Faith in the Analytical Mind
Don’t you ever just want to solve a good old math problem so things feel like they make sense? Maybe that’s just me. My name is Julia Quebral, and I’m about to graduate from UB with degrees in physics and mathematics. And I wanted to write about what it’s like to have faith in an analytical mind.
In physics, we try to create neat little boxes for our not-so-neat world. Everything can be placed into a model or an approximation. Everything has a cause and an effect, a problem and a solution (though sometimes the solutions are left for the engineers). I love physics and I love being analytical. I love solving a problem and watching all the pieces fall into place. Faith though, is not like that at all. Faith can be messy and not everything in faith can be rational. For instance the age-old question, “Why does God allow bad things to happen in the world?” (a.k.a. the Problem of Evil) does not have an analytical solution. And unfortunately we can’t come up with a mathematical model and write a computer code to solve the question (which is what we physicists normally do for such problems).
Thus, faith in my analytical mind is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, I am extremely--and occasionally irritatingly--skeptical. I want proof for everything and I struggle to try to grasp any events that don’t fall within the natural. This makes certain aspects of faith very difficult for me. There was a time when I once was called a deist (which is someone who believes in a Creator but does not think He intervenes or loves us) because I wanted to question every “supernatural” event that occurred outside of the Eucharist. I’ve had to come to terms and evaluate my way of thinking to see whether it falls in line with the traditions of faith. This has been an ongoing struggle for me. On the other hand, an analytical mind is a blessing because it comes with curiosity. I’m always trying to ask questions and test my own faith thinking from the outside. For instance, I enjoy having difficult conversations with people who are not religious to see what they might think about my beliefs. Also for my friends who are different faiths at my school--Jewish, Muslim, other Christians--I ask a potentially bothersome amount of questions. One time I had an hour long conversation with the Mormons at school just because I was curious about what they believed. I find this part of being analytical helpful since what we all are, essentially, are seekers of truth. Having a rational mind is an extension of my desire to know the answers to life’s most pressing questions. This sentiment is summed up well by the opening line of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio:
Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves
So great, we know I have an analytical mind--and you might too! What should we do about it? More specifically, how should we deal with some of the struggles that come with an analytical mind? One of the things I’ve had to learn recently is that we can’t solve everything. It sounds stupidly obvious, but it’s an idea that’s extremely humbling to actually accept. Sometimes we need to remember what we are struggling to figure out things for. One of my favorite saints is Thomas Aquinas, one of the doctors of the Church and one of the most brilliant theologians ever to live. According to one of his fellow Dominican friars, he was once asked by Jesus in the chapel, “You have written well of me, Thomas. What reward will you receive from me for your labor?” To which Thomas responded Non nisi te, Domine--meaning “Nothing if not you, Lord.” In Thomas’s famous Summa Theologiae, he attempts to answer hundreds of questions about the faith; this is still used as the basis of our theology today. However, Thomas never lost sight of what he was answering those questions for, and neither should we.
The other piece of advice that has often helped me at times is this: get out of your head. Or if you don’t know how to get out of your head, learn how to get out of your head. Oftentimes my mind is so stuck in cycles about what to do or what to think that it’s such a miserable time. When you get stuck, learn to take your troubles to prayer and let God take care of the rest. You can’t solve everything, remember?
If you don’t have an analytical mind, I apologize if this post has not at all been helpful for you. (Or maybe some of these things apply to everyone--I wouldn’t know.) But I do have a request for you: Please be patient with us. Sometimes we annoyingly asking a lot of questions or taking devil’s advocate sides. And at times we might want proof for something and be exasperatingly skeptical. However, I also hope that we can be of use to you sometimes and that you find reasons to appreciate us.
Regardless of what kind of mind you have, God bless you, and I hope to see you sometime soon.
Julia is graduating from UB with degrees in physics and mathematics and was also an active member of the Newman Center on campus. This is her first article with us and we look forward to seeing more from her!