Photo by Robert Phelps
5 January 2021
Asking The Unanswered
Recently, in a beach town nearby, an intoxicated, twenty-two-year-old woman drove her car into another vehicle. A young couple in their late twenties were killed. Their three daughters – five, four and one year old - were injured, but survived.
The intoxicated driver has a previous DUI citation. She is charged with a long list of offenses, including “two felony counts of murder, one felony count of driving under the influence of alcohol causing bodily injury,” and many more. Barely out of her terns, she faces a possible life sentence.
When anger and shock fade, many people understandably ask: “Why does a so-called Loving God allow such things to happen? Why?”
Searching For Clarity
We have an innate need to understand why such events occur. We struggle to make sense of the senseless, to find a logical "answer" to deeply perplexing questions. We are born to seek knowledge. It is a mandate of human nature to wonder… yet we understand so little about so much in our lives, including the reasons and motives for such avoidable tragedies.
Human intelligence and creativity are astonishing and unquestionably impressive in the ways we unfold Nature’s secrets. We are responsible for successfully meeting a variety of challenges. We have the power to peer into the vastness of the given Universe, as well as the obligation to restrain errant quests. At our best, we have the sense to pursue wisdom, i.e., to nourish the soul’s insight and the heart’s comprehension of truths beyond sensory knowledge.
Still, our desire to know all the answers is eventually encapsulated by the limitations which define human nature. Reason and logic, history and experience, wisdom and simple common sense all tell us that endless realities exist which human nature cannot comprehend and should not mess with.
So, despite our array of human achievements, we so often forget that life – with all its complexities – is a gift; a precious, delicate, paradoxical gift which contains secrets beyond our grasp. Life (all life, including our own) is a confounding reality beyond human comprehension … as is all of Creation, for that matter.
Creation is beyond our control and comprehension. The restraints of human nature should be crystal clear even to the dedicated cynic. Yet, so often we forget that Creation originates with our Creator upon Whose power and sustenance we are ever-dependent … and to Whom we are, hopefully, ever-grateful.
The Limits Of Knowing
Given our limitations, it is eminently reasonable for us to ask:
- At what point does our dissatisfaction with unknowing become excessive?
- At what point in our lives should we reasonably cease our self-defeating curiosity?
- At what point in our lives must a realistic "Aha!!" calm our demand to know-beyond-knowing?
- At what reasonable point in our lives do we accept the established boundaries of our human intellect?
- At what point in our lives to we accept the fact that there are countless realities we will never comprehend?
- At what point in our lives do we give credit where credit is due and admit our Creator does exist?
- Is it not obvious that a steady stream of miraculous events appears before our eyes every instant?
- Is it not clear that every one of us possesses grand, ennobling possibilities, especially in family?
- Is it not clear that responsibilities and obligations to one another are inherent in life and community?
- Is it not clear that we reside as guests in a Universe of amazing complexity and beauty?
- Is it not clear that every moment of our lives is itself a gift and a miracle well beyond our doing?
The blessings of this life should move us to gratitude with every breath we take, with the sounds of children’s giddy laughter, with every leaf we behold, every song we hear, every sunrise which awakens us all over again to life’s grandeur.
Mystery … And Beyond
Some people are unconvinced. They see these questions as a surrender to aging myths or quaint religiosity. They still demand to know: “If there is a God, why isn’t God kinder? Why does He permit suffering at all? And why is He so silent?”
These questions push some people to jaded cynicism or nihilism’s empty larder or atheism’s hapless rejection of our Creator. But if nothing is beyond this life -- no Creator beyond the stars, no God Who made all this -- then we must also ask: “Whence did life emerge? From what source do the laws of Nature arise? Or is Creation a soupy jumble of self-generating stuff – sort of?”
Some people say that trying to figure out God’s reasons is a “Big Mystery” … and that’s true. But this does not satisfy all of us.
In common usage, “mysteries” are puzzles to be neatly resolved. The mind demands tidy solutions to mystery. Solutions restore our mental equilibrium and placate the frustration of unknowing. But when we push the word "mystery" beyond common usage, it becomes a miscue, as if our logic could actually clarify the complexities of Creation.
The overwhelming realities of Creation – including avoidable suffering -- do not fit conveniently into the tight logic of our five senses or the formulaic calculations of human reason. Our freedom to think and to believe are actually confined, not expanded, by reliance on science alone. And human immaturity is so often the preventable cause of irresponsible woe.
If we look only to ourselves and our own resources, then intuition and contemplation, Faith and Hope and Goodness become alien indulgences. In the process of excessive self-reliance, we actually deny human nature and mistakenly equate knowledge with wisdom, a profound, often fatal, error.
The truth is that we are not born to live solely on our own terms.
The truth is that we are dependent on others all our lives -- and they upon us -- from birth through our elder years.
