I tell you that I have a long way to go before I am—where one begins. . . .
You are so young, so before all beginning, and I want to beg you, as much as I can, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
Resolve to be always beginning—to be a beginner!~ Rainer Maria Rilke (p. 25)
In faith I am a beginner. Not out of choice but out of discovery. I used to think I knew a great deal about faith. I grew up in a Christian world, a world of church and prayer, of bible memorization and summer camps. I wrestled with issues and theology, but mostly I was a good poll parrot. Life, what really should be called the hand of God, taught me otherwise.
Of course we can consider the popular perspective of maturity as that of being in Truth, that is, a residing in Truth. This residence is a settled, comfortable, solid groundwork of doctrine and praxis. We take the train and arrive at maturity; we hope our bags have made it too. Maturity is a kind of location where one has achieved an objective state; an objective certainty. At least that is the idea we promote. But is it true? For the believer, the one who trembles and fears, who is still running the race, the state is more subjective; for true faith is subjectivity as our friend and brother Søren Kierkegaard said. This is not a discounting of objective truth, for I believe both God and the rock kicked by Mr. Johnson exist, yet while we demand our proofs and our miracles we are still left with a frightening proposition, that
God is a subject, and therefore exists only for subjectivity in inwardness. The existing individual who chooses the subjective way apprehends instantly the entire dialectical difficulty involved in having to use some time, perhaps a long time, in finding God objectively; and he feels this dialectical difficulty in all its painfulness, because he must use God at that very moment, since every moment is wasted in which he does not have God. (Kierkegaard, p. 211)
And in this I am a beginner. My Christian life has been a slow movement from objectivity to subjectivity. Perhaps I am an old hand at inwardness, but each day brings me back to new and challenging realities. The tremblings continue. It is when my faith begins to take on the aura of objectivity that I have learned to tremble the most, for I know the subjective will come rushing in like a strong wind that forces open a poorly latched door. And yet, I long for nothing in this life more than that; for my problem is not with what I know, rather it is with who I am. It is a venture of the greatest importance, of the gravest implications.
The truth is precisely the venture which choses an objective uncertainty with the passion of the infinite. I contemplate nature in the hope of finding God, and I see omnipotence and wisdom; but I also see much else that disturbs my mind and excites anxiety. The sum of all this is an objective uncertainty. But it is for this very reason that the inwardness becomes as intense as it is, for it embraces this objective uncertainty with the entire passion of the infinite. In the case of a mathematical proposition the objectivity is given, but for this reason the truth of such a proposition is also an indifferent truth.
But the above definition of truth is an equivalent expression for faith. Without risk there is no faith. Faith is precisely the contradiction between the infinite passion of the individual’s inwardness and the objective uncertainty. If I am capable of grasping God objectively, I do not believe, but precisely because I cannot do this I must believe. If I wish to preserve myself in faith I must constantly be intent upon holding fast the objective uncertainty, so that in the objective uncertainty I am out “upon seventy thousand fathoms of water,” and yet I believe. (Kierkegaard, pp. 214-215)
Yet what is risk? Is it not a beginning? To risk is to try, to dive in, to take the chance. In arriving at one’s destination risk dissipates like morning mist rising from the earth. In faith one is always risking, always aiming, always trusting, always in the morning mist (though beautiful it may be). The road still lies ahead. The goal is still to be reached. The opposite of faith is the creed. Creeds are man’s attempt to deny the objective uncertainty, even using words like “mystery” to obfuscate the point of uncertainty. That is why Christendom is creedal and true belief has no part with creeds. Do not misunderstand me, a man of faith can enter through the church doors and say his creed, but in the darkness of his room he tosses the creed aside and trembles. In the sacred halls of religion he is a man of stature, of grace and theology, but in his room he is at the beginning once again, crying to the only one who can save him, for alas he has risked it all.
Rilke, Rainer Maria, from Rilke on Love and Other Difficulties: Translations and Consideration of Rainer Maria Rilke, by John J. L. Mood, 1975, W. W. Norton & Company, New York.
Kierkegaard, Søren, from “Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the ‘Philosophical Fragments’,” in A Kierkegaard Anthology, edited by Robert Bretall, 1946, Princeton University Press, New Jersey.