I was watching a short video today. It’s “star” is from Belfast, N. Ireland, a piece of geography that holds a special place in my heart. I’d found the video after reading some words that the “star” had written that I found brilliant, disturbing and insightful. In the short video he tells a story and I love a good story, but a good story told with an Irish accent easily becomes a great story. He then took the story, a parable of sorts, an ran with it. His conclusion, after 2000 years of Christianity there’s not just a singular answer to our questions. It’s about the wrestling, not in finding “the” answer.
I laughed out loud.
The guy, in my estimation, is brilliant and saying some fantastic stuff and by and large I not only agree with what he’s saying but I’m thrilled to find there are other people who are thinking the same things I think. If I’m mad I’d rather not be institutionalized by myself.
But seriously, the lesson for today boys and girls is that 2000 years of Christianity shows us there is no singular answer, it’s about the struggle. I’m with him on so much of what he’s saying but this is a common trap that we fall in on our way to finding some wisdom. It’s a form, I think, of what C.S. Lewis (‘nother Belfast boy) used to call “Chronological Snobbery”. He was referring to our tendency to feel an intellectual superiority or greater insight than those who’ve lived before us because we are, after all, modern – or these days – post-modern. We know better.
Before I was a Christian I attended a local Uni on my way to becoming an anthropologist. One of the courses on my list was Philosophy 101. First night of the class (yeah, night class, only way to fit it into the semester as I tried to get two years done in one) the prof passed out a test as he said, “Welcome.” As I dug in to the test I looked around the room to see if others were scratching their heads as hard as I was. It was an eclectic mix of students. Races, sexes, ages, stages, we were a true cross section of the local community and general student body of the school. The questions were hard. Not “fact” hard but “meaning of life” hard. The prof finally called, “Time!” and he collected the exams, sat down on his desk and started in on us.
“Congratulations, you all have just managed to find the answers, in less than one hour, to the questions that have kept philosophers searching, debating and discussing for centuries…” He went on and on and did his level best to put us in our place and help us capture the perspective that we are but wee ants trying to come to grips with the elephant in whose shadow we moved and lived and had our being. Only the elderly black man in the middle of the class wasn’t buying what he was selling. “Son,” he said, “do you really think that the first time I ever considered the answer to those questions was tonight when I sat down in your classroom?” The light was on in the profs attic but it had been temporarily left vacant and he stared, open mouthed at the gentleman with the deep tan who went on speaking. “I’m in this class to learn about philosophy, I’ve been working on the meaning of life longer than you’ve been alive. What I want to know from you is what kind of arrogance does it take to stand there and think you know what I’ve been doing with my life before I stepped in this room?”
I remembered that night class and the hero whose name I do not know (that was my first and last night in that class) when I heard this guy from Belfast explain there was no singular answer. I’m sure the point he was making was that there is great value in wrestling together with questions about God. That we, like Jacob, are invited to wrestle. Couldn’t agree more. I also sympathize on the basis of “the troubles” that someone from Belfast would be particularly sensitive to the idea that we’d fight to the death over our own version of what the “singular answer” might be.
But it’s going a wee bit too far to suppose that in 2000 years we’ve only come up with more questions and that’s just fine. It sounds very spiritual but truthfully, it’s a bit arrogant. It supposes that lads like Bonhoeffer, Kierkegaard, Lewis, St. Francis, well, they were light weights compared with our enlightened post-modern mind. The truth is we stand on the shoulders of giants who’ve sought more, wrestled more and held more intimate communion with God and found singular answers that they’ve, in some cases, died to pass on to us. But it’s also quite true that it’s flipping mad and beyond arrogant to think we’d kill someone else over their opinion on just what that singular answer might be. And sadly, the history of the church is that I’d rather kill you (at least socially or relationally) than live in the tension of disagreement.
When I was 19 I knew everything. Now at 45 I’m pretty sure I hardly know anything. But I know that I know Jesus. (and yes, I’m willing to concede that that alone could prove I’m mad) But knowing him provides me with singular answers by which I live. I did not make the answers, but they are making me and they show me that someone who disagrees and has decided on a completely different singular answer is not my enemy; they are my neighbour, my brother, my sister.