Un hombre pasa con un pan al hombro…/Otro busca en el fango huesos, cáscaras/¿Cómo escribir después del infinito?
In an eloquent English translation, the poet César Vallejo wrote: A man walks by with a stick of bread on his shoulder…/Another searches in the muck for bones, rinds./Am I to write, after that, about the infinite?
The answer to such a question would depend on a person’s reaction to suffering, and their ability to cope with it. Nevertheless, could there be any better time to “talk about Infinity to the weeping world”?
Humans and religious experience
On the one hand, in our human psychological make-up, we have a certain inclination toward that which transcends visible reality, whether we call it a thought of eternity (Ecclesiastes 3:11) or a religious instinct. Carl Jung said that the predilection for religion is innate in humans, and it always manifests itself, whether deeply repressed or lived in full.
On the other hand, depending on the personality of each person and their process of self-construction, we think and see things more or less critically, more or less intuitively, more or less symbolically, without any formal methods for understanding reality (critical thinking, intuition, symbolic thinking) being more important than the others. However, each has its role and context of application.
Nevertheless, strictly rational thinking—based only on what is tangible—seems to hold supremacy, dominating other ways of accessing the Truth. Removing any form of appreciation for the sacred seems to be an intellectual gain to many people, and a manifestation of wisdom.
No society has ever departed more from the sacred than today’s Western society. Nowadays it is much easier for us to assume that our existence is only related to materialism, to everything that can be quantified, verified, or classified.
Technological advancement also deepens the belief that, outside of the phenomenon of death, man is the absolute master of his own existence. We have been led to believe that there is nothing beyond what can be subjected to the analysis of the human mind.
Rumours of another world
At the same time, metaphysical questions are long gone. From time immemorial, separated from God, man has battled a conflict within his very existence, and has been tormented by his own deficiencies.
If we turn our attention only to art and literature, we find the Greek tragedy of antiquity which reminds humanity of the incomprehensible hazard and unpredictability of life. Much closer in time to us, we encounter the same intense questions in Russian literature, in the writings of existentialists, in the theater of the absurd, or in Ingmar Bergman’s cinematic masterpieces.
The human spirit has long appeared to be suffocated by anguish and confused by its own shaky moral foundations. It no longer believes in the power of its values. Man ends up being struck by the absurdity of existence, trying to adjust to reality by finding a subjective truth, and inventing meanings.
However, beyond all the ideological stages that mankind has gone through, there are the striking words of a man who, between the two eras, promised a kingdom to come, and said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”
When our thoughts go beyond what is visible or measurable, we ask ourselves: Is the visible world around us the ultimate reality? Is faith in an unseen world the result of illusory thinking? Is the Christian faith just an ideal way to live our lives on earth, or is it really a path to eternity? This is the way Christian author Philip Yancey raises the issue in his book Rumors of Another World, while playwright Eugène Ionesco observed:”There is no civilization or culture in the history of humankind that does not manifest in one way or in thousands of other ways this need for the absolute we call heaven, freedom, miracle, lost paradise that must be found, peace, overcoming History… Humanity has never been satisfied with reality as it is… There is no religion in which everyday life is not considered a prison, there is no philosophy or ideology that does not consider that we live in alienation: in one way or another, and even amidst ideologies denying the myths that…feed them, humanity has always had the nostalgia of freedom which is nothing but beauty, but real life, fullness, light.”
And the Word became flesh
Beyond the imaginings of any human mind, Jesus—a divine being—was born as a human being 2,000 years ago. “Why did God become man and, by his own death, save men?” Anselm of Canterbury asked in his 11th century work titled Why Did God Become Man?
Out of love for man, and to restore a broken bond—the bond between man and God—Jesus left His divine nature and took on a human body. Out of love, he lived, doing the will of the Father and working in the service of men. Out of love, He told the multitudes on the Mount of Olives, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Out of love for mankind, He said, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’” (Matthew 9:13). For the same reason, He showed an unparalleled gentleness to people’s souls. Regardless of whether they were a Samaritan woman, Nicodemus, or a Roman centurion, He met people in the context of their deepest needs, understanding their sufferings and questions like no other. He taught all of them the true way to be reconciled to God. He taught them the art of living authentically and living abundantly: “I have come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). He lovingly warned His disciples, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). He criticised the religious practices of the time for being caught up in artificial deeds, and instead gave a simple yet supreme commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
Out of the same love for the human race, on a cross on the hill of Golgotha, he cried: “It is finished!” The curtain within the Temple tore, a sign that His mission had been fulfilled. The Type had met the Anti-type. “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) had been sacrificed.
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Over the centuries, His words recorded in Scripture persist and give food for thought. “I am the Light of the world” (John 8:12); “I am the Bread of Life” (John 6:48); “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11); “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14: 6); “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).
He is the light of the world that shines in the darkness, the bread of life that fully satisfies those who hunger in their soul for truth. The good Shepherd came to gather his scattered flock. When Pilate stood by Him and asked Him, “What is truth?”, he received no answer. The truth was not to be found in words, but in Someone, the person standing right in front of him. Therefore, words could not adequately answer Pilate’s question, for truth is not a doctrine or a theory.
While the Jews were asking for signs and wonders, and the Greeks were seeking wisdom, God sent His Son as the incarnation of the divinity. Whether they had expected it or not, religious seekers of all times have received a full revelation: Jesus Christ. “In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9).
Why do I believe in Jesus?
What relevance, what implications do these things have for us today? This is a question with answers that are far too deep and far too personal. To the question: “Why do I believe in Jesus?”, René Chenaux-Repond wrote the following words (originally in Romanian):
“In this uncertainty and permanent change, Jesus remains unchanged. What He teaches us is a truth that does not change, it remains final. That’s why I believe in Him. I can trust in His truth, because it is God’s truth… Contrary to what the world propagates as the ultimate truth—many manipulated truths are presented to us—Jesus does not hide or idealise anything. He does not use suggestive methods and does not comfort us by simply promising us a life after death. He does not promise a utopia, but, realistically, bluntly, honestly, He reveals the truth to us. But He does not leave us in resignation and hopelessness. Unlike other ideologies, conceptions of the world and life, philosophies and religions, which sooner or later prove to be false because they cannot give people the answers they expect, Jesus shows us the way. He is the only solution to a meaningful life… I believe in Jesus because I have the certainty—and I have always lived this—that He cares for me. I can bring all my fears and distress to Him, asking Him to give me comfort, strength and support. He gives me help and peace: ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light’ (Matthew 11:28-30).”
Laura Maftei, PhD, is a professor in the Faculty of Theology and Social Sciences at Adventus University.