The human mind is incapable of comprehending the infinite, but it isn’t the sheer magnitude of it that makes it so imponderable – it is the absolute otherness of it. Even an astrophysicist will tell you that the infinite can only be conceptualized theoretically within the contextualizing constraints of the finite – because the absolute nature of the literally infinite is far too problematic, fraught with the inescapable conundrum of cascading paradoxes. And in a similar way, the concept of absolute nothing can only be imagined theoretically, because pondering the absence of existence, presupposes an absolute comprehension of what exists, so as to distinguish between existence and non-existence. Therefore the finite mind can only theorize . . . nothing.
This is but one of a thousand examples of why we should have a more humble appreciation for how we exist – but humble isn’t really what we do well, is it? It seems to be more our speed to assume our understanding of things is sufficient enough. So, as a culture, we tend to jettison whatever we feel doesn’t need to exist – without the least bit of concern for what will be rushing into the vacuum created. Which is how an ostensibly secular post-Christian culture comes, by default, to find itself extricated from an immutably transcendent understanding of its own existence — but like the unavoidable sensation of feeling a phantom limb . . . it is still haunted by the absence.
But this social imaginary isn’t so much a modern phenomenon as it is a modern iteration of an 18th century Enlightenment philosophy. Both David Hume and Jean-Jacques Rousseau believed that the perfecting of human nature could be accomplished quite apart from the existence of a transcendent source (God). And because each believed social constraints were merely artificial impositions on what they understood to be the authentic self – they concluded that morality, truth, and telos (purpose) were existential in nature. Which is to say, each of us sorts out our own morality, truth, and telos . . . making it up as we go along. Sound familiar?
But long before these European philosophers with the self-serving sophistry of their solipsistic explanations, we find this perverse pattern of doing what is right in our own eyes at work in scripture – because the choice of displacing God, thereby presuming ourselves as the arbiters of morality, truth, and telos, finds its ultimate origin in the Garden of Eden. We may assume we’ve become more sophisticated and enlightened in how we make that argument – but the argument is ultimately the same . . . we want to set aside the sovereignty of the transcendent, and replace it with our own fiefdom of self-involved concerns and self-aggrandizing pursuits.
Ontologically, I believe this to be the inevitable tension between the infinite nature of existence, with the absolute nothingness of non-existence. For all things exist in an infinite God (Colossians 1:17) and there is no existence outside of Him. St Augustine tells us, in describing man’s fallen state, that we’re all haunted by the non-existence from which God spoke us all out of – haunted by a desire to deconstruct the image of God we were created to bear . . . preferring instead the vanity of our own nothingness, to the transcendence of God. O may God save us all from our own vain imaginings (Romans 1:21) that will only lead us to futility and self-destruction.
“I think we’ve been here once before”