I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing.
So very often I wake up and I think, “How did I ever get to be grown up without feeling the least bit good at it?”
At some point I supposedly turned into an adult, but I just haven’t got the foggiest idea at which point that was. The year is 2013 but I feel like I’m stuck in 1993 somewhere.
But the year is 2013, and it seems that things choose to happen whether I’m ready for them or not. Apparently this is their choice and not mine…
Whenever I feel like this, I find myself gravitating towards the language offered by Jordan B. Peterson to describe the feeling. He suggests that the reason I feel this way is because I am very small and the world is very big:
“The nature of human being is such that it consists of a confrontation with the bounded finite with the unbounded infinite… those are the bare facts of the matter. The facts are that the world of experience as it presents itself to us is literally, and not metaphorically, complex beyond our capacity to understand.”
But he goes further – experience with the infinite, for him, means suffering…
“The finite is always overwhelmed by the infinite – it has to be – because it can’t encapsulate it. And so what that means is that suffering is essential to the nature of human existence. And suffering exists as a consequence of the consequences of our limitations.”
Very often I feel like I live in this world of Jordan B. Peterson’s, where I am tiny in a big chaotic world. Not coincidentally, this is the world of ancient Mesopotamian myth.[myth]
It’s worth commenting that these ancients tended to be polytheistic. The ancients had many gods because they needed many gods. A given god might be, at any point, asleep… or indifferent… or downright vindictive… It cost relatively little to add another deity to one’s list, but the consequence of not doing so was existential horror. You had to be protected from the chaos. You were a tiny dot in a world of powerful, unfriendly, chaotic forces, subject to being rubbed out at any point…
YHWH, the god described in the Hebrew Bible, is quite different. He shows no interest in being distant, uncaring or inscrutable! YHWH introduces himself as a God who is intimately involved in what happens on the earth; he is a God who does things.[does]
YHWH is a God who is known relationally, by a shared series of ‘relatings’ – things he has done and said (and continues to do and say) among humanity… In fact, the primary way that the Hebrews used of describing his character was to tell stories of things he had done. They knew who he was by his great and mighty doings. The God who heals – the God who delivers – the God who provides…
God has a history with men, and his character is revealed in his acts. For a Hebrew, then, YHWH is not an existential bogey man but someone who has done things before, will do things again, and must be paid attention to!
Now, if you listen to the Peterson clip, you’ll hear him saying something which I didn’t quote earlier. Peterson believes that the reason religion is endemic to humanity is not because people really believe it, but simply because people need to respond somehow to the collision of the finite with the infinite.
Because we’re scared of the dark, all light is make-believe… how does this follow?
Peterson discounts the possibility (for a Hebrew, ignores the fact) that Hebrew belief in God is built on historical action. The Hebrews acknowledged YHWH because he did stuff that they saw. He appeared in flame on a mountain. He drowned the Egyptian army. He gave them a code of laws. He made promises to their patriarchs. They didn’t write their scriptures out of Existential Angst; they wrote them because they had encountered YHWH and they knew who he was because he had done things among them.[ex]
Fast forward some three thousand years, and not too much has changed. Much like the ancients, I am still small, and the world is still big. Most often I don’t feel ready for what the world has in store. This is, even if it is rooted in my own personal insecurity, still something like their ancient fear.
The question is, is there still a God who acts in history? If there isn’t, then yeah, I’d better be terrified and live a tragic[tragic] life. If there is, what I’m afraid of probably isn’t that important…
If there is a God who is actually doing stuff, then what I should be afraid of is not paying attention, not being aware of what he is doing around me.
If there is a God, and he does stuff in the real world, he’s got to be focus #1, no?[focus]
Maybe there are two truths at play here.
There is a little truth – that I am little.
And there is a big truth – that God is big.
If I tell myself that I want to be a person who honours and seeks the truth, must I not spend a little time thinking on the little truth, and a big time, thinking on the big truth?
Maybe I’m not competent.
And maybe I don’t have to be.
- Jordan B. Peterson has steeped himself in this world; it seems he has studied it for long enough that he has (consciously or unconsciously) adopted its frame of reference. ↵
- The very first thing he did, for example, was to create and order everything!↵
- In the beginning of Exodus, God makes it clear that he is doing things (laying down plagues ‘n stuff) for the purpose of being known. (And not just by the Hebrews, but by everyone.) The story pushes into our face the terrible irony that YHWH, the Creator of all that is, is not known by us – and, in fact, is working to get our attention. If you fast forward to the Christian gospels, John lays out (in very Jewish fashion) the same truth! God was still trying to be known (through Jesus) and those who paid attention have see his glory… (The other time his glory was seen, of course, was on the mountain when he revealed himself to the Jews in Exodus…)↵
- If you watch on in the clip, you’ll hear Peterson talk about how the encounter of finitude with the infinite is essentially tragic (and can be nothing else except tragic). Of course, for him the infinite has no character or goodness, and does not change the condition of the finite in any way except to terrorize it. Which is pretty tragic.↵
- The followup question is, “Why is it so hard for me to focus on him for any length of time at all?”↵