Jude woke each morning resigned, having given up on faith and hope. He yearned to forsake himself completely, rid himself of his soul, but he knew that just like every other human being he existed in two realms: the finite and the infinite, and though the body dies and decays, the soul lives forever. It’s one of the beauties of creation, the ephemeral and the eternal existing parallelly in the same being birthed from dust and ashes. Jude knew this but wished for utter, complete annihilation. He wanted erasure, to have his name wiped away from the eternal blackboard. But once born, you’re handed this twin truth, and death doesn’t resolve anything, because it’s only the physical body that dies, while the spirit lives on. And this the root of despair—the inability to both forsake or find yourself spiritually. And the only way out is faith in an eternal God, because then you both root yourself in the infinite and forsake yourself more and more. Otherwise it’s a sickness unto death.
Some people believe in the universe, but the cosmos is only finite and expanding, and there is a God who sustains it, and the old book that most of us shelve tells you who the creator and sustainer is. It’s only logical that finitude (sentient or not) cannot sustain itself. There is someone greater, someone infinite who gives it its grounding. Jude knew this but couldn’t reconcile with a faith he once possessed because he often peered too deep, especially when it came to the root of all evil. He questioned his faith and riddled it with unnecessary doubt.
Jude loved Samantha, but they grounded their relationship in fancies of who they were and ideas of who they thought they’d become. And since human love isn’t celestial, but Jude made Samantha his all and a replacement for his faith, he grew despondent and disgruntled. Despair is part of the eternal aspect of the human condition, and it’s often better to know you’re despairing than to live in contentment, completely oblivious to the fact that you’re fundamentally flawed. Happiness is transient; moments shared with a loved one fade, become memory and slowly find themselves replaced; peace drifts away, and ambition falls short.
So, what we need is someone fantastic who transforms our emotion into something brilliant, our understanding into strong wisdom, and strengthens will and inclines it to eternity. Losing ourselves to God and not conforming to the world is the only way, and yet Jude claimed he was a nihilist. But in truth, he was either a doubting saint, a backslider, an apostate, or someone who tasted God but fell away because he secretly loved his despair though it gnawed at him like a worm nibbling on the core of an apple. Or Jude’s love for Samantha was so strong that he practically venerated her, replacing true worship with an idol in the form of a lover.
Possibilities filled Jude’s mind. Dreams, both sorrowed and ambitious engulfed him. He sought answers somewhere within. You can call it just daydreaming, or like psychologists these days call it ‘maladaptive daydreaming’ where a person has unrealistic expectations or gives himself to hopeless reverie. Jude’s life was catching up to him, but he stayed trapped in a cellar of chimera. To root yourself, you must go further than getting a hold of your life, because changing and working hard is grounding yourself in routine and not reality. True reality is unseen, infinite, but was also seen and died at Calvary for the sickness that plagues our souls, tainting it with sin and creating despair. True reality is the eternal now, and despair creates thirst, which creates need, which only the cross satisfies. Jude knew he had to root himself by finding himself by grounding himself in God, but trials made him weary and he kept trying in vain to forsake himself.
Samantha loved contentment. She loved the temporal now, but disdained the eternal now, and what’s tragic is that she was completely oblivious to this fact. A bourgeois existence pleased her, and gatherings, social events, people and nature thrilled and exhilarated her. She never investigated her true spiritual condition, although she professed to be in Christendom. She was spiritless, but longed for rich aesthetic experiences, and when she received them believed that they were signs of her union with God.
In this world we have hedonists and thrill seekers, introspective quiet people, lovers and quarrelers, but irrespective if you’re rich or poor, logical or creative, impassioned or bitter, you’re in despair, and the worst despair is the ignorance of despair. The false peace that lulls a deceitful heart, telling a terminally ill spiritual you that you’re rosy cheeked and healthy. And this false peace is found in chiefly two kinds of people: The hedonists and the embittered. The former live in a continuous state of pleasure and try satisfying all their desires and lusts. They live a life of wild, reckless abandonment and they’re happy, but here’s the mystery they’re secretly unaware of: If you peeled the layers of the onion, you’ll find that they’re just as sick as people who’re self-conscious and despondent. The latter have seen so much hurt, loneliness and bone-crushing pain, and develop a self-righteousness. You’ll find some of them in the realm of professing Christendom; others in other religions—monotheistic and polytheistic, and still others in even atheism. Their pain sadly gives them a false sense of entitlement and their motto becomes, ‘we’re good people,’ and this shroud of false gold envelopes them and when confronted, they become indignant. And this in one sense creates the self-righteous elder son in that famous parable in the Gospel.
