Even the relatively lighthearted works I like to read tend to offer a great deal of intellectual pleasure, like the putting together of puzzles or the appreciation of how people act in real and fictional contexts, in the common search for love and respect that all of us know well. For perhaps obvious reasons, I find myself drawn especially to writing (and reading) material about complicated people whose personality and lives straddle a variety of divides, but where instead of the division being ultimately destructive, the complexity serves to enrich a life and impel someone into outgoing concern and service of greater ends like justice and truth. Our lives exist in a constant tension between circumstances beyond our control, and subject to divine providence as well as tests and trials, and our own culpability and responsibility in choosing wisely among the alternatives that exist, and among the paths that exist for us. At times our gifts and inclinations allow for several options to exist, and our choice seals one fate and closes other doors where we would have been equally well-suited but simply did not choose. At other times, though, it appears as if we have no options to move on, and so we wrestle with impossible questions and in the process become better people, and certainly more kind and understanding to others.
In one of the books I read this week, I came upon a passage that deeply troubled me (among many such passages in that deeply troubling work). The passage was as quote from Charles Swindoll which said that when God has an impossible task in mind for someone that he takes an impossible person and crushes him (or her). In one sense it is easy to crush a person. We are all frail and fragile, all with susceptibilities and vulnerabilities, and we are easy to destroy. Yet this is not the sort of crushing that is meant. An impossible task often requires a particular balance of qualities that are often diametrically opposed to each other, and so it is a difficult process to bring them together. Daniel, for example, was taken from his home as a teenager and put into captivity working for a king who happened to be a homicidal egomaniac, who tried to have his three best friends burned to death when they refused to worship him (where Daniel was when all this took place is unclear). Even as an old man Daniel is having crazy nightmares and being thrown into a lion’s den. Some people never stop being tested, nor stop being rewarded with honor either.
Nor is Daniel alone. Moses and Paul were men clearly given great gifts of character and knowledge not only of God’s ways but also of the legal and cultural milieu in which they operated. Historians have noted, fairly, that the Ten Commandments are a clear example of the sort of treaties found in the ancient world of the mid-to-late second millennium, and Paul’s writings (and speeches in Acts) show an astute knowledge of scripture as well as pro-biblical citations of Greek poetry and philosophy. Yet both of these men suffered greatly in frequent opposition and long periods of time where they were sent to cool their heels in obscurity, as well as having the painful experience of being considered murderers for their passionate and misguided zeal for their people. I reflect often upon the agonies and complexities of my life, and wonder what the purpose is of them. As Viktor Frankl wisely pointed out, and he was in a place to know as a survivor of Germany’s brutal concentration camps, mankind can endure anything as long as there is a reason. Having the sort of mind that is focused on seeking meaningful patterns, even with the knowledge that as a fallible human being that my own knowledge is incomplete and my own perspective filled with its own biases, I am continually wondering what sort of purpose my own life is designed for. I suppose when I find out, the puzzle pieces will fit in place a lot easier, but until then, it appears that I still have work to do.