In this series of posts called “Love Alone Is Eternal” I earlier referred to what one writer calls “the art of unknowing.” This idea is taken from the title of a classic medieval book, The Cloud of Unknowing. This anonymous work comes from the fourteenth century but it expresses something about the Christian faith that was more widely known in the Christian East for centuries.
In the East “dogma” is never understood as doctrine which explains or defines the truth. Dogma defines or explains what is not true. It was used, as we saw earlier, to explain heresy and error. Simply put, this means that in order to understand the mystery of the faith we must let go of errors and rest in the Truth, who is not a series of dogmas but a divine person.
In The Cloud of Unknowing the author makes a statement that shall guide me throughout this book. “But now, you put a question to me asking, ‘How shall I think about him, and what is he?’ And to this, I can only answer, ‘I do not know.’”
I cannot resolve the problems that you will have in coming to “see” that God is, in his essence and nature, love. I will offer some insights, stories, poems and ideas. But I cannot resolve all the problems. You will have doubts if you employ rational arguments and carry on internal debates.
Such debates will only confirm our reason’s illusion that Truth is subject to judgment. It we refuse to accept our unknowing and search for some “high” or even esoteric knowledge that would explain it all, and forever do away with our doubts, our thinking may become more complicated and confused. We may get lost in a morass of speculation and mind-boggling interpretations, theories and fantasies. We may “solve” the Mystery but lose our rationality and our faith (Irma Zaleski, Who Is God?, 75-76).
We must face our doubts. Name them one by one. And then let go of each one of them by falling into the mystery of Truth. We must, as Irma Zaleski says so eloquently, shout at our doubts: “I don’t know!” These doubts are not a sign of confusion or unbelief. They are a sign of Truth, Truth that is wider and deeper than all our human thinking and explaining. “Doubt, like all products of thought, is irrelevance to faith” (Irma Zaleski, Who Is God?, 76). This struggle can actually help us to embrace the limits of our thought, and thus doubt can be the very place where we grow in our hearts by “unknowing.”
The greatest danger of all – to faith, hope and love – is to presume that we can understand God. Doubt acts as a governor on faith to help us face down our arrogant presumptions, to lead us to admit just how little we really know. The Zen masters are right when they say that doubt has a way of helping us to “begin again.” Our Christian ancestors understood this very well. We moderns have forgotten it. I hope you will recover it.