not require these two things to have literally happened. in the first century, every one the pagans wanted to show had a divine mandate upon them had a virgin birth. the ressurection happened as we know about Jesus today through his followers taking up the cause and fighting on after their leaders death.

for me the message of jesus is so powerful that we don't need all the miracles (http://toothface.blogspot.com/2008/08/unidactyl-creates-marshmallow.html). what he taught is amazing and divine all in and of itself. how did he heal? i dunno, he did and that's that. he turned the other cheek and loved his neighbor and the orphan and the widow knowing that he would be killed for it. what a life! what a model! what a savior of humanity!


as for calling whether we can call such a faith "christian", well that just gets my hackles raised. we call a lot of things christian that frankly, aren't. lots of christian music (for example "we're going to paint this town red (with the blood of jesus)" by Delirium, the crusades, America (being a "christian" nation), and Mark Driscoll and other televangelists. U2, Coldplay, and people who are ardent pacificts and social workers aren't labeled as such although they meet the criteria much better than say DC Talk does.

frankly, labels fail. let's get outside of them and see what we can find.

Luke said...

"so it is possible that they are aware of their future, including death, but I have not seen this type of awareness acted out."

well i think they are better off for it! they are actually Thomas/Coptic Christians as they are following Jesus' very words when in the Gospel of Thomas:

18 The disciples said to Jesus, "Tell us, how will our end come?"

Jesus said, "Have you found the beginning, then, that you are looking for the end? You see, the end will be where the beginning is.

Congratulations to the one who stands at the beginning: that one will know the end and will not taste death."

Brian said...

Luke, I totally agree that many western Christians act way outside the example of Christ, and this causes problems for other christians and non-christians alike. Especially for Muslims who group the western hemisphere into the Christian basket.

I just can't bring myself to deminish God to the level that he/she can't/won't/doesn't intervene in human history. My definition of God give him supreme power, without limitations of the laws of nature. I work on the assumption that God created nature, and it by extension, greater than his creation, and can intervene if he wants to.

I don't know how, why or any other number of things, but I do give him that option. I don't feel the need to examine every miracle for veracity or plausibility. Some are probably myths, others may have actually happened, but if God is the supreme force of the universe, then by definition he is able to do these things. I'm content with that.

Thanks for you comments, and I wish you well in your studies. I'll check your blog from time to time to see whats happening in your life.

God bless.

Luke said...

"I just can't bring myself to deminish God to the level that he/she can't/won't/doesn't intervene in human history." -Brian

and i would agree with this statement as well! It's not that God can't, it's that God won't. If God does, we wouldn't be able to figure it out until way after anyway! I try to give God more credit and reverence that God's ways are mostly still a mystery to me.

If you need the miracles, that's great! Realize, however, what is embellished myth and what is vital to the story of Christ and God. that's a hard difference to draw that I'm still working out.

thanks so much for your questions, your kind writing style, and your time! it's been a joy and i look forward to our future correspondence on this blog, my own or where ever!

RAWK!

Mystical Seeker said...

Brian and Luke, thanks for your respectful discussion on these issues.

It's not that God can't, it's that God won't.

That's where I actually would go farther and say that God can't. To me, the idea of a divine being who can intervene from the outside represents an anthropomorphizing of God's nature. I would say that God is a wholly different order of being, not a creature like you or I except a lot more powerful, and that is one reason I don't conceive of God as one who intervenes from the outside. To me, God is more of an organizing principle, an overriding presence or reality that includes but transcends the universe.

To me, the idea of a God who performs miracles represents a diminishing of God's nature because it conceives of God in terms of human traits of power and coercion.

Luke said...

"To me, the idea of a God who performs miracles represents a diminishing of God's nature because it conceives of God in terms of human traits of power and coercion." -M.S.

absolutely as well! but i'd say that God doesn't completely transcend the universe but are in the spaces between the protons and the neutrons and... yet... not. so power here is not in coersion or in human traits as you say, but something else.

i really like the catholics here in their idea of reverence. or the Jewish idea here as well that we find in exodus when Moses askes to see God... God covers up the hole where Moses is hiding and says "you will see my behind" which is a poor translation, the hebrew actually says "you will see where i was" so Moses doesn't even see God! Just where God was! This is a holy event!

when Moses comes down the israelites can't even look at him... too bright or changed.. and the cover Moses with a shroud.

isn't that what we do to some extent? i see miricles every day! in a birth, in a coincidence, in an irony or strange connection (like meeting a person from my 100 person total h.s. in an Amsterdam trainstation a few years back). These are all everyday miricles that we don't see because we're too busy looking for the water to wine or casting out demons.

does God sometimes pull some strings and nudge the universe? process says "no, that's the universe responding to God's wishes" which is cool to some extent, but i'm not entirely sold on it.

Brian said...

I thought I had finished, but one more question comes to mind: If God doesn't intervene in our lives, is it possible to have a personal relationship with him?

It would seem that the act of pushing God back to the role of the "supreme design engineer" who makes the laws and sets the clock in motion, but doesn't touch it once it starts operating, would also require him to be impersonal and non-relational.

Jesus frequently refers to God as Father, which is an intimate relationship. Definitely not an impartial scientist or engineer watching an experiment unfold.

How do you reconcile the relationship that JC talked about having with God, and a non-interactive force which simply keeps the top spinning or clock ticking?

Mystical Seeker said...

Luke, it's okay, you don't have to be a subscriber of process theology if you don't want to be. :)

Brian, I'm not sure who you are directing your question to, but what you are describing is Deism, and I am not a Deist. I believe that God does actively participate in the world at each moment. The God of process theology is highly relational, because there is a constant give and take, where God responds to the current conditions at every moment and offers new possibilities to us based on current conditions. This idea of God being relational is very important to process theology.

Luke said...

"Luke, it's okay, you don't have to be a subscriber of process theology if you don't want to be. :)"

haha! Thanks MS. It's something i struggle with... i really like many of the things process states, but there are some strange coincidences in my life that i know God had a direct hand (metaphorically speaking) in.

my personal theology tells me to says that there is nothing God can't do yet my experience states that God isn't a puppet master.

Brian said...

the hebrew actually says "you will see where i was"

What a fantastic translation. I love the concept of not seeing God before he comes, but seeing where he has been.