I tried to understand life. I tried to understand the whys and the hows. I tried to see beyond the pain and the sufferings. I wanted to know the story behind the story. I wanted a whiff of the meta-narratives.
So, I took on religion. I took on God. I questioned the way he ran the world. I wanted to take out a referendum on his sovereignty. I was tempted to source out for other options. Can anyone do better? Can anyone imagine the alternative? Physically impossible (or unimaginable) I guess.
So, I asked God what is the meaning of life? I asked him to explain the mystery of the universe to me. I wanted him to enlighten me on issues of gratuitous, aimless suffering. And most of all, I needed him to shed some light on his divine elusiveness. Why is he always lurking in the existential shadows? Why is he always speaking indirectly, in riddles, sporadically, softly and by proxy? Why can't he show up once in a while, with calculated regularity, in body and flesh, in subdued glory and in a manner that doesn't blind us?
At times, my quest for understanding even bothered on some edgy form of rustic desperation. But strangely, and somehow quite expectedly though, God didn't seem to share my enthusiasm, even desperation, for beyond-a-reasonable-doubt answers. He seemed to prefer to engage me in other ways that are less ostentatious, more private and nuanced. He appeared very much like the cool empire who sets the color pegs in the code-breaking game called Mastermind; keeping an arm's length from all and silent about the secrets of life.
Even so, and after all these years, I find that his answers, at least to me, are best described in this way (so pull up your metaphorical bootstraps and bear with me):
Imagine you are in a megastore, quite lost, and you ask the store assistant for a ladder to be used to reach that display item at the top side of the shelf. You fancy a gander at it. So, the store assistant politely obliged. He disappears into the far corner, lumbers back with a ladder, and leans it clumsily against the stacked up shelves.
You then thanked him for the service and starts to scale up the ladder. Along the way upwards, you pass by many items on the lower shelves. But still, you have yet to reach the level where your item is placed. It is somehow positioned much higher than you had expected. You no doubt discover many things on display and learn many things along the way. But that item that you want so much nevertheless still eludes you. You can't seem to reach it.
Although you could still see it, it remains beyond your reach. Left without much of a choice, that is, either upwards or downwards, you decide wearily to scale up the ladder with what deflated optimism that is still within you.
Now you can loosen those metaphorical bootstraps and return to reality with me about my struggles with life and God.
That is somehow the answer I often get in my quest to understand him. More specifically, the answer to gratuitous sufferings, among other things, is like scaling up that seemingly endless ladder looking for that display item I have been craving for from the start. And I am still climbing that ladder. I don't know how long the upward climb will take. Neither do I know whether I will ever reach that much desired shelf at the top. The answer always eludes me.
But I guess this is what understanding life and its perplexities are ultimately all about. You just know in your heart that there are answers waiting to be discovered. They come in many forms. Some are direct like a math problem. Some are indirect like a quiz. And still others, the rare ones, the really vexing ones, if you'd ever bothered, are as impenetrable as trying to force an adult camel into the eye of a needle (oops, I hope I am being original here).
But whatever it is, however exasperating the struggle, I will do myself (and humanity) the greatest disservice if I should choose to believe, even for a moment, that there are in fact easy, one-off answers to such challenging, life-baffling questions. And god forbid that I should write a book or two about it boasting about how simple the answer is. Here is a quote from a historian that is most relevant, "The greatest obstacle to knowledge is not ignorance. It is the illusion of knowledge." (Daniel Boorstein). And how many of us have been led to that mirage of knowledge only to discover that there is nothing there except a lot of hot rising air?
You see, I do not approach the mind of God with a simple lock and key and expect one key to unlock everything about the mysteries of the universe. That would be no less a standing mockery to the infinite ingenuity of our Creator.
My point is this. If it takes an eternal being to create a temporal, transient world, however vast and seemingly endless this world appears to us, wouldn't it take a duration that is at least proximate to an eternity, and no shorter, to understand it all? If you concur, then the question of all questions will be this: Do you have the time? And if you do, then don't look down my friend…keeping climbing. Cheerz.
* Image from "mymorningmeditation.com."