Crucial questions…

To ask why God wills your life, in a moment of contrition, perhaps, or in a period of confusion and isolation, is but to ask why God wills Christ’s death.

To ask why God keeps you alive, is but to ask why God let Christ die.

To ask what you are living for, is but to ask what Christ died for.

The two dispensations are so closely connected, that to try separating them––autonomous, individualized human life, on the one hand, Christ’s kenotic atoning death, on the other––is to render both meaningless at once. Only when they are properly united, however (in the liturgy, in prayer, in spiritual epiphanies), do we discover their true mutually reinforcing telos: to disclose the love of the Father and to be returned to Him as an offering of glory.

The scandal of the Cross––God’s best being cast down to, and for, the world’s worst––is but a theandric analogue of the scandal of your own life––the gift of existence and all the powers of life given to such ingrates and halfwits as us. Christ no more deserved the woes of His Passion than you or I or anyone deserves the joys of life in Him. This fact is both our shame and our glory: our shame as freeloaders and our glory as sons of the Most High. Indeed, our fear to enjoy God’s grace as sons, is but an inborn reluctance to be seen as so radically dependent and gift-ed.

With the Cross as the hinge around which all theology, ontology, ethics, sociology, etc. revolve, we can see how our birth is but a finite analogue for the creation of the world, and our death, but a finite analogue for the last judgment of the world.

Only if we begin our analysis of, say, St. Thomas’ quinquae viae by applying them to ourselves first, will we be properly disposed to apply them to the world as a whole. Once we force a conceptual divide between the ineluctable smallness and shabbiness of our own lives, a sense which we strive to mask before others, and the ostensible self-sufficiency of the world, are we able to treat those viae as mere philosophical play-things, rather than as piercing glimpses of who we are before God. Just as one of the strongest blows against stoical materialism, is the sudden awareness of the value of life, or the beauty of a loved one, so one of the strongest antidotes to merely ‘testing’ and ‘dispensing with’ theistic arguments, is to see just how pertinent they are in the confines of our conscience. If Chesterton is right, that the saddest moment in an atheist’s life is having no one to whom to say thank you, perhaps the happiest moment in a human life is seeing, even with philosophical rigor, why we should give thanks.

Consider the case of Whittaker Chambers. He came to reject Marxism one day, thus:

I was sitting in our apartment… [and my] daughter was in her highchair. I was watching her eat. She was the most miraculous thing that had ever happened in my life. … My eye came to rest on the delicate convolutions of her ears…. The thought crossed my mind: “No, those ears were not created by any chance coming together of atoms in nature…. They could have been created only by immense design.” The thought was involuntary and unwanted. I crowded it out of my mind… [for, if] I completed it, I should have had to say: Design presupposes God.

I have cited these words from W. Jay Wood’s Epistemology (IVP, 1998, pp. 194–195), and would like to add Wood’s own intent in citing them (ibid., p. 194). In Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, when Raskolnikov decisively encounters the gracious love of Sonya,

[h]is world is suddenly suffused with values and significance that his nihilism can’t allow. His experience of himself as an object of value thus constitutes a defeater to his nihilism. It cannot simultaneously be true that the world is without value…and that he is himself valuable.

I would extend this insight about personally experienced value in a putatively valueless world to all the features of existence that St. Thomas is trying to relate to God: our transience in a putatively infinite world, our origin in a putatively unoriginated world, and so forth.

I would even go so far as to recommend meditation on the quinquae viae as a daily spiritual exercise, at least for a philosopher (an at times infamously hubristic sort of person). Dwell daily on the transience, finitude, contingency, relative unworthiness, and insatiable directionality of your life. It may even be that the only compelling way to present the viae, in our highly psychologized and individualized age, is to impress them upon interlocutors as being the very shape of their lives, and, by analogy, the shape of the world which has formed those lives. The answer to all these questions, whether they are asked on a personal or a cosmological level, the mold in which they take on a lucid, compelling shape, will ultimately and properly be the Cross of Christ.

One Response

  1. To ask why God keeps you alive, is but to ask why God let Christ die.

    Indeed, Elliot. And in both cases, the conviction that it is all worthwhile arises from the commitment of faith.

    Best,
    Mike

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