We Need More Holy Fools
The term holy fools drips with the same irony Paul used when he spoke of “the foolishness of God” (1 Corinthians 1:25) and said, “We are fools for Christ” (1 Corinthians 4:10). In truth, holy fools are the world’s sanest people. They have felt the sting of sin and death. They have found deliverance in Jesus Christ. And now they are trying to tell the world.
A man is trapped in a car, rushing down a hill toward a cliff. The doors are locked. The brakes are out. The steering barely works. Far ahead, he can see other cars hurtling into the abyss. How far they fall, he does not know. What they find at the bottom, he cannot imagine.
But he does not seek to know; he does not try to imagine. Instead, he paints the windshield, climbs into the back seat, and puts in his headphones.
This image, adapted from Peter Kreeft, captures my life in January 2008, as I walked down a college sidewalk in Colorado. The car was my body; the hill, time; the cliff, death. I was, as we all are, rushing toward the moment when my pulse would stop. And though unsure of what would come afterward, I found a thousand ways to look away.
“The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God” (Psalm 14:2). Like so many other children of men, I neither understood nor sought, I neither asked nor knocked, but let myself tumble through time without a thought of eternity. I was a “fool,” to put it bluntly (Psalm 14:1). And I desperately needed another kind of fool to wake me up.
Puncturing the Daydream
Few people, perhaps, would look at a normal Western life like mine — busy, successful, spiritually indifferent — and say, “folly.” But could it be because the folly is socially acceptable? Might we modern Western men and women have made a silent pact to ignore eternity?
Blaise Pascal, seventeenth-century Christian polymath, thought so. When Pascal looked round at his modern country, neighbors, and self, he saw a collective pathology, a shared insanity: “Man’s sensitivity to little things and insensitivity to the greatest things are marks of a strange disorder,” he said (Christianity for Modern Pagans, 203).
We cultivate hobbies, and follow celebrities, and read the news without knowing why we exist. We stumble through an unthinkably vast cosmos, circled round by unthinkably intricate wonders, too distracted to ask, “Who made this?” We develop firm opinions about politics, and care not whether souls live forever, and where. We look often into our mirrors and seldom into our deep and fallen hearts. A strange disorder indeed.
And so, Pascal walked around with needles in hand, seeking to puncture the daydream of secular or religiously nominal apathy to eternity. His unfinished book Pensées (abridged and explained in Kreeft’s masterful Christianity for Modern Pagans) may have been his sharpest needle.
What Is a Life ‘Well-Lived’?
Our lives here are hemmed in by mystery and uncertainty. We live on a small rock in an immense universe. We know little about where we came from or where we’re going. We struggle even to understand ourselves. But a few matters remain clear and unmistakable, including the great fact that, one day, we will die. Our car hurtles down the hill, lower today than yesterday. The abyss awaits.
And what then? For secular or nominally religious countrymen like Pascal’s, and ours, the options are two: “the inescapable and appalling alternative of being annihilated or wretched throughout eternity” (191). Either Christianity is false, and our flickering candle goes out forever — or Christianity is true, and, awakening to life’s meaning too late, we fall “into the hands of a wrathful God” (193).
A society like ours would lead us to believe that eighty years “well lived” (whatever that means) filled with “personal meaning” (whatever that means) makes for a good life; we need seek no more. To Pascal, those were the words of one who had painted the windshield black.