If you don’t mind, I’d like to talk about what someone has called the dark belief. When God turns out not to be who we thought he was, particularly because the circumstances of our life are more painful than the God whom we had imagined would have allowed, cynicism and atheism (or agnosticism, her sister)seem appropriate coping mechanisms. Initially, there is a perverse joy in attributing to others the worst possible motives because, maybe, you feel like you are seeing clearly for the first time —not that others don’t sometimes have mixed or even completely selfish motives. Eventually, however, cynicism leads to intense loneliness and bitterness. If you are lucky, you meet along the way someone who breaks the mold: unpretentious, he just cares about other people. He too has suffered a great deal. He too has passed through the crisis of denying God because God refused to remain in his life the tame, Sunday School, watered-down and simplified God of his fundamentalist childhood. When you meet someone like him, it is possible to have a frightening experience: hope. It is frightening because you don’t want to go back to the anemic cosmology you had before—you know that will just lead you again to cynicism. But instead of going back, what if you went forward, not assuming you know where it will lead. Follow the light, the good. Long for the good. The ancient monks called this Divine Eros. Even in your physical and emotional pain and confusion, you can find pockets of good, small moments and encounters that bring light, in which someone does or says something that seems to be grace-filled. The world is an ugly place (“do not love the world or the things in the world” St. John said), but it is not devoid of good. Following the good is the narrow way. The narrow way leads to life; but the easy way, the obvious way, to death. In Brothers Karamazov, the Grand Inquisitor chastises Jesus for making the way too difficult. The Inquisitor claims that he (Scholastic Christianity) really loves the people by simplifying Christianity for the people. Whereas Jesus refused to turn stone into bread, the Inquisitor gives bread (easily understood formulas) so the people do not have to struggle with the meaning of the stones in their life. Whereas Jesus refused honor and clear resolution (“If you are the Son of God throw yourself off…”), the Inquisitor provides honorable positions in society and easy answers. How, the Inquisitor argues, could a loving God force people to live with ambiguity? Most western Christians have grown up with the religion of the Grand Inquisitor, not the religion of Jesus.
The question for each of us is will we follow the narrow way? We do not have to run down the path. Limping is fine. Truth be told, if you could see in the hearts of the people you admire, everyone hobbles, crawls and stumbles toward the light. We are all terribly wounded.