A Mystery to Ourselves

(The Nationalist, 2 August 2002)


A couple who have tried without success for years to have a child decide to adopt one. They go ahead, complete the adoption process, bring the child home, and what happens? It’s not uncommon to find that, within a year or two, they have a child of their own.

A priest in a parish meets a couple who have been living together for years without either a church or a civil marriage. They have discussed their position together and decided that they want to marry formally in a church before a priest and witnesses. They don’t want a big splash with flowers, videos and dozens at the reception, just a quiet simple occasion with the two families present. The priest helps them out, and they go ahead and do it. What happens? It’s not uncommon to find that the marriage breaks up within a year or two.

The father of a family is an alcoholic. His addiction is a burden that weighs them down. Life is hard for them. Eventually he comes to the point of recognizing that he is an alcoholic, he faces the truth about himself, he goes to Alcoholics Anonymous, finds support there, attends regular meetings and succeeds in stopping drinking. He stays off it and brings great relief to his family. What happens? It sometimes (not often, thank God) happens that his wife then starts drinking and she becomes an alcoholic. For the family it’s back to square one.

Why? Why do these strange, apparently contradictory, things happen? They go against common sense and logic. Gilbert Keith Chesterton remarked to the effect that nothing is as uncommon as common sense. And as for logic, it has little to do with human affairs even at the best of times. Saint Thomas Aquinas remarked that only the devil is truly consistent.

We human beings are a mystery to ourselves. Does any one of us truly understand ourselves? We do things with what we believe are the best of intentions. But what strange mixture of motives really underlies our actions? Is there not some element of self-seeking in even the most seemingly selfless of actions? Usually.

Since we are a mystery to ourselves, how can we expect to understand God? No one but God understands God. What we human beings know about God is insignificant compared to what we don’t know. When we talk about God we are like a traveller trying to describe a continent that he has caught a glimpse of through a keyhole. Whatever we know about God by our human understanding will certainly be inadequate, probably be inaccurate, and possibly be misleading.
But we don’t have to depend on our own understanding. God has revealed himself. Christ is the image of the invisible God. (Letter to the Colossians, chapter 1, verse 15.)