We can easily let these words from II Corinthians 4 slip past because of the amazing details in the rest of the passage. I have never been in ship wreck or scourged, so I can’t make a comparison, but to me, who has often been perplexed and has often beeen tempted to despair, these words are amazing.
Both practically and philosophically.
On the practical side, I have found that God never called me to an easy path. Whether because of my temperament or because of the vocation He has called me to, I’ve spent most of my time perplexed. Maybe I think too much. Maybe I should just do what others tell me to do. My path has not been normal. For some reason God called me to start and support classical schools when I did not receive a classical education growing up. He has enabled me to see the importance of things I don’t have, like a mastery of Latin and Greek, higher math, a disciplined mind. He has put me in charge of a not-for-profit research institute when I lack managerial skills. Many times I have wondered why. Many times the circumstances have contained no resolution.
Many times I have been perplexed.
But, I trust, not in despair.
Even now, so many possibilities are just over the hill: a third edition of Classical Education, increased use of Lost Tools of Writing, more consulting work with additional consultants on our team (James, Debbie, maybe more), a great location for this summer’s conference. But to be honest, I worry about where the money will come from to pay our bills in February. Every time I have thought our Lord was leading me to green pastures and still waters, He has taken away something that seemed so vital. Now again I look to the summer, perplexed.
But not in despair.
I do not know how our Lord will provide. I do not know what new wisdom I need. I do know that without the fervent prayers of righteous people the CiRCE Institute will have no eternal value. So please pray for us. Not just that God will provide financial resources, not even mainly that. Mostly that He will provide wisdom and courage to continue like Paul did: “hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed… that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”
For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.
There’s also the philosophical side to this temptation to despair. When Descartes wrote in his Discourse on Method, “I resolved to begin with doubt,” a thunder-clap sounded all over Latin reading Europe. Here, the scholars tell us, was the birth of modern philosophy. If that is so, modern philosophy is a philosophy of despair.
Certainly Plato never resolved to begin with doubt. If one thing is clear from his writings, it is that he believed in and loved truth. The physical world around us is always changing, so you certainly don’t want to put your faith there. Furthermore, the senses are rather easily deceived, so don’t trust in them. But when we introduce mathematics, we encounter stability and changelessness. A triangle always has three sides, one is always one, 7 X 6 is always 42. But to top it all off, Plato argued, there is what we can learn only by dialectics: by the quest for a harmony that rightly orders everything known and perceived.
The driving force of dialectic is recognition of contradictions, but the energy and commitment to resolve those contradictions in a higher harmony, a harmony that involves admission and turning from error.
And always, the movement toward what Stephen Spender called “The high white star of truth.”
Aristotle adapted Plato’s philosophy by putting the forms in things instead of in a separate realm, but he never would have begun with doubt or suggested one could.
The church fathers built a whole civilization on the school of faith. In the Latin church, Thomas Aquinas gave it its fullest expression.
But by the days of Descartes, Europe had fallen victim to religous wars and natural disasters. Europeans no longer trusted the church, nature, or even, in many cases, nature’s God. They were looking for an escape. No doubt unintentionally, Descartes provided that escape. Trusting in nothing, he began with doubt.
Thus was born the extreme dualism of much western thought, the rationalist tradition, a form of analytical philosophy that discards huge portions of human experience because it doesn’t fit the method. That also became a habit of the modern mind, demanding productivity no matter the cost to the immeasurable or transcendent.
Europe in 1600 was perplexed. Following Descartes’ lead, though not, I am sure, his intention, they embraced despair. 400 years later, we continue to suffer the effects of the Rationalist virus.
But we cannot choose despair.