This Advent season, Father Richard writes of how we grow in faith by letting go of our need for certainty:
The major heresy of the Western churches is that they have largely turned the very meaning of faith into its exact opposite. True faith involves not knowing and even not needing to know, but we made faith demanding to know and insisting that we do know! The original sin, brilliantly described, warned us against this temptation at the very beginning.
We hear our story of humanity’s original sin in Genesis 2. But this sin, as we’ve called it, really doesn’t look like a sin at all. In fact, wanting knowledge feels like virtue. Haven’t you ever wondered about that? “You may indeed eat of all of the trees in the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you are not to eat” (Genesis 2:16–17). Why would that be a sin? It sounds like a good thing!
In seminary, we called it moral theology. We ate bushels from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, trying to decide who was good and who was bad. On other levels, our knowledge unfortunately refined and even created the very judgmental mind that Jesus strictly warned us against (see Matthew 7:1–2).
When we lead off with our judgments, love will seldom happen. Religion is almost always corrupted when the mind, which needs to make moral judgments about everything, is the master instead of the servant.
Some would think that is the whole meaning of Christianity: to be able to decide who’s going to heaven and who isn’t, who is holy and who is unholy. This is much more a search for control than it is a search for truth, love, or God. It has to do with ego, which needs to pigeonhole everything to give itself that sense of “I know” and “I am in control.”
I guess God knew that religion would take this direction. So, God said, “Don’t do it. Don’t eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” God is trying to keep us from a lust for certitude, an undue need for explanation, resolution, and answers. Frankly, these things make biblical faith impossible.
It seems that God is asking humanity to live inside of a cosmic humility. In that holding pattern, instead of insisting on dividing reality into the good and the bad, we bear the ambiguity, the inconsistencies, and the brokenness of all things. It is our ultimate act of solidarity with humanity and with the world.
When we are allowed to name certain individuals as “bad,” persecution, scapegoating, and violence almost always follow. When we too easily presume that we are one of the “good” people, we largely live in illusion and prejudice. I say this as a religious person, but religion has been the justification of much of the violence in human history. God wanted to undercut that very violence at the beginning.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, rev. ed. (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2008, 2022), 36–38.
Explore Further. . .
- Read Richard on humility and a “beginner’s mind.”
- Learn more about this year’s theme Nothing Stands Alone.
- Meet the team behind the Daily Meditations.
Image credit: Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 09 (detail), United States, photograph, used with permission. Tory Hallenburg, Walking on Water (detail), 2018, United States, photograph, Unsplash. Carrie Grace Littauer, Untitled 10 (detail), 2022, United States, photograph, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.
Image inspiration: Venturing beyond the monochrome of certainty, we walk into water and on ground we cannot always see. Our ripples spread beyond ourselves into this movement of faith.
Story from Our Community:
I was moved by the Daily Meditations about the Quest for the Holy Grail, specifically the emphasis on having the right questions rather than the right answers. This spoke to me since over the past 5 years, I have nursed lingering questions about why my daughter decided to end her life at just 18 years old. I used to search for answers that explained her mental state but I am coming to accept the simple truth that I will never really have the answer. I pray that in her present state she now understands the mystery of her life. —Brian L.
Prayer for our community:
God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough, because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.