In Surprised by Joy, CS Lewis wrote these words about his struggles just before conversion, "In reading Chesterton, as in reading McDonald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for. A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere - "Bibles laid open, millions of surprises," as Herbert says, "fine nets and stratagems." God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous."
Indeed, and to borrow that adjective for metaphorical effect, even as a believer, God to me is unscrupulous, that is, He doesn't play by our rules.
The game He plays with me masks the trap He lays for me. He plants a thought that germinates but yet in its path of growth, He hides Himself from view. If faith is that which I behold, where evidence falls short and hope is in the unseen, then doesn't this up the stake of my existential angst for that elusive blessed assurance? If a fool says in his heart there is no god, then I have been a half-wit on countless occasions toying with the idea of a neither-here-nor-there divinity.
For CS Lewis, God entrapped him. He set the dragnet in the direction of his going in and coming out, and ambushed him in his own game of chess-moves and check-mate. For me, God played a different game. It was a game to test my faith, to stretch it even. He knows my heart will not let Him go and He takes this opportunity to plant little crumbs that lead me up the garden path whose gardener is on what seems like an eternal sabbatical. My Eden lacks a tangible host. And if without faith it is impossible to please God, then I have repeatedly been a disappointment to Him.
John Calvin once said that "to prevent anyone from taking refuge in the pretense of ignorance, God himself has implanted in all men a certain understanding of his divine majesty." Alas, I find no refuge in this "pretense of ignorance" since this implanted understanding still leaves me helplessly clueless about Him. I therefore lament that I am always lagging behind this divine majesty like a strayed photon trying to play catch up with the inflationary expansion of the Universe from the time of the Big Bang.
Is there a way to understand this divine designer who deliberately engineered the bar so high that I can never see beyond the walls of His silence? At best I can only hear some muffled assurances and the faint cry of Calvary and with that, I am supposed to be content with the cold conviction of a weary heart.
When Anselm said "Credo ut intelligam" ("I believe so that I may understand") and "fides quaerens intellectum" ("faith seeking understanding"), I see before me my faith stretching to breaking point as I hold on to His coattails and plead for clues to this divine paradoxygen, that is, between Augustine's restless heart seeking the divine as the source of his life-giving breath and Socrates' endless search for answers that always fall short of full understanding.
Soren Kierkegaard once said that "faith is genuine only when it carries a whiff of risk, a leap into the absurd." I have myself dived into the absurd and sought His truth in the ocean of muddled dogmatism only to find the undertow of understanding quickened to draw me away from Him. Imagine the endless matrix-like corridor that stretches even further every time you thought you were just inches away from the exit.
What faith comes undone with reason and what full understanding is withheld with earnest seeking? Is God being unscrupulous by dropping hints for me to gather and yet the gathering only pieces it incomplete and the full picture is always beyond me? How blissful is the believer who rests on his self-consoling bed of roses and frazzles not his mind with its torn and what it exposes?
Apostle Paul once said that he sees the glass but darkly and in this state of fleshly discontentment, he finds his blessed assurance. I seek the same assurance and I know that I will have to accept this fleshly discontentment of a glass not just occluded but half-filled.
And if the "safest road to Hell is", as CS Lewis puts it, "the gradual one - the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts," then the road to Heaven is a conscious and deliberate one, with exactitude and a stubborn attitude, and its slope is anything but gentle, with me trudging through the cold cobblestone of faith, negotiating the sharp bends overlooking a steep drop, and where the only signpost that greets me come in three monotones: "Trust and Obey".
Sometimes I feel like a clown in the play of life whose consternation is to find a fire breaking out at the backstage, and in my panic, I rush forward to disrupt the play with a painted face and contrarian smile shouting to the audience to flee for their life only to be laughed at because they think that it is all part of the script (to borrow Kierkegaard's analogy).
Like Nietzsche's mad man entering the marketplace, yelling at the throng of atheists, "I seek God! I seek God!" only to be greeted by mocking laughter with this rejoinder, "Is he hiding or on holiday?" Are atheists laughing at my clumsy attempt to hang my theological garb on a sky hook and expecting it to stay up for all eternity? Is the idea of a divine Creator a laughable phenomenon for our post-modernistic sensibilities? Is this the ultimate divine comedy?
Is God not just unscrupulous but wickedly humorous then? Is He taking pleasure in changing the script midstream - and at every ironic bend - so as to angst up the show at the expense of my restless soul? Is He waiting for the final curtail call at the end before He wow the audience for the last time? Obviously I am bursting at the seams with questions that are strung on a precarious tightrope between vacillation and desperation.
Alas, cursed is my limited understanding. For who am I to know the mind of God? Even if it were all a divine comedy with God having the last laugh, the joke would still fly pass me, stiff. I will not get it because of the density of my head, the vacuity of my soul, and the impurity of my heart.
Maybe Reinhold Niebuhr has got a point when he said, "What is funny about us is precisely that we take ourselves too seriously." And if necessity is the mother of invention, then comedy is the father of tragedy. For the tragedy that is faith makes for the necessity that is comedy.
I therefore need to keep an open mind and a bubbly sense of levity when I take faith to be my journey's wedded companion for good and for bad at the altar of belief. Because, if John Wesley would have his way, then "a sour religion is the devil's religion," and for me, it would be a boring one. So instead of being too serious about it, I ought to have been less?
If so, I'd better cheer up as it's going to be a fun ride through impenetrable valleys, elusive terrains and muddy waters. In other words, it is a series of tragic comedy masquerading the splendor of faith when all is hopefully unraveled. I guess the last laugh then is reserved for the divine scriptwriter of life?
And while the atheists laughed at Nietzsche's madman, little did they know that he was a prophet. And he wipes the smirk off their faces with this retort, "We are murderers (of God). Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?" Good luck to that. The idea of man governing man governing a godless world is as misguided and self-defeating an ideology as that of Ayn Rand's rational ego and her virtues of selfishness.
So, in all my inadequacy, I humbly serve the divine Author with a cheerful heart and hope unceasing. Maybe my perceived delusions are what keep me sane? As for the irreconcilable chasm of understanding, I trust that the one who leaves the crumbs behind also embodies the bread of life when the end finally draws nigh. Cheerz.