Samantha had seen so much pain in her life; she’d endured many trials, and this gave her a false sense of entitlement. Jude wasn’t a good husband. He’d both verbally and physically abused Samantha so many times, but his veneration for her made her love him and accept him each time he came back guilt-ridden and wept and apologized. “You’re my angel,” he’d say, and this kept the wheels of a rocky relationship moving, until the day Jude found God, and confronted Samantha with tears in his eyes, begging her to see that she was lost. This tilted their world upside down and suddenly the roles changed, and Jude found himself backed against a wall while Samantha hurled abuses and screamed and shouted.
Oh, the mystery of God’s ways! Who can fathom him? He gives the degenerate an introspective, self-conscious mind and the polite a mind that refuses to dig deep because it’s terrified. Jude needed to break the cycle of abuse and so he didn’t seek Samantha and sought God and found him in repentance and knew that another died in his place, that another took his sickness unto death upon himself.
But Jude’s conversion didn’t last because he returned to venerating Samantha, and then backslid. The intense love in his heart for Christ faded and he slowly stopped feeling altogether. Jude succumbed to fatalism. He was intensely aware of his despair, but couldn’t see God as a possibility anymore, just a necessity and this in many ways is a demon’s despair. And Jude slowly became twice the demon he once was, and the vicious cycle emerged again. But something was different this time. Jude both hated and venerated Samantha, and his veneration now was more of a conscious effort, and Samantha saw through this and couldn’t forgive Jude like she once did anymore. So, while the old pattern continued, a new one of distrust paralleled it.
We live in a time of a Pentecostal hysteria and showman pastors and faith-healers. And one common notion prevalent in these churches is that possession by an evil spirit creates the demoniac. And then you have the pastor yelling, “Get out, you dirty spirit!” Literally pushing a man, as if a mere shove can cure him. Oh, how far they’re from the truth! But what creates the demoniac? The man who breaks shackles and rebels against humanity, nature and himself?
If you delved deep into the Kierkegaardian stages of despair, you’ll get the answer. You’ll first find the comical despair or instability. Here’s a man who despairs over something earthly or something transient. Jude despaired this way when he was in college and still does sometimes when deprived of some want. Each time he didn’t play football well, he’d spend the day in utter misery and seek validation. He’d burden his poor mother with his failures, going to extreme details to explain technical terms to her, and then deluded would ask her, “Will I make it ma?” And the poor woman had no other choice but to share in his delusion because she loved him immensely, and would say, “Yes. I’m praying for you.”
He remained this way for a long time with a self made of plastic. Crushed, but his lack of insight gave him a modicum of hope, and he clung to it with all his might fueling his fancy, though the winds of reality howled and shrieked. He called himself a Christian then and even attended church, but his faith was insipid and tasteless, just like the faith of those who believe in the prosperity gospel. He tried using God to elevate himself. “Give me a beautiful girlfriend,” he’d pray and then seek his mother’s validation again.
Traces of this despair remained in Jude, but over the years he gained insight. It tore him, and he stopped craving for the materialistic and looked for love. And then entered Samantha, whom he began idolizing. Youth looks to the imagined future and finds itself trapped there, while age looks back through recollection and finds its own trap. And this explains Jude’s relationship with his mother who was also a woman who’d seen much suffering. His masculine ambition sought hope from someone flawed and finite, while she like those rare women who lose themselves completely by loving someone; literally forsaking themselves wanted the best for him and went out-of-the-way to get him a better life. And yet both cases are tragically despair. The former a selfish one, while the latter a selfless one. Oh, what a burden God has placed on humanity that even being altruistic doesn’t qualify as goodness! And I can’t help but ask if this is fair? Is God just? Is being born into this world the biggest curse?
