UNDISCOVERED GENIUS

A commentary on the history, contexts, and meanings of the word "genius."

Monday, August 20, 2012

19 Doubt

My four-part series of sermons on joy was inspired by an episode in my life of spiritual doubt--a dark night of the soul, that came about as the consequence of some major upheavals in the structure of my family unit. This is not to say that disruptions of family are necessarily linked to spiritual doubt; but it is not uncommon for bouts of weakened faith to accompany periods of adversity and loss; people who believe in a benevolent, loving, giving God often have to make major adjustments in their attitudes when it turns out that God seems not only to no longer protect them from personal tragedies, but to bring them on in battalions.

Now, although I have had many profound experiences, whereby the spiritual dimension has been revealed to me in dramatic cross-dimensional scenarios, I still have had numerous periods of crisis--periods of doubt, when I wondered if all these descriptions of heaven, all these visitations of angelic entities, are just smoke and mirrors--wishful thinking. During these periods the words, of a philosopher I knew in California, grate in my ears;

"All these psychic phenomena are just different ways of experiencing the body."

Then I contemplate non-existence and I tremble with panic. Doubt rages within me and I pace the floor in a panic. I recently found out that even C.S. Lewis occasionally had periods of doubt, and, to Kierkegaard, doubt was actually part and parcel of the faith package.

At the conclusion of this sermon, we will be taking a look at A Grief Observed, a book by C. S. Lewis that contemplates the problem of doubt versus faith first-hand, as Lewis struggles with the complex feelings associated with the death of his beloved wife from cancer. The book is a deeply personal confession to the wildly contradictory feelings of despair, rage, doubt, and fear that dominated his mind and soul at this time. Of course, as you might expect, there is resolution at the end, but that is to come later. First, let us look at some other comments on the subject of doubt and faith renewed.

Last week we read extensively from Kierkegaard who wrote elegantly about Christian doubt.

"But my doubt would not be overcome. I had declared that it was only to the consciousness of sin that Christianity was not horror or madness. For me it was sometimes both. I concluded there from that I had no consciousness of sin, and found this idea confirmed when I looked into my own heart. For however violently at this period I reproached myself and condemned my failings, they were always in my eyes weaknesses that ought to be combatted, or defects that could be remedied, never sins that necessitated forgiveness, and for the obtaining of this forgiveness, a Saviour. That God had died for me as my Saviour,—I could not understand what it meant; it was an idea that conveyed nothing to me. And I wondered whether the inhabitants of another planet would be able to understand how on the Earth that which was contrary to all reason was considered the highest truth."

From Wikipedia:
"Two of Kierkegaard's influential ideas are "subjectivity", and the notion popularly referred to as "leap of faith". However, the Danish equivalent to the English phrase "leap of faith" does not appear in the original Danish nor is the English phrase found in current English translations of Kierkegaard's works. Kierkegaard does mention the concepts of "faith" and "leap" together many times in his works.

The leap of faith is his conception of how an individual would believe in God or how a person would act in love. Faith is not a decision based on evidence that, say, certain beliefs about God are true or a certain person is worthy of love. No such evidence could ever be enough to completely justify the kind of total commitment involved in true religious faith or romantic love. Faith involves making that commitment anyway.

A leap of faith according to Kierkegaard involves circularity insofar as a leap is made by faith. In his book The Concept of Anxiety, he describes the core part of the leap of faith, the leap. He does this using the famous story of Adam and Eve, particularly Adam's qualitative leap into sin. Adam's leap signifies a change from one quality to another, mainly the quality of possessing no sin to the quality of possessing sin. Kierkegaard maintains that the transition from one quality to another can take place only by a "leap". When the transition happens, one moves directly from one state to the other, never possessing both qualities."

[Sidebar: Notice how similar the "leap of faith" seems to be to the moment of epiphany we have discussed so many times before.]

"Kierkegaard thought that to have faith is at the same time to have doubt. So, for example, for one to truly have faith in God, one would also have to doubt one's beliefs about God; the doubt is the rational part of a person's thought involved in weighing evidence, without which the faith would have no real substance. Someone who does not realize that Christian doctrine is inherently doubtful and that there can be no objective certainty about its truth does not have faith but is merely credulous. For example, it takes no faith to believe that a pencil or a table exists, when one is looking at it and touching it. In the same way, to believe or have faith in God is to know that one has no perceptual or any other access to God, and yet still has faith in God. Kierkegaard writes, "doubt is conquered by faith, just as it is faith which has brought doubt into the world".

