Living Among Shadows - Part 1 - The Theme

The Theme

This week, we’ll think about uncertainty, faith, and adulthood.

Here’s the thing: Experiencing uncertainty, confusion, doubt, or error isn’t even remotely weird. It’s normal. 

We all act like it’s weird, since uncertainty makes us scared and uncomfortable. But our act’s a fake; we’re all uncertain about most things. Making matters even worse, we hypocritically shame other people when we notice their confusion, creating a culture of denial, instead of honesty and mutual support. 

But try as we might to avoid thinking about things that confuse us, or to pretend that we’re certain, or to act like we don’t care, or to distract ourselves with toys and treats, the fact remains: we humans don’t really understand what’s going on. We are uncertain, confused creatures. It’s normal. We live among shadows.

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Let’s face it: we have big, hard questions about life. Now what?

This is as true with Christianity as with anything. Your understanding of God and theology and holiness is almost certainly flawed, just like mine and everyone else’s. It’s not shameful to have questions or confusions or mistakes about the faith, it’s normal. If you’re asking questions, and feeling uncertain, then congratulations: you’re joining every mature Christian ever. 

As a result, if someone has made you feel stupid or ashamed or guilty or alone because of your questions about Christianity or the world, they were wrong. You shouldn’t have been treated like that. Your honest confusions are legitimate, important, and normal. They don’t make you a bad person or a bad Christian, any more than the rest of us. 

This week, we won’t try to get rid of your uncertainties. Instead, we’ll work together to try to discover how to live faithfully while in the middle of uncertainty. Let’s face it: we have big, hard questions about life. Now what?

But, before going further, we need to get two things clear. 

First, “normal” doesn’t mean “ok.” Lots of bad things are pretty normal. In this case, “normal” just means that when you’re confused, you’re not alone, and you’re not stupid. But we desperately need knowledge. Having real knowledge, or lacking it, can make the difference in our lives between justice and injustice, success and failure, good and evil, or life and death. Even well-intentioned people cause massive pain and damage when, confused, they act on errors.

Thus, our confusion is normal, but it’s also tragic. It shouldn’t be like this. We should live in the light, not among shadows.

The second thing to get clear is that people can make progress. We won’t escape uncertainty before death, but we can get closer to knowledge than we are right now. And the closer we are, the better off we will be. It’s good to desire real knowledge and to do what it takes to obtain it. The alternative, acting like you’re forever doomed to be as confused as you are now, or like truth is inaccessible to you, is pitiful. It’s hopeless and cowardly. Though your confusion is frightening and embarrasing and difficult, don’t give up. Seek truth confidently, and learn to seek it well.

In sum, every human is stuck with tragic confusion. We don’t know how to live well, or love well, or think well about the most important things. Even God’s revelations don’t always make sense to us. As a result, every human should want and try to escape those shadows, and find the truth. We should live in a way that both humbly acknowledges our uncertainty and courageously turns toward truth. But, how?

To answer this question, we’ll spend a week exploring art, music, film, and theater, building new communities and crafting new ideas, and encountering two brilliant books: 1 John, our theme text, and Meno, by Plato. Both books have helped people think about uncertainty for thousands of years, and, if you consider them with a curious mind, they’ll help you too.

But, since studying books like these is a good, hard thing to do, I’ll spend a few paragraphs offering some tips to help you get the most out of them, while also trying to make some progress toward answering our major question. Let’s dive in.