"Send out Your light and Your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to Your holy hill and to Your dwelling." Psalm 43:3

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Why Believe in God?

Then it seemed as if men must proceed from light to light, in the light of the Word,
Through the Passion and Sacrifices saved in spite of their negative being;
Bestial as always before, carnal, self-seeking as always before, selfish and purblind as ever before,
Yet always struggling, always reaffirming, always resuming their march on the way that was lit by the light;
Often halting, loitering, straying, delaying, returning, yet following no other way.
But it seems that something has happened that has never happened before: though we know not just when, or why, or how, or where.
Men have left GOD not for other gods, they say, but for no god; and this has never happened before
That men both deny gods and worship gods, professing first Reason,
And then Money, and Power, and what they call Life, or Race, or Dialectic.
The Church disowned, the tower overthrown, the bells upturned, what have we to do
But stand with empty hands and palms turned upwards
In an age which advances progressively backwards?
~T.S. Eliot, from The Rock 

I talk to myself quite regularly.  Sometimes in my head, sometimes out loud as I go about some daily chore, alone until my wife walks in unexpectedly to get a kick out of my 'conversation.'  I've often asked myself the question, 'Why do I believe in God?'  And in my mind I've reasoned and reflected a good deal in an attempt to answer that question.  The fact that I don't know if I've ever really had this conversation in response to a friend actually inquiring about my faith reflects rather poorly, I'm afraid, on my life as a witness to Christ.  But, in any event, despite the fact that I feel a Christian responsibility to be prepared always to give an account for the hope within me, what I believe is in fact of the utmost importance to me, and simply for that reason alone it is something I think about a lot.

However, as T.S. Eliot points out, ours is the Secular Age.  Increasingly, the Christian today is asked not, 'Why do you believe in Jesus?', but simply, 'Why believe in God at all?  Haven't we now moved beyond the need for all the superstitious fables and stifling oppression of religion?  We know so much more now; we can figure out the answers to all the questions on our own.  We don't need God anymore.'

Well, it is certainly true that many of the old mysteries that the ancients ascribed to God because they could do nothing else have now been answered by the incredible advances in human knowledge over the last few centuries in particular.  And it is also sadly true that institutions of religion have often been usurped by humans to enrich and empower themselves at the expense of others.  But I don't see how these facts discredit God, unless one is looking for reasons to not believe (in which case, any reason, no matter how poor or unbiased, will do).  And while I fully expect that human knowledge will continue to advance, I must be honest in stating that I also believe emphatically that we never will get it all figured out, this side of heaven.  I suppose one could view that as pessimism; I simply view it as an obvious truth (I'm also pretty optimistic, as regards our ultimate destiny; that's for another post).  For all the truly remarkable gains of the modern era, in science, medicine, and technology, I don't know that the human creature has really changed that much.  Modern Man may have it better than Ancient, or Medieval Man, but I think this is due to changes in the institutions and structures which are part and parcel of our modern world, and the comparatively favorable conditions in which so many of us now live.  I don't think Man has undergone a gradual, biological change, and is now fundamentally a better creature.  I think we are as selfish, conflicted, confused, and depraved as ever (well, I can at least speak for myself), it's simply easier to hide from these realities of our interior selves now, since the structures of our society generally satisfy our necessities and restrict our baser instincts (although note what barbarity inevitably results when enlightened Modern Man, even in the form of 'a good American boy', is forced to face the horror of a war zone).  And besides, now more than ever we can keep ourselves distracted with so many other things; reflection, not least of which over the state of one's own spirit, is not something we can afford to be bothered with at the speed with which we now move.

So, no, I don't think we will ever build heaven on earth.  And yet, here is the remarkable thing: we keep trying.  We have these ideas, these ideals: justice, peace, beauty, love, all in perfection.  And yet we never experience these things fully, so how did we come to conceive of them in this way at all?  And why do we continue to grasp for that which we have never been able to take hold of; for all we know we never will get there.  From whence springs this desire?

A while back I read a passage from Evelyn Underhill's book The Spiritual Life.  It's a great little book, and can be read in a sitting or two; I highly recommend it.  When I first read the passage below, I sat up, and my mouth dropped open.  Or maybe that's just how I felt; it made an impact.  Underhill is talking here about prayer, but I find in her words the ground of my belief in God.  At the risk of sounding presumptuous, I felt like I was reading my own thoughts.  But she states them with greater eloquence than I could hope for, so I'll close this post now with her words.  Peace.

"Prayer means turning to Reality, taking our part, however humble, tentative, and half-understood, in the continual conversation, the communion, of our spirits with the Eternal Spirit; the acknowledgement of our entire dependence, which is yet the partly free dependence of the child.  For prayer is really our whole life towards God: our longing for Him, our 'incurable God-sickness', as Barth calls it, our whole drive towards Him.  It is the humble correspondence of the human spirit with the Sum of all Perfection, the Fountain of Life.  No narrower definition than this is truly satisfactory, or covers all the ground.  Here we are, small half-real creatures of sense and spirit, haunted by the sense of a perfection ever calling to us, and yet ourselves so fundamentally imperfect, so hopelessly involved in an imperfect world; with a passionate desire for beauty, and more mysterious still, a knowledge of beauty, and yet unable here to realize perfect beauty; with a craving for truth and a deep reverence for truth, but only able to receive flashes of truth.  Yet we know that perfect goodness, perfect beauty, and perfect truth exist in God; and that our hearts will never rest in less than these.  This longing, this need for God, however dimly and vaguely we feel it, is the seed from which grows the strong, beautiful, and fruitful plant of prayer.  It is the first response of our deepest selves to the attraction of the Perfect; the recognition that He has made us for Himself, that we depend on Him and are meant to depend on Him, and that we shall not know the meaning of peace until our communion with Him is at the center of our lives."


No comments:

Post a Comment