[Sidebar: Hmmmm. . . .  faith brought doubt into the world? We will talk about this some more in a few moments; but it is not hard to make an immediate connection with the idea that sin brought the Christ into the world. Our world is such a mad tornado of whirling oppositions; it is hard to mention them without sounding like a Zen master trying confuse little grasshopper with things like, "Good is bad", "Life is Death", Black is White", "Less is More", etc.

To be sure, sometimes less is more, but sometimes less is less and more is more; many things are determined by degree. In the Screwtape Letters  C. S. Lewis points out that God has given us all the pleasures for us to enjoy in this physical life except at certain times, or ways, or degrees in which they are forbidden. This does not make the pleasures bad, it just means that in all things we must not fill ourselves with the fruits of God's bounty and leave no room for God Himself as the source and primary component in the mix.

Back to Wikipedia:]
"Kierkegaard also stresses the importance of the self, and the self's relation to the world, as being grounded in self-reflection and introspection. He argued in Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments that "subjectivity is truth" and "truth is subjectivity." This has to do with a distinction between what is objectively true and an individual's subjective relation (such as indifference or commitment) to that truth. People who in some sense believe the same things may relate to those beliefs quite differently. Two individuals may both believe that many of those around them are poor and deserve help, but this knowledge may lead only one of them to decide to actually help the poor. This is how Kierkegaard put it:

"Since I am not totally unfamiliar with what has been said and written about Christianity, I could presumably say a thing or two about it. I shall, however, not do so here but merely repeat that there is one thing I shall beware of saying about it: that it is true to a certain degree."

[Sidebar: "True to a certain degree is the type of belief that C. S. Lewis warns us of in his book Mere Christianity, and which is alluded to in The Screwtape Letters, to whit:


"The real trouble about the set your patient is living in is that it is merely Christian. They all have individual interests, of course, but the bond remains mere Christianity. What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call ‘Christianity And’.

You know—Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must be Christians let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian coloring."

Back to Kierkegaard:]
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

"Kierkegaard primarily discusses subjectivity with regard to religious matters. As already noted, he argues that doubt is an element of faith and that it is impossible to gain any objective certainty about religious doctrines such as the existence of God or the life of Christ. The most one could hope for would be the conclusion that it is probable that the Christian doctrines are true, but if a person were to believe such doctrines only to the degree they seemed likely to be true, he or she would not be genuinely religious at all. Faith consists in a subjective relation of absolute commitment to these doctrines."

This is not unlike C. S. Lewis' insistence that Christianity MAKES SENSE. Lewis was convinced by rational argument that Christianity was true; he had a horror of spiritualism (what we would now call "the new age"), and yet based his opinions about joy on feelings of transcendental experience. Oy vay! Vhat to theenk? Vhat to do?

Back to Wikipedia:

"Kierkegaard attracted criticism from a number of materialist 20th century philosophers:

Levinas' main attack on Kierkegaard focused on his ethical and religious stages, especially in Fear and Trembling. Levinas criticises the leap of faith by saying this suspension of the ethical and leap into the religious is a type of violence. He states:
"Kierkegaardian violence begins when existence is forced to abandon the ethical stage in order to embark on the religious stage, the domain of belief. But belief no longer sought external justification. Even internally, it combined communication and isolation, and hence violence and passion. That is the origin of the relegation of ethical phenomena to secondary status and the contempt of the ethical foundation of being which has led, through Nietzsche, to the amoralism of recent philosophies.

Levinas pointed to the Judeo-Christian belief that it was God who first commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac and that an angel commanded Abraham to stop. If Abraham were truly in the religious realm, he would not have listened to the angel's command and should have continued to kill Isaac. "Transcending ethics" seems like a loophole to excuse would-be murderers from their crime and thus is unacceptable. One interesting consequence of Levinas' critique is that it seemed to reveal that Levinas viewed God as a projection of inner ethical desire rather than an absolute moral agent.

Sartre objected to the existence of God: If existence precedes essence, it follows from the meaning of the term sentient that a sentient being cannot be complete or perfect. In Being and Nothingness, Sartre's phrasing is that God would be a pour-soi (a being-for-itself; a consciousness) who is also an en-soi (a being-in-itself; a thing) which is a contradiction in terms. Critics of Sartre rebutted this objection by stating that it rests on a false dichotomy and a misunderstanding of the traditional Christian view of God.

