Saturday, February 15, 2014

Answers to a Soul in Torment

The Minotaur
A correspondent has written me a long email that is a cry for help from the depths of doubt.

I will paraphrase some of what this correspondent wrote to me, and give here some of the answers I gave in the email.  I hope it helps those of you who may be in a similarly painful position.  

Please pray for this soul and for all those who are, in this modern age, similarly tormented.

***

Q. Nietzsche says that Christians are searching for comfort, not truth.  What if he's right?

A. Go with Nietzsche's quote.  Search for truth, not for peace or comfort.  If God is Truth, then peace will come with God and with Truth.  Don't seek the fruits, seek the source of the fruit.  And whatever peace Christ gives is certainly not the peace of this world, and certainly not the peace we expect.  So don't feel guilty about seeking the truth.  If God is Truth we have nothing to fear from seeking truth.  If he's not Truth, then we need to know that.  Seek truth.

Q. Christian Faith can seem so false.  And yet the love of those around me seems so real.

A.  Hang on to that.  Love is transcendent.  It is one of the things that gives the lie to materialism and selfishness and utilitarianism.  Love is real.  You know that.  Follow that trail.  Love others.  Realize when others love you.  That's the way out of your trap.

Q. C. S. Lewis Lewis said that some men called themselves Christians, and worshiped, but that they did not really worship God, but rather worshiped themselves and the idol they created for themselves. 

A. Yes, it takes a life time to shed our comfortable idols and see the real God.

Q. Faith can seem reasonable, but then at times it seems like make-believe.  And what the materialists and atheists say sometimes seems very reasonable.  Why should I believe in one but not the other?

A.  Faith is just the bridge between what we know (but not fully) and how we need to live without being tormented by doubt.  You could just as well doubt that the real world exists.  It would be perfectly logical and reasonable to doubt that.  Solipsism is irrefutable.  It takes faith to escape that trap.

Q. But how do we really know Christ rose from the dead?

A. The short answer is we don't - not fully.  We weren't there.  Nobody was.  In the same way, how do we know that you were born on the day your parents said you were?  You don't.  Not fully.  You were there, but not too many others were with you and you can't remember it.  It's Faith that bridges the gap in both cases.  It's how we function.  We assent to something that is worthy of belief - not because faith is a virtue, but because we go with what seems to be true.  We know, for example, that the materialists are wrong when they say that all is matter, because form and spirit and organization and meaning and transcendence are right before our eyes every moment of every day.  They need to exercise a great deal of faith to believe the lie that they believe, for they must filter out all the evidence to the contrary.

But what evidence is there to the contrary that Jesus rose from the dead?  None.  As to the evidence that supports it, we have the tremendous witness of the early martyrs and to the first eye witnesses.  Not only that, we experience spiritual resurrection all the time.  "A Christmas Carol" and "It's a Wonderful Life" are about spiritual resurrection.  That part is valid.  It happens to people all around us.

As to physical resurrection from the dead, it is only impossible if there is no God and if He does not intervene in nature.  Even then, it's not impossible.  A materialist will tell you that if matter can die, matter can also spontaneously live.

So you can't disprove the resurrection, nor can you entirely prove it.  You treat it the way you do everything else that you know.  You say, "This seems true.  If it's true, then a whole vast puzzle begins to fit together.  If it's not true, then many things are left unexplained and make no sense.  Therefore, I make the leap of faith and assent to it."  We do that when we believe the earth is round, the sun will rise, and all that other stuff that we don't "know" for sure.

Q.  If there really is a God, why do I not have peace?

A. "My peace I give you.  Not as the world gives do I give unto you." - John 14:27.  The peace He will give you, and is giving you now, is not the peace you are expecting.  For one thing, He will root out the causes of your distress at their deepest level, and that is painful.  The peace He gives is a fruit, a result, and not a first step.

Q. I keep trying to repent of my sins, but I keep committing the same ones.  Why not just give up?  Why not just buy into the other morality that the materialists and atheists keep selling me?

A. As to your repentance, it's whatever sin you habitually give yourself to - that's what's getting in the way of your peace.  So repent.  Again and again, if you have to.  Your thorn in the flesh may be the cross you bear, this persistent sin (whatever it is), but He will eventually free you of it.  That's what He does.

As to their "other morality", it is certainly "other", but it is no "morality".  You know what's written in your heart, and so do they.  There is only one morality.

Q. If God really exists, why doesn't he show himself?

A.  He did.  He does.  Why does He demand faith and not give us certainty?  Because love operates out of free will.  If we were in a position where God's presence was undeniable to us - if He simply overwhelmed us with His existence, as He is more than capable of doing - then we would have no choice but to submit to Him and to love Him.  Free will would vanish.  We would be struck dumb and fear would dictate everything we did.  In the same way that a loud noise drowns out a quiet whisper, we'd be blinded by the light the way St. Paul was on the road to Damascus.  So He hides - but also reveals - and does a bit of both.  In the middle ground where we find ourselves, both convinced of God and yet doubting God - in that state of suspense and faltering action, there life is lived, there love operates and is exercised.

Q. Can people be selfless and yet do evil?  If that's the case, then why condemn the evil?  Why avoid what people call evil?  

A. Yes, man can be selfless and do evil.  Yes, we can make great sacrifices for false idols.  Yes, we can be "good" without our "goodness" being ordered to what is truly good.  Everything has some good in it, but if we serve a lesser good and deny a greater good - that's the definition of evil.  For instance, a man who is addicted to a sexual sin (as many of us are) is serving a good - the good of the orgasm, the good of the union he experiences with his partner, even if his partner is not his wife, and even if his partner is another man.  If there were no good in sodomy, for example, no one would engage in it.  Sanctification consists not in avoiding evil per se but in seeing what is truly good, seeing the built-in hierarchy of good, the form of goodness, the limitations of our behavior that we call the Law, and serving that greater good.  This why goodness always involves sacrifice and renunciation.  Serving a greater good means you must turn from the lesser good.  Telling the truth and suffering for it means you must renounce the lesser good of telling a lie and being comfortable because of it.

Q. Why is Christian Faith any better than the faith of Muslims or Mormons?  We criticize their faith and reject it - but what makes our faith any better than theirs?

A. Mormons and Muslims can indeed have great faith - but the question is faith in what?  Their faith is a virtue, but if their faith is misplaced, it is a wasted virtue.  How can you be sure that Christian faith is not a wasted virtue?  My answer: love one another.  That is the Only Real Commandment.  Love one another.  Then it will start to make sense and your doubts will torment you less and less.

Love is transcendent.  Follow that.  God is Love and God is Truth, Christians are told.  If that is true, then Love is Truth and Truth is Love.

You are obviously a very loving person.  Follow that thread.  That's Ariadne's thread.  It will get you out of the maze and away from the monstrous Minotaur.