Christ as a hidden answer to despair

This is a quickly drafted response to Andrew S about this comment:

I don’t think that it is pain is a pre-requisite for understanding Christianity, but enormous pain is just a part of life- that is the message of the Buddha as well as Christ. In my view, Christ is about facing reality. Discovering the reality of despair is as easy as looking out the window, most simply ignore it because they don’t have to/want to worry about it.

Andrew asked: How does this reality support Christ, rather than diminish/preclude Christ?

The short answer is that the despair and pain we see in the world neither proves nor disproves Christ, nor does it reveal Christ.  There is no explanation for why the world is the way it is.  The fact that more people do not find joy in Christ just shows that the way is straight and narrow and few will find it.

I think Christ is a reality just like I think language is a reality.  It is obvious that language exists, but I can’t explain why it works or how.

There is empirical evidence of pronounced psychological change in people (including myself) when they grasp what Jesus was talking about. One common way to get to the point where you can grasp what Jesus is talking about is to face despair. It may be that Christ is simply a psychological trick for relief from any sort of despair, that is a reasonable conclusion (like Buddhist enlightenment). But even if this was all that Christ was, it would definitely be worth seeking.

But although I have fooled myself in the past (often willingly) this does not feel like I am fooling myself, it feels more like a philosophical understanding of a physical reality. Being “in Christ” feels like a physical reaction to a solution to an equation, it feels like Helen Keller described it was like to grasp language or mathematics. Metaphysically I don’t know what Christ is, just like I don’t really know what an idea is, but it has consistent physical and psychological effects on me. This is why Christ is a reality that I can’t deny, just like I can’t deny that 1+1 = 2 even though there is no complete and consistent system of though

However, like a many philosophical positions that I have a grasp of, i am not that great at explaining them. most philosophers were not great at explanation either. For example, I can grasp what Heidegger was talking about, but I don’t think Heidegger explained it well at all. I can grasp what Plato was talking about, but he didn’t/couldn’t use straightforward prose to describe what he was saying either. Kierkegaard is almost impossible to understand by reading Kierkegaard. I think Christ is similar to this. I think Jesus and Paul were able to explain it because they were drawing on a very deep tradition, but It is clear that what they said is not a sure-fire way of enlightening people to the reality.

However, the difficulty of grasping Christ says nothing about the reality of Christ. Human beings spent tens of thousands of years without knowing how to draw an image, or write down words, or express mathematical ideas, use fire, etc.  I think Christ is a truth that is a durable and reliable source of joy, better than any drug for example, but I think the complexity of the world and the strength of our thoughts and experiences cloud it from our view, just like we may forget the insight we get from philosophy when we get caught up in ideology, visionary experiences, psychological obsessions, etc.

I am still very much a new traveler in this territory. I think I was a strong ideological Christian when I was a Mormon and I felt a spiritual affinity to Jesus and Christian ideas. I could convince people by appealing to their intuitions and latent beliefs about God and their desire to believe in something good. But now I feel like a scientist that discovered a new drug that brings joy, but I can’t quite provide the formula because it was a mixture of hundreds of different ingredients.  My grasping Christ seemed like the confluence of dozens of streams of thought.

I have a couple of more polished posts where I will try to present my thoughts clearer about the nature of seeing Christ and the “terrifying reality of God” that I mentioned.

Advertisements

15 thoughts on “Christ as a hidden answer to despair

  1. I guess the thing that kinda trips me up here is that I wouldn’t say “language is a reality.” Language*s* are realities, but there are lots of different languages.

    And there are lots of different religions too. I mean, maybe it’s just because I go to Christian and LDS and evangelical and etc., blogs that Jesus is the focus, but that doesn’t really say anything for any sort of universal fact or language.

    When you say:

    There is empirical evidence of pronounced psychological change in people (including myself) when they grasp what Jesus was talking about.

    I’m not so sure. I mean, I know of plenty of people who self-profess as Christians, self-profess as having been changed and saved and whatnot, and they are just as petty people as anyone else. I mean, I see some ills that I think are magnified and institutionalized by religion, but I resist calling them primarily religious problems (e.g., sexism, homophobia, etc.,). But at the very least, it seems like people are just humans.

    I mean, I do see glimpses that some folks have changed. But not as many as there are Christians, and not only for Christians. Does that make any sense?

    One common way to get to the point where you can grasp what Jesus is talking about is to face despair. It may be that Christ is simply a psychological trick for relief from any sort of despair, that is a reasonable conclusion (like Buddhist enlightenment). But even if this was all that Christ was, it would definitely be worth seeking.

    This definitely seems the clearest part of it all to me, but as you’ve noted, not a lot of people face despair. Not so sure if that’s because of ignorance, but I would also say despair isn’t sufficient to grasp what Jesus is talking about.

