Too often we fail to recognize the fidelity of God in our lives. I could quote to you every other line of Psalm 136: “…his steadfast love endures forever,” but that’s not always the response we’re looking for, is it? The answer is true, sure. Thomas Merton calls the Book of Psalms bread in the wilderness.
What about the not so pretty stuff? What about that experience of doubt, of despair, of confusion? Why is there such fear in entertaining the fact that you and I have fickle hearts? Such recognition is the ‘place’ and door through with the Holy Spirit can perfume our moldy and stubborn hearts. When I am not afraid to admit that I have doubted a big decision, like me entering seminary this semester, something opens up.
This recognition can give us a better vision and scope of what’s going on in our lives, a better perspective. In the voicing and recognizing of any doubt, or even despair, I have a new capacity to recognize what it is I am going through rather than experiencing it as a raft lost in rapids. Now, I don’t mean this recognition is of the situation or thing in particular. For example, yes I doubted my decision to enter seminary this semester (as opposed to fall 2015). However, when I began to recognize and admit that, I could see something else.
First, I could see that this doubt was afflicting me in general and beginning to affect my daily life. It began creeping into my mind and heart. In a recent journal entry, I asked myself, “Why does this pervade so deeply, and not hope? Maybe the case is that faith and hope are fundamental, how else could despair [and doubt] work to sneak in, unless there was something basic and present and enduring to sneak in to?”
Huh? Yes, the doubt is real. The doubt and confusion I was experiencing was directed against something. It was strong; don’t get me wrong there. It hurt to admit that I of all people (ß pride issue) doubted what I thought, until then, to be the clear call of God. You know what else? That doubt wanted to tear up and mess up something good, something more fundamental than discernment. Thomas Merton says something about atheism. I think his point has analogous relevance: “Even those who say they do not believe in God, seek Him by the very fact that they deny Him: for they would not deny Him unless the thought their denial were true: and God is the source of all truth.”
Again, that doubt was aimed at something, not nothing. Like the atheist in Merton’s quote, so the doubt in my spiritual life. When I accepted the fact that I was doubting, I could see God at work. I could see my doubt/ despair was against something good. There was (is) something beneath this mess of discernment, beneath this confusion and dryness. What is that something beneath? That something is hope.
The grace of faith, hope, and love is God-given. God dwells in the soul, the life principle of all persons. The soul is necessary for life. So doubt, along with any other form of confusion, is trying to take away something already present and enduring in you, in me. When I write that hope is beneath despair, that’s what I mean. Recall the foundation of rock versus sand. This test of doubt proves that you and I possess something more substantial. Jesus says he gives us joy that no one can take away. I believe the virtue of hope is included in this.
I’m not one of them pre-determinist hippies, I am in awe at the fact that you, that I, have within me the grace of God. He chooses and is pleased to have such treasure hid within earthen vessels (2 Cor 4:7). Yes, we have trials, tribulations, storms, deserts, and every other word that is relevant. We know that such encounters with strife are not the end, not the goal of our life. Jesus came that we might have life to the full (Jn 10:10). Read the first half of that verse. Can you see now another point Jesus may have been making?
Take heart, take courage. Yes, it’s ridiculous and counter-individualism to believe the truth that God is mindful of man (Ps 8). It’s foolishness to think that the Son of God would really enter into history and hand himself over to death. And yet?
He, the Lord, the king of glory knows human nature. He knows our fickle hearts. He also knows the greatness to which we are destined. His knowledge is not some distant concept. He has given us the knowledge to understand fully the mystery of Himself and all the riches hid within Christ.
Hope is beneath despair. We have the capacity to live in this grace, provided we are honest and true with ourselves. Seek this honesty and transparency with yourself and the Lord. I believe beneath it all you will find a new and vivifying truth.