I saw the footage of the Tsunamis in Asia today; beaches haunted by locals and tourists alike suddenly churned into muddy, destructive waves and leaving behind bodies and traumatized survivors wondering what had hit them and why. It is odd that I had been discussing some of the reasons that I no longer call myself a Christian only recently, the reasons themselves being pretty unoriginal in the face of these sorts of disasters and countless deaths of innocent people; the problem of evil and of suffering is a big one and I am not the first one to notice it. But even these reasons leave me not with a sense of arrival, completion, or even the bitterness of a conviction that this world is an absurd and unpredictable place to be and nothing more. I mused that it would in fact be easier to think that this was definitely true, that all acts of nature, or acts of God as they are sometimes known, are random and entirely meaningless. But, my annoying sense of story makes this impossible for me to just arrive at this conclusion, or any conclusion. After all, even the saddest stories have reasons behind them, forces that can be pinpointed even in the smallest way. There are threads to follow. A belief I have, one I can’t shake, is that the reason human beings tell and want to hear stories, and have done so since we were able to communicate with one another, is because we are in a story. In fact, we are wrapped in several stories; the leading role in the story of our lives, co-stars, guest stars and as bit players and in the stories of the lives of others, and in the larger story of the universe where the roles are many and are hard to really define at all, being fibres in the parchment on which the tale is written. In the end though, I am simply left with the idea that I don’t really know where the story is going. I have no idea whether or not the story will be one which will be satisfying or meaningful in the end, only that there is some sort of tale that is unraveling and has been unraveling since everything began. Some would say that if there is a God, then God owes no one an explanation. This would be typical of a lot of writers who refuse to explain their work; “It speaks for itself,” they say. To that, I have no response other than the fact that if God made us in God’s own image, then God would know better than anyone what it is like to want to connect with the world around in some way. Why walk with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day if not out of interest in what they were experiencing? Why decide to be born in a manger, as many Christians believe and many more celebrate at this time of year?
As I said, I cannot shake this notion and it is the one true thing which I have never doubted despite the evidence to contrary, unlike much of my earlier Christian beliefs. It sounds like a comforting sort of religion, doesn’t it? It can be, but only sometimes, and not now. The reasons for this belief are harder to explain, but may be evident in my pursuit of personal continuity, which no doubt is particularly evident here in The Bin. But what enters in my mind is what kind of story is this, and perhaps more importantly, what forces pull along its narrative, its plot, the threads which make up its very fabric? How does an undersea earthquake which eventually kills ten thousand people, for instance, move us toward a conclusion a million or a billion or more years away? Does this have the same worth to the story as something bigger, like the Big Bang, or the same worth as something smaller, like finding ten bucks in the breast pocket of your coat that you forgot was there? If there is an author who we could define as God, then are these things as significant from God’s point of view? Are we mere characters in a very complex tragicomedy, and are earthquakes, continental drift, floods and mass deaths, merely plot points? Where does love fit into all of this? This is where things get muddy for me.
My wife and I were driving towards the mountains on our way to Christmas dinner, talking about the disaster and the deaths of all of those people. We talked about how beautiful the mountains are, and that on different days depending on the weather, they show facets of themselves which make them seem new every time you look at them. They are beautiful. It is very hard to believe that the reason we look at them the way we do is down to mere biochemistry. We look at them and find them beautiful because they make us think that there might be more somewhere, that they might be revealing something to us in a language we’ve forgotten. But, one thing that I am forced to consider is the reason that these mountains exist is due to violence. They are there because the glaciers once tore down the face of the continent, because volcanic activity boils from below like hatred, and people and animals were flattened, frozen, and burned in their making. It makes me wonder at what price this beauty comes and what it means to where our stories are really going. It makes me think too that this sort of musing is quite a luxury, given that the rage of nature is little more than a theoretical conundrum for me personally. Things still tick along nicely where I am. There are still boxing day sales, gift returns and New Year’s resolutions here in my world. What sense does all of this make, when I can watch my two-year old niece squeal with excitement for the love of Christmas in the same week as I can watch another little girl the same age dead under a shroud of palm fronds on the news? I can only hope that there is to be a twist ending in our favor when it’s all done, and that it is my purpose to make myself a part of as many stories as possible before the end. What else is there but to gain courage somehow, and not to lose perspective? Once again, I guess it comes down to choice; to take responsibility for my part in the world and keep hope alive, or to despair and relinquish both.