It's my 500th post this morning (excluding my newspapers' commentary) and you would think I ought to be wiser. Well, I think I am only if wiser here means knowing more and more of less and less.
The journey has no doubt been a fruitful one. But at the same time, it is a groping one. Here's the catch: the more I probe, the more I discover the extent of my ignorance, and trust me, as Einstein said, the universe and our ignorance are both infinite.
As I ask more questions, hoping to uncover more answers, I found that I am flooded with more questions than I can handle. It is like the cosmic omniscience has planned this all along from the beginning of time, that is, setting me up for a treasure hunt where the clues are endless and the search is never-ending.
I somehow believe that while the fruit of knowledge is that I have come to know more, it is nevertheless balanced out by the curse of knowledge of knowing more of what I don't know, and that can be immeasurable.
Take religion for example. God has a sense of humor here. He is all-loving and I have written much about it. I am convicted by His son. Jesus exemplified love in a way no man I know even comes close. If I am content to stop there, I will be in a state of unpretentious blissfulness. But I am never contented in the first place, and my search led me into a maze of contradictions, paradoxes and dead ends.
Mathematical truths are never as confounding as metaphysical ones. While the sum of one plus one is clear, the sum of one unconditionally loving God plus one world of gratuitous sufferings is less so. The arithmetic just doesn't add up.
Now, the ardent believer will be dying to jump in here to offer piecemeal, formulaic answers, often encapsulated in five-step explanation or ten-fold counterarguments, and some have even written books about it, yet somehow, the debate, like the lyrics of Titanic, will goes on and on.
I guess as the formidable apologist Ravi Zacharias puts it: "God has put enough into the world to make faith in Him a most reasonable thing. But He has left enough out to make it impossible to live by sheer reason or observation alone." So I guess at times, this tension between faith and reason will be the disquiet ferret in my well-ironed theological pants.
Another example of how the acquisition of knowledge brings about the amplification of ignorance is in my untamed heart. Alas, here the chasm is unbridgeable. Just when you think you have acquired enough knowledge to rein in your unmoored emotions with the lasso of reason, you realized you are dead wrong about it. And just as no two fingerprints are alike, no two situations are the same. You can't step into the same river of changing circumstances twice. They are always different and so is your learning from them.
Every age comes with new challenges and you are never fully prepared for them. When I was young, I stood with arrogance on my shoulders wondering, what is there to learn that I have not learned?
Then, I married, have children and we all grow up together. Believe you me, the mistakes, the slips and the learning never cease thereon. Added to the muddled mix is career, workplace relationship, competition and stress, and the young me is effectively overwhelmed. Where is thine arrogance now?
As I aged, I have to contend with existential concerns, the meaning of life, the fate of my children, their future partners, the hypocrisy of religion and the religion of hypocrisy, the ethical grey areas, and the middle age me is altogether disillusioned.
At 46, there is still a long way to go with many crossroads ahead as my mortality beckons. Who is ever prepared for his or her own death? But death concentrates the mind spectacularly, and the dawning of it transforms my manicured world of routine and control into a manifest world of sobriety and priority.
My rebellious heart is therefore always in state of unrest, struggling with the paradoxes between ambition and humility, discontentment and fulfillment, sorrows and joy, pain and pleasure, carnality and self-denial, doubts and faith, despair and hope.
As such, there is a prodigal son in me, to varying degree. I started out demanding my freedom, insisting my way, and living in excesses. Then, as I get older, I contend with the sins of the elder brother who struggles with envy, resentment, acceptance, anger, and doubts.
I guess we all struggle in our own ways. We can pretend that all is well with our soul, but at times, all it takes is a provocation at the most unexpected hour to unravel us.
Here, I recall a parable where a revered monk was talking to a renowned author. The author asked the monk whether he still wrestle with the devil. The monk then thought for a while and said, "No, I now wrestle with God." The author was taken aback and said, “With God, and you hope to win?” The monk replied, “I hope to lose, my child. My bones remain with me still, and they continue to resist.”
The monk’s struggle is all too familiar with me. It sums up the simplified metaphorical image I have about the changing of times as I mature in the faith. In my youth, I fought with the devil. With boundless energies, I took him on, declaring his potency null and void, at times pretending that he is defeated, and resisting his siren call to fall.
And in the coming years where mortality draws nearer, my struggles are with God, demanding to know why and how come, feeling the inadequacy of the spirit, and sometimes being overwhelmed by the cares and lures of the world. And yet, I know that to feel this way is to acknowledge the humanness in me for the famed theologian Karl Rahner once said, “In the torment of the insufficiency of everything attainable we come to understand that here, in this life, all symphonies remain unfinished.”
And as I end here with my 500th post, here is a wonderful exposition of that Rahner’s insight by the theologian Ronald Rolheiser, the author of “The Sacred Fire: A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity”:=
“To accept that we cannot have the full symphony gives us permission to have a bad day, a lonely season, a life that somehow never fully gets free of tension and restlessness. It gives us permission as well not to be too hard on ourselves and, more importantly, it tells us to stop putting unfair pressure on our spouses, families, friends, vacations, and jobs to give us something that they cannot give – namely, happiness without a shadow, the full symphony.
We move beyond the cancer of frustration and restlessness by precisely accepting that here, in this life, there is no finished symphony. We carry the infinite inside ourselves. We are Grand Canyons without a bottom. Nothing, short of union with all that is, can ever fill in that void. To be tormented by complexity and restlessness is to be human. To make our peace with that is to come to peace, and we are mature to the degree that our own restlessness is no longer the center of our lives.”
I guess it might just take another 500 posts to come to peace with my unfinished symphony. Cheerz.