I have experienced an awful lot of dying in my world recently. People that I know, friends and family of people that I know, one after another, many people in my world are dying lately.
Frankly, from the moment we are born, we begin to die. This isn’t a pleasant thought, but this is where my head is going as I read my Facebook feed, offering condolences, prayers and thoughts, one after another.
Our cells begin to die off from the moment we are born. Sure, they regenerate. Our cells die off and regenerate throughout our lives. As our lives go on, however, the dying process speeds up, it picks up in intensity, the dying outpaces the regeneration and it results, eventually, in our natural deaths… if something doesn’t kill us sooner.
It could be depressing to think about. On the other hand, it is natural. This is the way it is.
Why do we even care?
Really, why does death bother us so much? Does my dog think about dying?
If death is simply a fact, a matter of life, a natural phenomenon, what’s gotten into our heads about it? How do we explain our preoccupation with death?
I recently had a short exchange with an atheist friend over an article I wrote about science and faith. He is from the world of science, his father being a scientist, and he making a living on scientific principles. He found my article and analysis of atheism and science to be colored by my faith. And, of course it is, just as his view of religion and science is colored by his atheism.
He views God as a fiction. I view God as reality, transcending all the reality I think I know. We couldn’t be more opposed in our views of the world, though that doesn’t mean that we cannot be friends and learn from one another.
I suggested to him that both theism and atheism are rational conclusions, but the conclusions depend on the starting places. I remember from my philosophy class in college, and the study of Immanuel Kant and Søren Kierkegaard that theism and theism can both by logically “proven”. Syllogisms reaching both conclusions can hold up logically. The only difference is the starting premise.
To put it more simply: if you start with a premise that assumes God, a logical syllogism can be constructed that proves the existence of God. If you start with a premise that assumes no God, a logical syllogism can be constructed that proves the nonexistence of God.
How, then, does a rational person resolve the tension between these diametrically opposite conclusions? Logic cannot suggest an answer to this conundrum because logic can only operate on the basis of a premise, and the premise with which we start makes all the difference.
If we could determine which premise is correct, we would be well on our way, but it turns out that this is easier said than done. What then?
Science doesn’t help us either. Science is, by definition, the study of the natural world. God is, by definition, “Other” than the natural world. Science can take us back to nanoseconds after the Big Bang, but we can peer no further into our past. We can’t see the very beginning, and we can’t see beyond it.
We can’t see through the lens of science and our senses beyond this natural world, and this leads many, like my friend, to conclude that nothing exists beyond the natural world. It’s a fair conclusion, to be frank.
But it’s a bit short sighted. Why we do assume that we and our physical senses are the measure of all reality?
How do we know if there is anything beyond the natural world? How do we know if there is a God?
I’ve heard the following Chinese parable from Ravi Zacharias a couple of times. It’s on my mind today:
An old farmer who had an old horse for tilling his fields. One day the horse escaped through the fence. When the farmer’s neighbors sympathized with the old man over his bad luck, the farmer replied, “Is it bad luck? Good luck? I don’t know?”
A week later the horse returned with a herd of wild horses from the hills. This time the neighbors congratulated the farmer on his good luck. His reply was, “Is it bad luck? Good luck? I don’t know?”
The next day, when the farmer’s son attempted to tame one of the wild horses, he fell off its back and broke his leg. The neighbors came around again and commiserated with the old farmer about his very bad luck, but the farmer’s reaction was, “Is it bad luck? Good luck? I don’t know?”
Some weeks later the army marched into the village and conscripted every able-bodied youth they found there. When they saw the farmer’s son with his broken leg they let him off. Now was that good luck? Or was it bad luck?
We like to jump to conclusions, and we have a tendency to jump to those conclusions pretty quickly. We do this even with ultimate, worldview positions. We have a tendency to want to measure everything by the tools that are convenient and familiar to us, but sometimes we need to be willing to venture off from the light of our comfortable positions into the darkness of unfamiliarity to gain a bigger perspective.
Have you ever felt like nobody gets you? Nobody understands who you really are?
First of all, congratulations, because you are being honest. It’s uncomfortable to be that honest. That kind of honesty is hard to face. Most of us would rather pretend it isn’t so, because facing it is like facing a yawning gulf. But the disconnect is there between what we wish and the way things are. It doesn’t go away… if we are honest.
We often feel and know deep down that no one really gets me. Not even my family or closest friends.
We sometimes feel as if everyone else “gets it” (this thing we philosophically call life) but us. Perhaps, everyone else is connected in a way that I am not. Nothing feels more isolating or lonely than feeling disconnected and alone.
More important than the first point, though, we are not alone. This is the human condition if we are being brutally honest with ourselves. There is a little relief in realizing that, but we still can’t escape the reality of it, and we shouldn’t try… if that is the reality.
What good does it do us to pretend in the end? But is this the ultimate end to which we are doomed to realize?