Jude’s insight into his deluded condition, helped him slowly find release, and though he remained in misery, he wasn’t given to wishful thinking anymore. He wanted now to forsake himself; rid himself of his sin and guilt. His abusive nature and idolization of Samantha was eating him alive. He wanted to break the horrible cycle. Samantha now became a mother figure to him and he poured his heart out to her, and she listened and loved him deeply. Despite her bitterness, she too had an altruistic aspect to her. A big one. And this made him love her deeply, but he couldn’t change. Love isn’t just action, and neither is it just emotion. It’s emotion that acts. Jude had the emotion, but couldn’t act, couldn’t prove his love. Samantha had both and proved her love for Jude. But Samantha lost herself completely loving Jude and displaced her standing with God. Now no relationship is perfect but a healthy one has God at its core, because God is infinite love, and finitude is capable of only a fractured love, prone to mistakes and sorrow.
After Jude lost God, he became the demoniac, the poet or the tortured artist. He’d transcended earthly despair, and the despair of wanting to lose himself. He’d even transcended the despair of wanting a new better self. He now wished to remain in active rebellion against God and had attained the despair of wanting to become God. He wanted to replace God, and this is precisely Satan’s rebellion and Adam’s fall. But while Adam reconciled with God, Jude couldn’t. He had a deep-seated hate for God and blamed him, and so found himself in perpetual turmoil. He’d have moments of peace before he’d lash out, and since it’s impossible to lash out against God, he’d hate Samantha and use her as an object of his rage. Perhaps this in a way echoes Cain and Abel.
It’s been a while since Jude’s last revelation. He’s taken to writing now and has become a poet with a religious obsession. I use the word obsession because he has no faith. He’s obsessed with where he stands before God, but deep down he knows that he doesn’t stand rightly before him. And this is another paradox in a life already plagued with complications and complexities.
Jude barely talks to Samantha and they sleep in different beds. He’s given himself over to smoking, alcohol, pornography and pharmaceuticals. He’s lost his job and leans on Samantha for monetary support. Samantha is a doctor and so Jude goes to her and asks for a prescription to get his Avil and cough syrups. She initially gave in, but soon noticed that he’s becoming a junkie and said, “I can’t do this anymore. It’s like asking you to plagiarize when you write,” and then the barrage of insults and abuses hurled began. It isn’t anger; it’s white-hot murderous rage. Sick, despicable rage.
Jude’s a caricature of a man now. He’s parody personified. He writes about religion while he’s on drugs or between trips to the bathroom to smoke his cigarette. He talks of humility but cuts people off with furious pride. He writes about love but is dead inside. He talks about possibilities but has succumbed to fatalism. He’s comical in a twisted, tragic sense. He’s a man who doesn’t practise what he preaches. He’s dual-minded and Janus-faced. His duplicity knows no bounds. He’s a pathetic wretch of a creature. Jude had an abusive father growing up and vowed to never become that man. But he’s become someone worse. At least his father had no proper insight into his condition. Jude on the other hand consciously rebels.
Jude’s in for a great, severe judgement if God doesn’t redeem him. He cannot change and slowly is moving to a point where he doesn’t desire change anymore. All this is taking a severe toll on Samantha and Jude feels it deep within, but he’s resigned and hopeless. All he does is read and write, negating responsibility and indulging in the pleasures of the flesh, which only leave him guilt-ridden.
Here’s another mystery that Kierkegaard explains so well: The logician is quick to dismiss God because he thinks that the notion of God coming in the flesh and dying on the cross for his sin and begging him to come to him is ludicrous. The artist on the other hand can imagine it because he can grasp the abstract. But often the artist stays there and doesn’t progress further to faith in Christ, and having known so much, he’s in for a harsher judgement. The artist doesn’t wish to progress further because he’s like Jude, clinging to both misery and wanting to stand rightly before God at the same time.
Now everything I’ve written so far is essentially borrowed from Kierkegaard. I’ve only simplified him and have made a story revolve around his philosophy. So, in that sense I’m guilty and a thief. But every artist is, and so is Jude because originality is the creator and all creation only imitates. We cannot exist without a relationship to something else, and we cannot perceive things without relating them to some aspect of our own lives. We grasp because we’ve lived. We know because we experience.
