The tragic sense of life
We hope for order in life. We want to find consistent patterns – so we can make sense of things – but instead we find disorder and even chaos. Only faith – not logic – can help us accept life’s opposites and contradictions and hold them together. Having faith means trusting in an underlying life force so strong that it can even include death.
Who (and what) has the most to teach us about this kind of life? Richard Rohr points out that the exceptions and the contradictions – those creatures (including humans) who are on the edge of what our culture defines as normal, proper, or good – teach us more and more about life and about God. Each time we bump into these ‘exceptions to the rule’ (these ‘dangerous curves’), we are being led to new knowledge and spiritual growth.
Jesus had no trouble with people on the edge of normal, proper, or good. He ate regularly with outsiders (to the chagrin of the religious stalwarts, who loved their version of order over any compassion toward the exceptions). Jesus was never upset with sinners; he was only upset with people who didn’t think they were sinners! For Jesus, religious rules never mattered as much as the relationship God wants with us.
This means that sin and failure are the raw material for our redemption. Salvation is NOT sin perfectly avoided (as our egos would prefer), but sin turned on its head and used in our favor.
So the Bible promises us wholeness, but refuses to deny the dark side of life. The Jewish Scriptures offer few theological conclusions that are always true. The New Testament offers many theologies – about God, about Jesus, about human history – not just one. The Gospels demonstrate that life is tragic, but then proclaim that – following Jesus – we can survive and even grow from tragedy. The only consistent pattern the whole Bible offers us is this: God is with us and we are not alone.
And so what is the “tragic sense of life”? It’s just a humiliating realism about life – and faith is the ability to simply trust that God is found within the real.
Accepting this fact of life demands a lot of forgiveness, because we bump into annoying exceptions, regular stumbling blocks, and devastating tragedies – but this is the price we must pay to keep our hearts from closing down, to keep our souls open for something more.
Richard Rohr asks,
Do you gravitate toward the ‘never-broken, always-applicable rules and patterns’ of life? How do you deal with things that don’t ‘fit the mold’?
How can you free yourself of the need to adhere to specific principles in every situation?
(from the Companion Journal, p. 46)