lyef & thymes

Saturday, August 18, 2007


I have been reading an incredible book called The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse. He's probably my favorite author, and this is the book he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Lieterature for having written. In it Hesse's main character, Magister Ludi Joseph Knecht notes that "faith is governed by doubt". I like this as a concept, although I don't completely agree.

The Thesis is, and it is the article, but the article doesn't stand alone. Instead it is governed by the antithesis. In this case faith in the realm of the mind, in the intellectual asceticism sought by Knecht is governed by his doubts that this is truly the ultimate ideal. In the book there is an individual expression at the epicenter of higher thought, called the glass bead game. It is the synthesis of all intellectual streams, and is revered as a religious rite. Knecht believes in the purity and importance of the game. He has faith in the game, but also has doubts about the game's singular hold as the pinnacle of thought. His faith is governed by his doubt. Due to his doubts he must delve further and deeper into the mysteries of the game, ultimately becoming the player who most completely exemplifies the virtues of the game, despite his doubts.

I am not sure that faith is governed by doubt, but I do believe that growth is governed by struggle. The individual comfortable in each and every area in his being is unlikely to become anything greater than he currently is. I don't suggest greatness in the sense of esteem, but literally in size, strength, in ability to accomplish greater exploits.

For example, I have heard it said that we need to be comfortable being single before we are ready to be in a relationship. This is probably bollocks. If I met a woman who was truly happy and comfortable, and at peace with solidarity, then she has no need of me, and I best not disturb her contentedness. No, I think that what we see in truth is this; it is our dissatisfaction with our single state that we see our true need for companionship.

There are positive impetus as well, don't get me wrong. Infatuation is like our heart's little trick to convince our minds to make lifetime decisions that it would otherwise shy away from. In the place of being deeply attracted to a person, we smile and blush, and make promises and pacts that are far to high and lofty to be certain of, but we agree nevertheless.

All of this is to say, it is only when we become discontent with our current state that we are moved to another, most often higher state. The challenge is in climbing from one to the next. It is this challenge, struggling against the difficulty of achieving new goals, new ability, new character, that ultimately creates within us the faculties necessary to exist there successfully.

This is the order of things when we are following God. He enamors us, in his love, reveals to us his beauty, then calls us to heights we would never naturally think that we could reach. We, lovestruck, shout YES LORD, I WILL GO FOR YOU! And then we set out. If we were simply translated up onto the mountain top, we wouldn't have the strength to withstand the winds that blow over those peaks. We need the climb. We NEED the climb, and so God, in his mercy, allows us the lengthy climb. He desires to be with us in that place, in holiness, set-apartness, but is patient like we could never imagine. So he patiently lets us struggle our way up the mountain, building new muscle all the time.

Struggle governs growth. Lifting weights brings about more growth that simply raising your arms. The struggle, pushing against a force, causes us to change, to become what we are not.


At 8:12 p.m., Blogger Matthew said...

heh some interesting thoughts there-

I have to say I like your example, because, yet again, it is not hypothetical to me at all. The thing I've realized about this though is that we can, and I have (and herein lies the problem) put the hope of happiness and life in a relationship with that other person, and not in God. Hence, an idol is born. Don't worry-this isn't any "ooh I don't need to ever get married" celibate nonsense. All I'm saying is that there's definitely a crucial place where singleness is celebrate, enjoyed and understood as distinct, unique and equally as valid as unsingleness-something I have heard as sparsely from society and the Church as someone lost in a desert has found water. More importantly though, I'm saying that it is this misplaced hope in relationships that can keep someone (i.e. has kept me) from really appreciating and seeing what God has to offer in the distinct context of singleness.

So to take it back to the theoretical ground work and tack on my own example (if you would indulge me with your time...), for me it works like this: as you quoted to me the last time I brought up this not-at-all hypothetical example, "hope denied makes the heart weak" (ok, maybe it wasn't word-for-word, but you get the picture), hence a dissatisfaction with putting my hope in a relationship that isn't particularly forthcoming (ok, not forthcoming at all...). The challenge is to then fight through all the societal and personal and ecclesiastical stuff and see the present to which God has placed me as all those wonderful things I mentioned above (valid, worth celebrating, etc.). Then finally, when for reasons that entail putting hope in God I get dissatisfied with being single, I'll be more fully able to fight through and commit to what that whole unsingleness thing entails.

Ok-that's the first, longer thought.

The second is that I'm wondering if by "governed", Hesse really means limited. Put this way, it's very easy to see how faith can be limited by doubt. The connection I'm making is through the use of the word "limit" in political terms, in that the power of a certain political body is limited by constitutional provisions and conventional practices, most typically involving another political body. Explicitly, the limiting body has power over, or in other words is in a position of governance over the limited body. So in this way, doubt can (and in the case of Knecht as well as just about every real human being, does) have a limiting power over faith, a power that is itself limited (or rather governed, or more accurately broken down) by changes within the individual to believe for more, and instances (testimonies) of occurrences beyond the individual's limits of faith.


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