Socrates says ignorance is sin. Kierkegaard goes one step further and says it’s defiance that’s sin. Socrates says that if a man claims to know but doesn’t act rightly, it’s because he never knew at all. Kierkegaard says that he knows but doesn’t act rightly because his will is in defiance to the will of God. And goes further to say that only divine revelation will show a man his depravity. Otherwise he’ll continue in his ignorance which is really a defiance.
So, what about Jude? He once knew but lost. His will was once aligned to God’s will and perhaps he possessed faith, though the Calvinists will say he didn’t. And maybe they’re right. Maybe like John Piper put it such a man has high religious experiences but they’re all a delusion. Or perhaps like John Bunyan put it Jude is in the man in the iron cage. A professor who like Demas, Saul and Judas is eventually proven counterfeit. A disciple who despite receiving the Holy Ghost eventually is severed from God in this life itself. And is that the unpardonable sin? The blasphemy against the Holy Ghost? An active defiance against God despite knowing him intimately once?
What is sin? Kierkegaard initially says that it’s defying the will of God, but then goes further and terrifies you by saying that it’s not just things you commit, but a state. So, sin is essentially a state of despair. So, before salvation everything you do is sin, because you’re living in a sinful state. And after, you’re justified by faith in Christ.
Jude and Samantha have decided to live separately. She loves him and says she’ll support him financially, until he can get back on his feet. Jude’s grown cold. Nothing affects him anymore. He’s dead and spiritless. He hardly showers, he doesn’t shave and just exists. He thinks he’ll never be forgiven though some hope resides deep within him. A hope that resurfaces for a minute before he’s back to being cold again. He doesn’t yell or abuse Samantha anymore. He’s given up on pretty much everything and if not for that hope that shows itself now and then, he’s just a walking corpse.
In his anger, Jude wrote blasphemous things against God, embraced Nihilism and even proclaimed that God is dead. He’s now on medication for Bipolar Disorder and loathes everything he does. But this loathing isn’t an active loathing, but a passive one. It’s a mute, whispered, submissive loathing. He’s done with active loathing and I guess that’s because somewhere deep inside he still has a conscience. And maybe this moral compass is the hope within him that appears before vanishing.
Man isn’t free. Crime and Punishment is the best novel that explains this concept in tremendous detail. You’re not free to do whatever you want to, which is why a drug addict goes back to his needle, the alcoholic to his drink, the sex addict to his women, the tortured artist to his art, and Raskolnikov to his sordid streets with his head bowed down. It’s guilt. Heavy, intense guilt that torments, plagues and crushes and man in his desperate need to be free from it goes back to an ephemeral cure that’s only destroying him. He cannot find God and so, he seeks substitutes, until they destroy him completely. And Jude’s like every other guilt-ridden man. He hates writing but writes because it’s his fix. He hates alcohol but drinks because it’s his fix. He knows drug-addiction is affecting him physically, making his hands tremble and giving him blurred vision, but he needs his fix.
So where does Jude stand before God? The truth is that he doesn’t know. He believes there’s still hope but he’s hopeless to do anything at this point and so he waits. God is often silent making man wonder if he exists at all, but those are the times that he’s working the most to restore an individual to him through some mysterious way. This much Jude believes, and I guess that’s all he can do at this point.
Jude has decided to not talk about God anymore. He’ll just keep quiet and try getting his life together. Reconciliation with Samantha is impossible, but reconciliation with Christ is possible. There are times when he doubts this and plunges into extreme despair, but he gets through each day by just existing, by just breathing.
And what about Samantha? Well, all of us serve God’s purpose, and I’d like to believe that God has a beautiful plan for her life because he knows how much she loved Jude. Sure, she’s corrupt, just like everyone else, but somewhere God who led her this far, will not forsake her. And that belief, whether it’s faith or not, keeps her going.
Maybe this story will end with Jude dying this way, or maybe he’ll be restored. He’s deep in sin and loves it, but also fears God. He’s a paradox of a man and perhaps he’ll stay this way. And then there’s mental illness. The Church is often quick to dismiss it. They say, ‘It’s a battle in the mind, or it’s something you conquer through faith,’ but they forget that we live in a fallen world. This world is already a post-apocalyptic one that is only getting worse. And in a world of disease, death and corruption, mental illness exists. So, perhaps like Jude’s loving mother always told him, “God understands.”
© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)