12 January 2009

Faith, relationship, betrayal

"The opposite of faith is not doubt, it’s certainty." - Anne Lamott

Lately, I've been having some conversations with friends and loved ones on the subject of relationships. (Close friendships, romantic relationships, marriages, etc.) Are they worth the risk? Do they inevitably contain the seeds of deep disappointment, and even betrayal? Surely there are some relationships which can be counted on for life? Or at least ones that we will look back upon, in our old age, as being rock solid?

So I've been thinking about that, and here's a thought I have.

All close relationships - from a friendship to a business partnership to a marriage - are built on faith and trust. And as St. Anne says in the quote above (which might not be original to her), certainty is the opposite of faith. I think any faith-based relationship (the only other kind being a shallow, faith-free relationship) has risk built in, right from the get-go. There is no certainty in relationships. That's not possible, given that the other party is a person of free will, and always fundamentally a mystery to you (and, probably, to herself as well). Every relationship contains the seeds of deep disappointment, pain, and (if the relationship is close and long-lasting), probably full-blown betrayal. This is what I think.

Further, I think this applies even to our relationship with God. Before I defend that statement, let me make a claim about the nature of disappointment and betrayal. In my opinion, the only meaningful standard for disappointment/betrayal is the subjective opinion of the wounded party. In other words, if you feel that I have disappointed or betrayed you, then this is in fact the case, no matter the intent behind my actions. What other standard is possible? If you feel betrayed by my action, is that betrayal made untrue if I was "doing my best" or "had your best interest at heart"? Does that change the emotional impact of betrayal (at least initially)? Are those things even possible to determine coherently? What exactly does "doing one's best" mean, anyway? I could always have tried harder, been more thoughtful, listened more carefully to you.

So if you grant me that betrayal is determined in the heart of the betrayed, then maybe you'll see where I'm coming from when I say that we will all, certainly, be betrayed by God. No matter how humble we are, no matter how spiritual, how pious, no matter how healthy our prayer life, there will come a day when a prayer we prayed with all the depth of our being goes unanswered - at least as far as we can tell. And we will feel betrayed by God. And that betrayal will be, in my opinion, all too real. (There are many well-worn defenses of God in situations like these, and to me they all boil down to, "You know, God must have been doing God's best.")

If anyone reading this cannot recall a time when they've experienced this kind of betrayal by God, I'd be very surprised.

So this (I think) is why our relationship with God, as with others, is characterized by faith - by trust - by confidence - but not by certainty. And faith implies risk. And relationship, I believe, implies betrayal. And it's damn well worth it anyway.

A corollary to this theory goes a long way toward making up for this, if you ask me. It says that we should see every single blessing we receive - from God, from our spouse, from our family, friends, beloved, or a stranger on the street - as a gift of grace.

Loving God, you betraying bastard, please help us to live lives of risk and grace. Amen.

photo of Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337), Life of Christ: Kiss of Judas, at the Cappella degli scrovegni a Padova by Carla216 (rights)


Matt Pritchard said...

Great post!

I've been doing a lot of thinking recently about the idolatry of knowing (in the fact/certainty sense). We continually seek to shelter ourselves from faith with certainty.

I was relating this to a knew friend recently. He said you know this is nothing new, in Eden we chose the knowledge good and evil instead of a relationship with God.

Anonymous said...

Excellent food for thought, Mike! One of my most frequent prayers (regarding all manners of life and especially faith) is "Lord, save me from certainty!"

Mike Stavlund said...

Amen, Mike.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mike Croghan said...

Note on above deleted comment: this was by request of the commenter. There is no censorship here on Rude Theology. ;-)

(Note to comment spambots: except you.)

Moff said...

Wow... this is some serious food for thought and a really great post, Mike. Thanks. Totally mull-worthy.