The Human Limits of Reason: A Confession

Life is not a chess game with 3 fixed outcomes
Life is not a chess game with 3 fixed outcomes

I came across this passage in David L. Chappell’s A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow:

[William] James, the scientific thinker who had suffered a nervous breakdown, was echoing the patron saint of modern English-speaking liberalism, John Stuart Mill, who had suffered a similar breakdown in the early nineteenth century.  Mill’s famous breakdown came with the revelation that, if all his desires for social reform came true, he would still be unhappy.  Reforms could satisfy the calculations of his father’s great utilitarian system, but the human soul craved something deeper.  Thus began Mill’s search into the irrational urges and unscientific flights of Romanticism for the missing elements of liberalism.  Liberals have not always had time to continue that search, but they have never satisfied the hunger that led to it.

(Chappell, 13)

This is situated within a discussion of the role of the Black church in the Civil Rights Movement- especially with regards to the dismantling of Jim Crow.  This paragraph struck me particularly because I have reached the limits of reason several times in my life.  I reached the same limit last night- my choice was between a gaping, but rational, doubt that left a hole in my soul or faith in the unseen.  I usually choose faith.

I have reached that state where I broke down and re-directed my energies from logic and reason to taking leaps of faith.  I cannot say that choice was never profitable or painful.  Reason has failed me.  It is the traveling companion that can help me as I climb the mountain to the heights of heaven, but cannot perceive the unfathomable.  This travel companion is often quite content lagging behind marveling at the wonders of creation, but never looking to the stars and wondering what lies beyond.

I don’t know if that metaphor made any sense at all.  I think my biggest struggle has been letting go of certainty and the desire that people make sense.  When I take the Myers-Brigg personality tests, I consistently score INTJ: Introverted, iNntuitive, Thinking, Judging.  This personality is a very logical one (and an exceedingly rare one)- the drive is to perfect the imperfect and improve what can be improved.  INTJs are called “System Builders.”  The problem is apparent when those systems are comprised of people.  People do not make sense.  They are not efficient.  They are not consistent. They are not reliable- in fact, they are reliably unreliable.  …

I am in a sorority.  I treat it as a system- the executive and chair positions act in conjunction to make the sorority run and fulfill its aims.  It gets complicated when the interpersonal politics that naturally occur between human beings intervene.  The master plan fails.  It takes more than reason to live this life.  We need the ephemeral, the intangible aspects of this human state.  We are souls with bodies.  Our needs transcend the pragmatic.  Pragmatism is necessary, but it is not a sufficient condition to live this life happily.  Rules govern, but they don’t ensure contentment.

I arrive at my faith in Jesus as my Lord and Savior over and over again.  Reason fails.  My finite mind only perceives the finite, tangible things.  I miss the nuances of this life when I focus on what needs to be fixed.  In a naïve way, I expect people and things to make sense- as if my mind was capable of perceiving the intricacies of God’s creations.  It is a hubris of sorts- to pride myself nearer to God than I really am.

So, in all of that, I repent.  I repent of my pride and arrogance.  I willfully confess that I need God utterly- even more than I need this air I breath, or the water I drink.  I need You, God.


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