Splendour in the whatsit

Andrew Sullivan justifies the ways of god to human beings (though decidedly not to other animals) – by which I mean he says things about the ways of god to human beings (but definitely not to animals).

For me, the unique human capacity to somehow rise above such suffering, while experiencing it as vividly as any animal, is evidence of God’s love for us (and the divine spark within us), while it cannot, of course, resolve the ultimate mystery of why we are here at all in a fallen, mortal world. This Christian response to suffering merely offers a way in which to transcend this veil of tears a little. No one is saying this is easy or should not provoke bouts of Job-like anger or despair or isn’t at some level incomprehensible.

There’s a certain amount of caution there – ‘for me,’ ‘somehow,’ ‘offers a way.’ But the caution doesn’t make much difference to the fact that he’s just saying things.There’s some priestly vocabulary that’s supposed to make the things sound deep – unique human capacity; somehow rise above; divine spark within us; ultimate mystery; fallen, mortal world; Christian response to suffering; transcend this [vale] of tears – but priestly vocabulary is just that, and the sonorities remain just sonorities.

It’s interesting to wonder if even Sullivan would find it so convincing in the demotic. ‘The way I look at it, people’s knack for getting on top of all that stress, even though it’s still a huge pain in the ass, is evidence of God’s love for us (and the twinkle in our eye), even though of course it can’t tell us what we’re doing here in this shit-hole.’ My guess is that he wouldn’t, and that he wouldn’t write it that way because he would suspect that other people wouldn’t either. So out comes the sub-Wordsworthian jargon.

I was brought at one point to total collapse and a moment of such profound doubt in the goodness of God that it makes me shudder still. But God lifted me into a new life in a way I still do not understand but that I know as deeply and as irrevocably as I know anything. If this testimony is infuriating to anyone with a brain, then I am sorry. It is the truth as I experienced it. It is the truth as I experience it still.

But he doesn’t know it, because he doesn’t know it was God that lifted him. He knows that something did – he knows that he had an experience that felt like being lifted into a new life – and I can easily accept that that would be a hugely powerful and meaningful experience. But I can’t accept the claim that he knows the experience was God’s doing. Maybe he thinks he’s helping people by putting it that way. But doesn’t it occur to him that he might help more people by describing the experience as an experience without attributing it to a god? Leaving people free to think it was god if they wanted to and free to think it was human resilience if they wanted to. It might not sound as poetic, or even as consoling, but it would sound more possible.

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