The truth is that we are born into a universe of unknowable realities -- but we are also responsible for much of what occurs.
The need to acknowledge our Creator is our nature’s paradoxical inheritance, the spur intended to propel us beyond knowledge to the realm of the Divine. This is our calling; it is central to our identity.
Admitting this to ourselves – accepting the power and dominion of our Creator - is indeed a surrender to Divine authority … AND a pathway to our own enrichment. It is the act of giving ourselves in Faith and Hope, not losing ourselves in doubt and futility. But it also asks of us self-restraint …
Paradox And Ambiguity
The dictionary defines “paradox” as a “seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that - when investigated or explained - may prove to be well founded or true…”
The point? Life’s paradoxes offer us a truth to be found only in our struggle to make sense of the Ambiguity we encounter. Many people see Ambiguity through a darkened lens, as rampant nihilism or as a senseless drudge, without a whit of redeeming merit, as a fool’s paradise.
Others – those who are bolstered by Faith and Hope – see Ambiguity as a call to virtue, i.e., as a source of strength and focus in heart and soul ... as the Virtue of Ambiguity.
And in that context, the Virtue of Ambiguity (by definition) proposes that much of life and reality are surely unknowable … BUT our limitations are actually doorways to a different form of knowing, to a storehouse of redemptive, inspiring knowledge.
What sort of knowledge? The fact that intellectual mastery is less beneficial to human nature than contentment of heart and peace of soul, which are infused by the Virtue of Ambiguity.
At first glance, this may sound naïve and simplistic, as if lack of knowledge and capitulation to passivity are acceptable. Obviously not so. We rightly expect each profession to be thorough in the mastery of its discipline and in its approval of its practitioners. Human knowledge, the scientific method, the technologies of our age – all are powerful . . . and Justice punishes those who feign or demean Right Reason and authentic learning.
Yet somewhere along every line of inquiry, we are faced more with questions than answers. In every field, we eventually encounter that line between mastery and mystery. We encounter the Unknown, be it in science or the arts, in daily life and family – and certainly within ourselves.
And it is at the point of our fallibility and wonder that the Virtue of Ambiguity -- with its core rooted in Faith and Hope - is to be recognized as a gift from God.
The Virtue of Ambiguity becomes a gift of patient waiting and hopeful want; a gift to be accepted with gratitude, nurtured with humbled heart and spirit, as we struggle with the question of why we are so beloved by our Creator as to be granted the gift of life at all.
Freedom’s Shadow Side
We are, of course, always free to resist Faith and dismiss Hope, which are the center of the Virtue of Ambiguity.
We are free to demand our own terms, to pursue power over what we are incapable of controlling.
We are free to remain restless, impatient, skeptical creatures, if we choose.
We are free to deny, even reject, the liberating paradox of the Unknown with our resistant demands to have it all.
We are free to eschew the responsibility of respecting our own calling to goodness, to kick against the consolations of Ambiguity, to pursue denial and avoidance as we travel our own ill-advised path – even if we become lost along the way.
But the inescapable truth of our universal human limitations insists that our wisest path is to embrace the simple wisdom of Faith and the greater freedom of Hope which unaided human knowing can never afford.
The Virtue of Ambiguity is, in fact, the necessary and sufficient doorway to peace of mind and contentment of spirit, the brightest side of the paradox of Life and the truths of Revelation, i.e., of the truths written in Scripture … and in the human heart..
Finally . . .
Consolation in heart and soul is found not merely in the factual clarity of our intellect but in the calm and stillness of the Virtue of Ambiguity and its sustaining foundations of Faith and Hope as blessings we receive from our Creator.
A grandparent does not ask questions when a beloved grandchild nestles in his arms for a nap. He merely holds his grandchild in that loving embrace of stillness -- and gratefully allows his deepest sentiments of Love and Loyalty to fill his heart.
At moments of such genuine awe, we are (if we allow ourselves) immersed in the tranquility of innocence --- for it is we who are then held by our Creator, we who are then embraced by God.
And it is during such moments that persons of good will allow themselves to be overwhelmed by the peace of not having to know anything more than the calm and purity of “now” and the Love of God, which is the Origin of our lives.
Our embrace of Ambiguity - in Faith and Hope - is the best answer to the paradox of our Loving Creator Whom we can never fully grasp solely by human effort or logical means.
We can be sure that we have endless opportunities for goodness. We have responsibilities to one another which we are born to honor. There is no doubt: our choices for goodness are significant to our Creator, Who guides and sustains our lives, and Who has endowed us with accountability for the choices we make and the responsibilities we accept.
We will not solve all life’s mysteries, but we have sure and certain knowledge that Faith and Hope and the Virtue of Ambiguity are our best path to Love.
This we can understand -- if we will only “be still - and know“….