Pope Francis’s encyclical on faith may seem like old news compared to the headlines he’s made since he released it. There is probably enough material in that one little document to keep me writing for the rest of the year though, and I think it deserves much more attention than its been given. Obviously I read it with my psychology lenses on, which is only one perspective.
The introduction to the encyclical reminds us that Christ says, “I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.” It is this distinction between the light and the dark that I want to elaborate on.
What we first have to realize is that Christ entered a dark world. What was this darkness? What does Christ give us that we don’t otherwise have? What is the darkness that exists as fear in the deepest crevices of the human heart? Eternal loneliness and misery. Actually eternity itself is pretty scary. Humans exist in time, which means that the human brain is capable of processing reality from moment to moment. Einstein figured out that our concept of time is not actually objective. There are theories about overlapping time, and somehow if you travel faster than the speed of light, when you get back you haven’t experienced the same amount of time as everyone you left behind. That will really blow your mind if you spend too much time on it. The point here though is that we process time in a certain way. In a sense, our brains create time.
Actually our brains create a lot of things, and they also figure out a lot of things that already exist. Science is a process of trying to figure out what already exists. But again since we humans exist in time, it takes time to figure stuff out. Most scientists pretend that we already know everything, or at least they know everything. The best scientists are the ones who realize there is more we don’t know than what we actually do know. Why do some pretend to know everything? Because time is scary! The fact that time unfolds, and the development of thought and truth progresses means that we do not have all the answers right now.
When studying some peripheral reality, like the meaning of whale noises, it might be acceptable to say, “we aren’t totally positive what this means yet. Further study may reveal the full truth to us.” What about when the study becomes more personal? What about when the question is “what will happen to me?” When we are uncertain of our own future, we tend to get scared.
This means we are actually not in control! This means we might be powerless against something or someone that we don’t even know about yet. It’s scary to not be in control, to live in time where things can change from moment to moment. What we take for granted now might be gone tomorrow. We have no idea what will happen tomorrow.
We are made of both body and soul. The body part of us exists in time, and only knows things from this perspective. The soul part, though, is connected to a reality outside of time. It is the part of us that knows only part of us is processing things in time. The soul is the part of us that can anticipate what will happen in the future, AFTER this moment. Our souls can anticipate a whole lifetime ahead of time, and then ask the question, “what happens after we die?” (This is not to say the body and soul are separate, but with our soul we have the unique ability to ascend to the level of the eternal realities that make up the objective world- wait that’s too much philosophy.)
So our bodies are stuck in a moment-to-moment reality and we can only really know for 100% sure what is happening right now, but our souls know there is a point when that will run out. WHAT?!? What was God thinking making us this way? How are we supposed to NOT freak out when we think about the fact that we have no idea what will happen to us in the long run?
There are three basic ways of dealing with this reality. One is to pretend like it doesn’t matter. To ignore the heart’s questions and pretend like all that matters is what’s happening right now. “Carpe Diem!” and sometimes, “c’est la vie” sum up this hippie type of attitude. You can only ignore the nagging questions from the heart or cover them over with distractions for so long. Some people pretend to know what happens based on rational thought. “We turn into dust. There is no soul. Heaven is an illusion.” Really? How do you know for sure? I’d like to see the double blind study that produced those valid statistically significant results. My rational mind won’t let me believe in that kind of idiotic faith in bad science. The third option is real faith.
“I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.”
Christ is the answer to our anxiety. He comes to tell us that all will be well. He is the light for those who believe in him. There are no guarantees here. God doesn’t just wave a magic wand and make everyone happy. There is a huge response on our part that needs to happen – belief. This is faith, to believe in God’s answer to our incessant questioning. He never claimed to answer the specifics of the day to day – how something will turn out, or especially why anything happens the way it does. He only came to tell us that if we believe in him, all will be well for us. Even though our minds can’t figure out how everything is going to happen all at once and hold it in awareness right now, we don’t need to. If we believe in him, all we need is to trust that however it unfolds, it is going to be ok.
Another simple way to think about it is this: God is the all-powerful creator and king of the universe. He is also a father who is madly in love with his children. If your dad was the all-powerful king of the universe, and you knew he loved you, would you ever be worried about anything? He is, and he does.