Friday, July 1, 2016

Certainty is a futile virtue

Possibly the most disastrous event in Biblical history was the destruction of the Temple of YHWH in 70 AD. The Temple had been sacked, looted or destroyed many times before, but everybody knew that from the destruction of 70 AD there was no turning back. It's even quite justifiable to state that early Christianity was in fact classical Judaism trying to deal with the loss of the Temple.

Relief from the Arch of Titus in Rome, which commemorates the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD

Perhaps up to the third century AD, Christianity was not separate from the many forms of Judaism but one of them, namely a Judaism that saw the destruction of the Temple as part of the greater pattern of redemption and something that needed to be incorporated into proper theology.

Jesus of Nazareth died and rose again four decades before the Temple was destroyed, and Paul had been a formidable religious and political force long before Titus marched upon Jerusalem. Paul was so important, even, that he was tried by at least one Jewish king, two Roman governors, and was finally transported to Rome to be dealt with by Caesar himself, which demonstrates that Paul was no small figure in any sense.

But the gospel as literary genre most likely originated just prior to the destruction, and the four gospels that we have in our Bibles clearly stem from right after, and use that tremendously traumatic event as centerpiece of their message.

The other day a dear friend of mine dropped by and told me that he and his wife had bought a house somewhere far away. They'll retire sometime next year. We sat on the porch and looked out over the world, and in the distance we could see a small gathering of young men, some playing soccer and some others engaged in a heated discussion that involved a lot of shouting and gesturing.

"Isn't it wonderful to be old?" said my friend, and I could only agree (even though technically I'm about half-old). I remembered being twenty and making it out of adolescence wildly confused about myself and angry with the world, until I found one single certainty (I don't even remember what it was, but perhaps something like: I think therefore I am).

I clung to that certainty as if it were a small island in an ocean of trouble, and all I set my mind to was to find another one. I fought everybody who disagreed with my certainty and shoved it down the throat of whoever came my way and who was still in the throes of ignorance.

I found my second certainty, and placed it on top the first. Then I found a third, and a fourth, and I built myself the tower of what would become my temple of certainty. It was grand, golden and indestructible. I was envied, admired and quoted galore. And it came to ruin.

One particular Saturday night a good few years back, I was standing outside in the garden, looking at the stars, basking in the glow of my convictions,when  a "voice" came to me.

The voice asked me one single question (and no, I won't divulge that question), but I couldn't answer it. I wasn't that I couldn't come up with the factual answer to a complicated inquiry, or even the result of some too difficult mathematical problem. Not at all. In fact, I saw the answer to the question very clearly in my minds eye. The answer was: 50-50.

With a mind-blowing shock, I realized that my entire temple was set on a foundation that could not support it. I learned that Saturday night that all certainty is an illusion, and that my temple had been a temple for me, not to God, and subsequently it came crashing down.

I entered into a psychotic episode that completely incapacitated me for weeks and lingered for years after. It's really quite a miracle that I didn't utterly lose my mind or kill myself during that period. My brain went into a reboot phase and was reformatted and decertainized.

I expected madness and death on the other end but much to my surprise something completely different started to happen. I'm not going to bother the reader with approximations and metaphors, because if the reader hasn't survived the destruction of his or her own temple, the reader is incapable of getting it. And if the reader has, then he or she needs no further explanation.

My friend has those weird eyes that don't move when they look at you and make you nervous if you have something to hide. They are (how shall I put it?) "entirely open". It's the most wonderful feeling to be able to look into eyes like that and feel no shame at all.

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