Columnists > Voices

Thinking it through

What do we know most directly, most immediately?

Issue: "Staying underground," May 3, 2003

I CAME WITHIN A HAIR'S BREADTH OF LOSING MY faith the other day. The snapshot of war that haunts my insomnia is not that of a prickly-faced Iraqi man planting kisses on a U.S. soldier at Fardos Square, but news footage of a handsome 12-year-old boy in a Baghdad hospital, bereft of parents and brother, bereft of both arms, and charred over 60 percent of his body. A silent tear glistened in the corner of his right eye. What will his life be?

It's not that I almost became a Pacifist. That would be one thing. And a few moments of reflection are enough to restore the conclusion that Pacifism is riddled with its own inconsistencies, and that the intransigent variety, in a world of evil, is a straight road to peace for nobody. It is, as Solzhenitsyn said, "mak[ing] space for the absolute triumph of absolute evil in the world."

No, something more primal than politics accounts for this wobbliness; this is nothing less than the Existential Perspective upon me with a vengeance, insisting I check out facile confessionalism in the searing crucible of experience. As one good migraine will pierce through romantic nonsense faster than a dozen lectures, what would a day in that boy's body do to my religion?

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It would seem ridiculous, on the face of it, to be so unsettled by such a thing as unsettles me now. It is not as if we did not know all along that children suffer, that it should take me by surprise. We have subscribed to this whole package of doctrine, of sin and its consequences, and the "vanity" of the present age, and reviewed it over and over. When it was an abstraction, I was OK with this.

But now: Why is it that I believe in God?

I find myself in good company with the question. In the early '70s, Francis Schaeffer shared with us the story of his own time in the valley of uncertainty, back in the '50s: Already an ordained man, he became burdened, somehow, to think faith through from the beginning, pacing the garage for weeks on end, as Edith kept a prayerful vigil in the house. Why is it again that I believe? he asked. Is the Christian faith reasonable?

I would be more helpful to you if I could replicate the road map of his coming through to faith; I hope it is in some book. All I can share is my own way of pacing:

I start with things most sure. Descartes had cogito ergo sum. Mine is more like Romans 7: I find my sin at hand in every conscious moment, and even in my dreams. It hits between the eyes when I awaken and never lets me be. And yet I find as well a love of good; I desire to honor God. I know unspeakable beauty and unspeakable evil. Would Darwinian Evolution account for these predicaments? Or Atheism? As Peter said when Jesus asked if he too would take offense from His hard sayings and fall away: "Lord, to whom shall we go?"

People will try to get you to start with second- or third- or forth-order-certainty questions, and their objections to God's goodness are objections that, on inspection, prove to be conjectural: "What about the poor aborigine in Togo who suffers so, or who may never hear the gospel?" This may be a good question, but it is not a first-order-certainty question. A decent defense lawyer will cry, "Objection! Speculation, Your Honor!" I know next to nothing of the aborigine in Togo. I don't know his suffering; it may be more or less than mine. And as to whether he "may" hear the gospel, the future is certainly out of my purview.

What is it that I know most directly, most immediately? Answer: That I who deserve death have experienced mercy, have "tasted that God is good." That the Bible's description of the world matches how I find it. That God has been faithful to me so far. To speculate about His lack of faithfulness tomorrow seems silly if not perfidious. To speculate about His dealings with a boy in Iraq is to court Jesus' censure to Peter in John 21 that he mind his own business regarding someone else's relationship with God (John 21:21-23). To consider an Iraqi boy's suffering without considering the cross is to skew the issue.

This is where I leave it for now. I put my hand over my mouth. I rest content with paradox and mystery, not working my way from the edges but out from the core. "The secret things belong to the Lord.... the things that are revealed belong to us" (Deuteronomy 29:29).

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.

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