[Sidebar: Well, duh . . . a being FOR Itself can never be a being OF Itself because the word Being, of itself, implies dynamic movement. A static being may BE, but a BEING may not BE. Perhaps I quibble over semantics, but this whole thing reminds me of the philosophy joke:

Sartre says, "To be is to do."
Camus says, "To do is to be."
Frank Sinatra says, "Doo bee doo bee doo."

Indeed, the most insidious potency of doubt comes from the fact that it is expressed in words. The truth of the heart admits of no doubt because expressions of the heart are free of the duplicitous paradoxes of language. Ask a sunbeam where is is going--oops! OK, ask a photon Who it is--oops! And so it goes.

Back to Sartre:]

"Sartre agreed with Kierkegaard's analysis of Abraham undergoing anxiety (Sartre calls it anguish), but claimed that God told Abraham to do it. In his lecture, Existentialism is a Humanism, Sartre wondered whether Abraham ought to have doubted whether God actually spoke to him. In Kierkegaard's view, Abraham's certainty had its origin in that 'inner voice' which cannot be demonstrated or shown to another ("The problem comes as soon as Abraham wants to be understood"). To Kierkegaard, every external "proof" or justification is merely on the outside and external to the subject. Kierkegaard's proof for the immortality of the soul, for example, is rooted in the extent to which one wishes to live forever."

Much of the preceding material indirectly addresses the issue of doubt versus faith. Here is some more material that DIRECTLY addresses the issue of doubt versus faith:

From Philip Yancy.com:
Faith and Doubt
"You talk openly about your doubts, whereas many Christians tend not to.
Doubt is something almost every person experiences at some point, yet something that the church does not always handle well.  I’m an advocate of doubt, because that’s why I became a Christian in the first place.  I started doubting some the crazy things my church taught me when I was growing up!  (This was a most unhealthy church, I must say.)

I’m also impressed that the Bible includes so many examples of doubt.  Evidently God has more tolerance of doubt than most churches.  I want to encourage those who doubt, and also encourage the church to be a place that rewards rather than punishes honesty.”
Lots of folks have given faith a try but have become disillusioned or disappointed with God.  What do you say to those folks?

I say, I have just the book for you, one I wrote called Disappointment with God!  Just kidding.  First, I tell them that they’re in good company.  When I speak to college students, I challenge them to find a single argument against God in the older agnostics (Bertrand Russell, Voltaire, David Hume) or the newer ones (Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris) that is not already included in books like Psalms, Job, Habakkuk, and Lamentations.  I have respect for a God who not only gives us the freedom to reject him, but also includes the arguments we can use in the Bible.  God seems rather doubt-tolerant, actually.

Is there a danger in not facing our doubts?
As a child I attended a church that had little room for inquisitiveness.  If you doubted or questioned, you sinned.  I learned to conform, as you must in a church like that.  Meanwhile those deep doubts, those deep questions, didn’t get answered in a satisfactory way.  The danger of such a church like that—and there are many—is that by saying, “Don’t doubt, just believe,” you don’t really resolve the doubts.  They tend to resurface in a more toxic form.

Inquisitiveness and questioning are inevitable parts of the life of faith.  Where there is certainty there is no room for faith.  I encourage people not to doubt alone, rather to find some people who are safe “doubt companions,” and also to doubt their doubts as much as their faith.  But it doesn’t help simply to deny doubts or to feel guilty about them.  Many people, after all, have been down that path before and have emerged with a strong faith.
How can more Christians be encouraged to give intelligent and serious thought to their faith instead of adhering to the oft quoted, “The Bible said it, I believe it, that settles it”?
I meet a lot of those “that settles it…” types on the other side of faith, after they’ve ditched it. 

Jeremiah uses the image of a bush planted alongside a river.  As long as adequate water flows in the river, the bush blooms.  If the water dries up, the bush dies.  Then he speaks of desert plants that send roots down deep.   We need to develop that deep-rooted faith.  I think of all the seminars people attend in order to improve their careers, or the energy people expend following sports teams or popular music. My goodness, shouldn’t we devote the same energy to the most important issues of life?  The resources are out there; we simply need the discipline to use them wisely."


The following is from Doubt: Friend or Foe? by Nicholas Tuohy on April 5, 2011
"When letters revealing Mother Teresa’s doubts and dark times were published after her death, the mainstream media thought they had a scoop. Teresa had confessed things concerning her faith such as:
“Please pray specially for me that I may not spoil His work and that Our Lord may show Himself — for there is such terrible darkness within me, as if everything was dead. It has been like this more or less from the time I started ‘the work.’”

