Last night whilst having a beer(s) with a friend, we hit upon the idea of reality. What is reality, and how is one person’s existential reality to be evaluated as any less a reality than mine, or yours? It was, for all intents and purposes, a discussion based on the material and subjective immediacy of the here and now (made all the more exciting after a couple of pints)!
And I really value my friend’s provocations on these matters (of faith, reality, God, etc), because the questions and comments come from a place of genuine consternation: “That’s his reality, there is no other!” But, and this is a big but, reality is always multi-layered, something I couldn’t quite say right after all that delicious beer.
Reality is multi-layered. I’ve heard of people who have converted to Christ on the spot after seeing the detail of a snow-flake, or a bee’s hopping from one flower to another in a meadow bathed in sunlight. This is no mere emotional weakness on their part, but an opening up of something else, another world, another truth…… another reality! I myself have been moved to tears when I’ve seen someone extend compassion to a smelly homeless guy on the street. We could say, on the one hand, the bare material reality is simply one person offering another compassion and a bacon sandwich. On the other hand, the extension of this kind of compassion seen through the filter of a bacon sandwich can speak deep into the human heart that we are made good. Distorted by sin yes, but God himself had in fact declared the human race “very good!”
My friend would say, “You don’t have to be a Christian to do that!” And once again, he would be absolutely right. BUT. And this is an even bigger but: The Christian worldview sees all people as made in the image of God. So when a non-Christian does it, they are still doing something that God himself would do, and something that God himself delights in. Why? Because everyone is made in the image of God.
When Jesus taught parables, many didn’t understand because they were not interested in seeing the reality behind the “reality.” “Lord, what do your parables mean?” We can almost imagine Jesus sighing, lifting his eyes to heaven and saying, “OK, here’s the Disciple’s Parables for Dummies guide….” A parable in this sense reveals the greater reality through the material reality we find ourselves in. This means, that reality is multi-dimensional and for a complex number of reasons, one person’s reality is something they need to be rescued from; a reality of hellishness to something approaching the reality and truth of Christ.
Take the prophet Jeremiah. The bible declares that God knew Jeremiah before he was even born. If this is true (and it is), then it turns everything we ever knew (or imagined) about God around. We take the place of the vivisectionist (i.e. master and commander of all we see, or in Thomas the Tank Engine terms, ‘The Fat Controller), God is just an object, an idea, a reality about which we have questions! We are curious about him, we ask certain (self-protecting) questions. We read books (from our self-selected authors). We may even read the bible (with massive ‘Great Wall of China’ defensive walls around our heart). We may even pop into church, guarded, insecure, wary, to see what is ‘going on with God’. Maybe we even indulge ourselves in a moment of transcendence, a sunset or a symphony to at least feel the feelings of reverence for…..God.
At this point, our reality is in check. We ask the questions about God, thank you very much. But from ‘Almighty God who made the heavens and the earth with the breath of his mouth God’ perspective, long before we were even a twinkle in our daddy’s eye, God, this God, was asking questions about us. “Before I formed you [Jeremiah/insert name] I knew all about you.” A baby in the womb only knows one reality. That’s his world. An umbilical chord feeding him, his mothers heartbeat to comfort, plenty of fluid to protect. That’s his reality isn’t it? Yes and no. THE BABY IS BORN FOR A GREATER REALITY. Just as the baby must be born (that’s the purpose of a baby in the womb), so a person born once must be born again. One genuine reality begets another. That’s how God does it!
So what does this mean if God is in charge and we are bit-part actors on the Great Stage of Life? That before we were even aware of reality, God was there, knowing us, loving us, urging us to find His greater reality. Even before the womb God knew us. We are known before we know. This means we no longer run here and there, panicked and anxious, searching for the answers to life (Eastern mysticism, New Age stuff, general rebellion etc, all spring to mind). But that we realise, our lives are not puzzles to be worked out (as puzzling as some of us are), but rather, we come to God, who already knows us and continues to reveal to us the truth of our lives. We make a mistake if we begin with us; we must begin with this God who knows, since all life, our life, begins with him.
We enter a world we didn’t create. We grow into a context and life provided for us. We arrive in a complex of relationships with other wills and destinies and realities that are already on full steam ahead before we even decided to show up. Our reality must include the fact that we are living in the middle of a story that started yonks ago and will be completed when we are even smaller than dust. Our lives, our reality will be concluded by God.
And this other is God.
And though our bodies will be dust, He will even make us new bodies and we will be with Him forever. That’s reality!