I am doing something which I recall doing often in the past—writing thoughts to friends. I have not really had the space, time, energy, capacity, wherewithal, etc. etc. to think and write for a long time it seems. Lately, I notice some of that old desire and energy resurfacing. Unfortunately, you get to bear the brunt of it.
I am going to just share some thoughts from a conversation I recently had. You may think me mad but it was a conversation with myself. What is even funnier is that this was part of a prayer time I had set aside with the intention of not thinking but just simply being with God. After a few minutes I realized that I had plunged back into thinking. I had successfully turned off my brain a few times and returned back to center on God but eventually I relapsed. Here is what I was thinking about.
I was listening to a conversation with some acquaintances and they mentioned how Christianity had no answers. As I thought about this sentiment a few thoughts came to mind. We definitely live in a post-modern age where the god of religion is indeed dead. Albert Camus comes to mind. [By the way, I love Camus. He is the James Bond of philosophers.] One of his main tenets was absurdism. He believed the world to be absolutely meaningless and absurd. He describes this in his work The Myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus is the Corinthian king of Greek mythology who had to suffer the eternal torment of slowly pushing a huge boulder up a steep hill. He would use all his strength and energy to get the boulder up to the top and just as he is about to have it ascend and reach the top it falls out of his clutch and back down to the bottom of the hill. This is his eternal fate. It is what he does perpetually. Camus says this aptly describes our lives. He relates it to our work weeks where we work set hours each day Monday through Friday. We have a weekend and then repeat. He then gives two traditional ways of escaping from the reality of absurdity: suicide and religion. Religion definitely can be used as a means of escape—or I should say misused—as we hope for and dream of heaven and a happy afterlife. He goes on to give his remedy for living in this absurd universe. In a word, it is acceptance. I find this beautiful and wise. He says that “we must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
However, can you imagine the ridicule a Christian would receive having offered this advice? Camus is pulling wisdom from a mythological tale and part of his solution is imagining!! I find this odd that Camus is hailed by many as a true prophet for our times. Christians are often mocked for believing in tales and being deluded by beliefs and imaginative things. Can you imagine if someone suggested the solution for life is to imagine Christ happy on the cross? Both are tremendously helpful!! I do think of Sisyphus from time to time. However, Camus escapes scrutiny while Christianity does not.
Back to christianity not having answers. It is not that is does not have answers (in many ways it does not have answers). The problem is twofold. One, our expectation for the answer. Secondly, how we are looking for the answers. In addition to seeking answers in the wrong place, it is primarily how we are seeking that presents the obstacle.
The problem with Descartes. Ever since Descartes and the exaltation of the intellect, reasoning, and science, mankind ( I am using mankind intentionally since the bulk of the influence in this philosophical era stems from men) has come to believe that all can be proven by reason and science. If an idea or thing cannot be proven by scientific evidence and logical thought, then it is false or does not exist. This spirit of reasoning and scrutiny quickly spread to the realm of Christianity, especially in Protestant circles.
Let’s fast forward to Neitsche and Sartre and to where we are now. After three centuries of seeking God with our reason and science, God was officially declared dead. And even now there is a pervasive skepticism in Western cultures and peoples. The reason is that we are looking for God, the divine Source of all things, with the wrong faculty, namely our intellects. God cannot be truly known by any means of rational thought or logical reason. It cannot happen. The divine can only be known through a received grace.
Do you mean to tell me that one can only know God when He/She chooses to reveal Himself or give Himself to a person? He just willy-nilly chooses to grace some while others he does not? I asked myself these questions and they reveal in part how I view God. If we have an arbitrary and capricious Father, then there is no point in devoting ourselves to loving Him. He will dish out his mercies as he so chooses. However, if we know that our Father is full of compassion and mercy and that He greatly desires and even rejoices in giving Himself to us, then any absence or unknowing of God rests on us and not God. We can devote ourselves to such a Being or Person. However, we have given up the project of knowing God.
And I believe it is because we seek him using our intellects where he cannot be found. I believe the true method of seeking and finding God lies in the will. Another word is heart, or through love. We must nurture and prepare our souls to receive the divine blessings of God. Our culture and, you and I, want quick, ready-made answers to life and God. In this vein, there truly are no answers!! They do not exist. We must learn to devote our whole selves and life to prayer. Yes, initially this involves meditation and the intellect. It involves effort and discipline. We do all this out of love and desire. At first, we do not or may not have this desire but we ask for it. God will graciously give it because it is necessary for union with Him.
Abraham Heschel says that we must look for meaning beyond absurdity. I do not know if he was thinking of Camus when he wrote this but there is truth in it. My own thoughts are that yes, the universe and our lives are absurd and meaningless, at least in appearance, and it is good for us to accept this. The only reason I exist and am here is because the divine Source of all things loves and creates me. I get to discover that love and participate in it. However, it does take devoted seeking and yearning. We must look beyond the absurdity of our existence!! We must “plunge into the darkness” and “smite upon that thick cloud of unknowing with a sharp dart of longing love” if we are to receive the divine secret.