“I utter words of community prayers — and try my utmost to get out of every word the sweetness it has to give — but my prayer of union is not there any longer — I no longer pray.”
What many did not know is that doubt and times of darkness are expressed within the Bible itself and are not antithetical to faith and devotion to God. For instance, thousands of years before Teresa prayed with such honesty, Israel’s prayerbook, the Psalms is filled with statements like this from Psalm 88:
"But I cry to you for help, LORD;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, LORD, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?
You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend."

The following quote by Henry Drummond supports two points which I will be driving home at the end of this presentation:
1. Doubt is not a negative force, it is a positive one--it does not accept a truth lightly, but it is still open to truth and is aggressively searching for it. The fact that doubt expresses a sincere desire for an answer is the reason that doubt often falls upon the mind of the asker. More on this later.
2. The final sentence of this quote once again harks back to reason not passion as the primary justification for faith.

Henry Drummond on Doubt:

"Christ never failed to distinguish between doubt and unbelief. Doubt is can’t believe; unbelief is won’t believe. Doubt is honest; unbelief is obstinacy."

[Sidebar: Unbelief is very stubborn; it is the willful crowding out of the light, it is the clinging to the ego definition that makes us more comfortable in our verbally defined status than the ever-expanding nature of truth in its dynamic manifestation. It is like the power of inertia to make things at rest stay at rest.

The thing is, that belief can also be stubborn, (or perhaps the word is irrepressible), for the same reason: once the initial leap of faith has broken the grip of inertia, our faith just continues to grow and grow, and it takes a powerful negative force to slow it down.

Back to Drummond:]

"Doubt is looking for light; unbelief is content with darkness. Loving darkness rather than light—that is what Christ attacked and attacked unsparingly. But for the intellectual questioning of Thomas, and Philip, and Nicodemus, and the many others who came to Him to have their great problems solved, He was respectful and generous and tolerant.

But how did He meet their doubts? The church, as I have said, says “Brand him!” Christ said, “Teach him.”
When Thomas came to Him, denied His very resurrection, and stood before Him waiting for the scathing words and lashing for his unbelief, they never came. They never came. Christ gave him fact—facts."

This next C. S. Lewis quote from Mere Christianity is of interest; as mentioned earlier, Lewis is convinced that Christianity MAKES SENSE; he is convinced by rational argument that Christianity is true. Notice how he disparages "feeling" as a false indicator of truth. He declares that our moods, coming as they do from the physical energies of the body, may deceive us in the same way that any carnal knowledge may be deceptive. He insists that the justification for Christian faith resides in reason.

"Now Faith … is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods “where they get off,” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion.

I think the trouble with me is lack of faith.  I have no rational ground for going back on the arguments that convinced me of God’s existence: but the irrational deadweight of my old skeptical habits, and the spirit of this age, and the cares of the day, steal away all my lively feeling of the truth, and often when I pray I wonder if I am not posting letters to a non-existent address.  Mind you I don’t think so–the whole of my reasonable mind is convinced: but I often feel so.”

[Sidebar: Here, Lewis addresses the issue of doubt by calling into question the EXPLANATION for the divine miracle of the incarnation and the resurrection. Even though he believes in the good sense of Christianity, he draws the line at trying to jury-rig a scientific explanation for things that cannot be scientifically explained; and instead of creating science fiction, as so many well-meaning intellectual new agers do, he throws the burden of proof on faith.

Myself, I find this state of affairs slightly paradoxical, and it is the only chink in Lewis' seamless armor of logic that I have ever called into question. I don't really get how he can rely so heavily on reason, as the foundation of his faith, and then abandon reason at the climax and rely solely on faith. I belief that Lewis' prejudice against spiritualism embedded in him an allergy to certain forms (or intensities) of transcendental experience that made it difficult --not to experience them, for he clearly knows Jesus--but to WRITE about them (a problem endemic to all academics, enlightened or not). And, of course, for a highly verbal intellect such as his, perhaps his inability to write about his personal experience of Jesus atrophied his ability to THINK about Jesus; furthermore, as he says many times in the Narnia  books and elsewhere, Aslan likes to be asked. For me, the conscious invocation of the Divine Intelligence of Jesus into my consciousness, has been the absolute cure for all panic and doubt; but it seems that, at moments of crisis, Lewis was unable to do this--at least at first, or at least in the same language. More on this later.

