Tuesday, March 15, 2005


A man in his mid-sixties sits at his desk with his head in his hands. The sunlight bounces off the Spanish mountains. It brightens up the room as the heat of the afternoon brings warmth to the tiny study behind the vicarage. But there is no trace of light in the heart of San Manuel Bueno, and he weeps upon his papers. He knows that his soul is dark and cold.

Spanish author Miguel de Unamuno considered his life’s work as “devoted to shaking his readers out of their complacency and forcing them to face the tragic contradictions of the human condition.” To confront, in other words, precisely those truths which his hero, Don Manuel, so assiduously suppresses in San Manuel Bueno, martir. Don Manuel, vicar of the church in the quiet Spanish town of Valverde de Lucerna, is an unbeliever who nonetheless wishes to preserve his flock from the painful implications of the faithlessness by which he himself is haunted. He will delve into the books in order to present a flawless dissertation of the gospel of Jesus, leaving his congregation breathless, deeply touched and maybe even changed. He spends time in the village going from home to home, blessing the families, working in their gardens, or just loving on the children. The people adore him. He seems to be the ideal example of a man who can integrate scholarship and ministry in his life. But there is that one problem. He does not believe in God.

One wonders how many ministers of the gospel find themselves protecting the church from the doubt they possess or protecting themselves from the doubt the church might have in their ability. What causes this frame of mind to occur, this lack of faith that makes one so respected weep upon his life’s work? What laid the foundation for this tragedy? Let us not assume this time that the answer lies simply in belief and unbelief, death and resurrection, or truth and falsehood. Instead, let us look at the tragic paradox of human personality, torn between a public self which is the prisoner of a human’s external image and an intimate self who feels he or she is condemned to having no significance, no reality.

One might seek to blame this “tragedy” on scholarship itself. Do you know at least one person son lost his faith studying theology.” Can one study his or her way out of belief? It is possible that one may be so caught up in studies that ministry suffers. Many of us have seen ministers who master the texts yet fumble through life. One might blame the loss of faith on ministry. Most theologians are frustrated at the church’s “ambivalent attitude” toward scholarship. It is often heard that one can be so caught up in the freedom that he or she forget to what we are originally bound. Many of us have seen ministers who master life yet fumble through the texts.

On what should we cast the blame (or should we)?

More to come….


Greg Taylor said...

I'm in deep thought after reading that, Anne'Geri. Thank you, and I'll try to respond later, but it definitely has me thinking as I drive home today. Will come back with thoughts.

Certainly we ought to find the source of the problem, so I would see it in that light so that we can reflect God's image as ministers rather than reflect doubt alone. I believe doubt is part of ministry and facing our own brokenness and that of others, but it should not overwhelm us because that denies the power of God ultimately.

We don't know, we doubt, but God is above our doubts. When we try to stand above the text, above our doubts, conquer it all ourselves, we will be left in despair. Instead, God stands over the text, we under his authority as we seek him, as we stumble our way toward him, fumbling toward his majesty as the fallible messed up humans that we are yet by grace we image God through union with Jesus Christ through faith and obedience to him.

Anonymous said...

Why must a higher power be a prerequisite for a life with significance? Irregardless of whether there is a perceivable god, the minister has brought great comfort to his church. That in itself is worth something.

It has been said that basing one’s happiness on another individual is a prescription for disaster. Could the same thing be said about basing one’s self worth on the tenets of a religion? Many religions provide advice (some good, some not so good) on how to live. However, I believe it is up to us, as individuals, to determine what is meaningful for our own lives.

From my experience, I’ve observed much beauty and tragedy in this world. I believe life is a personal opportunity that we should make the most of. To spend my time trying to meet someone else’s expectations, or mourning a perceived lack of significance would be a tragedy. I know my time will end one day, but in the meantime I feel privileged to be a sentient creature with some understanding of the universe that I live in.