The Head, the Heart, and Literature

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"I'm growing increasingly less confident that God cares."

I can't blame him. First, his dad. Now my niece. Tons of other details and issues that comprise the sum of a rather disappointing life right now. For some unknown reason God does not respond when the stakes are high. He lets the truly terrible happen while providing--through elaborate and convoluted means--minor blessings in life here and there.

"I'd rather have people than things," he mumbles.


So, what's up, God? And since He rarely answers: What's God up to?

I don't know.

I've never known. Years of Scripture memorization, Bible studies, a minor in Bible from a Christian university, years of teaching Sunday School, study and discussion have left me where I am today: Clueless. Not because I don't have opinions or insights or ideas about all this, but because I don't know. I can't provide an answer that brings comfort or satisfactorily deals with the topic. And this is where what I call "Sunday School answers" fall so short. This is why I hate Christianese responses. This is why so many people are frustrated by the pat answers they teach us in Bible school. This is the problem:

The answer doesn't address the pain.

I've got my theology down pretty well. I can give you the correct response and I can clearly demonstrate how the majority of well-meaning comments in times like these are theologically errant. But so what?

Emotional pain is a heart issue, and textbook responses fail to reach the heart.

Well written literature gets much closer to the pain. But, as Thornton Wilder states:

"The business of literature is not to answer questions, but to state them fairly." I claim that human affection contains a strange unanalyzable consolation and that is all. People who are full of faith claim that the book is a vindication of this optimism; disillusioned people claim that is is a barely concealed "anatomy of despair." I am nearer the second group than the first; though some days I discover myself shouting confidentially in the first group.

End notes in The Bridge of San Luis Rey

So while literature tugs at our hearts, it does not push us one way or another.

Life does.

That's one reason I think it's essential to read biographies--both secular and Christian: So we can see how others have wrestled with these questions. And while these glimpses into the deeper issues of life won't give you all the answers, it will start you down the path.

Unfortunately, I'm finding, once you're on this path it's rather hard to walk.

And that is where others can be such a wonderful help. Please continue to pray for my family. This is proving to be a very difficult time.


One last benefit of literature: Since it is so good at touching the heart of an issue, it is often reiterated and rephrased throughout history as we continue to wade through the grime of life. I must say, I love Switchfoot's incorporation of Job in The Economy of Mercy (starting around 2:35 if you don't have time to listen to the whole song)...

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Surrogate Father

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