Lent and the Overwhelming Mystery of Existence and Being: The Experience of God

quia fecisti nos ad te et inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te (because thou hast made us toward thyself and our heart is restless until it rests in thee)”

-St. Augustine

For lent I decided to abandon time spending on social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & Tumblr) in hopes of directing my time and energy into far more important areas of my life. Three weeks in, I’m considering abandoning the majority of them for good. I do not mean in a legalistic/moral superiority to those who do participate in them, but I found my life becoming far to unintentionally lived and much of the joy of life being sucked into the vacuum of the abyss of needless internet arguments and click bait. I was being habituated to a life of endless consumption, without anything gained at all. Which could be a critique of American culture as a whole, but I surely do not intend to cover any of that currently.

In my time spent elsewhere, mostly reading and time spent with my wife and children, have truly been fruitful and illuminating. I’ve recently been immersing myself in the work of David Bentley Hart (theologian/philosopher) and cannot express how wonderful and truly fruitful his work has been to read. His vocabulary is beyond what I thought someone could have for a vocabulary, so in that his work can be quite challenging intellectually. Most recently I have made my way through the majority of his recent work ‘The Experience of God; Being, Consciousness and Bliss‘. Hart’s contention for this book is to show the absolute ignorance of the new atheist’s (Dawkins, Dennett etc.) when they attempt to refute God’s existence. He does this by sketching out the metaphysical understanding of God worked out by the major theistic traditions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam and even forms of Hinduism). In doing this historical outlining, he shows the language and understanding of the recent atheist movement to be utterly deficient and ignorant of what they even attempt to speak of. In Hart’s words: “It is certainly the demiurge about whom Stenger and Dawkins write; neither has actually ever written a word about God. And the same is true of all the other new atheists as far as I can tell.” (p. 36).

He gives an admission that is both at the same time humorous and illuminating:

“For the sake of harmony, I for one am more than willing to acknowledge that the God described by the new atheists definitely does not exist; but, to be perfectly honest, that is an altogether painless concession to make.” (p. 23)

For some this statement might seem quite confusing. However once we actually understand how God has been conceived in the great theistic traditions, this statement is perfectly succinct and needed. More than anything, this book has pointed me towards the absolute wonder and beauty of the mystery not only of being and existence, but of God Himself. Not to mention the sheer strangeness of existence as Hart so eloquently puts it:

“If, moreover, one takes the time to reflect upon this contingency (the contingency of everything that exists) carefully enough, one will come to realize that it is an ontological, not merely an aetiological, mystery; the question of existence is not one concerning the physical origins of things, or of how one physical state may have been produced by a prior physical state, or of physical persistence across time, or of the physical constituents of the universe, but one of simple logical or conceptual possibility: How is it that any reality so obviously fortuitous— so lacking in any mark of inherent necessity or explanatory self-sufficiency— can exist at all?” (p. 90) (italics mine)

Since culture is so engrossed in the materialist picture of the world, we have lost the sense of wonder and awe that we exist at all.

This season of lent, for me, has been one about the rediscovery of mystery. The reorientation towards how completely inconceivable it is that I, or anything, exists at all. As the Psalmist puts it:

“What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps 8:4)

We Christians view Christ as the Word of God:

“In Jesus Christ the living, free, inexhaustibly rich God has been revealed as sovereign, holy love. To know God in this revelation is to acknowledge the infinite and incomprehensible depth of the mystery called God.” (Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology, p. 3)

The mystery still remains and grows ever deeper the more we pursue it. Lent is a time for reflection, putting to death the desires of the flesh through the Spirit, and a reminder of the fulfillment that is yet to come for us who are exiles in waiting. Let us reflect these words from DBH: “God is the infinite “ocean of being” while creatures are finite vessels containing existence only in limited measure.” (p. 133)  God is the ground of all being. He is not just some mechanistic demigod that the deists picture, but pure actuality and pure existence. Let us reflect of the mystery of the Gospel, and how we should praise God for His unconditional love for us in Jesus Christ.

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