Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Post-Modern Before Post-Modern Was Cool

Bear with me for a few posts while I reflect on some of the life experiences that shaped my thinking on these matters.

I remember the first time I encountered paradox. I was about five years old at the time (I'm 53 now). It was late. I was in my bed trying to fall asleep. But as usual, I couldn't stop thinking -- my mind sifting its thoughts, scavenging through the events of the day for items of interest.

It was my last activity of the day that really stood out. I had been outside looking at the stars in the night sky and pestering my parents with the usual kid questions: how big? how far? how long? Most of their answers were satisfactory to me. I might not totally understand them, but I had confidence that one day I could figure out a way to wrap my mind around them. But the last question and the answer I got to it was not so satisfactory.

"How far out does the universe go?" I asked.

"Forever," was the reply.

I did not sleep that night. Why? Because of the feeling of overwhelming awe that I felt: a sinking, queasy feeling. I was confronted with an unresolvable paradox: (1) it was impossible for the universe to go on forever, and (2) it was impossible for it not to. As my imagination soared outward through the universe, I kept stopping to put up some sort of imaginary wall (here it stops). And for a moment I would breath a sigh of relief . . . until my curiousity got the better of me and I looked over the imaginary wall. And off I went again. No matter how hard I struggled, I could not make sense of this paradox. For years afterward I often cried myself to sleep trying to wrap my mind around it. (I know . . . weird kid . . . my parents thought so, too.)

Until one day, when I was about seven, something fell into place. Here's what happened: I woke up in the middle of the night after one of those really bizarre dreams: the kind in which all kinds of fantastical/impossible things were happening (I could fly, for example), and yet it all seems so real. And as I sat there in my bed, the after-images of my dream still almost visible, suddenly it hit me: I was God's dream. If God were dreaming me, then paradoxes like the one I was agonizing over were not only possible, but to be expected. The awe-full feeling left the pit of my stomach, I lay back down, pulled up the covers, and slept like a baby . . . for the first time in years.

So what did I learn from this? I mean beside that I was weird. Well, over the years it prepared me to understand/accept several things:
  1. The Authority of Scripture. When I would later open the Hebrew Scriptures and read the opening chapter of Genesis (Hebrew: Bereshith or Beginnings), I was totally blown away to read of God speaking the universe into being out of nothing/chaos. It just fit: God really did dream all this up.
  2. The Deepest of All Truths Are Paradoxes (and Therefore Beyond Complete Understanding). Once I was willing to look everywhere around me I found paradoxical truths about reality. The same infinite/finite conundrum that defined the furthest reaches of space also described the nature of inner space (there is always something smaller, but how can there not be a foundation?) and of time (there is always an earlier time, but how can there not be a beginning?). There is no fully understanding these truths: they just are.
  3. Only God Makes the World Make Sense. The good news is: I don't have to fully understand everything. I can understand what I can understand and trust God for the rest. I can leave other people's understanding to God, too.


Jannine Maire said...

Please blog more if you can. I'll read it.

Alastair said...


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