Wandering out of Paradise

Dear Ernest,

When I consider how often I have, in light of careful observation, esteemed with high regard the astucity of your character, I then hold little doubt that you have noted, with equal wonder as have I, the astounding level of passivity with which many people appear to wander through the world, conducting their lives, it seems, as one heedlessly roams the streets of a darkened city, tending neither toward any purpose nor sense of destination.  Such people, we can only assume, are by no means exempted from the existential worries and struggles of an active mind, nor from any like burden, I imagine, that we ordinarily associate with an intellectual life style, for these supposed symptoms of the philosopher are really nothing more or less than the universal agonies of the human condition, and we find them inescapable in all modes of living, regardless of whether they are illuminated by the words of a scholar.  Contrary to what the new agers and postmodernists would have us believe, it seems that human nature is quite the same in any and all realms: the moment we engage with people, we find ourselves at war with them in some manner or another, but if we then retire to the secret worlds of our own minds, we will be equally at war with ourselves—move society from the physical plane of existence to a mode of being on the internet and shortly you will have the same defects pulsing through cyberspace as formerly infected the oceans and seven continents.  In short, there is no diversion from adversity, no respite from the enduring pains of human life, and no clever way out of the many problems and questions that are imposed on us from the moment we are born; all people are at all times and in all manners subject to the concerns that naturally come with being human.

In your last letter: “How are we to know about matters of ultimate faith?”

Commonly, faith is thought of as a kind of alternative to reason, a net to break the fall of a weary philosopher, or a blanket to gently conceal a difficult question from view, and by virtue of this cure for the disease known as philosophy, one is suddenly freed to rove the dark roads of this world without a care for reason or thought.  But such purposeless wandering seems to me neither desirable nor even feasible, for it is impossible to escape from the prospect of destination—as even wanderers end up somewhere else than they begin—and there must also exist a reason why any given destination is achieved.  So mustn’t faith be something more than this?  We seem to often lose the rich meaning of the original Greek whenever we talk of merely ‘believing’ in Jesus; the real issue is a matter of πιστεύειν, ‘trusting’ or ‘relying on’ him, which has less to do with determining that he should be trusted and more to do with the act of trusting itself.

Adam, the lover who follows his mate out of paradise, and Thaddeus, the fool who follows his mates off a cliff, have one thing in common: they are both forced to choose between two limited alternatives, to either satisfy their desire to live or else appease their fear of living without their mates, but they are no longer afforded the option of both.  When we meet Adam wandering out of paradise in the ninth book of Milton’s poem, we are confronted by a man who has already made a sacred covenant never to abandon his bride, so the moment Eve turns from him and from God, there is no longer such a thing as paradise; if Adam remains, he breaks his covenant and looses his integrity, but if he leaves, we already know what happens.  So considered, the decision is philosophically arbitrary—there is no intellectual reason that one kind of death should be preferred to another.  Adam is not deciding, at this point, where to place his faith, for he has already chosen, and wisely so, to entrust it in whole to a creature of perfection—Eve as she once was, but now this perfect being no longer exists, and the decision remains for him not as a question of what to trust, but whether he ought to trust at all.  He chooses πιστεύειν.  And this he does not as way out of relying on his own intellect, but even as the very exercise of that faculty.  Wandering out of paradise, very much like falling off a cliff, is something that people do reluctantly; no one marches forth from the garden of Eden with any show of confidence, nor do we often see people leaping from the tops of towering crags with great command—these are duties performed with a dragging of the heals or a covering of the eyes, not in the least with great zeal or assurance, but there is much reward for whoever is true to a good purpose, even if this means giving up everything or dying on a cross.

Whoever has found his life shall lose it, but he that has lost his life for Christ’s sake shall gain it.

 

Your servant,

TWM

 

What are we doing?

Under our now Christian model of metaphysics as established by my seven previous posts on this topic, we must now better understand purpose.  It has been established that we, as humans, are made to serve a purpose created for us by God which is equal, in some sense, to the purpose he has for himself.  That is, God made us for the purpose of existing in the state that He is in “presently.”  The strange thing about this purpose is that, on the simplest level, we are not presently fulfilling it.  Instead of being infinitely loving, infinitely good, infinitely real beings, we are hate filled, imperfect, mortal ones.  So does this mean we have failed?

