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In fact, I believe these signals of transcendence are everywhere, even in the mundane gestures of our everyday human experience. Clear the dust, point the finger, shine the light, and they are easy enough to see. They are right in front of us; no excavation from the depths of our experience or mind is required. They are hidden in plain sight. Perhaps this blindness to reality is responsible for many of our problems. Perhaps the spiritual lethargy that characterizes many of us is a result of our disenchanted, overly materialistic, and hedonistic view of the word. Perhaps our evangelism so often falters because we fail to attend to, in our own life and in the lives of others, the deep mysteries, enchantments, and beauties that exist hidden in plain sight and point beyond us to God. The good news is that the solution to these problems and perhaps others is not far from us nor so hard.
Sociologist Peter Berger, in his excellent book A Rumor of Angels, is of some help, noting five signals of transcendence from our everyday lives and experiences.8 First, there is the human propensity for order. Every society is burdened with the task of bringing order out of chaos. Even such commonplace acts as mowing the lawn, making a to-do list, and a mother assuring her upset child that “everything is in order, everything is all right” point to humanity’s faith in order. What best explains the observable human propensity to order reality? If there is no God, if there is nothing beyond nature, then everything is not in order, everything is not all right. Yet we take it upon ourselves to represent reality as ultimately in order and trustworthy. “This representation,” Berger argues, “can be justified only within a religious (strictly speaking a supernatural) frame of reference.”9
Second, Berger notes the ubiquity of human play. In play, time is suspended, the seriousness of the world is set aside, and a separate universe of intense joy and delight is created and entered. The experience of joyful play can be readily found in ordinary life even as it points beyond to a world where all is as it should be, the good triumphs over evil, and everyone in the end is known by his or her true name.
Third, there is the unconquerable human propensity to hope. Humanity is essentially “future directed,” looking forward to the fulfillment of all desires and to a day when the difficulties of the here and now will be no more. We think infinite happiness is really there. We hope that one day we will reach the rainbow’s end. Such hope is absurd if there is no God, no afterlife. As C.S. Lewis famously argued, “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.”10 The human characteristic of hope, again, points beyond itself and this world. It is a signal of transcendence.
Fourth, in the face of horrendous evils, such as the massacre of the innocent, rape, or murder, there is the human demand for not only condemnation, but damnation. In our hearts we curse the perpetrators of such monstrous evils. No human punishment seems enough. Only eternal banishment of the guilty from God seems appropriate. Horrendous evil “raises the question of the justice and power of God. It also, however, suggests the necessity of hell—not so much as a confirmation of God’s justice, but rather as a vindication of our own.”11 Both the human gesture of protective reassurance and a human counter gesture of damnation point us to a reality of something beyond this world.
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