(Continuing reflections on the book Rumors of Another World by Philip Yancey.)
The opening chapter of the book addresses the difference between the visible world and the invisible or spiritual world. The invisible world can not be examined, tested, quantified, and reduced like the empirical world of science. This proves to be a problem for some people. Yancey says he receives letters from doubters looking for ironclad proof, and he has to tell them there is none. The world is filled with hints of God’s existence (which is the primary thesis of the book), yet hints are not proof and it still comes down to faith. Hebrews 11:6 tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God.
Some people wonder why God had to make faith an integral part of the picture. Couldn’t God have made his existence undeniable and provable in the empirical sense? I suppose God could have done this. Yet, I wonder, would people really prefer this alternative? Somehow I think not. Human beings seem to prefer choice, and don’t like things forced upon them. If God’s existence was blatant and undeniable, we would have no choice but to believe. And then…I bet we’d be complaining about our lack of freedom! We’d be angry that we couldn’t consider the evidence and make our own choice about it. Perhaps instead of viewing faith as a negative, we need to see it as a positive! God is a loving Father who wants people to love Him out of a willing heart of faith, not because they had no other option. As Yancey words it, it takes the “mystery of faith, always, to believe” for God has no interest in compelling belief.
Since God does not impose Himself on us, it requires attention and effort on our part to see evidence of God in the world around us. The natural world conceals as much as it reveals about God and we can miss it if we are not “paying attention” (as one chapter of the book is entitled). These sentiments are similar to the title I chose for my blog: Enough Light which is from a Blaise Pascal quote:
In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t.
Is God hiding? Maybe it sounds like God has made this too hard for us? We may feel like it at times. Yet, even science can point to the supernatural if we have eyes to see it. Yancey refers to the “anthropic principle” and quotes physicist Freeman Dyson who says that the universe seemed to know we were coming. Nature seems exquisitely tuned for the possibility of life on earth! As the Psalmist puts it, the heavens declare the glory of God and the skies proclaim the work of His hands.
Yancey speaks of having undergone two conversions: first from the natural world to discover the supernatural, and later to rediscover the natural from a new viewpoint. With spiritual eyesight, many things in everyday life can become windows to the supernatural. Everything from romantic love to classical music to the behavior of animals can be clues pointing us towards the unseen world. A quote by Thomas a Kempis particularly brought this home for me:
“If your heart were right, then every created thing would be a mirror of life, and book of sacred doctrine. There is no creature so small and worthless that it does not show forth the goodness of God.”
What do we fail to see for our lack of faith or imagination in the world around us? Henry David Thoreau, in his journals, remarked that the ancients with their gorgons, unicorns and sphinxes imagined more than existed, whereas we moderns can not even imagine as much as exists! We’ve jumped from one extreme to another, haven’t we?
It seems that both the ancient world and our modern one has limitations. We get tunnel vision and only see things through the paradigm of our time. Yet, we are existing in only one brief moment in time! It is easy to look back and note scientific truths that the ancients failed to see. But what supernatural truths are we modern people failing to see? Science is certainly good and beneficial for mankind, but we’ve let it back us into a corner and blind us to truths outside of the scientific realm. (For more thoughts in that direction, see this post on Why Religion Matters, The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief.)