Arbtirary thoughts on nearly everything from a modernist poet, structural mathematician and functional programmer.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

A Short Bit on Faith

I started writing this a few months ago, and forgot to actually finish it until today. I understand that it is all over the place, but I'm not terribly worried about that...

For all of history, people who pushed for something greater have been mocked and ridiculed; even today, when much of America claims to be Christian, nearly anyone who dare profess the absurdly idealistic love that Christ represents would be ignored, or, at best, called a hopeless romantic who needs to awaken to the real world. When I hear this, I think of Puddleglum's speech:
"One word, Ma'am. One word. All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder. I'm a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won't deny any of what you said. But there's one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things-- trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play-world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, [...] we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's a small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say."

The key word in this whole speech is "important". He does not say that the made-up things are more "fun" or "interesting" he says they are more important. This choice of words changes the whole speech from a confession of willful delusion to a statement of purpose. Puddleglum is not deluding himself into believing that the Overworld exists, he is saying that, since that world is more fulfilling, more alive, it is more real, whether it is tangible or not. We shouldn't stop fighting for true love, for brotherhood, for God, just because people call them romantic concepts designed only to give us hope; Oh, no! They are of greater consequence, of more value than any end on this earth, so even if they do not exist, they are still worth more than this hollow, dark, empty pit of a cave through which we wander hopelessly.

What is it, exactly, that makes them more important? Just before Puddleglum makes this speech, the queen, Jadis, is telling them that all these things are silly exaggerations of real things: Aslan, the large lion, is just a house cat; the sun is merely a large lamp, the sky just a large roof, and so on. The things she mentions are the things we need in order to live: Shelter, light, someone/something to comfort us and keep us company. The things Puddleglum mentions fulfill all the same functions, except they are more fulfilling. The sun is warmer and brighter than any houselamp, the light more comforting; Aslan is like a house cat, only larger, warmer and gentler; Narnia is just like the large underworld, only more just. Likewise, God's love, the kingdom of God and pure romance are more fulfilling than the "real-life" equivalent. Note, however, that this is not a Utopian, happily-ever-after sort of fulfillment; it is satisfaction, which is the reward of action. Effort is required for satisfaction: Anyone who tells you Christianity does not require tremendous force of will has never felt God; anyone who says that a relationship is not difficult has never committed to another person; anyone who says there is no stress in loving your fellow man has never helped out a friend in need. But this love, this faith, has more power, more value than any end on this earth. Is there any loss in living for these things? You will miss whatever the "normal" purpose of life is, but to quote Puddleglum again, "It's a small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say."

What's even more important than anything Puddleglum says is that the Overworld does exist. Puddleglum is in fact not a dreamer who has committed himself to a non-existent cause, but rather a lone seer, who has stepped out of Plato's cave into the warm sunlight. How, then, can we be assured that we are right, that the world is blind and stubborn, while we walk in Truth? How can we convince others that we walk in the Truth? Unfortunately, there is no certain way; there is no proof that God exists, no proof that there is a higher purpose, and the cave is as empty and meaningless as the Underworld. However, stronger and more convincing than any clever display of logic is the experience of these things. Those of us who proclaim the power of God have seen His light; those who hold love as a greater end than anything on this earth have loved and been loved in such a way that they cannot deny its power.

Once again: how can we convince others of this? Only by showing the same that we've seen. We have to spread love, God, and brotherhood, not by word of mouth, but by deed. We cannot just talk, convincing people of the Truth because Truth is not a reasoned conclusion. It is not a statement of the form "p therefore q." God is not something you know, it's something you feel, something you understand. In Stranger in a Strange Land, Heinlein invented the "Martian" word grok to describe this concept. Literally, grok means "drink", and it should be no surprise that Jesus used the same term to describe living in faith; when you drink something, it becomes a part of you, a part of everything you do, and every decision you make. We must drink in God's love until it flows out of us like a fountain. Only by spreading this, by sharing the same beautiful experience of God's presence can we hope to expand God's kingdom.

There is no knowledge, no action, no speech which can by itself convince anyone of God's existence and love. Even if someone understands philosophically that God exists, that does nothing for them. "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that- and shudder." (James 2:19) Faith is not an intellectual adherence to doctrine; it is a statement of purpose a commitment to live "as like a Narnian as possible, even if there isn't any Narnia." Once you experience God's love-- once you have that first sip of grace-- you cannot be content with anything less than the whole cup. "If only you knew what it would have meant to drink the thimbleful of fire. But, alas! you swear you already know its taste! and yet your belly remains intact."

If there is no way to convince people of the Truth, we must then live our lives to the fullest-- live in God's joy and freedom all hours of the day-- and pray and wait for them to reach up and grab the thimble from Jesus' hand. When that happens, and only then, will they understand the fire that consumes the believer. We cannot wait for our lives to end, for Heaven, "the afterlife" to experience God's Grace. There is so much more on earth than we see around us, so much more than we accept and feel content with. Why then are we sitting here waiting to die? We must reach out, and search for Narnia! We must go out and find Aslan! If God is there, reaching for our hands, why would we sit here and wait for him to? Shouldn't we strive with all our heart, soul, mind and strength to reach up and grab at his gentle strength?

And you, will you look and think and pray? Or sit, and simply wait?

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