This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

The adequacy of the question determines the adequacy of the answer

Abraham Heschel wrote:

“The universe is an immense allusion, and our inner life an anonymous quotation; only the italics are our own. Is it within our power to verify the quotation, to identify the source, to learn what all things stand for?…Despite our conquests and might, we are like blind beggars in a labyrinth who do not know at which door to knock to obtain relief from our anxieties. We know how nature acts but not why and for whose sake; we know that we live but not why and wherefore. We know that we must inquire but not who has planted in us the anxiety to inquire.”[1]

Heschel spent a great deal of time helping to clarify the questions we wish to ask about life, and to understand that by examining the questions we already have hints of the answers. In fact any question anticipates its answer. The real difficulty then is in learning how or what to ask, especially when what we desire is to know the significance or the source of all reality.

We phrase and re-phrase it, but we are never satisfied. We ask: “What is the origin of the universe?” But we realize that we also want to know its goal, not only its origin but its end, and also its ultimate significance in the present in which I live. Which is it that I want to know, and is there really a difference between any of these single questions, or is there an essential question that runs through them all, and if so, what is that question and do we adulterate it by tearing it into small pieces and proposing them one at a time, only to be disappointed by answers that do not satisfy because they only address a single superficial aspect of what we really want to know?

It is perhaps a good start to understand the difficulties faced in the asking, and to keep this in mind in order to shield oneself against inadequate answers that cannot provide the knowledge that we crave. One must not ‘settle’ either in the formulation of the question or in the answer that one accepts to it.

[1] Abraham Joshua Heschel, Man is Not Alone, pp. 43-44.

Share This