Back to Mere Christianity:]

"The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did that are another matter.

We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself.  That is the formula.  That is Christianity.  That is what has to be believed.  Any theories we build up as to how Christ’s death did all this are, in my view, quite secondary; mere plans or diagrams to be left alone if they do not help us, and, even if they do help us, not to be confused with the thing itself."


The following quotes are from A Grief Observed, the book I referenced at the beginning of this sermon. There are many nuggets of wisdom here, but, to begin with, let us offer the Wikipedia summary:

A Grief Observed and The Problem of Pain

"The book is often compared to another book by Lewis, The Problem of Pain, written approximately twenty years before A Grief Observed. The Problem of Pain seeks to provide theory behind the pain in the world. A Grief Observed is the reality of the theory in The Problem of Pain. It was more difficult to apply the theories he posited to a pain with which he was so intimately involved. At first it is hard for Lewis to see the reason of his theories amidst the anguish of his wife's death but through the book one can see the gradual reacceptance of these theories, the reacceptance of the necessity of suffering.

A Grief Observed is an exploration of Lewis’s thoughts and questions brought about by the grief at the passing of his wife.

The book is written sporadically, suggesting short bursts of thought, in a stream of consciousness style of writing. Some trains of thought are constantly revisited while others seem to be more fleeting. He begins by reflecting on the sensations of grief. He speaks of a restless nervousness that makes grief feel like fear."

[Sidebar: Note the reference to fear. This is a crucial element in the point I will be making presently. For now, merely notice the logical progression of links between grief to fear to doubt.]

Grief can fog up the mind, Lewis finds, as if there is a barrier between himself and the world. It is a feeling not unlike being intoxicated or concussed, making it difficult to understand or take interest in what is going on outside himself. Quickly, Lewis moves into the larger question of his grief: where is God in all of this? As Lewis states:

“When you are happy, so happy you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be — or so it feels— welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence”

Personally not considering atheism as a real possibility, Lewis instead worries that he will only be able to believe in a “Cosmic Sadist,” in an evil God. Lewis wrestles with this question throughout the book.

[Sidebar: Unfortunately, this is not virgin territory for Lewis, witness his first published work, Spirits in Bondage, a collection of poems written during World War I, some composed in the actual trenches of France. The poems were written while Lewis was still an atheist, and they all point an accusing finger at the "Sadist God" Who is able and willing to sanction such horrors of war that an entire generation was embittered and the world was changed forever. It is interesting that, thirty years later, the same doubt and anger of a confirmed atheist welled up in the heart of the foremost Christian writer of the age. The presence of doubt in the mind of such a great saint, just goes to prove that Jesus's resistance of Satan's temptations in the desert was maybe not as easy as it looked; if Jesus had been a lesser man the devil might have had a shot, and it would have been the Garden of Eden all over again.

Back to Wikipedia:]

"Another question that he brings up is the reality of the Christian belief in life after death and what form this life will take. Lewis asserts that the popular notion of meeting our loved ones on the other shore cannot be true. He says that reality is not repeated and no matter how much one might like to relive the good things of this life, any afterlife that exists, is not a repetition of this life. As Lewis declares:
"Talk to me about the truth of religion and I'll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I'll listen submissively. But don't come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don't understand."
Despite his firm Christian faith, Lewis doubts the continuation of life after death for his wife. He asserts that believing in life after death is easy until it really matters. As he delineates:
“Only a real risk tests the reality of a belief. Apparently the faith — I thought it faith — which enables me to pray for the other dead has seemed strong only because I have never really cared, not desperately, whether they existed or not.”

This exploration of doubt has led me to an interesting revelation that is proving helpful to me, and should help assuage the consciences of other believers in doubt--it's really a simple trick. In A Grief Observed, as time heals his suffering a bit, Lewis calms down and notices that the door of faith that had seemed closed to him is opening a crack:
 
"I have gradually been coming to feel that the door is no longer shut and bolted. Was it my own frantic need that slammed it in my face? The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help, may be just the time when God can't give it: you are like the drowning man who can't be helped because he clutches and grabs. Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hope to hear.

On the other hand, "Knock and it shall be opened." But does knocking mean hammering and kicking the door like a maniac? And there's also "To him that hath shall be given." After all, you must have a capacity to receive, or even omnipotence can't give. Perhaps your own passion temporarily destroys the capacity."

