A High and Holy Comedy: Our Search for Truth
I have stated previously that desire is a sequence. It is a way of functioning in the world that draws us from the surface of our lives into our deepest heart. In the murky crevices of our
being is where we meet the Triune God who subsists as Faith, Hope and Love—an infinite giving and receiving of desire in relation. This, to say the least, is a mouthful. More than a
mouthful, it is a life-ful because attempting to live conscious of such a pervasive reality as the desire of God working through the distorted desires of human hearts is something that only
the unfettered and ordained days and years of a lifetime can begin to untangle.
Daunting as it may be, we must begin here, because desire in the beginning of everything. And for our surface wants and preferences to transition into the deeper waters of intimacy with God, it is required that we have accessible places to being. To have categories. Categories are like rungs on a ladder or grips on a climbing wall. They don’t define the precipice your climbing, but they sure make the summit a whole lot easier. In the grand context of desire and longing, I think there are such ladders. The frame of them was acknowledged by Plato millennia ago and has been affirmed by thoughtful people ever since. Plato called them the “forms:” truth, goodness and beauty. Not only do these three useful frames of reality occur around us with regularity, drawing us into God’s presence, calling us into the Trinitarian life, they are also the spheres in which our desires play out. The desire to know the Truth, act out the Good, be the Beautiful.
“A particular truth can be stated in words—that life is better than death and love
than hate, that there is a god or is not, that light travels faster than sound... but TRUTH is another matter.” - Fredrick Buechner
The first of these is guttural and elusive, driven and grounded in our most fragile human elements, our search for the True: our desire to know (and be known). At its deepest sense the Truth is about relationships and identity. We are who we are in relation to God and to each other, to the planet and to the created order. No one exists as an unmoored identity--no man is an island. The search for Truth is ultimately about knowing: a want that is not so accurately captured in the diatribes and molecular facts we can recite, but in the multi-dimensional persons with which we can be in tangible knowing relationship. Truth positions us in the cosmos, helping us know what remains constant and what is constantly variable; the longing for it within is a relational longing: to know how we relate to everything we interface with, both the personal and the practical.
In the end, our wanting of that which is True is an attempt to answer the deepest and most pervasive of relational questions: am I fundamentally and existentially alone in the world? All of our science, our philosophy, our humanities and our sociology draws itself out of this central want: the want to know our name and our place in the world.
With this in mind, unexpectedly the search for Truth is a place of great humor and often embarrassment. The Truth is a fine joke. Now, I mean this with all due respect, but the “truth” has been bandied about so much that it has not only lost its meaning, it has lost its beauty and goodness and well, which is to say, that though we often talk about the “truth,” if it lacks beauty and goodness is cannot be true at all. Platitudes that segregate us are not beautiful, and thus cannot be true. Arbitrary systems of behavior management and cultural conformity are not good, and thus cannot be true. You see, it is as Buechner suggested, there are many “truths” out there, but what we are really interested in is the pathway to the Truth.
To really understand our wanting of the True, we must understand what we are talking about. One must always begin with the end in mind. And the end, the Truth we are seeking so unfamiliar to us, so unbalancing in its winsome revelation, that it is the best kind of joke—one that exposes us, and saves us all in the telling.
It is told in its most stellar form by the world’s best jokesman, the court jester in a world full of over-dressed frauds, paid mourners and Corleones in trees. The riddle of truth, the exposing puzzle is told by the only man in the room that knows that all of us emperors are really wearing no clothes at all. It is told by Jesus. We go to the gospel accounts looking for a Jesus who totes moral platitudes diced with quick fixes to heaven. In exchange, we get a wild trickster, a dangerous story-teller and riddler. Pointing his finger solidly at the powers that be who have founded themselves on the predicate of the way things are, Jesus tells a fine joke. He tells the high, holy joke of God who will not play by human rules, who will not work on fair exchange notions. Men who will seek to trade him their best efforts for His generosity will find themselves the punchline of a most pungent comedy routine. Jesus’ riddle comes in the form of story and metaphor. He tells the comedic punch of powerful men who are like caskets painted by Michealengelo and whose holy places are more like garden rattler dens.
He tells the kinds of jokes that get a man killed.
They are riddles twinged with tragedy, and puns dipped in the sad truth of the way things are. What is the way things are? It is a way where the truth of human frailty and the robust generosity of God is masked by broken men who wear fine clothes and Infinite Love that wears his own blood. It is where the Truth of our blindness can only be revealed by “blind” beggars and where the drivers of Rolls Royces are in desperate need of a man who has to borrow someone else’s stinky ass.
If we stop taking ourselves so seriously we see clearly that Gospel—the Truth— (these can be used interchangeably) is at least in some very pungent way humorous, and the best of all jokes. What a comforting and winsome thought... except that the joke is on us. The joke is on us as we, the masters of the practical, attempt to barter with a God who will only barter in wild reckless impossibilities. We come seeking a healed disease, a trip to heaven, a financial reprieve, and in exchange he exposes our idolatry, knocks down our Babelian Towers, plants permanent road closures on our shortcuts to paradise.
The joke is on us as we realize that our short list of surface wants seem to find heaven made of glass. We want to be smarter, more well-liked, to be better recognized, appreciated, known by our fellow man as someone worth knowing. We want to make sense of a world slowly but certainly going mad and be made sense by it. We barter our wants to God in the only language we can render: transactions, results, and gratifications.
Bouncing off the blue clear sky our prayers of wants so often go "unanswered," that we begin to wonder if the “truth” is that God is not listening at all. But, the Truth is that God is doing more than listening, God is responding. God is exposing our wanting, and drawing us toward the Truth. The impractical, nearly humorous Truth we not only find ourselves incapable of believing, but unlikely of seeking because it is the wildest and silliest impossibilities of all. We who want a God who will make a way, get a Jesus who is making us into students of His Way. A study which makes us capable of facing whatever ways may come.
