I suppose this is my obligatory Advent post.
As I grew up, I became increasingly aware of a sort of silent horror about the world. There was a way in which the world seemed to conquer people; not so much in the sense that it physically destroys us, but what it does to us spiritually. How it lulls us into complacency, numbing us to truth and beauty. Even the Greek gods must submit to Fate. In university I came to understand this spiritual death as despair.
Yet, as Kierkegaard and others have pointed out, despair is only a possibility for us because we do have something which can be taken away. So, in a curious way, the fact that our deepest longings remain unfulfilled, however painful that is for us, means that we are better than we would be if they were a perfect match for this world. We are more profound than this world (and more twisted – the greater something is, the more damage it can do when it is perverted). A prison can only come across as such to one who at least has an idea of what it might be like on the outside. Call it a narcissistic or arrogant view of our place in the cosmos if you like – I’d call it the only real “humanist” view out there.
There is beauty and wonder in the world, and there is a sort of terrible pride in the pessimist who counts himself so above the world so as to reject it all as nothing. And, God or no God, we are little more than atoms in the cosmic scheme of things, and in any case have done nothing to merit the good that is given to us by merely being alive. But I always feel a certain amount of sympathy for the person who refuses to be satisfied, because we ought not to be easily satisfied.
The Psalmist underlines Man’s paradoxical nature thus:
For I will behold thy heavens, the works of thy fingers: the moon and the stars which thou hast founded. What is man that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man that thou visitest him? Thou hast made him a little less than the angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honour (Psalms 8 4-6)
We are preparing to celebrate the union of the human and Divine natures. That is already a reality far beyond what we could have expected. The climax of salvation history starts with a bang. Be vigilant; do not trade the hope found here for anything else. True, holding on to it will lead to suffering, but it is more terrible to be swallowed whole by the world. In our own lives, we can never be sure how the coin will finally land, but “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”