Impossibilities

“It is always what I have already said: always the wish that you may find patience enough in yourself to endure, and simplicity enough to believe; that you may acquire more and more confidence in that which is difficult…” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Sometimes it seems that Christian faith is all about endurance.

When I just look at Jesus, and see the self-giving God speaking eternal truth and living love, whose invitation to Life presses on me at every turn and whose Spirit is like a proximate mother ever instructing and guarding and delighting in me, the questions fade. Like unclickable links, these closed curiosities leave me with the single option, the obvious choice—him.

But it is hard to stay there, and every page in scripture, every news report, every blogpost about other spiritualities, every claim and experience and knowledge makes mysteries tumble anew, one over another, catching me up and tossing me into confusion.

More and more my prayers seem to echo Rilke’s: “that I (and all those whose lives are linked with mine) may acquire more and more confidence in that which is difficult.” While the simple gospel remains as compelling to me as ever, the tensions still build, the paradoxes press ever harder. So here is a short list of some of these tensions in Christian faith that are, for me, irresolvable and deeply troubling. They squeeze and shove, and pinch and poke, sometimes intolerably. I know Rilke also encourages us to “love the questions,” but sometimes I just don’t. I want greater clarity, I want truth, I want to rest.

I don’t add any explanations or definitions here—if you recognize them, you’ve probably suffered from them too. If you don’t recognize them as tensions, be glad. I may pick up these as future reflections.

1)   The wrath of God / the love of God

2)   The heroic / the ordinary

3)   Divine election / human freedom

4)   The narrow gate / the great embrace

5)   The remnant / the great multitudes

6)   Great effort / great grace

7)   Progress / tradition

8)   The one / the many

9)   The now / the eternal

10)  You / me

Still. There is faith. Acts of faith, surges of faith, celebrations of faith, movements of faith, prayers for faith, a tenacious confidence in that which is difficult.

 

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About K. Mulhern

Kathleen Mulhern teaches courses in world history, European history, and history of Christianity. She has taught at Denver Seminary, Colorado School of Mines, and Regis University. She particularly focuses on the historical roots of the political, economic, religious, and cultural systems that have contributed to contemporary society.


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