A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, March 25, 2024

One Doesn't Have to Be a Nihilist to Stare Into the Abyss

Nihilism: a viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless (Merriam-Webster).

I am not a nihilist, though those who know me know I am attracted to nihilistic humor. I believe that the universe points to toward a Creator, and because I cannot explain the existence of Christianity apart from the bodily resurrection of Jesus, I believe the empty tomb points toward a universe with purpose-- a divinely given purpose in the new creation God has initiated in the risen Christ.

However, as a person of curiosity and questioning faith, I have periodically stared into the nihilistic abyss, particularly as I have become older, knowing that less years lie ahead than what is now behind. I wonder at times if I have made a difference and am not sure if that difference will ripple into the future after I am dead. Has all my work been for naught? Will my loyalties, sacrifices, and convictions not survive in eternity? What if there is no eternity? What if the abyss is at the end of it all?

It is reminiscent of the conversation after Jacob Marley's burial in the 1999 version of Dickens, "Christmas Carol."

Crump: I can hardly believe that Mr. Marley's gone."

Priest: "He's at peace, Mr Crump."

Scrooge: "He's nowhere sir. Truth is he's dead, dead as a door nail, though I don't know what's particularly dead about a door nail."

Crump: Come to think of it, I wouldn't think that a door nail was the deadest piece of iron mongery in the trade. Why not say he's dead as a door knob or a door knocker?"

Scrooge: Nail, knob, or knocker-- Jacob's gone. If there's an end to it a mighty poor turnout for such an important businessman."

Priest: "Perhaps it was because of the day he died?"

Scrooge: "The day he died sir?"

Crump: "Christmas Eve. It would account for the lack of grieving relatives."

Scrooge: "At least he was spared that in his final hours."

Priest: "Great loss, sir. We leave you to grieve in silence."

My belief in a God who gives us the gift of eternity, does not mean that doubts are always absent. Faith does not mean the absence of doubt, though doubt can become too normative for faith to have vitality. Faith is the posture of life that moves us forward even in the midst of doubts. Like the man who said to Jesus, "I believe. Help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24), I make that plea at times to God in my prayers. Like Thomas, there are moments that I want Jesus to stand before me, so I can put my fingers in the nail marks in his hands, and the spear wound in his side (John 20:25). I look at the vastness of the universe and wonder along with the psalmist, "what are human beings that you, O God are mindful of us" (Psalm 8:4)? Doubts and questions are the natural outgrowth of curiosity. Since curiosity is a gift, doubts and questions cannot be bad in and of themselves.

I pity people who are not curious and whose questions never get any deeper than the superficial. They live day in and day out walking through an unexamined life that Socrates said was not worth living. While they never face serious questions and doubts that keep them up at night embodying the adage that ignorance is bliss, neither do they encounter the joy and wonder of knowing there is more to know than what can be seen. For them, the future is just the movement toward the end of it all than the anticipation of death as, in the words of Shakespeare, "the undiscovered country." Perhaps the abyss is not a black hole that swallows all, but the place where a new journey begins?

In this Holy Week, we journey with Jesus as he covets the community of his friends one last time, the doubts as he prays in a garden, the painful darkness of crucifixion, and the silence and cold of the tomb. As one who seeks and wonders, I think I understand Jesus when he questioned on the cross, "My God, my God why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34). Nevertheless, like Jesus I trust in God exclaiming, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23:46). Jesus could stare into the abyss having faith that his Heavenly Father would not let the darkness have the last word.

Easter is coming. The undiscovered country is about to be revealed.

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