“I have absolutely no pleasure in the stimulants in which I sometimes so madly indulge. It has not been in the pursuit of pleasure that I have periled life and reputation and reason. It has been the desperate attempt to escape from torturing memories, from a sense of insupportable loneliness and a dread of some strange impending doom.” ― Edgar Allan Poe
“Loneliness is and always has been the central and inevitable experience of every man.” – Thomas Wolfe
I have had a torment in my soul. A torment that has come and gone, but really started to plague me recently when I began to focus on it.
My intellectual journey over the past year started with Dr. Jordan B Peterson making a call to action: “Speak the truth…It’s the only antidote to suffering”. His talk with Gaad Saad and his talk with Dave Rubin woke me up to the importance of not just knowing truth, but speaking it. So I began a rudimentary “search for truth”. I purchased several books, of which I have not read one. But I consumed talks by Jordan Peterson ravenously¹.
This led me to crudely search out reasons why totalitarianism was bad (I purchased an abridged version of Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, a read highly recommended by Peterson). Then I was led to talks about general psychology (again Peterson’s) and my search drifted from totalitarianism, to the self. Also around this time I was infatuated with Peterson’s discussion of religion. I was obsessed with finding a rational way of convincing a person that there was a God. All the while this journey ultimately led me to look at myself, and realize that this search for truth culminated in a search of myself.
Why am I so broken?
Christ said “the truth shall set you free”
The existential² philosopher, Sartre wrote that “man is condemned to be free”. If Sartre’s atheism puts you off, the Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard stated, “anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.”
The truth is not always a complete lifting of a burden
More of a realizing what a burden actually is, contrasted with what you thought it was.
Existentialism is seen as a great burden because people like the idea that there is no burden upon them. The truth is: we ultimately suffer alone. The german writer Goethe, who was regarded as having many friends, toward the end of his life exploded,
“No one has ever properly understood me, I have never fully understood anyone; and no one understands anyone else”
The burden of suffering is for us alone to bear. No one will understand you, no one will comfort you, not one will know the inner depths of yourself, simply because we are too complex. We know not even our own selves at times, and therefore how could we ever articulate it to anyone else? This is the truth I am currently grappling with.
Christ, the Bird
Franz Kafka’s famous existential line was “I am a bird in search of a cage”. Simply put, Kafka’s metaphor sees life as a cage, looking for meaning. We human search for meaning We are not born into this world with a clear sense of purpose or meaning, and indeed it is not obvious that life has one at all.
For the Christian, our bird is God. We are cages; inglorious, innumerable, often banal things. These thoughts bring to mind the passage from Isaiah when he says “We grope for the wall like the blind; we grope like those who have no eyes; we stumble at noon as in the twilight, among those in full vigor we are like dead men.” (59:10).
Unlike many, I do have a hope. For many an existential crisis is one with complete darkness; no light to be seen. For me, in the midst of the night, there is a starlight. They are simply cages searching for a bird, whereas I have found my bird: Jesus Christ.
Job in Darkness
Job was alone, in the literal human sense. Everyone had abandoned him. Yet in the midst of this he had a famous exchange with himself in Job 23
Behold, I go forward, but he is not there,
and backward, but I do not perceive him;
on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him;
he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him.
But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.
My foot has held fast to his steps;
I have kept his way and have not turned aside.
I have not departed from the commandment of his lips;
I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.
Here Job understands the fundamental truth of the Christian life: When we are lonely, we are not misunderstood. God knows us and is familiar with our souls. It may be true that no person can truly understand us or know our inner being, but we do not stumble in darkness; our plight is not completely solitary. We have Christ, and for Job, who suffered supremely, that was enough to keep him sane.
- The podcast with Joe Rogan is a particularly good one
- The existentialist basically has “a view fundamentally opposed to idealism that there are no ideal, otherworldly, God-given, abstract, metaphysical essences giving reality or meaning to particular things” (Gary Cox, How to Be an Existentialist)