THE FAITH OF FOOLS
and the Painted Tunnel
is much like a painted tunnel set upon the face of a granite wall,
and we are invited to run into it — full speed — not
knowing whether the dark opening is an illusion, or if a tunnel, how
deep it is, and whether it bends immediately to the right or turns sharply
to the left. We do not know if it falls precipitously down or steeply
curves up ... if it is not an illusion at all. We have no idea how wide
Some have told us that it is a real tunnel. Others have told us that
it is just black paint artfully brushed on a solid wall. We only really
see the wall around it. This we believe to be real. We have approached
the wall and knocked our knuckles against the granite face on all the
sides surrounding what appears to be a black opening, and after a few
vigorous attempts we find our knuckles sore and because the surface
is uneven, bleeding.
Someone comes along and asks us to instantly run at the black opening.
We are told that depending on the speed at which we run, we will enter
the more deeply into the tunnel ... which for all appearances and in
all probability is just a painted surface. We can walk carefully toward
it and very, very slowly approach what appears to be a dark opening.
This way, if it is an illusion, the injury to ourselves will be minimal.
If we rush at it full speed and the apparent opening is just that —
“apparent”— we will be seriously injured, and what is more, look like
fools in the effort. After all, we had been warned by others, in fact,
by many others, that it is an illusion created by a clever artist, much
like the three dimensional drawings we have seen on the sidewalks of
large cities, skillfully drawn by enterprising artists. There “appears"
to be depth, and we are amazed at the skill, and may even, for all our
realization that it is a carefully crafted illusion, blench before stepping
over the outer periphery of the drawing.
This is a most apposite metaphor for Faith, and Christ is either a clever
artist or we are simply credulous fools. It may be both. Perhaps the
skill of the Artist depends heavily on the gullibility of the fool.
Moreover, most of the fools are not the literati, the well-educated,
the scholars, those who know the real state of affairs in the world,
and hold multiples degrees to attest to this. They clearly are not willing
to be fools.
So what of the rest of us? What of those who, like us, stand in perplexity,
hesitation, and even doubt before the “painted” tunnel? All of them,
all of us, have inadvertently walked into brick walls and know the penalty
of our inattentiveness … and we walk away, ashamed that we have shown
Let us further suppose that it is widely rumored that many have actually
run into the painted tunnel — and are never heard from again! What are
we to make of this? What has become of them? Is it good or bad? We have
no way of knowing — even if such rumors have some apparent
substance to them.
What is more, we have known some people who have in fact run into the
wall and immediately recoiled off it, suffering greatly, and coming
away “the wiser”, knowing from experience that the tunnel is an illusion,
and who can even show you the scars of that regrettable encounter.
Even if the “painted” tunnel is not an illusion as some maintain,
although they themselves only believe it without actually having run
into it head on and at full speed — it appears to be of an unpredictable
nature. Sometimes it proves to be an opening, and sometimes not. In
fact, some have claimed to enter it — and to have returned! While we
cannot verify that they have in fact entered it, it certainly appears
to be the case that, in a different way, their lives, too, have been
changed as a result … much like those who bounced off the wall.
Why would this “opening” be of such a nature that for some it proves
to be, in fact, a real opening, while for others it turns out to be
an illusion? Why do they return from their encounter with the painted
tunnel with such strikingly different — even totally conflicting — accounts?
We — who are merely spectators of this drama — really have no idea,
still less assurance, of the likelihood of our own experience with the
painted tunnel, which all of us at least see, and will never know, cannot
know, until we ourselves participate in the drama. We behold alike the
wounded and the healed as a result of their encounter with the “tunnel”.
We stand on the sidelines, observing this bizarre spectacle, hoping
to attain to some certainty, one way or another, through the experience
of others. Again and again we fluctuate between believing that the tunnel
is real and that it is painted. We watch one limp away, and we disbelieve.
The next moment we watch another return, made whole, and we believe.
The one thing we do not doubt is that the painted tunnel will change
us, one way or another, and that we can only find out which way if we
run into it.
There is another unique characteristic of the tunnel: as we grow older
the opening looms larger. It is not more real or less real, more apparent
or less apparent; it is just … more obtrusive.
This, in turn, reveals something uniquely characteristic of us: a growing
reluctance to run into the wall. It is not so much that we fear being
injured as a consequence, as we fear discovering that it is only an
illusion after all, a mere painting, very old, but nevertheless very
Why is this? Because even our doubt contains within itself at least
the latency of belief. We do not doubt what we do not believe, or what
we know is not the case. We only doubt what, for all its improbability,
is yet the possibility of being real. And this is to say that
doubt itself contains an implicit acknowledgement of the very thing
doubted. Even if belief is suspended, it is not entirely abandoned.
It is a comfortable position. While we forfeit any possible benefit
of belief, we incur no penalty that would result from a validated disbelief.
In other words, we are more comfortable without the consolation of finding
that our belief corresponds to a reality, than we are in possibly finding
that our disbelief corresponds to a reality — that there is nothing,
that the tunnel is a painting on an opaque and impenetrable wall, that
it is an illusion only, beyond which there is nothing. Better to implicitly
hope there is something and find oneself pleasantly surprised that it
is indeed the case despite all improbability … than to relinquish hope
altogether in finding that there is nothing.
The problem with this approach is Jesus Christ. He does not ask you
to take a stand. He requires you to take a stand. Not on the issue,
but on Him. The issue after all, at least if you are a Catholic, is
inseparable from Him. You cannot stand on the sidelines. One way or
another you will be forced to come to terms with the tunnel. And the
way you approach it is very likely the measure you enter into the life
You can pass it by altogether, fearful
of what it will require of you if you enter the tunnel, or of finding
there is nothing if you merely collide with it, with what was the
possibility that there was nothing and finding out that there
really is nothing, and living with that realization.
You can also approach it tentatively, cautiously, carefully, seeking
at every step to verify something of the reality of the tunnel before
moving a step closer until, sufficiently assured, and with great apprehension,
you make the final “actus fidei”, or “act of faith”, and fall
forward against the black opening that may yet still be a solid wall
— and breathe a sigh of relief that your modicum of faith, yet imbued
with doubt, did not fail you.
Or you can run into the tunnel full speed in the face of all improbability
and against all the palpable evidence that it is just a painted tunnel
on an unyielding surface — and enter the depths of the Heart of Christ
Ah, yes, you ask … nevertheless, what of those who ran and recoiled
off the wall? We would be dishonest if we cannot answer this. This,
ultimately, is at the heart of the mystery of Faith itself which, were
it possessed of certainty, would not be faith. God alone knows the depths
and the motives of the human heart. There is no “methodology” to Heaven.
Indeed, none of us are assured of our own salvation which, St. Paul
tells us, “we work out with fear and trembling.”
One thing is certain: you will know nothing
of it — and very likely suffer greatly because you wish to know nothing
definitive of it — whether it is real or an illusion — until you throw
yourself against the wall.
Boston Catholic Journal