    But although I have fooled myself in the past (often willingly) this does not feel like I am fooling myself, it feels more like a philosophical understanding of a physical reality. Being “in Christ” feels like a physical reaction to a solution to an equation, it feels like Helen Keller described it was like to grasp language or mathematics. Metaphysically I don’t know what Christ is, just like I don’t really know what an idea is, but it has consistent physical and psychological effects on me. This is why Christ is a reality that I can’t deny, just like I can’t deny that 1+1 = 2 even though there is no complete and consistent system of thought.

    IMO, all of those things are still subjective responses. I have been reading up a LOT recently on the Monty Hall problem…it's a mathematical problem that absolutely has a correct answer (as would be the case for religion, right?) and yet, the fascinating thing is how so many very educated, mathematically trained people don't get the right answer. Or, to use a sillier example from more recent times, the discussion on whether #TheDress is #BlackandBlue or #WhiteandGold.

    In this sense, I agree that theoretically, having difficulty grasping says nothing about the reality thereof. But I've been at that position for a long time — our beliefs say more about our psychological states, our perceptions, etc., than about reality.

  2. Well, for the individual, psychological state is reality, the subjective/objective distinction is very tenuous. Our demons are real to us, at the very least, and they can threaten to destroy us. Humans have demons — not matter what you call them — and any solution to the demon problem is worthy of investigation. I am a new traveler in this territory, I am trying to be as authentic as I can and as honest as I can. From my point of view I see that there is something that I didn’t grasp before. It could be that I am simply attempting to find a way out of my own private hell, but if I have actually found a way out, and I remain open to any possible explanation, including purely psychological explanation, it counts for quite a bit. The thing I find absolutely strange and shocking about Christianity is that it “works” for so few. When I felt the joy of “salvation” I realized that it would absolutely change the world if everyone felt this way. The fact that “reality” set in at some point afterwards, and I realized that my own “demons” returned if I let them in made me understand how ineffective Christ can be in people’s lives if they do not continue to submit.

    I am still working it out. In my job I see nothing but sin, murder, rape, gangsterism, graft, corruption, lies, etc. and all of my clients seem like relatively normal people that were not indoctrinated with the superstition to obey the law. The truth seems to lie outside the law, but to show these people the truth seems nearly impossible. Christianity simply seems to be the only method that I can trust to escape from this sort of madness, yet it remains maddening that it is so difficult to show people. Even when they have spiritual experiences, or simply blind faith, it remains elusive, yet to me it seems to be ever-present, simply a matter of entering a particular state of mind. Perhaps Christianity is its own sort of madness.

    Pascal said: Men are so necessarily mad, that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness.

    On this point I am in full agreement.

  3. I guess the thing that kinda trips me up here is that I wouldn’t say “language is a reality.” Language*s* are realities, but there are lots of different languages.

    Sure, and most can express quite a few things, but we are still trapped in language, we can only talk to ourselves in our own language. Check this out:

  4. “There is no explanation for why the world is the way it is.”
    Yes there is.
    God has consigned all of creation…this world and all that is in it, to sin.
    As St. Paul says, “God gave us up to sin.”

    The wages of sin is death. And that is the reason that the world is the way it is.

    But Christ has come to redeem lost sinners in a lost world. Faith comes by hearing. Who is the gospel meant for? Those who hear it. (who truly hear and come to a living trust in Christ Jesus)

    That is biblical. That is the truth of the matter. No matter how hard it may be for some to sallow.

  5. Jared,

    yeah, I get that to us, what is subjective to us is very real. I think that a lot of times, we deemphasize the subjective incorrectly to chase after “objectivity”.

    that being said, it is as you say: Christianity “works” for so few, and seems to require constant renewal even for those for whom it may once have worked.

    i’m not entirely sure if I get your video, but that doesn’t really support that there is one language. To the contrary, that everyone is alone in their own language*s*.

  6. Christianity (faith) does require constant renewal. We live from faith…to faith.

    Christianity doesn’t “work”. it’s not supposed to.

    Faith in Christ redeems. Gives hope. Amidst all the crap…or all the good in our lives. It is NOT a project. Oh how I wish Mormons or Christians or people the world over could come to that realization.

  7. theoldadam, when I talk about Christianity “working” or “not working”, I’m talking about its ability to actually achieve whatever goals people claim to it.

    You say “Faith in Christ redeems. Gives hope.” So, Christianity “works” if it actually redeems and actually gives hope.

    And I think it’s spotty on this. I mean, I mean, I wouldn’t dismiss the entire thing like some folks would, but it certainly seems to be less effective than people would suggest.

  8. The Bible doesn’t speak in terms of “working”…or “progress” (for example).

    The paradigm in the Bible is death….to life.

    You can use whatever language that you want, of course. Christian faith is not initiated by us…continued by us…helped along by us…it is an external Word that is done TO us.

    Some hear and come to faith. And others don’t. That’s just the way it is.

  9. @andrew, I don’t think that there is one language, but a lot of 20th century philosophy is about the deep structure of language and how it conveys information, how to express the metaphysical status of ideas, and the logic expressed using language. All languages have similar features, just as all religions have similar features. The fact that language exists and the nature of language is a philosophical mystery as deep as humans face. The ability of humans to talk to themselves is at the root of language and a fundamental part of our species. Most anthropologists consider the phenomena of language the deepest roots of religion and science.

