The modern age is characterized by much confusion. What accounts for this situation? Many different perspectives on the meaning of life and the world (See Charles Taylor, A Secular Age ) would be among the most important reasons. A very competitive marketplace of ideas exists in 21st century America. One can imagine that this state of affairs was not so in a medieval village (again, Taylor). The media reflect the sheer abundance of ideas and conflict concerning them. American culture has no singular commitment to an idea of what the world means. Our highest common value is the U.S. Constitution and, even this, is a source of much conflict.
One must also reflect on the human mind and heart to achieve a more comprehensive explanation of the state of confusion. Our rationality that according to Aristotle includes our ethical reasoning is a primary component of what and who we are. However, an observer of today’s culture and all cultures and civilizations in human history can not discount the impact of the instincts as primary motivatng factors of human behavior. In fact, today they seem to be held up as the highest of “virtues.” Desire, acquisition, and the immediate gratification of the instincts, especially sexual, characterize today humanity’s pre-occupation with attaining the good life. Ethics and the moral life have suffered greatly. Whereas immorality, especially sexual immorality, has always been an element in a society of fallen creatures, today it is applauded rather than condemned in a media saturated environment. The media are a primary corrupter of our youth.
The human being is a bundle of desires to be satisfied, though they can never be satisfied. Along with living in a culture with thin or non-existent meaning structures, we ourselves bear hearts and minds that are confused by unclear thinking and restless hearts seeking the wrong things. Our erotic longings are never slaked. Erotic here is meant to be more than sexual desire, but desire for anything that might fulfill the human heart. But, the human heart can never be fulfilled by the things of the world. Augustine recogized this when he said in The Confessions that his heart was restless until it rests in God.
It is not only that our rational minds are clouded by our restless hearts. Our minds are also filled with false ideas that confuse and mislead us. We have swallowed the irrationalities, banalities, and absurdities of modern culture. We need to seek theological and ethical clarity to give us a comprehenive and stable understanding of the world. Christian faith outside of its outstanding feature of placing us in Christ Jesus who is steadfast and faithful also gives us an ordered view of the world that includes a proper respect and concern for those around us. When Christians fail in acting and speaking in accord with the revelation that is contained in the Holy Scriptures, it is not God who fails but we ourselves.
Though we can not ever be totally self-aware, we can be more highly conscious of ourselves than any secular philosophy provides. Required of us is a commitment to a certain set of ideas over another. When we receive as a gift the grace that only comes from Christ, the world comes to make more sense, though Christians also have times of confusion, doubt, and questioning. As Luther reminds us, we are not only a new self in Christ, but our old self continues to fight the new man/woman until eschatological fulfillment, the full coming of the kingdom.
We speak here not only of emotional conflict in the person but also of the conflict between our selves and what God wants us to be. No resolution can occur until our lives are fulfilled in the kingdom of heaven. We must die to live. (See Luther), an irony of the deepest significance.
Over the next several articles, we will discuss encounters with Jesus in the Gospel of John. Perhaps, we can think through to a greater clarity with less conflict of the heart as we meet Jesus in different situations. Without abandoning the self-criticism that comes with Christian faith, we need to come to a greater clarity of and confidence in our Christian faith to be more effective witnesses and apologists.
Michael G. Tavella
January 29, 2020