Thursday, January 3, 2013

Love, Pain, and Faith

In my head, a perfect storm has been brewing. Various ideas which swirled around in my head until recently without direction have now coalesced to become something beautiful, something worthy of shouting from the rooftops. But first, let me share the components of this amazing intellectual concoction.

First, I have recently become enamored with a certain Søren Kierkegaard.

Kierkegaard, who lived in early-nineteenth-century Denmark, is well-known for several reasons. On the one hand, people regard him as the founder of existentialism. He was also a Christian, and so people think of him in addition as one of the greatest Christian philosophers and theologians of all time. But his significance to me lies in his beliefs concerning "uncertainty". He puts it best in his pseudonymously-written work Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments, as follows:

 "[Truth is] objective uncertainty held fast through appropriation with the most passionate inwardness"

To me, what this means is that you cannot escape from the unsure. Ultimately, definiteness and certainty are complete illusions, meaning that you must continue through your life with faith as your only assurance. It is a scary thought, but a profound one at the same time.

The second component of my perfect storm is a book called The God Who Weeps, written by Terryl Givens, (along with his wife, Fiona) whom I have had the privilege of meeting in person.

Though this book says many things, the most relevant point made by it is that heaven is not merely a place of happiness - it is a place where Gods and angels weep over the pain and sins of the human race. In other words, it states that love and suffering are intimately connected.

When these two thoughts came together, I was on the bus, and I was traveling to my place of residence after finishing the first two finals of last semester. A tragedy (which I won't go into) had just occurred, and while I was pondering on the suffering that it would cause, I watched as a disabled man boarded the bus in a motorized wheelchair. For reasons I cannot explain, I suddenly felt an overwhelming feeling of love for this person. Unlike at other, less-noble, times in my life, I did not look down upon him in any way - he was a son of God, a manifestation of his glory, and a miracle. It was not long before this new-found love began to extend to everyone that was there with me. The flaws, imperfections, and humanity of every single person in my line of sight made them seem incredibly beautiful.

It was then that I realized I knew absolutely nothing about any of them; they were strangers, people whom I would probably never see again. But I loved them, with all of my heart. Suddenly, the voice of Kierkegaard spoke to me: these people were an objective uncertainty, and I was holding onto them with the most passionate inwardness. It became clear in that moment that all love involves uncertainty, whether it be with a complete stranger, a child, or even a spouse, because we can never know the innermost thoughts of another. In other words, love occurs despite an imperfect knowledge.

But I also felt a profound vulnerability. At most other times in my life, I had been content to live within my tortoise shell of numb comfort, and had refused to open myself up to the magnificent, albeit dangerous, wonders of the world. It is only when I began to venture outside of it that I become exposed to new heights of emotion, and to feel the raw joy that comes from experiencing the divine nature of the world's inhabitants. But I also began to feel incredible pain at their suffering. This love, which mixes joy with sorrow, is completely and totally divine. By exercising it, perhaps we as human beings can see the world as God does, and thus gaze into his heaven.

One can identify this love with something else, too. For what is love, as I have portrayed it, but a manifestation of faith? When we truly love another person, we believe them to be nothing less than a miracle. But we do not know this, we can only have faith in it, trusting that it is true despite the insufficient evidence of our senses.

In summary, I would say that pain, love, and faith are all intimately connected phenomena, having the unavoidable reality of uncertainty at their core. And in conclusion, I'd like to say that I wish all of you to have the same experience that I had on the bus - it was truly a revelation.

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