“You have given me a mere handful of days, and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight; truly, even those who stand erect are but a puff of wind.We walk about like a shadow, and in vain we are in turmoil: we heap up riches and cannot tell who will gather them.”
Psalm 39: 6,7
Many Jewish and Christian scholars agree that parts of the Tanakh, which Christians call the Old Testament or Old Covenant, are probably the oldest written records of God’s relationship with humanity. Advocates of other faiths would naturally dispute the honour. Hindus say that the Rig Veda predates anything other religious written record. Secularists disagree with all of them and point to Sumer and Egypt as the original cradles of “institutional” religion, while Muslims declare that all records prior to the Quran are distortions of the true message once revealed to the prophets Adam, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, which Muhammad finally clarified and set down in its final, perfect form.
The truth behind the rival views is that the Creator is seeking restoration and healing of the brokenness in us and the creation we have been entrusted to guard, heal, cherish and tend into full flourishing. Scholarship may help us assess which sources are most ‘original,’ but if there is truth to be found it must penetrate the heart and soul and resonate there in our innermost being, bearing fruit in keeping with its nature.
For the seeds we plant in our hearts and minds always bear fruit in keeping with their nature. If we sow bitterness and anger, fear and rejection, competition and aggression, we reap their fruits and our actions become wounding, destructive, coercive, and even violent. Jesus once said, “By their fruit you will know them,” and “If you sow the wind, you will reap the whirlwind.”
The old Western imperialism was straightforward—the superiority of the European, “Christian” civilization was clear and it was the “white man’s burden,” as Rudyard Kipling put it, to enlighten the rest of humanity and teach them their place in the “natural order.” The most horrendous example of this was, of course, Nazism’s attempt to assert the primacy of the “Master Race.”
Many would call Jesus the best and wisest human ever to have lived. His method of assessing things and behaviours by their fruit is probably the surest way to move into the “spirit of truth,” upon which the Third Way depends. Jesus also said, “You shall know the truth and the truth will make you free.”
Finding “truth” in the 21st Century is perhaps the greatest conundrum we face. It has been relativized into absurdity. Two thousand years ago, a Roman judge facing Jesus asked him, “What is truth?” We do not know enough about Pilate to say for certain if this was a cynical quip seeking no real answer, or a genuinely puzzled wish to explore the issue, but knowing there was no hope of pursuing it under the circumstances.
In our age we face a growing sense of cultural, social, environmental, and spiritual crisis. It overshadows human consciousness everywhere; there is no more critical question. We seem far from any consensus regarding truth, and the fundamental divisions seem to be growing wider. The ‘old truths’ are under siege, and, if there is any new truth, it shifts and reforms so quickly that it is like trying to catch your shadow. The West is trapped in its Enlightenment paradigm of truth: reason-logic-science will lead us to it. The West’s technological and economic ascendancy (now under threat from the rising stars of the Orient in particular) have engendered enormous backlash, even while those reacting to it adopt its main characteristics.
Has truth disappeared? Is the search for it really a cynic’s game, as Pilate’s question implied? Or is it that we have lost sight of it while it has been “hiding in plain sight?” Is truth a mere convention arrived at by general consensus, and mutable as the consensus changes?
Evolution over billions of years is now the ‘accepted truth’ which represents the ‘consensus’. Thus, humans and all the other living (and non-living) things are outcomes, end-products of the self-organizing and self-formulating properties of the essential energy that underlies everything. The trend in evolutionary theory is to attribute some sort of proto-consciousness and will to matter.
It is a strange metamorphosis. As the French say, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” A useful philosophical principle called “Ockham’s Razor” suggests that the most obvious and simple solution to a logical, philosophical conundrum is usually the right one. In this case, because the bankruptcy of a purely mechanistic and materialist explanation for the Cosmos and ourselves has become rather obvious, we now find even the most ardent believers in the Scientific Model of existence returning to attributing rather esoteric and mystical properties to matter and its sub-tending most fundamental energies—including quasi-consciousness and quasi-personal characteristics. The Medieval Academic Ockham would forthrightly say, “Oh! You mean God!” But Stephen Hawking replies, “We no longer have need of that hypothesis.” Instead, because the whole notion of God has become anathema a priori, we are left with sheer fanciful speculation about matter somehow being predisposed to organize itself to present the appearance of meaning and purpose. Ergo, the Cosmos created itself ex nihilo.
As I stare into the newest contortions of circumlocution aiming to block the hoary old notion of a personal Deity reasserting itself after all the tremendous efforts of the last two centuries to erase even a trace of His/Her presence, I find myself ironically amused. I also find myself weary, wishing the Creator would just appear and, as C.S. Lewis once put it in the metaphorical terms of a poker game, “OK boys, the game has gone far enough. The Dealer is calling in the cards and reclaiming your chips before you are so far gone you totally wreck the place and are really convinced you are god.” (Apologies to Lewis buffs: I have grossly misparaphrased the metaphor.)
While the ‘Dealer’ will someday say, “Time’s up!” and call in the chips, He/She is far more patient than any of us, far more forbearing, and, as one New Testament version puts it, “Not willing that any should perish, but desires that all should be saved.” The creation is on a clock, whether a short- or long-wound one. Evolution says it has perhaps another fifty billion years to tick. But humanity’s clock is unlikely to be so generous, and certainly our personal clocks are “but a brief candle,” with some of us much nearer burning out than others.
Why are we so averse to turning our faces to look the Creator in the face? Why are we so wilfully unwilling to look at all that He/She has made and displayed in all its awful and awesome glory and splendor and see His/Her handiwork and signature? Every day is a gift; every being a masterpiece. Yet we see mere forms and outer shells to be used and exploited for “personal peace and affluence,” as Francis A. Schaeffer puts it. Or we attribute semi-magical properties to the components rather acknowledge the incredible worth of the Maker who allows us to gaze into His/Her very heart, soul, mind and strength, longing for us to come to Him/Her with our own hearts, souls, minds, and strength so we may know and be known and become the children the Creator made us to be.
Instead we engage in absurd and futile avoidance strategies, because we are addicted to our own petty ‘godhood’ which absolves us of real accountability. It will not do to say we are a strange, temporary, personalized, and self-aware extrusion of the mysterious Cosmos. Personhood is not a strange and inexplicable phenomenon allowing the essence of the Cosmos to futilely and dimly observe itself before it reabsorbs these ‘bubbles’ into the anonymous and amorphous ‘Om’ where there is only blissful impersonality which somehow knows all and nothing at the same time. Personhood is a gift from the Creator which reflects His/Her own essence, and extends itself to love and be loved in return. It is married to individuality—and we see both at work indivisibly everywhere we look. It will not do to say that it is all mere maya, illusion masking ‘the Real.’
The meaning of things is not to become nothing. It is to be born again in spirit and in truth, and for the body and soul to be truly one and healed in the embrace of our Maker.