“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Whispers of Eternity: A Deeper Reality

From the author of Ecclesiastes to Tom Brady, mankind has been unable to find anything in this life (“under the sun”) of lasting value or permanent, satisfying meaning. Satisfaction eludes us. The atheist’s answer fails miserably – not only is atheism unable to point to a solution to this problem, but in the attempt to “create” meaning, any trace of value or significance is lost.

Yet we have such a strong longing for a deeper reality and a lasting joy. Now, if we perceive that there is more to reality than this unsatisfying life, then there is. Someone will object, “desire does not indicate truth,” but this is not necessarily true. I address this objection in my posts on “The Reason of the Heart,” especially part IV, and in “A Theology of Mathematics: Mathematical Beauty,” I consider a very similar topic, which is part of the same fundamental issue – beauty. Our perception of beauty, whether in music or mathematics or people, is often so strong that we know with certainty that we are touching on something ontologically real, independent of ourselves. John Polkinghorne uses the phrase “epistemology models ontology” to describe the relationship between what we know or perceive and what is real. That is, in having a strong sense that there is a deeper reality beyond the immediate world, we perceive what is in fact ontologically real. Lewis writes, “our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation...That is why we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and goddesses and nymphs and elves – that, though we cannot, yet these projections can, enjoy in themselves that beauty grace, and power of which Nature is the image… both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth as prophecy” (p. 42-3).

This world, God’s world, is beautiful, but it is too big for us, and Satan has great power in it. We cannot fully appreciate creation because of the sinful nature. When mankind fell into sin, his vision of reality was marred and his ability to perceive the nature of God as revealed in creation (greatness, goodness, holiness, beauty, majesty) was shrunken. Still, we must pursue eternity. This life is “but a breath” – nothing more than a fleeting vapor in the grand scheme of things. There is a burden “laid on men” in this world, but we see the shadow of eternity. This world is a beauty marred, but we hear the whispers and rumors of redemption – of return from death and triumph over death, and of lasting, final joy. God’s story is not yet finished, and his revelation is not yet completed, but that is the direction in which reality is moving.

We might find our mental idea of heaven to be unsatisfying, but this should not surprise us. Of course, we are incapable of imagining the final glory of eternity. Lewis writes, “The scriptural picture of heaven is…just as symbolical as the picture which our desire, unaided, invents for itself.” (p. 33). As Paul writes, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). We will be changed into new creatures. With God in view, and Jesus Christ in particular, there is a firm hope for redemption and victory over death that is so absent from the consistent atheist’s bleak picture of a humanity awaiting its execution in a dying universe.

The author of Ecclesiastes acknowledges that a full understanding of what appears as pointless is beyond his grasp (7:24, 11:5), but he recognizes that purpose can be found when the meaninglessness of what is “under the sun” is understood in light of the Creator (12:13-14). He writes that God “has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (3:11). Even at the present moment our lives are “lit up with eternal rays” (Lewis, The Screwtape Letters chapter 15); those rays direct our hope towards that deeper eternal reality and towards heaven, that “far off country” that is really (being the country of the One in whose image we are made) our home.

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