Let me say one last thing: a writer I love and respect says that sometimes we know God best in our missing him. That it’s in his absence that we most deeply experience his presence. I feel that. I don’t believe in God because it’s logical, because it makes sense, because I’ve experienced something life-changing that I can’t explain away—though I do and have. But I believe in God because I miss him. In both senses of the word: that there is an ache in myself and in the world, in existence, that is like a stitch in my side, and it is only by putting Jesus into that wound that life is worth living and finds any kind of wholeness. But in the other sense of the word too: I believe in God because I long for him. Because there is a beauty to the Gospel and to Jesus that has whet a yearning in me I cannot quiet with technology, friendship, aestheticism, or distraction. I find the Gospel beautiful. The parallel between the first Adam and the second Adam; the sacramental re-membering of the Eucharist; the many paradoxes of the Gospel; the consistent pattern in Scripture of God choosing the weak and overlooked over the powerful and wise… And the longing that this beauty stirs in me is so dense, and so intrinsically a part of my identity, that to disbelieve it would be to disbelieve in myself and everything I call real and true. Perhaps, in the deepest sense, God is real because we make him real—in our longing and our love for him, in the unique but communal ways he has touched each of us who claim to know him and left us irrevocably changed. So, at the very least, if I cannot and should not “make” you believe in Jesus, then I hope to God that I can at least make you miss him. There is something powerful to missing, to yearning for something and finding it beautiful, even if you cannot find it true. Beauty and longing may not offer traditional proof, but they tend to change how we live.
-excerpt from a letter to a friend
I logged onto Facebook late this afternoon and glanced over at the “Trending” news articles to see a headline about an eight-year-old boy who’d been brutally beaten to death as he protected his little sister from sexual assault. His name was Dante. I could not do anything for several minutes after I read the headline, which provided more detail than I have here. I felt it—I almost literally felt it—push belief away from me, like magnets repelling each other. What does it mean to believe in the face of this kind of horror? I think of Ivan Karamazov saying that Heaven is not worth the price of one child’s suffering. I think of Alyosha’s wordless response to Ivan’s rejection of God, a kiss mimetic of the one Christ bestows upon the Grand Inquisitor. I think that daily existence, the brutality and brilliance of it, has enough evidence to sustain a thousand years of atheism and Christendom. But what do I know?
In my room right now there sits a painting by Makoto Fujimaru. It is called “Charis-Kairos (The Tears of Christ)”. My friends, to my complete surprise, pooled together to buy me a canvas print of it for my birthday after several months ago I mentioned how beautiful I found it.
It does something to me, this painting. It doesn’t say that everything is okay. It doesn’t say that everything will be okay. I think it says that despite things not being okay, there is a grief-filled, glowing, gorgeous grace to it all, that washes over everything that is wrong and broken and weary. Upon the blackness we feel inside of ourselves, the temptation to despair, the beauty of Christ will not and cannot fail to illuminate.
Sing unto the autumn hours dripping divine meeting,
All those possibilities out of which your faith was born,
Took root beneath your rib cage. Sing unto
The cavernous nights, when your pain eroded
Like rock and left geologists proof
of your realness.
Learn to gasp your way into grace,
the cold shock of it as it soaks into your wetsuit
and build a childhood inside those Galilean branches—
Build a childhood
With planks you did not have to carry,
With nails you do not have to wear.
I want to say to you that I am a child of this age, a child of unfaith and skepticism, and probably (indeed I know it) shall remain so to the end of my life. How dreadfully has it tormented me (and torments me even now) this longing for faith, which is all the stronger for the proofs I have against it. And yet God gives me sometimes moments of perfect peace; in such moments I love and believe that I am loved; in such moments I have formulated my creed, wherein all is clear and holy to me. This creed is extremely simple; here it is: I believe that there is nothing lovelier, deeper, more sympathetic, more rational, more manly, and more perfect than the Saviour; I say to myself with jealous love that not only is there no one else like Him, but that there could be no one. I would even say more: If anyone could prove to me that Christ is outside the truth, and if the truth really did exclude Christ, I should prefer to stay with Christ and not with truth.
“Behold, we know not anything
We can be trust that good shall fall
At last, far off, at last to all
And every winter change to spring
“So runs my dream, but what am I?
An infant, crying in the night
An infant, crying for the light
And with no language but a cry.”