What is Real?

We believe we know what is real, but maybe we are wrong. The world around us seems real enough, but the Kingdom of God knows another reality: the Spirit that blows where he wills. We stand in wonder when we hear of miracles and puzzle over why we don’t see more. Yet, we are part of a culture that imbibes the myth that this world is based on just facts and reason. It is a belief that has so got under our skin that we no longer realise it is there. Is it any surprise if that is all we get?

In the nineteenth century, the writing was already on the wall. Kierkegaard shouted his warning to a church that was becoming enmeshed in rationalism – either stripping Christianity of the miraculous or converting it into a system of logical premises. The premises may have been extracted from the Bible, by they just as certainly stripped it of mystery. Needless to say, Kierkegaard was not heard. He was probably not even understood. And we live in its legacy. It is what we teach our children and embed in our culture. We base our view of reality on the tip of an iceberg, while its true substance remains hidden from us.

We may think we have a ‘Biblical Worldview’, but Bill Johnson summed up the problem when he said that God never goes against the Bible, but he can surprise us by going against our understanding of it. If we try and place God in a box, he will at some point break out. We can’t predict what he will do next. He is beyond our understanding, beyond our reason. It took Job a while to figure this out, but in the end he got it. God will be God. The Spirit blows where he wills.

God is the only reality. It is in him that all things have their being. Our God who is, who was and who will be. We cannot describe him, understand him, or fit him into our boxes. He just is. We need to get it in our heads around the fact that we will never fathom God, even though we have an eternity to do it in, God is just too big for us ever to grasp.

But I need to ground this, so, here is a fact: dead people don’t rise. If a doctor certifies someone as dead, they will not be expecting them back for a follow up appointment. Death is final. Yet, Jesus arose from the dead. The resurrection matters. It is the turning point of history, without it, Jesus death on the cross is just another execution. Paul understood. Everything hinges on the resurrection. If a man, three days dead and cold in the ground can get up, then we need to re-assess how we see the world. This is the reality of the Kingdom, it is redefined around the Spirit of God.

The Enlightenment’s view of reality has become so embedded in our culture that we no longer see the extent to which we ourselves have imbibed it. It is powerful, because it is partly true, just not the whole truth. As subjects of the Kingdom, we are called to live from another reality, one based on a God who is. The resurrection is our touchstone and we need to embed its truth in our lives. And on the journey, don’t be surprised when the unexpected and miraculous happen. We should expect it, because, after all, the Sprit has always blown where he wills.

Of Good and Evil

William Golding, in his book ‘Darkness Visible’, has had a profound influence on my understanding of good and evil. To be fair, it contains much to make you blanch, but it also captures something profound. The story is based around two characters: the beautiful and intelligent Sophie and the disfigured and simple Matty. Sophie, for all her charm, views the world through herself; Matty, by contrast, uses a beaten up old Bible that he doesn’t really understand. The story then unfolds.

Nietzsche had his own view of the problem. In the nineteenth century people increasingly doubted the existence of God, but as this belief was thought to keep people compliant they continued to promote it to stabilise society. God was doubted, but in private. For Nietzsche, this was nonsense. If there is no God, then we needed to re-think our world from the ground up, a world without good or evil, where our moral standards are nothing more than a meaningless fiction created by priests. All that is left is the relentless will of nature towards power. We have not all had the ruthless honesty of Nietzsche. We looked into the abyss and we stepped back. Instead we come up with our own ideas of good, be it the ‘utility’ of economics, the ‘pursuit of happiness’, or, indeed, any of a legion of other standards. But, as Nietzsche points out, once God is dead, there is no basis for any.

Back to William Golding. Everyone loves Sophie, but she is indifferent to the people she hurts along the way. It is perhaps this contradiction between her outward charm and her inner indifference that makes her character so dark and sinister.

Now, I used to puzzle over why God would object to man knowing about good and evil. But, what William Golding has helped me realise is that God’s intention was that we should understand goodness in relation to him. Our rebellion was not so much our disobedience to an arbitrary command, but our wanting to decide for ourselves right from wrong. It turns out that the serpent did not lie. In eating from the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil we did become like God, we put ourselves in his place. Yet it is God who is the source of goodness and we detach ourselves from him at our peril. We become like Sophie and all manner of evil follows and, as Nietzsche understood, once God is removed good and evil disappear entirely.

We live in a world that is no longer sure about right and wrong, good and evil. It clings to a past with its certainties, but, like a tree that has died from within that look sound, sooner or later it must fall. We may be able to prop it up a little longer, but it has died and may be better let to fall. We cannot give the world back its stability through outward forms, its centre is dead. It will decide for itself what is good and evil. For a while it may remember the values it once had, but that memory will fade and it will increasingly call evil good and good evil. Maybe then the light will be easier to see. Even so, it will be a dark day. Yet our hope is not in propping up a world that has died at its centre, but in a kingdom that confronts it, a kingdom rooted in the other tree.