I have previously mentioned that the spiritual crisis that has gripped me for the past few months has passed, and, although I didn't know it, I have been using the technique mentioned above to reaffirm my faith. I have learned that Faith must come gently. Relax and Jesus will come in. Fear of death is the devil's tool to make us doubt all our religious convictions and allow for other kinds of debilitating sin to drag us down to hell. Fear of one thing leads to fear of another, and pretty soon we are lost. We need to dispense with fear. Maybe it IS the mind that can loosen Satan's grip on our emotions. Faith and the Word depend on each other to make room for the irrational inconceivable love of God channeled through the articulate personality of His only begotten Son.

As Kierkegaard mentioned earlier:

"Doubt is conquered by faith, just as it is faith which has brought doubt into the world."

Now you understand. It was the need for God, the too intense hunger for God, that brought the squamous mind to the brink of doubt. The hysterical hammering at the door drives God away--He waits patiently for the storm to subside, and then He gentles us to peaceful sleep.

Some people have a negative reaction to this principle: how fricking fair is a God who refuses His help when the sufferer is at greatest need? Of course the drowning man clutches and grabs--how can he not? But I ask you: how can a clutching and grabbing man actually be praying? When we are suffering and sorrowing and screaming for help, we are NOT screaming for help, we are indulging in ego-centric territoriality--we are making a claim, with our mundane might, on the Supreme Being's OBLIGATION to come to out aid. Demanding a boon from God will never result in an answer to prayer, because prayer must always be presented as an invitation to God to come into us, not a selfish demand of Someone who we think owes us a living. An hysterical prayer is too full of itself to allow any room for God; the boiling waters must cool before there is any room for God to enter and redirect the chaotic energies. The end of C. S. Lewis' Till We Have Faces presents just such a scenario--the alienated queen accuses God in a document that proves that God has abandoned her and her sister in language that descends into subhuman grunting and groaning; when this realization finally comes to the queen she is afforded a modicum of peace.

Is it cruel of God to let us go on so, when we feel we are in greatest need? Is it insensitive of Him to ignore our hammering at the door? Is it truly a loving God Who stands and looks on, while we writhe and gnash our teeth? Perhaps we ought to remember that, to God, all our pains are temporary, and He is merely demonstrating patience by waiting for our ravings to cease--and they always will cease. If we cling to our anger after the storm is spent, that is still closing the door on God, (a simmering anger is still as opaque as a raving anger) and still He waits, and still He forgives when we finally put down our defenses and make room in our ego-dominated hearts for Him.

There is a lovely story in A Grief Observed about Lewis's wife, that bears on this:

"Long ago, before we were married, H. was haunted all one morning as she went about her work with the obscure sense of God (so to speak) "at her elbow,"demanding her attention. And of course, not being a perfected saint, she had the feeling that it would be a question, as it usually is, of some unrepented sin or tedious duty. At last she gave in--I know how one puts it off--and faced Him. But the message was "I want to give  you something," and instantly she entered into joy."

If it is not too self-consciously tedious, I might remind you of the sermon on functional fixation, redundancy, and re-centering. Remember the sling-shot effect that engenders the epiphany, the intuition, the joining of the mundane mind to the infinite? Remember that the mind state of functional fixation is a relaxing of literal attention that allows the collective consciousness to enlighten our ego's verbal structures with heavenly rays. Thus is faith renewed, and, far from evidencing things unseen, our faith allows us entry into the mythological dimension; we see all and understand beyond our powers of understanding.

Back to Wikipedia:

"Grief is not overcome in the course of the book but Lewis acknowledges that grief is a process and not a state. He also ceases to look at God as a sadist and sees purpose in the suffering. He feels the presence of God and of his wife in a renewed way and it brings him some measure of peace. Towards the end of the book, in reference to his wife’s death he says: “It has so many ways to hurt me that I discover them only one by one”. But he goes on to say:
“Still, there are two enormous gains...Turned to God, my mind no longer meets that locked door; turned to H., it no longer meets that vacuum… My jottings show something of the process, but not so much as I’d hoped. Perhaps both changes were really not observable. There was no sudden striking and emotional transition. Like the warming of a room of the coming of daylight. When you first notice them they have already been going for some time".

Thus also does faith take us gently by surprise, and doubt becomes a thing of the past. Let us Pray.

Jesus help us learn to accept the punishments of the Shepherd as He shapes us into the stronger spiritual beings we are meant to be. Raise our minds to question our faith with higher and higher levels of discrimination, so that your assuaging presence may at last put our doubts ever more firmly to rest. Amen.




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