Jacek Bacz
Assembling the Great Puzzle

Preface: Book excerpt                                                                                   Zaproszenie  Zaproszenie

A FRIEND of mine asked me why I have written this book. Without much reflection, I responded that I have written the kind of book I wish I had read at age 25. But then I had second thoughts. I knew that what I had said was true because I do wish I had read a book like this in my youth. But it does not follow that—at age 25—I would have picked up this sort of a book. In fact I know I would not. “This sort of a book” was not on my radar screen. I would not have read the very book I now know I would have most profited from reading.

Well, this is most peculiar, isn’t it? How could that be? At age 25 I was a mature individual with a university degree, well read, widely travelled and about to be married. The adolescent rebellion was over, the rush of hormones had subsided somewhat and reason should have returned. Surely, I should have been set for a return to sanity. Reason did return—but with a twist: intellectual innocence had been lost. Let me explain what I mean.

You may have heard the story about the resurrection of Lazarus. I will say a few words about it because it might throw some light on the state of my mind at age 25. The story of Lazarus is recorded in the Gospel of John. Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary and Jesus’ friend, had been dead for four days and already in the tomb and smelling when Jesus brought him back to life. It was a spectacular event reported by many. As a result two things happened: some believed in Jesus; others decided to kill Him. This is most peculiar, shall we say. How could that be?

“The resurrection of Lazarus was a hoax”—such used to be my opinion. Naturally, I thought, naive masses were easy to fool. But “Chief priests and Pharisees” (the biblical shorthand for the intellectuals of the day) must have known better. They had both the knowledge and the ability to find out the truth. They would have been persuaded if the miracle had been genuine.

That was my reasoning many years ago. Today, as I read the story of Lazarus more closely, I find other explanations. First of all, Jesus’ opponents did not really deny the miracle. Yet they did not believe it either. The truth is that they did not have the time for the truth. Their primary concern was to deal with the perceived Jesus threat. Whether Lazarus had actually been brought back to life was unimportant in view of the urgency of the moment. But there is another possibility. We know from other parts of the Gospel that the “Chief priests and Pharisees” had already waged war on Jesus. They had engaged their authority. If they were to investigate the miracle and find that it was genuine, what then? Would they be ready to change their mind? If Jesus succeeded, what would happen to their prestige, to their social status, even wealth? They were frightened. They did not search because they were afraid of what they might find.

Finally, we know that those same adversaries, on another occasion, had accused Jesus of working miraculous cures through the power of the devil. Remarkably, they had not denied the cures, for the cures were undeniable. But since they had already set their mind against Jesus, they could not bear the truth. Thus, they saw good works but called them evil. In a mind-set like this, the resurrection of Lazarus could also be easily interpreted as the work of the devil.

I have used a well known Gospel narrative and analysed it in some detail to illustrate the oft forgotten fact that mental attitudes can distort our perception of reality if we allow them to govern our reason. Granted, I have dealt with an extreme case here: one and the same event moved some to faith and others to murder. One can hardly state the issue in more direct terms. But looking at the extreme has its merit for it reveals the truth about the nature of the problem and the seriousness of the matter. If we know that much poison kills, we should be on our guard even against little poison. The denials, the avoidance, the fear, and the reversals of truth that we usually have to deal with in our lives are often sufficiently diluted, disguised, rationalised and combined in ways that make the poison almost undetectable. Yet no one is completely free from it. If you insist that you are, I have nothing more to tell you.

I wish I had known these things at age 25. I wish I had realized that my ideas were hostage to attitudes. I wish I had been alerted to that possibility. I wish I had met someone then who could have done just that. Early on, I would have been ready for the book I wrote many years later.

Denial, avoidance, fear, reversal. Still, some people may not be impressed with these insights. “Nobody’s perfect”, they would say, and go on to read another book. Others might offer their own opinions. I have heard people say: “If Jesus appeared tomorrow we would eventually kill him just as the ancients did.” They would even quote the Bible: “It is hard to be a prophet in one’s own country.” Fair enough. We would certainly kill Jesus in our own time if we shared the attitudes of the ancients. And, I might add, if the events unfolded now as they did then, Jesus would say to us from the cross: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” And if we did not know, we would be forgiven.

Perhaps Jesus’ contemporaries could claim ignorance; perhaps they did not have all the data. Honest ignorance will be excused. What kind of excuse could I have claimed at age 25? I must have known that Christianity was not fresh news. Everybody knows that. Literally, I have been given two thousand years to make up my mind about it. I had the intellectual ability to do it and the data were at hand. I was given an “unfair” advantage over the ancients. I did not use it. Did I have a fair excuse?

This book is not about attitudes, but about ideas. Of all human ideas, the most important ones deal with the relation of Man to the Universe and to God, if there is one. That is what this book is about. Perhaps dispassionate cerebral robots could churn out such ideas like logical syllogisms, free from any attitudes of the mind. But humans are not built that way. We are creatures of reason, will and passions. Attitudes of the mind can hold sway over reason. I have learned that the hard way. I wanted to share this experience with you before the exploration begins.

Many authors have influenced my thinking. Anyone familiar with the writings of C. S. Lewis, Peter Kreeft and G. K. Chesterton will easily see how much I am indebted to their work. The list goes on and it includes Dorothy Sayers, Frank Sheed, Scott Hahn, André Frossard, Vittorio Messori and Joseph-Marie Verlinde. C. S. Lewis said that in order to see far enough we have to climb the shoulders of the giants who came before us and look from there. This I have certainly done, and with great pleasure. Whatever originality remains in my work owns its merit to these masters.

Not that my reader should care about the influences. If he is the kind of person who reads Lewis, Kreeft and Chesterton, he is not my target audience. You know already who my target audience is: the perennial 25-year-olds who might most profit from a book like this, but will not read it. To them I dedicate this work knowing that nothing is impossible for God.