Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.Socrates
“You’re being unreasonable!” he cried. She recoiled, hurt by his accusation. That little phrase can be quite a cutting insult in today’s world.
In our world, reason is held in very high esteem; everything is subjected to the rule of reason. To earn the label of “truth,” things must pass scientific and mathematical tests of logic, consistency, and intellectual rigor. While emotion and intuition are not bad in themselves, they must not be allowed to interfere with our assessment of whether something is pragmatic, sustainable, and capable of bringing the greatest good to the greatest number.
This rational, utilitarian approach to things has spurred on great progress in medicine, transportation, communication, and technology. On the whole, that has been a good thing, but such advances have tended to suppress our spiritual needs for fellowship, intimacy, beauty, and purpose. Our physical needs and desires have been met—we have no lack of creature comforts—but what about those deeper questions that elude reason and cannot be expressed in terms of scientific statements and propositions?
The Mind and the Heart
While our mind asks whether God exists and whether our soul is immortal, our heart wonders and yearns and aches for a kind of meaning that can’t be seen or heard or touched. No matter how much our lives are improved by scientific progress, we cannot evade or erase that nagging sense that neither we nor our world is as it should be.
We ask with our mind, “Which religion is true?” or “What must I do to be saved?” but we wonder with our heart whether we have any value and whether God, even if he existed, would care about us. The cry of the heart is a cry for love and acceptance; it desires not philosophical answers but real—even divine—presence.
The mind wants to be taught; the heart wants to be embraced. The mind longs to know; the heart longs to be known. The mind demands a system; the heart yearns to return home.
Glimpses of that true home break through to us like sunbeams on a cloudy day. Even when we are not actively seeking such glimpses, they come to us unbidden. A melody from a song, the patterned wings of a butterfly, mist wrapped around a mountain top, the smile of a young child, a gymnast soaring through the air for her dismount, a flickering image from an old black-and-white film: each and all speak of a world where beauty is richer, more real, more lasting.
We feel that we have come from that world of beauty, and that, though we have been separated from it somehow, we still belong there. The French Revolution, Soviet Russia, Fascist Germany, Maoist China, Communist Cambodia: all tried to crush religion out of man and replace it with a secular utopia. They not only failed, they carried out horrible atrocities that killed the souls of their people.
Western democratic attempts at “utopia lite” have been less brutal, but they have left most westerners hungry for something more. For once our physical needs have been met, then we remember that there is another dimension to us that cannot be fed by food or possessions or entertainment. In a world of plenty, we remain dry and unfulfilled.
Whatever our minds may say, our hearts tell us that this world is not enough—that we were made for something that transcends time and space. That is why we turn to fantasy and magic and mysticism. We long for a voice from beyond nature to speak words of meaning and love. We crave a world that shimmers with glory, radiance, and holiness. We yearn, in short, for God to come to us and to be with us.
And yet, we are so made that mere fantasy is not enough. It must have its roots in history, in real life, if it is to transform us and give us hope. We want a story, but it must finally be a true story, a myth that becomes fact and renews the world.
- Photo Credit: ISebyl / Shutterstock.com.