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Changing Our View of God

Hope in the Darkness

Changing Our View of God
Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Through darkness and doubt often come the greatest creativity and faith. Our faith is strengthened every time we go through a period of questioning: “Why do I believe this? Do I believe this at all? What do I base my life on?” When we are at rock bottom, everything becomes clearer: self-image, God-image, worldview.

It takes a long time to purify the experience of dysfunctional family life, abuse, manipulation, shaming, negativity, or judgmental attitudes. As St. John of the Cross (1542-1591) described, our gods must each die till we find the true God. Or as Meister Eckhart (c. 1260-1327) put it, “Let us pray to God that we may be free of God.” [1]

To allow and fully experience the darkness is an immense act of courage (from cor-agere, “an act of the heart”). Our natural instinct is to pull back from others, to move into a self-chosen exile. But when we are cut off or alienated from others, wounds are exacerbated rather than healed.

In the darkness, it’s hard to feel courageous. We resist love. “I will prove that I’m unworthy. I will not let you get to me.” Yet we must turn toward the very people we are pushing away, those who love us and who see meaning in our life when we can’t. It sounds naïve and simplistic, but love is the greatest healer.

In the darkness, we usually look for someone to blame, to absolve ourselves from the problem. I think we’ve been led into a period of exile again, both as a culture and as a Church, as evidenced by increased hostility and blame of the “other.”

The shame-and-blame game is all about projecting our inner state elsewhere. That’s why Jesus taught that, for the sake of our soul, we must love our enemy. The enemy—or whomever we resent, dislike, or are annoyed by—carries our dark side. “Why do you try to take the speck out of your brother’s or sister’s eye, when you cannot see the log in your own?” (Matthew 7:5).

Not all criticism is blind negativity. Healthy critique offers hope and vision when we own our complicity in the problem. People who love something have earned the right to make it better and keep it true to its deepest vision. We must first recognize that God has something to teach us personally, not just the group or institution.

The way through is always much more difficult than the way around. Cheap religion gives us the way around, avoiding darkness. True religion gives us the way through, stepping right into the mystery.

Darkness is sacred ground. The God who calls us into darkness will also sustain us and lead us through it. “God . . . brings the dead to life and calls into being what does not yet exist” (Romans 4:17). Resurrection is the one and only pattern.

Gateway to Silence:
The night shines like the day.

[1] Meister Eckhart, Sermon 87. See The Complete Mystical Works of Meister Eckhart, trans. Maurice O’C. Walshe (Crossroad Publishing: 2009), 422.

Adapted from Richard Rohr with John Feister, Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of Saint Francis in an Age of Anxiety (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 2001), 167-171.

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