Socrates leaned forward and said, “You enquire for yourself.” My mentor looked at me and said nothing, but the message was clear and I have never forgotten it.*
It is my duty as a man to inquire for myself.
That is a lesson I still think is true, but I am sometimes asked how this is compatible with my orthodox Christianity. The Greek for inquiry at least sounds like the English word skepticism and it is hard to square a skeptical attitude with the religion of love.
Love isn’t very skeptical.
Socrates was not asking his student to be skeptical, at least not in our modern American sense of the word. He was encouraging his friend to wonder.
Wonder is what lovers do. Nobody is sure when they are in love. We long to know the beloved and we are never quite sure that we know them fully. After all, any human being worthy of love is always changing and growing. A lover can never come to the end of the mystery of the beloved.
Lovers always wonder and that is most literally wonderful. The skeptic looks at the beloved and doubts, but the lover looks at the beloved and hopes.
The same thing is true about the universe. The Christian looks at God’s cosmos and wonders about the things he does not understand, but assumes that they will be wonderful when he does. The consistent secularist looks at the cosmos with jaundiced eyes.
Embracing Christian dogma has not ended my questions, but produced new and better questions about which to wonder. Of course, some of those questions deal with whether the dogmas themselves are true or if I have understood them correctly, but the most interesting ones have proven to be further questions based on the dogma.
Lovers are dogmatic and unsure . . . and I believe in order to wonder better.
Wonder is what the God who hides Himself gives fallen man as a great gift. He is so awesome that if we could seem Him in our present state all thought would simply vanish and we would be crushed by the vision of our own evil.
When Jesus appeared to His disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13, the Savior did not meet their felt need, but He reached out to their deeper and unfelt need to wonder. The disciples were bitterly disappointed and torn up about the bloody death of the man they believed to be the Messiah, but Jesus did not appear and say, “I am alive! Cheer up! You were, sort of, right!”
Instead, He hid Himself so they could express their true feelings and hear His teachings. Because the Lord was hidden they could listen as students and not merely as worshippers. When they had been allowed to listen, question, and wonder, they saw the culminating vision of the Lord in the breaking of the Bread.
The end of all our wondering is wonderful.
This is a great encouragement to me. Since I read the Socratic passage and realized that it was the Way of the Christ as well I have never felt restricted by even the most traditional reading of Scripture. It has freed me up to take risks and speculate.
Was there a global flood and a real Noah? I wonder. Is the earth younger than traditional science says? I wonder.
If it turns out that I am wrong, that is wonderful, because then I can examine what is true. I am, in fact, less worried about being wrong (that seems unavoidable!) than in failing to follow every possibility, every clue, that might lead me to know the Beloved better.
For example, when I face the fossil record full of animal pain and suffering and I think about the compassion of my life it makes me wonder if it is possible that the Earth’s history is much different than our current paradigm says it is.
I become open to many ideas, but I feel bound to none. Augustine famously said: Love God and do what you will, but I wonder if we truly love a God who is real, if we can believe what we will!
His all-powerful grace is great enough and He is real enough to drive us to orthodoxy.
That is pretty wonderful.
*The example I have in mind is Socrates and Glaucon in the masterwork Republic.