Truth Can be Dangerous
I want to help you avoid a problem that threatens truth-seekers. A little truth can be dangerous if it blinds you to bigger truth. G. K. Chesterton warned that “Heresy is truth run amok.” The Church, likewise, teaches that she was entrusted with the full deposit of truth, which enables her to guide the development of doctrine truth-fully, instead of letting it ‘run amok’.
Most of us are confident in the wholeness and soundness of the Church’s teachings. We may not realize, though, that we do have blind spots where we’re blocking out her guiding wisdom. Just as your up-close thumb can block out the far-away sun, the in-your-face fact can block out a fully enlightened perspective.
When someone gets away with obvious liturgical abuse, the need to maintain the unity of the Body of Christ may seem to fade away into the background of your thoughts. It’s going to be hard to hear “love your enemy” in the very moment your co-worker stabs you in the back, claims your work as his own, or shifts blame your way for a project failure. If your fellow Catholic is way off-base about one thing, you’re going to find it hard to believe he’s right about anything. When ISIS slaughters or enslaves more souls, that reality may loom nearer and larger than the whole kingdom of God, like a dark cloud over your hopefulness.
To prepare for the inevitable times when one true thing obscures another, you must expect this to happen, watch out for it, and have strategies ready to help you deal with it. What you must be able to do – and it’s hard! – is hold in tension two true things that fight against one another. The inability to bear this tension results in a sort of interior collapse. Ah, now the tension is gone, and you can relax in the safety of ‘being right,’ or enjoy the oddly satisfying indulgence of imagined retaliation upon another person. At its worst, this collapse becomes despair. Overwhelmed by the immediate reality, you give up hope that the sun still shines beyond it.
What makes despair so attractive is that hope involves bearing tension – uncomfortable, hard, a struggle. It’s so much easier to harden your heart against the one who hurts you (but this is to give up hope that he can change), or to shop for a church that agrees with you (but this is what fractures the Church and grieves Our Lord), or to collapse all reality into the space of one small truth of any kind.
I want to help you to bear tension better, so that you can better resist the temptation presented in such situations. I’ll offer two strategies that I know from experience are helpful.
It might help for you to journal through these four steps with a particular issue in mind.
- The thumb, the looming and near reality, the truth or fact you cannot ignore is: ______ (insert your issue here).
- Finish this thought: “If I really believed that positive change was possible, I would hope for ….” (Go on! What’s the Pollyanna-best you can imagine here?)
- Now, stop writing and pray, specifically, for help holding these two impossible things in tension. Not feeling any tension? Then you are not imagining enough! God is omnipotent. Go back and imagine the over-the-top best thing that could happen. That should create some real tension in the light of Fact #1, which seems to assure you that Possibility #2 is impossible. When you pray, you invite God to reconcile this paradox creatively. This kind of tension, fully experienced instead of filed away under, “Oh well,” or “It’s a mystery,” actually engages your ‘hope muscle’ and gives it a workout.
- Let yourself feel sad. Fr. Luigi Giussani counseled that sadness is the opposite of despair. Why? Because, if you really imagine ‘the best’ while experiencing ‘the worst,’ the gap makes you feel sad. Only if you hope for more are you sad that the great possibilities are not yet realities. Once you despair of the possible, you no longer experience this sense of loss, or the pain of sadness. Despair is also attractive for this numbing effect.
In the end, you should have an open, empty space inside, shaped like the hopeful possibilities you imagined. The fact that you can bear to keep this space open, continue yearning for the best, though Fact #1 tempts you to close in in despair, is a miracle! Your yearning becomes your prayer. Your faith grows to become the substance of what you hoped for. Sometimes it grows so much you actually help that substance, that hopeful possibility, to become realized. Your sadness becomes your capacity for joy!
Suspect anything that divides you from loved ones, breaks the Body of Christ, interferes with your joy, or tempts you to despair, of being a ‘small truth,’ or a ‘fact #1’. Fact #1 is as true and real as can be – like your thumb. You must not let it block the whole sun! This, too, is true: God will do exceedingly, abundantly more than all you ask or imagine (cf Ephesians 3:20).
What Else is True?
A second strategy for preventing ‘fact #1’ from obscuring your view of the larger picture is simply to consider what else is also true. Some examples:
- “Terrorists just killed more people,” and yet?
- “The faith of Christians in Iraq is strong and growing. This too is true: more and more Muslims are converting to dissociate from that violence – some, after dreams of Jesus.”
- “My husband just admitted his porn-addiction,” and so?
- “Now we can get him the help he needs. We have nothing to fear from Truth, only from hiding this. He’s on his way to being set free!”
- “My unmarried daughter is pregnant,” and what else is true?
- “She has ruled out an abortion. Praise God!”
- “The culture of death is powerful and frightening,” and what else is true?
- “More Christians are seeking shelter in the Ark of the Catholic Church because she shines like a beacon in the darkness!”
Please, please do not think this is advice to pretend away the realities you face. Both these strategies are effective because they begin by acknowledging and helping you articulate what it is that is wrong, painful, terrible, and disordered. If you skip this step, you avoid the tension by fantasizing, which is an impotent and dangerous method. Faith does not demand that you “just get over” your pain, but that you experience it in tension with the comfort and perspective of the Holy Spirit, who will guide you into all truth, out of this small ‘truth bunker’ that has trapped you.
Art: What is Truth? Christ before Pilate, Nikolai Ge, 1890, PD-US; Holy Spirit detail of Ceiling Peterskirche Munich, artist not listed, Jebulon, 21 October 2013, CCO-Universal Public Domain; both Wikimedia Commons.