By Father Ron Rolheiser
As children, we believe in fairy tales and nurse the naive idea that there is somewhere a divine magic which can, and will, in the end, swish away all evil, injustice and pain and make a happy ending to everything.
The older we get, the harder it is for us to believe that. Reality is shock therapy. After seeing all the magic around us deconstructed and more than enough unhappy endings, we begin instead to believe George Orwell who said that “if you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on the human face forever.”
But, who’s ultimately right, the child or Orwell? What should we live our lives by, the child’s belief in magic or Orwell’s pan-adult realism? What’s to be the end of our lives and of human history, divine magic or a boot in the face? At the end of the final day, what’s reality and what’s naiveté?
The more adult and sophisticated we become, the greater the temptation to opt for the view of Orwell. We wish, of course, that it wasn’t so, that there was somewhere a divine magic that could make for happy endings, but, stoically or bitterly, we accept that things are otherwise. When all is said and done, the facts seem to say that darkness triumphs over light, loneliness over community, self-interest over love, egoism over altruism, injustice over justice, bitterness over compassion, tastelessness over beauty and death over life. To believe the opposite, it would seem, is to be naive, whistling in the dark, setting oneself up for a massive disillusionment.
An acceptance of reality demands realism and this, in its turn, demands a certain despair. We don’t so much, to nuance Thoreau, live lives of quiet desperation as we live lives of quiet, practical despair. This takes various forms: For some, this is the unconscious attitude that, since nothing ultimately means anything anyway, we should try at least to get our share of riches, comfort and pleasure in this life. For others, this expresses itself in a simple bitterness, that life isn’t fair and we have been short-changed. In its higher expressions, this shows itself (to use Albert Camus’ beautiful phraseology) in “metaphysical rebellion” in an attitude which believes that ultimately selfishness, injustice and death are para- mount, but we can create some temporary dignity and meaning by fighting these in the meantime.
In the end, however, no matter how noble its visage, despair is despair. When there is no power or magic beyond our own, a boot in the face is our final destiny.
The resurrection of Jesus, however, exposes this supposed realism for what it is, a naiveté. In the resurrection of Jesus, things are turned upside-down and the supposed hard-facts are blown to hell, literally. What looks like naiveté is in fact final truth, and what looks like hard truth is naiveté.
If we believe in the resurrection, then Orwell is wrong and the child is right, the hard empiricists are wrong and the pious are right, those who stopped believing in magic are wrong and those who profess the creed are right, fairy-tales are more true than the law of entropy, the law of love is more binding than the law of gravity, the Holy Spirit is more of a physical force than all the winds in the world, and the infinite horizon of eternity rather than the mortal limit of our world is what we need to look to and run our lives by.
What’s important in all of this is not who’s right and who’s wrong, but what ultimately we should guide our lives by. What is the ultimate truth? For a believer, that truth is not the empirical facts, further deconstructed and hardened by the Enlightenment, but God’s power as revealed in the resurrection of Jesus. If the resurrection happened, and it did, the faith of hundreds of millions of men and women cannot be sustained for 2,000 years on a wish or a lie, then to believe in divine magic and happy endings is right. To believe in the resurrection is to believe Julian of Norwich’s wonderful dictum: And all shall be well and every manner of being shall be well. In the resurrection of Jesus, we see that final end of the story, our story and the story of human history, will not be a boot in the face but, as we always sensed as children, the wonderful triumph of light, love, justice, graciousness, beauty, joyous-embrace and God.
If we believe in the resurrection of Jesus, we can stare the empirical facts in the face, no matter how bad, and know that injustice, selfishness, violence, loneliness, chaos and death are only an interim chapter in the story.
Beyond all pain and present frustrations, there is Someone who loves us more dearly than does any fairy-godmother and that Someone, God, has a magic wand that is infinitely more powerful than any fairytale has ever imagined.