God will not behave like a reasonable god, responding to well-behaved children, rewarding good behavior with good gifts, making sure the church-goers don’t get cancer. Because God won’t heal on command, won’t keep ministries from failing, won’t keep the children of the religiously faithful from going gay, or going mad or going Democrat. God arbitrarily picks Abel over Cain, subjects Job to a cosmic gamble, hardens Pharaoh’s heart and hangs Israel in the balance. God is rather poor at building a stable religion.
God leaves us confused and unable to manage Him. God takes the Sarai's who laugh at his providence, Jairus' mourners who laugh at his miracles and turns the joke on them. Shows how ridiculous it us that God's revelation of who we are would be limited by a woman's age, a little girl's supposed demise, the rules of the way things are. In the face of our graven idols of reasonable living and a little religion on the side, Jesus turns the rules of the game on their head, laughing all the way.
In the face of this gambler God, we search for something reliable. We stack up "truths" in place of Truth. The truths that will make this God palatable, usable, understandable to a world we desperately need to save. We prop the wobbly madman up with Four Spiritual Laws, Roman Roads, Seven Deadly Sins, and one prayer to a blessed life. We cushion the Comic from his audience in a grand example of our most basic wanting and our most gutteral sin. We want there to be something sublimely True, something pervasively real and obvious, to know that we are not alone. But if our place in the world cannot be offered to us in formulas and fact sheets, we will create them four ourselves. Trading in the unreasonable God for reasonable gods. In the absence of recognizable Truth we will write the truths we need, and our will to control, our impulse to sin will play its intrusive hand.
Our search for the Truth and the “truths” we transpose in its place is one of the most glaring ways that the sequence of our desire plays out. Missing the high and holy joke of a Truth that cannot be captured in words, but only in the most divinely comic and humanly tragic Life, we exchange intimacy with the person of Jesus for static truths we can know, manipulate and
ultimately control. What we characterize as “truths” are often only a grab to use knowledge as power, to protect the fragile human heart from the harsh winds of a world where you might be left alone. Knowledge and Truth are not the same, and herein lies the rub for the seekers of the truth. Knowledge, in many cases, is the way we grasp for control. We exchange our series of facts about God for an intimate knowing of Him. We trade in our long list of memorized verses, repeatable spiritual quips, for the whipping winds of a world where God cannot be controlled or dissected by the long list of all the things we “know” in order to control Him.
It is because of this fact that Solomon, a man both known within and without religion for his notable wisdom and knowledge of human events, came to such a stark conclusion as he did in his late in life work: Ecclesiastes:
“I thought to myself, ‘Look, I have grown and increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.’ Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind. For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.” - Ecclesiastes 1:16-18
How is it that the man whose sole request from God was to be skillful with the truth, came to be so disdainful of such a skill? How could he have come to such a conclusion as understanding being a “chasing after the wind”? Could it be that he realized what life will in the end teach us all? That the truth and all our pursuit of it is a chasing after the wind, or as the New Testament frames it, a worship of the Spirit as much as a worship of the Truth? Could it be that he had followed the sequence of the desire for truth as far as that sequence will go? Could it be that he finally discovered, as Paul did, that we cannot hope to find the Truth, but only to be found in Him? To know in Jesus what we have sought to know in all our understanding and wisdom: that we are not alone?
And so in resonates the guttural laughter of the timeless riddle. The riddle of a God who imparts wisdom but will not be found by it, who honors knowledge but eludes it like a child its vegetables. This God who makes light of our intent to exchange our knowledgeable discourse for His generous benevolence. It is the grandest of all humor that somehow we think a working knowledge of sovereignty will make God act sovereignly on our behalf. We must realize that we are the emperor with no clothes; and that God Himself is the court jester needed to strip us of the knowledge that disguises us. Until we embrace our role as the butt of the joke, we will continue to use knowledge as power and our pursuit of truths in lieu of our deep want of the One who is True. As Buechner suggested:
“Truths about this or that are a dime a dozen, including religious truths. THE truth is
what [we] are after; the truth about who we are and who God is if there is a God, the truth about life, the truth about death, the truth about truth itself. That is the truth we are all of us after.”
And this relational Truth, this way of knowing and being known that positions us safely in the infinite God, can only be found by intimately knowing and being known by Jesus. To place the wild and wooly face of His personhood ever before us. To have our deepest guards revealed and removed. And to be exposed to the winds that all our “knowing” have attempted to hide us from, like gappy fig leaves in an infantile paradise. If we are to know the Truth we must be known by it, to be exposed and seen, and to have all our coverings be removed.
Along the way must stomach the tragedy of cars that die before they’re paid off and dinners
that burn. We suffer the tragedy of work days that end late or stock markets that downturn before Christmas. Relinquishing like Solomon the solace of knowledge we must open up our naked forms to the endless and uncontrolled knowing of the Infinite God. In absorbing our finite tragedies we might just now see and know the great impossibilities that we are being offered, the strange and odd wonders that God seems to find it in Godself quite humorous to provide. This God who drives Mack trucks through keyholes and drags philandering, Armani-suited white bastards into paradise is the God with whom we are dealing.
And in light of this God’s ridiculous list of impossibilities, our knowledgeable possibilities – so packaged and so fair (so as to not bother Him terribly) seem so trite and so strange. It is this – the tragedy in the comedy, the practically possible that dies for the sake of the ridiculously impossible – that brings the Truth. It is the desire to know others, to know ourselves and at its deepest it is the desire to know and be known by God. Our place in the universe: hidden by love with Christ in God. The truth too good not to be true.