Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Nothing, Everything: A Midweek Rumination

Paradox is everything when searching for the truth
You look for black and white and find the grey
And things that filled your heart don’t matter anymore
Yet nothing has really changed
Human souls are quite passé when talking about worth
It’s obvious; all cultures will agree
Life and happy routine are why we all draw breath
Perhaps there’s so much more for us to see

In the eyes of the sky we’re nothing but some dust
A drop in the arms of enfolding sea
A pebble in the fold of mountains unconcerned
One single leaf in the tree

In the heart of heaven we are everything
The moon which tugs the tide
The wind that shapes the crest
I learned another friend had died
No warning, he’s just gone
In thirty days no one will even talk about him

And it’s like that for us all
We are nothing
A small imperfection on the flip side
Of a grain of salt
We are everything
The light that unthreads all our webs of doubt
Nothing, everything

In the heart of heaven we are everything
The sun which feeds the flower
The water that gives life
Paradox is everything when searching for the truth
We look for day, we look for life...
We find the dawn

[Carl Groves, “Nothing, Everything,” from Glass Hammer’s album The Breaking Of The World]

     The late Gregory Bateson liked to talk about the pressure of contradiction: that is, the pressure a seeming paradox puts on the mind to find a resolution. Paradox often results from the acceptance of explanations that function well enough inside their proper domain of applicability, but which we try to drag beyond those limits. Thus, the paradox is a mental artifact rather than a contradiction of the real laws of the universe.

     The lyric above expresses this pressure in an adroitly indirect manner. When we speak of worth in its proper, economic context, we know what we’re talking about, and can (usually) make sense. But try to apply worth to the life of a man, or to his soul, and we’re immediately lost among imponderables.

     It’s a matter of law, at least in these United States, that men’s lives can’t be bought, sold, or traded on any market. Thus, they have no worth in the economic sense. But ask a man “How much is your life worth to you?” and the reaction you’ll get could be as mild as a dismissive chuckle or as radical as the drawing of his sidearm.

     The answer to this seeming paradox arises from adopting the appropriate non-economic perspective. We can answer the seemingly equally absurd question “Of what worth is a man’s soul?” only by adopting three quite distinct perspectives. Each renders an answer unique to itself.

     While a man lives, his soul is “worth” whatever guidance he accepts from it – that is, whatever arises when he follows the dictates of his conscience. When he manages to conceive of what will follow his death, the answer changes, for his soul will be all that’s left of him. More striking still, its disposition will be out of his control. The prospect of eternal bliss versus eternal remorse, recrimination, and regret causes all considerations of “worth” to become transfinite.

     The third perspective is the one of greatest import: the worth of his soul to God. In Christian theology, one can be the worst imaginable sinner, a mass murder and defiler of innumerable innocent children, yet still gain entry to heaven by sincerely repenting of one’s deeds, even at the instant before death. More, God sent His only Son to suffer and die for us, to redeem us from our sins and open the gates of heaven to every man that lives. Were every man that ever lived to reject Him and His commandments completely, except for one single, sincerely repentant sinner, He would hold those gates open for that one soul. What sort of “worth” would you say He attributes to a human soul?

     But we are not God’s only creatures. All of Creation is His...yet He stands apart from it, above time and outside the laws He has set down for the conduct of matter and energy within it. Though He values the rest, He has deliberately placed it in subordination to Man: by giving us ratiocinative capacity sufficient to learn the laws of Nature and exploit them for our betterment and the increase of our numbers. Is it not safe to say that by implication, the value He places on the animal, vegetable, and mineral components of Creation is congruent with the value we take from them?

     The relation we bear to God is creature to creator, a difficult one to grasp. That’s why the slightly metaphorical alternate, of children to a loving Father, is so important; it compares at least in outline to a relation men can know and appreciate. In regarding all the nonsentient components of Creation as gifts from the Father to His children, we begin to grasp, though dimly, the magnitude of His love. Add to that the possibility of eternal bliss in His nearness, and the total rockets beyond all our numbers.

We look for day, we look for life...
We find the dawn

     May God bless and keep you all. (And by the way, The Breaking of the World is terrific. Buy it.)


Backwoods Engineer said...

Fran, you're such a blessing to so many. You sure have been to me.

Reg T said...

One of the several reasons I am agnostic, bordering upon atheistic, is this notion that someone like a serial killer, a serial molester of children, or - even worse - a muslim, could be accepted into heaven, simply because he _truly_ repents of his actions. I believe that a man of that stripe, if he _truly_ repented for his actions, would prefer to suffer damnation rather than being accepted into the presence of God, or however you view "going to heaven". I firmly believe I would chose thusly, under those conditions.

I think I understand the difference between being sorry because of the consequences and true repentance, but I still believe a man who truly repents would be so mortified by what he had done that he would not wish to enjoy the same benefits as those whose lives were not spent as his had been.

daniel_day said...

"The Breaking of the World"
Do you mean the Breaking World series by David Dalglish & Robert Duperre?