“You have received a spirit of sonship”
It is a theological truism to say that God wants what is best for us. So do we, of course, but unfortunately we do not always know what is best for ourselves or for one another. There is a darkness within us, in our own self-knowledge. We see, as St. Paul famously put it “in a glass darkly.” Louise Penny in her Canadian detective fiction novel Still Life captures this dilemma brilliantly. A young police officer looks in the mirror at the house of a suspect and notices a little note on the mirror which says, “you are looking at the problem.” She “immediately began searching behind her, the area reflected in the mirror”! She has missed the point completely. In a mirror we see ourselves. We are the problem. This carries over into our knowledge of others.
There are limitations not just to what we know about ourselves but also about one another. We grasp at shadows and images and mistake them for eternal truth. We catch at falling stars and fall with them in a burst of glory or ignominy. We do not know as we ought.
Yet, if that were not bad enough, there is an even deeper darkness in all of us. There is the darkness of our wills, the darkness of our refusals to act upon the truth and the good which we do know. We deny the light which is given to us to see and without which we cannot love. We see, albeit “in a glass darkly,” but we do not always act upon what we see.
This is the human condition. The grace of God is the answer to the human predicament, to the contradictions in which we find ourselves, whether in its ancient or its modern form.
For the developed cultures of antiquity, the Truth is the Law or the Good which is necessarily above us and beyond us but compelling us to live in accord with it. It is what we want but cannot have. The truth which we see we cannot reach. It is too high for us and yet it is what we most want. This can only leave us endlessly frustrated.
Modernity, on the other hand, presumes that we are each altogether complete. We are simply ends in ourselves without reference to anything outside ourselves, certainly without reference to the absolute otherness of God. We are, in this view, gods without God, only to find ourselves in a similar situation of despair because we have ceased to hope for anything more. There is nothing to hope for. Despair, both ancient and modern, is the denial of our desire for God.