Rushing Into the Vacuum

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”

Between Fear and Faith (2 of 6)

Precaution is our natural instinct to danger. It’s a rational assessment of risk, realistically calculating our likely exposure to harm contrasted with being able to live our lives unencumbered by fear. Reasonable people may disagree with what percentage of exposure to harm they’re willing to live with before engaging in various measures of precaution. But what constitutes reasonable and rational, very often is interpreted on a sliding scale – allowing the phobic, possessed of irrational fear to assume that they too are simply being reasonably precautious . . . and there is no arguing with their calculations, because by definition, there is no argument irrational fear will ever be willing to hear.

Fear is arguably the most conspicuous impediment to faith — for it can quickly imagine every obstacle and scenario of calamity associated with every choice we make . . . preemptively compromising any confession of faith we may be inclined to speak. This likely occurs because we’ve allowed fear to masquerade as the rational voice of reason for too long, convincing us that being in control is how we keep calamity at bay. But believing we can control our exposure to every possible circumstance is the grand illusion of an irrational mind . . . which is why fear is best understood as a liar.

A lie can only thrive where the truth has been obscured – which is to say, a reasonable rationale has to be concocted in order for a lie to obfuscate the true nature of our circumstance. In other words, a lie requires an entire contextualized fictional narrative before it can appear reasonable – until our perspective has become so skewed that all of our fears begin to call the shots . . . pretending it will always protect us from the ugly truth about the world around us. Conversely, faith is not afraid of the truth.

The common misconception about faith is that it’s somehow at odds with rational thinking, suggesting that a person of faith is being irrational. It’s a misconception usually held by someone incapable of explaining the rationality of their own views without a self-affirming definition of rationality. But I would say faith is better explained as being beyond rational. Because rationality can only ever be an existential assessment of value, it will always be limited to the scope of the person making the assessment. In this regard, faith is more than willing to go as far as rationality . . . and then go beyond it – a distance that fear dare not go.

“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” ~ John 8:31, 32. It is our relationship with the truth that eventually distinguishes our path between fear and faith. Faith is willing to humbly confess that truth is immutably transcendent, and then fearlessly accepts its conclusion – while fear can only linger in the shifting shadows of half-truths and out-right lies. To have faith is to look beyond your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5) . . . whereas, to have fear inevitably leads to being trapped in the rationale of your own understanding.

I’m not sure why, but this old Jackson Browne song
seems to always make me ponder the space between fear and faith

Literally True

I attended a Christian college that had as one of its cornerstone values – a clear presentation of the gospel. It always made me wonder if there was a Christian college somewhere out there that held the expressed value of an obfuscated presentation of the gospel . . . as if clarity weren’t already a baseline value when communicating. Theological particularities, notwithstanding – everyone always assumes they’re speaking clearly. But consider for a moment that one of the leading causes for divorce is the lack of communication – two people with every intention of sharing a life together, who still can’t seem to find a way to communicate with one another. No doubt, each one would have thought they were making themselves clear.

If you’ve ever heard someone say that “it’s literally raining cats and dogs out there!” – you likely didn’t jump up out of your chair and run to a window to witness this wild  spectacle of household pets dropping from the sky. You probably took their use of the word literal as just a measure of emphasis, given that it was paired with such a conspicuous metaphor . . . and not as a measure of factual events. So ironically, even the word literal is subject to an idiomatic interpretation – that in fact, an interpretation is all any of us can offer one another, based on our own frame of reference . . . because our understanding of everything can only ever be an interpretation.

The atheist believes that a materialist understanding of the universe is the only literal interpretation that can explain reality, as we all experience it. Therefore, any explanation that involves a metaphysical (spiritual beliefs) framing of the universe, is denounced as less than literal, and is thereby less than credible. But such a forensic empiricism is simply an interpretation that relies on the belief that everything that exists can be measured – which only begs the question: Exactly how did they come to that conclusion . . . when such a conclusion can’t be deduced empirically? In truth, their conclusion is nothing more than a self-affirming circular argument – intent on arriving at a predetermined result.

grammar-literallyIn this way, we are all tempted to assume that the context within which we make our own interpretations of reality, is the clearest understanding of reality – and becomes the very substance of all of the things we choose to believe are true . . . as if all that is literally true could be so subjectively determined. So all too often, I fear Christians end up sharing the very same lack of humility that atheists do in entertaining things too wonderful for them to comprehend, by reducing them into explainable self-affirming conclusions that end up having no real interest in what might be actually true.

In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector, Jesus concludes with this statement “ . . . For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14) The Pharisee was convince that his interpretation of what God was looking for was indisputable, while all the tax-collector knew for sure was that he was in great need of God’s mercy. So we would all do well to recognize that the only literal interpretation we require — is the one where we confess our own need for God’s grace and loving mercy . . . may that be your true confession today.

. . . as if it could simply be read in plain letters.


The Shaming of the True

There are two very well-known sayings when it comes to lying – ironically, each one tells a particular truth about lying, each revealing something insightful about the human condition. Mark Twain, an American humorist said “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.” And Joseph Goebbels, the infamous NAZI propagandist said “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.” So judging from these two quotes, it would seem clear that we are all pretty susceptible to believing socially accepted lies – especially, the type of lies that affirm what we already want to believe.

But the lies that we are the likeliest to accept, are the ones we tell ourselves — and if you think this doesn’t apply to you . . . we may have just identified one of those lies. Truth requires an unimpeachable point of reference, and too often we assume that we are that reference point . . . and that if we were lying to ourselves, we would certainly experience some measure of shame commensurate with such dishonesty. But this assumes that the lies we tell ourselves aren’t shameless in the way they skew our self-perception.

You may have been raised by a parent who was overly critical, scrutinizing every detail and flaw of your life, without a single word of approval or affirmation for what you did right This was a lie told about you – that you likely grew up telling yourself. And this is just one of many examples, of how lies use shame to silence the truth. But there is also a shaming of the true that occurs on a cultural scale, where a group-think ethos attempts to control the cultural narrative – demanding compliance and marginalizing dissent . . . and as it is with all lies — the method of shame employed doesn’t have to be true.

imagesHere’s a truth – all human life is sacred . . . but there are many lies perpetrated intent on marginalizing, oppressing, and exterminating various sub-groups of humans. Racism is the lie that says certain groups of people are less human. Misogyny is the lie that says women are less significant than men. Abortion is the lie that says humans in utero don’t have an innate right to exist. Those defending each one of these lies will offer you compellingly emotional explanations for why each sub-group is the exception to the rule, that all human life is sacred . . . in an attempt to shame you into conformity with their lie. But, in fact, each one of these lies is its own deconstruction of the whole truth that all human life is sacred.

But for the father of lies (Satan), false accusation is the shaming weapon of choice. Because where a false accusation is made, doubt is created – even if there isn’t an ounce of actual evidence supporting the claim. In this way, the damage is done, regardless of the truth. In John 3:19-21 we are told that the light comes into the world by way of sacrificial love. But all that lingers in the dark, hates the light – for the light of truth exposes every lie (20). But whatever is true, lives in the light, and thereby belongs to God (21). So the real test for what is true and what is lie, can only be conducted in the light of God’s love – so come stand shamelessly in the light of that love . . . and allow the lies you tell yourself to fall away.

When in doubt — hold it up to the light.