This ability to attach meaning to reality is a distinctly human talent. Language itself is a symbolic system that conveys meaning but it is not the only one. Mathematics, music, and even art are also symbolic systems that convey meaning and even require interpretation.
Humans are uniquely gifted with the ability to communicate meaning rooted in their interpretation of their reality. It is not a perfect process. Soft elements such as trust, intention and relationship as well as assumptions and worldview are as important as (most would say more important than) the hard elements of language and speech itself for the purpose of communicating meaning. Because the soft elements are so difficult to quantify or even identify (sometimes by either or both parties), the process of communication is full of barriers and difficulties.
The Power of Perspective
Two people can experience the same set of circumstances, the onset of terminal cancer for example, and interpret it in different ways starting from a different set of assumptions and beliefs with very different results. In the one it will build resentment, anguish and despair but in the other it builds compassion, patience and trust. Why the difference? It is a difference in perspective, a difference in meaning rooted in a different relational context.
Many social scientists would be the first to affirm the power of strong, loving relationships as a prerequisite for motivation and paradigmatic changes in perspective that create new meaning for people even if their circumstances remain the same. Yet there are limits to the power of human relationships to deal with the suffering, pain and death which impregnates reality in our world.
The only relationship that has the power to transform our perspective on life and create new meaning for people even in the face of death is a new relationship with God through Jesus Christ empowered by the presence of the Holy Spirit. And it must be real, not merely words. God must be there.
The God Who is There
This truth must express itself in us, it must be lived out by us but it has its roots in a reality beyond us. This is not merely psychological but rather relational and to be relational, it must be real. The divine “other” must be there for the relationship to exist. It is not enough to simply believe that the “other” is there (although that, too, has some limited power within the parameters of life but evaporates in the face of death). If it is only a question of our “belief,” then there is no external power source, no “actor” on the stage of our life other than ourselves. We are still alone in the universe. And that is simply not enough. Faith in faith is not enough. Belief, by itself, is not enough. As in all relationships, the “other” must act, and interact with us to give us guidance, and help and the power to deal with the residual habits and patterns of a former life far from God. We are truly helpless on our own. There must be a supernatural intervention in our lives. A new perspective is the result, not the ground, of the new relationship. We must deal with a God who is there. Without that external reality, we have nothing but the figments of our own overactive imaginations to comfort us in our moment of mortality.
The Priority of Faith
This truth, the belief in a God who is there, is accepted by faith and will be ultimately validated in our own, personal experience at the moment of our death (or more accurately, the moment after our death) but it is vindicated every day that we live out our relationship with God in faith. Learning to trust God again reverses the effects of our abandonment of God in the first place. If lack of trust is the problem, then learning to trust again is the solution. This leap of faith in the face of the reality of our own finitude is a statement of belief that we were meant for something more than an independent lifestyle of personal authority and moral autonomy. We believe that we were created not to be autonomous but rather to be proactively dependent on the loving authority of (and relationship with) our Creator God.
We yearn for something more, something beyond our present experience, something that we hear in our music, something that we see in the beauty of nature, something more permanent than the fleeting joy of human relationships. In faith we have identified that “something more” as God Himself and our yearning as a primordial desire for resolution to our internal conflict between life and death in a renewed relationship with Him. In faith the myth of human autonomy has finally been broken and the reality and beauty of human dependence on the loving authority of God has been affirmed. That perspective creates a meaning that changes everything in life. It is a perspective that must be vindicated in our personal experience before death and validated beyond death but, for now, we accept it by faith – a faith beyond reason but also a reasonable faith.
This is a faith rooted in a relationship with God based on a trust in His integrity, intention and ability to do what He promises. It is a faith in the loving authority of God who was willing to die for us, a willingness that was demonstrated on a cross more than two thousand years ago. It is a faith in a God who weeps for us but also a God who acts on our behalf to save us from ourselves and our own folly. That kind of God deserves my trust and my faith no matter what circumstances life throws at me. That ability, to attach “divine perspective” meaning to reality, independent of circumstances, is rooted in (and the result of) a real, day-by-day, dynamic supernatural relationship with God through Jesus Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit and exercised in faith.
“Your fellowship within….yourself… is the pattern for good and evil? Is that what we are trying to imitate?” I paused, not knowing how to put it. “It sounds so….abstract.”
“Only because you have no concept of what I am talking about. In fact, it is the most powerful, interesting and dynamic relationship that exists in all of reality and everything else flows from it. Our kind of love is what makes it all work and our kind of love is what makes us want to expand the circle of our fellowship, to create in our image and to enjoy each other – man and God (and angels) – as deeply and enthusiastically as we do among ourselves. All of what is good and all of what is evil either contributes or hinders that great goal. Morality has a purpose and only finds its path when it is rooted in the divine fellowship. That is the ultimate reality and truth. Only I know and experience that truth, not you, and I am sacrificially committed to that goal of complete fellowship between God and man,and so, only I can be the arbiter, the standard, of what is good and what is evil.”
“I think I see,” I said. “But I’m not at all sure that I do.”
“Let me put it another way,” he said. “I created you within time and space to make your choices matter. I made you male and female so that you would have to limit the freedom of your choices by love. I gave you a world in which you would have purpose and meaning but not without a conscious relationship to your Father and Creator. You would walk into the future hand in hand with me and I would teach you the practicalities of love from my own experience and nature and you would use your creativity and judgment to put it into practice. You would need to trust me and my intentions towards you in order for it all to work.”
“But you said that Adam and Eve didn’t trust you.”
“Yes, I told them what was right and what was wrong and I clearly told them what the future held if they disobeyed but they freely chose the wrong.” He paused for a moment and looked at me with his piercing eyes, now growing softer and – my God – glistening with sudden moisture in the moonlight as he turned his head quickly away.
I shuddered at the enormity of it. Our ability to hurt God. Only love can make you willing to be vulnerable like that. Vulnerable to attack, to pain, to suffering and hurt. In a very real way, in a very real world, we brought pain, suffering and even death (yes, death – and hell) to God because of our selfish inability to trust Him when the chips were down. Yes. And it continues, this incredible ability to hurt God, rooted as it is in love. We can still, today, grieve the Holy Spirit of God by our lack of trust and faith as we face the dangers of life on our own, without Him, without reliance on His very necessary providence and protection even though we have a new creation relationship with Him, the one we have hurt, our Creator and Father.
No wonder love is transcendent. It makes no sense to natural man. It is “the divine touch.” It is the irrational rationality that makes life worth living. It embraces the reality of the desert and difficulties of life and overcomes not by avoiding hurt but by accepting it and transforming it in the refining fire of unconditional love.
I looked at him with new respect in my eyes as he looked out into the dark expanse of the night, gazing into the eternal distance of the stars. No wonder He is a God who weeps.
Love can do no other.