I told you that however much our culture may have changed in the past centuries, it is still filled with people who long to be in touch with the divine and the transcendent. While not believing God is an option for many-in fact, it's the default option -this doesn't eradicate our human restlessness, our need for faith in something, if not Someone.
Joe Loconte's fantastic new book, "The Searchers" is a welcome and worthwhile guide to that restlessness, its causes, and its remedy.
One of the things that makes "The Searchers" so good is Loconte's honest treatment of what he calls "The Valley of Doubt." One of the primary sources – if not the primary source – of doubt is suffering, both ours and that of others.
One response to suffering is a kind of "magical thinking" that causes people to believe they can make pain and grief disappear by thinking the right thoughts or doing certain things.
As Loconte notes, the disciples on the road to Emmaus had no place for magical thinking. They had no doubt that Jesus had died, and with him, their hopes and expectations.
Another response, one that many Christians are especially prone to, is to look at suffering, pain and tragedy and issue "pious platitudes, theological abstractions, or icy warnings of God's judgment."
This mixture of cluelessness and supreme confidence in one's ability to make sense of the world is more likely to cause people to turn away from faith rather than to turn towards it. Anyone who has lost a loved one to a terrible illness or experienced some other personal loss knows that there are no words that will make it better.
However, the wrong words can definitely make it worse: After God spoke to Job out of the whirlwind, he ordered Job's would-be "comforters" to make sacrifices and have Job pray for them because they had misrepresented God's purposes.
God's response to suffering and the doubt it produces did not consist of words and finely-crafted arguments but of a person, Jesus Christ. While Buddhism, for example, offers insight into the nature of suffering and its origins, Christianity offers a God who lived and died as one of us and then rose from the dead.
If Christianity's claims about the person and work of Jesus are not historically true, then the best we can hope for is serenity and a kind of detached benevolence.
But if they are true–and the Emmaus-bound disciples certainly thought so–then everything changes. Sure, there will still be questions-and suffering and evil will still remain mysterious and infuriating – but hope will not only be possible but reasonable.
These aren't just pious bromides. A friend of mine, for whom suffering is neither theoretical nor something that happens to someone else, finds the strength to go on by reminding himself that "Jesus rose from the dead."
That's it. He admits to not being sure about a lot of other things, but he is certain about that One Big Thing, and for him, that's enough.
This is what gets him through the "Valley of Doubt." And it's the reality that the disciples met on the road to Emmaus. This is the answer to our restlessness.
So I do hope you'll get yourself or a friend a copy of Joe Loconte's fantastic book "The Searchers." It's a great guide for your trip down the road to Emmaus.