Face to Face in Darkness
St. Paul was a man of action, and thus he was often quite blunt in his expressions. When, therefore, discussing the necessity of Faith he is most succinct and to the point: “Without Faith it is impossible to please God.” In this, of course, he is merely making his own the doctrine of his master, Our Lord, who before He ascended to heaven declared to His apostles: “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved: but he that believes not shall be condemned” (Mk. 16:16). At first glance, St. Paul’s declaration appears to be nothing more than a concise rejection of the attitude so prevalent in the modern world by which it is held that a God who disapproves of men for what they think is not worth taking seriously. However, if one delves somewhat deeper into St. Paul’s statement, it becomes evident that he is asserting much more. He speaks of “pleasing God.” Since the office of pleasing other persons belongs most especially to friends and companions, it is clear that St. Paul is maintaining that the Faith is the necessary foundation for any true friendship with God.
Substance of Things to Be Hoped For
Before then exploring the manner in which Faith contributes to our friendship with God—that is, to speak in another fashion, our spiritual life—it would be good to look briefly at what St. Paul understands by Faith. Earlier in the same chapter, he states: “Now, faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not.” In the first place, it is the “substance of things hoped for”; that is to say, it provides us with our goal in life and therefore determines the will to its proper object. It is through faith that we learn of heaven, of eternal life, of the good things—which have not entered the heart of men—which Almighty God has prepared for them who love Him. In the second place, it is the “evidence of things which appear not.” By this, St. Paul wishes to make clear that the Faith is a description of reality as it stands before God. In other words, it is not a mere sentiment or a blind trust in God, but a sure guide to understanding the universe, part of which is inaccessible to our mere reason. It is this understanding that the Faith reveals to us of the true nature of the world that allows us to be friends with God.
Why should this be so? The answer is simple: it makes us know the goodness of God. This can be seen in several ways, among which may be counted the basic fact that it is through the Faith that we come to understand and to acknowledge the purpose of life as God intends it. To better grasp this point, it may be helpful to consider briefly its opposite: that is, the belief that there is no God and that He has established no meaning to life. St. Paul points out, on a somewhat mundane level, that were the Faith false, then one may as well give oneself mindlessly to empty and transitory pleasures. “And if Christ be not risen again, then is our preaching vain: and your faith is also vain...for the dead shall not rise again. And if the dead rise not again? Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die.” (I Cor. 15:14, 32.) In other words, there would be nothing more to be done than distract ourselves from the reality of our impending annihilation.
“Where has God Gone?”
There is perhaps no better expression of the horror of this point of view than that given by Friedrich Nietzsche in the person of a madman in The Gay Science: “ ‘Where has God gone?’ he cried. ‘I shall tell you. We have killed him—you and I. We are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is it not more and more night coming on all the time?’ ”
Faith Helps to Realize the Truth
Without God, without the Faith, there would be no reference points—no horizon, no sun, no up or down—which would allow us to define life or any of our actions as good or purposeful. Everything we did would be vain, pointless, and the cause of pain. (This may be said to be the position of Buddhists, who claim that man ought to strive to find “Nirvana,” which is a state of nothingness. In effect, they claim there is no meaning to reality and that all of man’s desires for happiness can never be satisfied. Therefore, it is best to suppress them lest one be tormented by ceaseless and insatiable longings.) The Faith, however, makes known to us that there is a God and that He is good, both in Himself and in His dealings towards us.
This is especially important for us to keep in mind when we encounter the trials and vicissitudes which so often dominate our lives. Here, in particular, the Faith informs us of God’s love for us. In the first place, we are given a vision of a God who is both in utter and complete control of all events and uses all of those events only to further our happiness. St. Paul teaches us that “All things were created by him and in him. And he is before all: and by him all things consist” (Col. 1:16-7). He further states that Our Lord “upholds all things by His power” (Heb. 1:3). Nothing happens contrary to the will of God. Nothing. When we suffer therefore, the Faith helps us to realize the truth of what St. Paul teaches: “And we know that to them that love God all things work together unto good” (Rom. 8:28). Indeed, the Faith teaches us that the crosses we must bear in our daily lives are special tokens of affection from God: “For whom the Lord loves he chastises: and he scourges every son whom he receives” (Heb. 12:6). Our trials and vicissitudes are therefore in truth causes of rejoicing and occasions of gratitude.
St. James goes so far as to say: “My brethren, count it all joy, when you shall fall into divers temptations...[for] blessed is the man that endures temptation. When he has been proved, he shall receive the crown of life which God has promised to them that love him” (Jas. 1:2, 12). Our temptations and our trials prepare us for eternal life, our ultimate goal. But we may ask: what is this eternal life? Our Lord Himself tells us that it is “to know the one true God and Him whom He sent: Jesus Christ” (Jn. 17:3). Here we receive new light on the first part of St. Paul’s definition of the Faith: that it is the “substance of things hoped for.” The joy of the blessed consists in the vision of the good God and Our Lord Jesus Christ. What is important for those of us who live in this valley of tears to realize is that by Faith we behold this same God and one identical Lord. In other words, we already possess in substance eternal life. When compared with the elect we are, as it were, new born babes who gaze upon the same scene as our elders. Though we see the same shapes and colors as do they, we have difficulty focusing our eyes and making sense of the objects which present themselves to our view. St. Paul expresses this reality as follows: “We see now through a glass in a dark manner: but then face to face. Now I know in part: but then I shall know even as I am known” (I Cor. 13:12). Our vision may be dull, but it is nonetheless directed at the same object, God, which crowns the elect in heaven.
“Face to Face in Darkness”
We may go further and make our own the phrase of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity: namely, that “Faith is the face to face in darkness.” In other words, by faith we look at God as He looks at us. Furthermore, we are thereby enabled to enter into a profound and intimate conversation with Him. St. Paul prays that “Christ may dwell by faith in your hearts.” What does this mean? Nothing less than that—provided we are in the state of grace—we bear God with us wherever we go. As a result, we are never alone. Any time we wish to speak to the good God, we may do so. Indeed, it is Our Lord’s delight to make our soul His dwelling place and to live with us as a friend would. He speaks thus to His apostles at the Last Supper: “If any one love me, he will keep my word. And my Father will love him and we will come to him and will make our abode with him” (Jn. 14:23). The foundation of this companionship is our belief in Him; He can only dwell in our hearts and enrich us with His friendly society if we first have faith. “Too late loved I Thee, O Thou Beauty of ancient days, yet ever new! too late I loved Thee! And behold, Thou wert within, and I abroad, and there I searched for Thee; deformed I, plunging amid those fair forms which Thou hadst made. Thou wert with me, but I was not with Thee. Things held me far from Thee, which, unless they were in Thee, were not at all” (St. Augustine, Confessions, X, 27).
What matter then is it to us if we are rejected by the world in which we live and must be, as it were, ever greater outcasts in this valley of tears? It is true that we see men who hold the Faith more publicly and decidedly mocked and derided in our post-Christian society. We need simply make our own the cry of St. Paul: “If Christ be for us, who can be against us?” Indeed the unbelievers shall have occasion to say of God’s faithful on the last day: “These are they, whom we sometime had in derision, and jested upon. We fools thought their life was very madness, and their end to be without honor. But lo, how they are counted among the children of God, and their portion is among the saints.” In the meantime, let us go by Faith with Christ outside the camp and joyfully embrace such trials as endured the saints of old and described by St. Paul at the end of the eleventh chapter of his epistle to the Hebrews. If we are faithful, we shall merit to hear Almighty God say of us, “Come, the world is not worthy of you; I judge it no shame to be called your God.”