The Argument of Windows

It can be dangerous to look out the window. A quick glance is safe – to check the weather, maybe, or to see who is pulling into the driveway. But it’s a different thing to really look at the world, as you might look at a picture or a page in a book – to look carefully, thinking about what you see.

It is a strange world, outside that window. If you watch long enough, you might see something terrible but, of course, that’s the exception, or we would not make windows. Most of what we see through them – the trees and sun and birds and the million leaves of grass – is wonderful. Literally: objects of wonder, beautiful and important in ways we sense but don’t fully understand. Their existence feeds something in us, and so we make windows.

But there is a danger in looking out the window, a slippery slope that leads from beauty, which happens in nature, to wonder, which happens in us. Our sense of wonder at the beauty around us suggests that there is something powerful and purposeful at work in the universe, something benevolent before which we might be quiet and from which we might draw comfort.

Through the centuries, most humans have hurtled down that slope, seeing no reason not to. But it is different in this century, and especially in this generation. Great minds have found a reason to refrain from wonder and an explanation of the world that puts us in no one’s debt. They have found our creator, and his name is luck.

In our age, wonder is becoming a false religion and even beauty a dangerous illusion. There is no power at work in the universe, they say. No purpose, no benevolence – and no malevolence, either, for there is only matter, and matter knows nothing of good or evil. There is nothing alive that did not spring by luck from muck. Nothing to thank. Nothing to admire. Nothing to revere.

They know this, they insist, though it seems odd that they can know anything. If, as they say, our brain is also an accident – if our mind is a little raft of thought sensations floating on a restless sea of blood and tissue and nerve endings – why trust it? What, in their view, inspires confidence that there is such a thing as truth, or that such a peculiar instrument could know it?

Still, they are sure they do know the truth and they shout down anyone who disagrees. They know there are no Gods or morals, or even girls or boys. And nothing, it seems, can stand against the force of their knowing and shouting. It is a world without truth, except for their truth.

Well, all right, but they should be wary of windows, which have defeated many great minds before theirs. It is a strange world, outside those windows, full of beauty and elegance and complexity that our science is still trying to understand. Even an innocent person, trying her best to believe their story, might look out a window and lapse into wonder, or even ask herself why, for all our proud knowing, we cannot make even an amoeba. If building a living world is so easy that luck can do it, why can’t we?

Life Is Hard

Life is very hard. Life is often lonely and painful and confusing. And then you die. Admit all of this before you presume to talk about God.

Say, if you will, that he is the lover of our souls, but do not pretend that removes the need for human love. Say that he bore our pain and sorrow but look here — at our hospitals and cemeteries and nursing homes and liquor stores — there is plenty of pain and sorrow left for us to bear. Say that he makes sense of our alienation, but don’t say he never leaves us to feel alone.

A follower of Jesus may understand what has gone wrong with the earth and she may have real hope that it will someday be made right, but she is still on earth, wrapped in its wrongness and often mourning.

If anything, faith in God’s story sharpens the pain. It smashes the resignation and numbness and compartmentalization that enables us to live quietly alongside suffering. It affirms the tragedy of tragedy. It encourages us to feel it more keenly and rebel against it more forcefully. In the Bible’s telling, even the rocks and trees are groaning in sorrow and desperate longing for the beginning of the fulfillment of the promise — the promise at the heart of our sorrow.

Our discontent tells the truth. The earth feels like a tragic place because it is a tragic place. We often feel like strangers staggering through a strange land because we are. We were made for something else, for something that we glimpse here and there, and now and then, but it never stays.
Our sorrow is the pang of hunger for something real that does not grow here. But it does grow. Remember Jesus, the “man of sorrows and familiar with suffering”, who sometimes wept and once screamed “why have you forsaken me?” This is the God of Easter, the God who followed us into sorrow and death that we might follow him out.

We want only to communicate to you an experience we have had that here and there in the world and now and then in ourselves is a New Creation, usually hidden, but sometimes manifest, and certainly manifest in Jesus who is called the Christ.

The New Being
Paul Tillich

Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you.

Beyond Words
Frederick Buechner

The Christian says, ‘Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that country and to help others to do the same.”

Mere Christianity
C. S. Lewis