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KNOWING DARKNESS: Reflections on Skepticism, Melancholy, Friendship, and God Cover Art


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KNOWING DARKNESS: Reflections on Skepticism, Melancholy, Friendship, and God
Addison Hodges Hart
Eerdmans
Christian Living
ISBN: 9780802863447

KNOWING DARKNESS features a dark title --- and a dark cover that’s hard to figure. (My best guess is that it’s a blurred, shadowy stem and flower.) This slim book is a thoughtful read for three groups of people: 1) Christians who tend to ask probing questions; 2) those who are keenly aware of the sorrows of the world; and 3) those who know, love and/or live with Christians in groups 1 and 2.

Addison Hodges Hart’s introductory chapter recaps news reports of Mother Teresa’s personal correspondence that revealed her sense of spiritual hunger, even despair, over decades of dedicated service and leadership. Hart summarizes his take: “There is room for both skepticism and deep melancholy, for ‘darkness,’ in the life of faith. Christians who find these perplexing and troublesome things occupying a place in their minds should not be ashamed of them.”

Subsequent chapters look at skepticism, which he distinguishes from doubt (“Skepticism, unlike doubt, looks for truth”) and then melancholy, “a feeling of thoughtful sadness,” defined as being somewhat different from depression.

I picked up this book because I have a passing interest in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, which, along with Jack Kerouac, takes center stage in Hart’s fourth chapter. He draws similarities between what he sees as the often-mischaracterized Searcher Kerouac --- who eventually reclaimed his Christian faith --- and the biblical author of Ecclesiastes, who encourages his readers “to find enjoyment in the routines of living ordinary life, enduring what cannot be altered.”

Hart leaves a larger question to be answered in a subsequent chapter on the biblical character named Job and his so-called friends: “What does God desire for us, especially for those who are believers and (like Job) maybe even righteous?” In italics and sometimes bold type, Hart emphasizes his point: “It is the melancholy of Job over the perceived injustice of his circumstances that pushes him to call out to God in faith.” As for Job’s friends, “Christ is ultimately the Friend that Job’s three friends are not.”

And friendship --- with God and God’s friends --- is the subject of chapter six, written as a seemingly artificially staged fireside chat among Hart and five of his long-standing friends (three men, two women). They talk about their particular friendships as well as Jesus’ relationship with his disciples, delving into nuances of Greek words and quoting from ancient texts.

Sometimes I value a nonfiction book because it teases me toward another volume. In this case, I intend to find SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIP by 12th-century British saint Aelred of Rievaulx, whose writings inform Hart’s discussion of friendship and its relevance to a faithful journey. In the end, Hart notes that “the faithful Christian is not ultimately afraid of the reality of melancholy.” And “neither does the faithful Christian flinch before skepticism.”

Having laid out Hart’s outline, maybe I’ve teased you to seek out KNOWING DARKNESS. For the astute reader, there’s a lot of meaty content between its covers.

   --- Reviewed by Evelyn Bence

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