  10. This is a refreshing honest look at “The hidden God”:

    theoldadam.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/dying-to-self-what-does-it-mean.mp3

    For anyone that may be interested…

  11. I think the formula is as as simple as E=mc^2, explaining why it is trustworthy, proving it, an getting it is the trick.

    The most confounding questions I had when I grasped Christ was (1) this seems so simple, why didn’t I understand it before and (2) why doesn’t everybody who grasps Christ have joy all of the time. These still puzzle me.

  12. Jared, agreed on the explaining it, proving it, and getting it are the tricks. Of course, we can only explain it, but I don’t think we can prove it, necessarily. Its faith. Yes, we know it is real, but since it is not tangible in the way a 2 ton pick up truck is tangible, we can’t show it to someone or anything like that. Getting it is something that has been debated for centuries. Its at the heart of the Calvinist/Armenian debate, really. Can one really get it without leading from God? I don’t know, but its slippery, and perhaps circular, to argue that only God can do that. However, it may be very true.

    We can argue all day and night about what must happen for us to believe, but each person will be different. I’ve always believed, but I “got it” when I realized how much I was messing up my life and when God told me to get out of the way. That’s when I realized God was truly sovereign.

    Your story is different, as is Solange’s, Adam’s, Agellius’s, Tim’s, Gundek’s, even Ray, Shem, Andrew, JT, et al have different experiences which lead to their conclusions. The former group there gets the Gospel in ways that the others do not. The former group shares the understanding of “getting it”, the it being the traditional Gospel message, which the others do not get. This is not a statement of judgment, but of fact.

    I leave it up to God, and rejoice that I do get it, whether it was me or whether it was God. That’s awesome, I think.

    You state puzzlement as to why doesn’t everyone who grasps Christ have joy all the time. My take on this is that we are humans, and subject to human passion and emotion. We won’t always be on top of the world, though Christians should always have a contentment about them that others won’t have. This contentment should be present even when feeling blue and not as joyful as we ought to feel. But even Christians will struggle with life and emotions, sometimes even feeling separated from God (even though God is always there with us).

    I do prefer to use the word contentment rather than joy when discussion the comfort and reality of being in Christ. It is certainly joyous, but perhaps more accurate to describe the feeling as contentment. We ought to be joyful in our contentment, yes, and I think that is a better way to view the problem of up and down human interaction with God.

    Also, don’t forget that God does not always give us everything we want; meaning what we as humans expect far exceeds what God will give. As humans, we will react as humans will react.

  13. Jared,
    The “this seems so simple, why did I not get it before?” part, my personal take on it is the following: the Gospel can be a stumbling block to many, exactly due to its simplicity. As humans, we are used to the mentality of everything having a price, how much this or that will cost us, and what we have to do in order to get it. As we know, human effort is an intrinsic part of human success, be in school, careers, sports, marriage, you name it. So, in our dealings with God, doing absolutely nothing to get it all, goes against everything we know to be true in our everyday lives. As my family says, “it is too easy.”

    But, this simplicity requires one to zoom in the words of Jesus in Matthew 5, when he said that unless we are (and see ourselves) poor in spirit, we will not enter heaven. Poor like beggars, most probably, like the destitute, diseased, leprous, filthy, undesirable people we find in accounts of both Testaments, very similar to a lot of folks we see today in our society, the drug addicts, mentally ill, homeless of every city. Spiritually, if we do not come to a place of realization that this is exactly what we are and “smell” like to God without the cleansing of Christ’s blood, and that our works to help that not be true of ourselves are to Him, as if we are trying to clean our filthiness with filthy rags, we cannot see and embrace the magnificence (and extension) of Christ’s Atonement.
    That is a very hard realization for anyone to come to. Our pride rears its ugly head, we do not like to be a nobody. Much better to think we are “in control” by following the list of requirements. We think better of ourselves that way because we are doers, no complete charity dependents, we can “pay” our way, even if it is only a partial payment, thank you very much.
    I can tell you that while I was in the “hamster’s wheel” of personal works, before I run out of gas, there was certainly, an aspect of personal pride to obeying the commandments to make myself worthy, some of that proverbial “beating of the chest” and “thumbs-up to self” thing going on. Comparisons to others many times allowed me feel good about myself as to how much “good” I was producing. Even as I was tiring out, the illusion of exercising apparent control to my spiritual life and destiny…It may be only an illusion, but still a powerful one and not easy to relinquish.
    So, that is why I agree that it seems easier for people to come to that place of total surrender and this kind of recognition of their spiritual need, when they have experienced brokenness also in other aspects of their life. It helps us to experience pride and control being shaken up to the core so reality, as we know it, can change our spiritual perspective, opening our eyes and making us able to see what was there all along.
    Apologies if I sound “preachy.” (:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s