In introductory philosophy at Campion College, a theme that is touched upon is that of absurdity. Put simply, it is the expectation of meaning and order meeting up with the (apparent) reality that says that no such meaning or order exists. When studying this theme, students would have been introduced to the writings of Albert Camus and Friedrich Nietzsche. The general trajectory of their thought goes that the lived experience of meaninglessness must be given priority over notions of order (whether physiological or metaphysical), which Nietzsche condemned as mere illusions propagated by Modernity. The solution of both of these thinkers is to either give in completely to this utter meaninglessness or embrace it and commit yourself to riding the waves of sheer luck, in a manner similar to Harvey Dent (better known as Two-Face) in The Dark Knight, who is quoted as saying that “the world is cruel, and the only morality in a cruel world is chance”.
Christians might be tempted to dismiss these thinkers and with it the notion that lived experience would never be marked by order or meaning. But such Christians would struggle to find a satisfying answer to a school shooting resulting in the experience of parents having to attend an offspring’s funeral. It may be that such Christians forget that the Scriptures themselves articulate the frustration borne out of what may on its face look like the realisation that relying on the goodness of God is an exercise in futility. Chapter 10 of the book of Job is a powerful case in point, but his experience may be summarised by the third verse in Psalm 69, which is said in the Office of Readings on 21st December 2012:
I am exhausted with calling out, and my throat is hoarse,
my eyes are worn out with waiting for my God
These and a host of other passages indicate that Divine Revelation is not indifferent to the experience of absurdity. The American Catholic spiritual writer Thomas Merton once wrote that the Christian life, rather than an ordered existence, is one of constantly staring despair in the face. Thus in a sense, Christians are in a manner similar to Camus and Nietzsche, called to embrace and bear absurdity, and be suspicious of those who deign to give easy answers in the face of suffering. In contrast to the often facile schema of pre-packaged answers popular with many well-meaning Christians, Psalm 69:3 provides a highly poetic, almost Romantic, alternative. The second line of Psalm 69:3 suggests a psalmist standing at a precipice, awaiting the arrival of an order that only God can bring, whilst at the same time becoming spiritually mummified by the heat of a nihilistic onslaught. But as much as it is a recognition of the precariousness of the Christian vocation, Psalm 69:3 is not a call to resign oneself to meaninglessness, since the line hints towards an eventual vindication of one’s waiting in the form of God’s triumphant arrival.
Indeed, the New Testament provides in the crucified Christ the embodiment of the mode of living articulated in Psalm 69:3. In actively and willingly moving towards His death, the Jesus in the Gospels embodies the embrace of absurdity of an innocent suffering the violence of a justice system, an open-armed embrace which results in the stretching out of His arms on the Cross. On Golgotha, Christ’s standing at the precipice is summarised by his uttering the famous lament in Psalm 22:1 – “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”. Whilst articulating a lament and embracing this absurdity, Christ is also choosing to commit not to meaninglessness, but to the embrace of God, a commitment encapsulated in the cry “Father, into Your hands I commit my Spirit”.