The Maddening Search for Truth

As much as we Christians talk about the complimentary nature of faith and reason, we are still all to tethered to the post-Enlightenment ideal of certainty through reason. As we search for “the Truth” we expect all of our arguments to make perfect sense, so that logically each piece of the puzzle fits in nicely within a coherent whole. But if we are honest with ourselves, we know that it doesn’t quite work out that way. Paradox is at the heart of our religion, and if you don’t believe that read a little G. K. Chesterton. He will paint a vivid picture for you on how paradox informs our faith at almost every turn. Of course, this should not be taken as a weakness of religion, for as Chesterton says (paraphrasing), “the belief in reason takes faith”. There are those who have faith and know it, and there are those who have faith and do not know it.

The search for “the Truth” when using reason alone (solo ratio!) can be a maddening experience. I suspect all who have read a good deal of philosophy, especially of the last 300 years, have had a glimpse into this terrible maelstrom of reason. Nothing expresses this madness quite like the words of Dr. Faust in the opening sequence of Goethe’s famous play (Faust – a wonderful translation by David Luke – Oxford University Press, 1998):

FAUST [sitting restlessly at his desk]

Well, that’s Philosophy I’ve read,
And Law and Medicine, and I fear
Theology too, from A to Z;
Hard studies all, that have cost me dear.
And so I sit, poor silly man,
No wiser now than when I began.
They call me Professor and Doctor, forsooth,
For misleading many an innocent youth
These last ten years now, I suppose,
Pulling them to and fro by the nose;
And I see all our search for knowledge is vain,
And this burns my heart with bitter pain.
I’ve more sense, to be sure, than the learned fools,
The masters and pastors, the scribes from the schools;
No scruples to plague me, no irksome doubt,
No hell-fire or devil to worry about –
Yet I take no pleasure in anything now;
For I know I know nothing, I wonder how
I can still keep up the pretense of teaching
Or bettering mankind with my empty preaching.

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