I ran across this quote a while back, and it really rings true to me. It’s often attributed to Francis Bacon, but before he ever said it, it was quoted by others including Mary Tudor. It actually comes from Cicero (quoting Cato, I think), so it’s an ancient idea.
On the surface, it means that “time will tell,” or, in time the truth will come out, or something like that. But on a deeper level, it means that coming to the truth requires patience.
In a world that idolizes instant gratification, this is a lesson easily forgotten. Lately, my wife Susie has gotten interested in a court case in Florida. A mother is accused of murdering her own two and a half year old daughter. The prosecution took something like three weeks to build its case, and now the defense gets a turn. For me the most interesting thing about it is that they are televising the court proceedings live. I’m not sure what I think about that. It’s like a weird kind of reality show that is actually… real.
We can probably all remember big media-hyped court cases that seemed to drag on forever. Some of them ended the way we thought they should, and others not so much. But the point is, as easy as it is to get fascinated by a “who done it” kind of mystery (and one that’s televised live, at that), it’s just as easy to get frustrated when there is no quick answer. At our house, it seems like the TV is on all the time, but it’s like watching that show 24 – you can watch the thing all day long, but very little happens that actually moves the story along, closer to its conclusion.
It’s human nature to want quick, easy answers to all of our questions. This is why so many people belong to churches that provide pat answers for everything. But in the ancient Church it was not that way. They embraced Christianity in part because they embraced mystery. I’m not trying to glorify the early Church, but they lived in a time when many questions were still unanswered, or more precisely, they were still in the middle of a centuries-long struggle to answer the questions, and yet they joined up anyway.
The best example of this is, of course, the doctrine of the Trinity. As I like to tell my students, all the building blocks for the doctrine of the Trinity are in the Scriptures. But it took almost 300 years to put those building blocks together into an explanation of the doctrine, and another couple hundred years to sort out the remaining questions about the relationship of the humanity of Jesus to the Trinity. (The most concrete result of this debate from the early Church is the Nicene Creed.) Anyway, my point is that people were willing to commit their lives (and in many cases, risk their lives) for a mystery that would not be answered in their lifetimes. And to be honest, it’s not as though all the questions are answered now, either. It’s not like we’ve got it all figured out. Realistically, there are still more questions than answers, and if we’re going to take our faith seriously, we have to admit that.
But in our impatience to settle a question (any question), we often go to extremes. I’m not exactly sure why, maybe the extremes seem like easier, more concrete options. Fewer shades of gray, and all that. Most of the time, we find ourselves reacting against something that offends or scares us, and we go to the opposite extreme. Want proof that what I’m saying is true? Just look at what’s happened to American politics. Need I say more? I can’t tell you how tired and annoyed I am at these pithy sound-bite media labels that people keep coming up with, like “Birthers,” or whatever. All these labels do is polarize the issue, and divide people. I’m sure the people who make these up think they’re being clever, but those of us who are actually clever (wink) think it’s just stupid.
If you’ve been following my blog, you know that politically (and theologically) I’m a Goldiloxian. I believe the truth is in the middle, it’s found in the balance between the extremes. Just to be clear, the middle is not necessarily the majority – I’m not defining the middle as “where most people are,” like some kind of bell curve. I’m defining the middle as a via media – a middle way between the extremes, that is a place of balance; equipoise, if you will. The problem is that finding the middle takes time, and often finding the middle means exploring the extremes. To put that in terms of the early Church: thank God for the heretics. Because as I always say, heresy forces orthodoxy to define itself. We needed the heretics (only defined as such after they lost the debates) to force a clarification of the issues. Although the early mainstream bishops would not be likely to admit it, the so-called heretics were actually their partners in the process of the clarification of doctrine. Though to be fair, what made them heretics was not the fact that they disagreed, but the fact that there were more willing to split the Church than compromise.
In Spiritual Blueprint, I make the point that one of the most important factors in creating peace (i.e., peace of mind – the home for your mind) is forgiveness. Jesus thought it was pretty important (see Matthew 6:14-15, and 18:21-35). In fact, the self-righteous clinging to anger and resentment is toxic to a healthy life and relationships. You’ve probably heard the expression that harboring resentment is like drinking poison and hoping it kills the other person. In reality, it does more harm to you because it short-circuits your attempts at peace and happiness.
So the point for us is that we have to refrain from demonizing those with whom we disagree. We have to begin to see the “other side” as a partner in problem-solving. I know it’s hard to do when there are fundamental philosophical differences at stake, and I know nobody wants to admit this, but there might be negotiation and compromise involved. It may turn out that the other guy is wrong, but it also might be that we cannot clearly articulate a solution to the problem until alternate solutions are suggested. And of course we have to leave open the possibility that we have gone to the extreme, and someone else is proposing the solution that will bring equilibrium. In other words, we might be wrong – only time will tell.
As Jesus said, the truth will set you free – but he didn’t promise that it would happen today.