In many eastern philosophies and religions, it is believed that souls are subject to a tireless cycle of vain reincarnation until they finally perfect the act of living, and in so doing, achieve some perfected state of being which frees them from the cycle of birth and death.  In some cases, this whole processes is viewed as utter vanity, like Prometheus’ rock, striving after the unachievable only to return to the starting point, and thus the perfected state of being is a state in which an individual does not act and perhaps does not even exist.  In other cases, the journey is seen as valuable based on the fame and honor that can be achieved throughout the process (e.g. the cycle of heroism in greek and roman epic).  In reality, it seems to me that fame and honor would hardly be worth an endless cycle of birth, death and pain.

I bring all this up, because under our current model, it may well seem that life is much like that.  We are born, we sin, we are reborn.  Over and over again.  Constantly striving for perfection, but never getting it.  So why?  Why does God see it as fitting for us all to be sentenced to somewhere between zero and one hundred and twenty years of this aimless strife?  It is not an easy question, and I fear the answer I leave us with, while hopefully intellectually satisfying, will not sit well with us.  But that is well.  Such is a part of the nature of living in an unperfected order (a fallen order).

I turn to our model: we are beings that were given a choice to love God and to exist or to hate Him and die, and we have chosen the latter option.  Upon so doing, we were given a second chance, and this life is our decision process.  All this is as such, that a risen humanity might have a perfected understanding of what a joy it is to exist in God and the perpetually fallen may justly be allowed to creep away from that joy as they have chosen to do even with a “second chance.”  It is absolute nonsense for humanity to be given the perfected understanding of Heaven without experiencing Hell.  Wisdom is by definition the result of experience, and God could not have made a humanity that has the wisdom gained by the experience of Hell without having the experience of it.  For by doing so, He would defy the very structure of reality, i.e. He would defy Himself.

Thus earthly living is our second chance.  But why does it seem like an endless cycle of chances and ruins?  And why is it so long?

I feel quite confident that the answer to these questions is that neither of these things are the case: life is a single decision, a single second chance, and it is very short.  It does not really make sense for God to give the same eternal being multiple chances to make the decision between life and death (that is, without anything occurring in-between to change the being).  Even if we imagine the process from a chronological perspective, it is utter nonsense.  It is as if one were to ask an atheist if he believes in God and upon receiving his negation, re-ask the same question after no debate or persuasion.  It’s just silly.  Instead, when any of the faculties of the soul are being exercised (whether it be the intellect, as it is in this example, or the will as it is in the matter at hand), in-between prompts, the soul must go through some sort of transformational processes if we are to expect a different result.  Therefore, it is necessary that there exists our decision-making process, where we are allowed to experience a distance from God such that His very existence does not compel us to choose Him.  The length of this process, though it may not seem so at present, is negligible when held in perspective of eternity.

I am quite sorry to say that the doctrines don’t go much farther than that, and while they may provide a model of sufficient functionality as to feed the intellect, they are intrinsically destined to leave the rest of us in a state of uneasiness.  It does not satisfy the heart that its sole purpose of being would be merely to make a single decision.  And that is where the misunderstanding lies.  All of us, no matter how strongly convinced of the necessity of supernatural reality, are prone, at times, to naturalism.  The better half of the mind might know that sheer joy awaits us after death, but the will cannot help the dread of something after death, the undiscovered country from whose bourn no travel returns.  And so also, while one may know very well that a better purpose awaits us in Heaven, it is almost impossible to not be bothered that nothing so grand exists in this life alone.

And in a sense it doesn’t,  “Vanity, vanity, said the preacher,”  but there is still much reason to live, for that single decision which summarizes the entire occurrence of our earthly lives is so very important that it is worth an entire lifetime of toil to make it properly.  It is worth every drop of sweat, blood, and tears that goes into everything you do from creating a work of art, to playing a sport, to taking out the trash.  In fact, it was worth infinitely more than all that, for the decision to live would not even be yours to make had the Infinite God not first decided to die.