Why Followers of God are Absurd
My earlier post about the absurdity of committing yourself to God generated a lot more discussion on social media than I anticipated. A particularly lively set of responses came from Philippa Martyr, and she kindly agreed to write a follow up piece for this week. Philippa Martyr is a writer, historian, teacher, and psychology student living in Perth, Western Australia
When I read Matthew Tan’s piece on why following God should be absurd, I was surprised at how negatively I reacted. I usually quite like existentialism from a psychological point of view – but that’s the Catholic variety, well-processed by the mid-century theologians and then presented to people like me in easily digestible form, like custard.
It seems to me that the remedy for Tan’s identified absurdity of following God is trust in the benevolence of the all-powerful God, and to have less reliance on flawed human perceptions of painful circumstances. I do not think either of these is achievable without grace - but you must ask for that grace. Most people do not. They white-knuckle it, and brood instead.
Human pride is immense. We believe there is chaos, when in fact it is because we are such spiritual and intellectual pygmies that we cannot see the order beneath it. It seems to me that it is humility, acquired through painful humiliations, blows most existential dread to smithereens.
What I mean is that it is people who are absurd, not following God. On the contrary, it is extremely sensible to follow the one person who has a torch, a map, lots of experience, benevolence, and a supply of snacks if you ever want to get out of the cave.
The Job moments are comparatively few in the affluent world in which we live. Really. Unless you are determined to make every inconvenience into one.
The favourite patisserie having sold out of pudding buns before I get there could be treated like a Job moment, or I could choose to see this as God’s infinite concern for my blood sugar levels. The utter failure of my every romantic relationship could be seen as life-blighting if I wanted to make a career out of it; I am prepared to trust God’s better judgement on this one.
What makes me suspicious of people who live in a perpetual cloud of semi-Catholic existential dread - Graeme Greene-like - is that it turns God back into the blind watchmaker. Given that He went to considerable trouble to become human, it seems a bit ungrateful to strip Him of His humanity just so that we can enjoy our own tropical unhappiness with a gin and tonic.
I am not a naturally optimistic person. I am negative, relentlessly critical, and can kill entire conversations with a single ill-timed pithy observation. I am also proud as a peacock and must be walloped by God regularly - but gently - to knock those dents out. However, I arrived at the above revised theological position after decades of introspection, suspicion, and doubt about God’s real feelings for me.
I am also not a theologian, thank goodness. But I do know that there is also such a thing as falling in love with your own sadness and refusing to relinquish it, because of the pleasure attached to it. People’s sadness can become a crutch that keeps them going and can also be used as a weapon when needed.
It is not remotely fashionable to say any of this, but anyone who has encountered or experienced chronic sadness has encountered this phenomenon - the times when we actively undermine our own recovery because we are afraid of ourselves un-sad, and of what our life might look like. New obligations, new challenges, and changes would all be necessary, and quite often we prefer the familiarity of the pit of our own sorrow and weariness.
Anyone who wants to recover from sadness, existential or otherwise, has to grapple with this ugly and very human tendency.
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