Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Lonely World

"We do not just live in the world. We live in a picture or vision of it: of how it hangs together and what it means" --King's College Chapel, Cambridge

The above quote is on a bulletin board on the floor that houses the Philosophy, Religion, and Bible departments of my college. The problem is, "we" might not be, by itself, right, but maybe "we each." You see, given our various lives, we each see a different world. I'm not necessarily saying that what is, for you, a tree may be viewed as a chair by me, nor am I advocating any kind of relativism. What I do want to say, however, is that you do not know what world others are living in, and, yes, they do not know what world you are living in, and each of these worlds is very different, some more than others. The more different one's world is from most people's worlds, the more alone they are likely to feel. This is the lonely world. The term is usually used in reference to solipsism. Here is why the problem of other minds even comes up: you are foreign. You are not merely odd, or strange, you are living in another world which I have never been to, and I do not know. Now, your actions may turn out to be relatively predictable, but you, yourself, as a person: you are often opaque.

That this bothers us makes me think that there is something wrong with it. That there is something wrong with it makes me expect that there is something to be done about it. What?

Given that the problem is with a lack of understanding of others' worlds, the solution would seem to be to learn how others view the world. Only another can tell you how they view the world, and it will be a garbled communication, since they are speaking their language, and you are hearing it through your ears. But, slowly, you may begin to see how they use words in their context. You may begin to understand their language and, in doing so, or in order to do so--the tasks are the same--begin to understand their context, their view of the world. And then, well, there will be similarities when you get right down to the basics. And when you believe that there is another who sees the world in a way somewhat like yours, at least enough that their world doesn't feel like it is out to destroy you, or at least enough to say that it is a human world, then you are no longer alone. Maybe their world is foreign, but maybe you will find that they are people too, valuing, caring, and getting frustrated. You are not alone in this world, you are not the only one who crashes hard into walls.

But they are different worlds, different views on the world. What you see makes you act the way you do. Do not say to another "that was bad" but rather "what makes that good?" Let them say for themselves, or find for themselves, if there is some reason they cannot say "it was good" if they must say "I guess I can't reasonably say that what I did was right." Maybe they say it was good, but that doesn't mean it was. I am not a moral relativist. If something is wrong, then there is some inconsistency somewhere. But everything is based on something. What do you see, that you did that? What does the world look like, what inconsistency have you missed, that you think that was an appropriate measure to take? How can I show you that the world is not the way you think it is?

There is more to be said, I suppose, about the love of God, and how we are not alone because Christ has promised to be with us always. About the power of the Holy Spirit which enables us to love others. About how great God is, and how he will protect us from mere harm, and how this means we do not need to worry about what others will think when we say "I see the world like this," and we think they will think less of us because of it. To love another is to care about what they do because you care about them, and that means that your care of them will not be changed by the fact that they do something stupid, or brilliant. Funny, I can talk about that without reference to God, but really, you have to care about something beyond yourself if you're going to care about anything for reasons beyond what it does for you.
And if you don't believe these things, maybe it makes sense not to let anyone know what your world is like: they might hurt you, they might hate you, they might just not care, and then you will know that at least his person doesn't care about you, just, maybe, what you do.

Here is the culture of the world--at least the western world now--your value is based on what you do. Is it surprising, then, that depression is as common as it is? There are other reasons, yes, but this is tied into our culture at a deep level. It creeps everywhere, even into churches: "having to be "on" at church exhausted me." (from this article). I can understand a certain amount of wanting to hide while being around a large group of people, and it is not necessarily a condemnation of the church to say that we aren't quite ready to share ourselves with everyone, but the church itself ought to be as willing as God is to let people be broken. If the exhaustion from having to be "on" at church is because the church isn't willing to let one relax, then there is a problem. We say that we are one body, that we are siblings. We say that we have fellowship with each other, but if it is really fellowship, then being "on," putting up a bit of a mask as it were, gets in the way. If you want to have fellowship, then let people speak their pain to each other so that each one can bear each others' burdens. Not just the little pains, the acceptable pains. I mean, not just the ones that our culture is okay with, like being busy, but also the ones that our culture is afraid of, that our church culture is afraid of. If I walk into your church and express doubts that what you are saying is true, are you going to dismiss me with easy, and unhelpful, answers? Or will you accept that there are hard questions which need to be wrestled with? There are things you cannot just say, but must show. Yes, show with words, but not just say. Express! Draw a picture. Show me, first, that you understand my questions, that you see what I see, then lead me from my world into a better, a more real world. Point to what I have not yet seen, do not just drop a Bible verse on my head. Do not just give me an answer, rather, lead me to it. And let me challenge everything you say and still be loved, not because of what I do, but just because I exist as one who, like you, values. Because God loved enough to send his son to save rebels, the church must love enough to let rebels come as they are, and let God change them.

The more you want your church to just "be good," the less it will be church. The more you want your church to know they are loved even when they sin in the worst ways, the better it will be. I cannot love if I have no notion of what it is to love, as you show love, others will see and imitate--show the love of God, and they will join you. Yes, you too will mess up, you will fail to love, but isn't that to be expected? Do you think you understand what it is to love? I know that I don't. I am irritated when others think they get this concept. Why are we bothered by constraining God who is love into a box, but we are fine with constraining what it is to love into a box? Go, in the love of Christ, by the power of the Spirit, under the sovereign protection of the Father, and love in the grace in which you are forgiven for your failures to love, and for you inadequate love. He loves you, and it does not depend on whether you love anyone at all... but you will.

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