Sober Questions on a New Year's Eve

Ron Rolheiser, OMI
December 26, 2000
Reproduced with permission

Rarely do faith, hope, and love come to us pure. Instead, like life itself, they come with mess and doubt, raising huge questions.

Living is not a simple business, not by a long shot, especially if one tries, at least occasionally, to take the road less travelled. To try believe in something beyond sight and understanding, to try to place one's trust in something beyond what one can secure, and to try to love in a way that doesn't just turn others into satellites of one's own orbit, generally raises more questions than it answers. Whoever said that life was simple wasn't doing us a favour.

Not to be haunted by doubt, temptation, and ambiguity is to close oneself off to deep thought and feeling. To think and to feel is to be open to many things, darkness as well as light, hatred as well as love, despair as well as hope. Faith, by definition, is not certitude. That's good to remember.

Ambiguity is perhaps the one constant within human experience. That's a philosophical way of saying that it's not simple out there, that our heads and hearts are full of too many things and that much of life is about sorting things out. And sorting things out is seldom easy. Many voices inside and outside of us compete with each other and beckon us with their own truth - instinctual truth, higher truth, head truth, heart truth, Christian truth, secular truth, scientific truth, economic truth. Isn't there a timeless ring to Pontius Pilate's question: What is truth? Which voice speaks the truth when so many voices vie with each other and call us in so many directions?

God's voice is in fact clear, though it doesn't stand alone: Deep inside us, as we know, the most noble call of all is to be a saint, to believe that meaning and happiness lie in generosity, self-forgetfulness, gratitude, graciousness, and worship. Yet, other voices inside us make other, no less real, demands. They call us to experience every sensation of the sinner, beckon us to the good life, and point to the pleasures of building a name and a nest. Which of these voices speaks the truth? Does truth lie in self-renunciation? Does it lie in being rich and famous? The voices contradict each other and yet each holds its own promise of life, rest, meaning, realism, salvation. Small wonder that living can sometimes be a tiring enterprise.

Life has many questions. There are many voices. As we struggle to love and find meaning, what is real?

Is the distance between us expanding or is it shrinking? Are we falling more into love, or is it despair? Do we say the same words too often, or not enough? In our frayed emotions are we tasting hell, or are we experiencing birth pangs? Do our frustrations unleash what's worst in us or do they cauterize our worst sins and teach us a humility that can't otherwise be learned? Does love demand more distance from each other, or does it need more mouth-to-mouth resuscitation? Do we touch too much or too little? Does passion turn love into idolatry, or does it alone reveal its divine fire? Is the pain of non-requited love the pain of hell, or is it the pain of purgatory which feels like hell though it is the passage to heaven? Is sex our greatest weakness, or is the last hold that God still has on us? Which of our struggles are good and which are bad?

Questions, faith's questions, hope's questions, love's questions, posing still other questions:

Can Christ be taken literally? Can dying produce new life? Can purgatory turn into heaven? Will the last really someday be first? Will the meek really inherit the earth? Can what doesn't seem real at times really be the most real thing of all? Can spirit really triumph over instinct, heart over groin? Can dead bodies really be raised from their graves? Do we really have 70 x 7 chances? Will there really always be new sunshine after a night of emptiness? Can we really come back from all of our sins, mistakes, and losses? Can our wounds really turn into sure proofs of the resurrection, silencing our doubts as they did the doubting Thomas? When all the emotion, anger, jealousy, hatred, murder, war, and bitterness settle down, will love really shine through? Does God really take note each time a sparrow falls from the sky or a hair from your head - or each time there is an injustice on this planet? Can hope really find the infinitely small gap through which the future can break into our lives in a new and marvellous way?

Can that other world that we so dimly grasp in faith, hope, and love really take on lasting flesh and triumph as the ultimate reality? In the end, this last question is the only real question. How we answer it will, for good or for bad, fundamentally shape who we are as human beings.