A scientist shows us how to look out the backyard window and describe a magnificent old oak tree as a Querus (Latin name), while the songwriter and poet Rich Mullins speaks of an oak in spring (in his song “The Color Green”) as a creature who “lifts up his arms in a blessing for people being born again.” And then there’s Tolkien, who turns trees into people and calls them Ents…
We need our vision rekindled by writers . . . who looked at the world and understood that it has something to tell us about ultimate reality. We need words to reenchant the world, partly because we have inherited a disenchanted way of seeing. We live in a culture shaped by materialism, by the belief that the physical world has no spiritual meaning and can be entirely explained by the language of science. Even if we believe that God is the creator of the cosmos, we tend more and more to describe it in terms of atoms and inches and measurements rather than in the language of mystery. Like Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the character who embodies what C. S. Lewis considered the worst habits of the modern world, we could easily describe a star just as “a huge ball of flaming gas.”
Like Eustace, we need the sparkle-eyed correction of the much wiser Koriakin, who quickly replies, “That is not what a star is but only what it is make of.”
…We need . . . to liven our wonder because . . . we live with so many distractions—so many things to buy, so many places to go—that we barely have time to sleep, let alone stop long enough to recognize that the smallest moments of the everyday day are rich in beauty, steeped in God’s creative presence.
Beauty touches something deep within us. It captivates and delights us. It is consoling, stunning, intriguing, inspiring, exhilarating. We recognize it. It arrests our attention.
But beauty is elusive.
We are unable to analyze, categorize or place beauty together with all the other topics that we study. Our attempts to describe it fail miserably; our definitions fall short. The greatest philosophers acknowledge that the best we can do is to recognize it when it is there. Beauty will not be explained or contained.It is real, it is wonderful—but it defies analysis.
Something similar happens with God.
Humans have an innate sense that he is there, but we cannot reduce him to a formula or an equation. We can worship or reject him, but we cannot fully explain him. It is a mistake to ask scientists to prove or disprove his existence. He does not reside within their field of study—and good science recognizes its limitations.
“The secret of beauty lies, not in its chemical analysis, but in another mysterious reality,” writes J. Warner Wallace. Science cannot explain why a certain combination of pigments on a canvas is beautiful. And it is incapable of unraveling the mystery of God. When science finishes explaining everything it will have explained nothing.
Albert Einstein said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”
Wonder does not exist on the basis of rational explanations. It simply doesn’t work that way. It shows up unexpectedly and gives itself to those who are ready to be astonished. We are not about to figure out beauty and much less God—the source of all beauty—but they demand our attention. To ignore them is to be blind.
And to be fully alive involves responding to the awe-inspiring reality of both.
In the sentiment of beauty we feel the purposiveness
and intelligibility of everything that surrounds us,
while in the sentiment of the sublime we seem to see
beyond the world, to something overwhelming and
inexpressible in which it is somehow grounded.
If it be all for naught, for nothingness
At last, why does God make the world so fair?
Why spill this golden splendor out across
The western hills, and light the silver lamp
Of eve? Why give me eyes to see, and soul
To love so strong and deep? Then, with a pang
This brightness stabs me through, and wakes within
Rebellious voice to cry against all death?
Why set this hunger for eternity
To gnaw my heartstrings through, if death ends all?
If death ends all, then evil must be good,
Wrong must be right, and beauty ugliness.
God is a Judas who betrays His Son,
And with a kiss, damns all the world to hell,–
If Christ rose not again.
–Anonymous soldier killed in World War I, from: Masterpieces of Religious Verse
What angels invented these splendid ornaments,
these rich conveniences, this ocean of air above,
this ocean of water beneath, this firmament of earth between?
this zodiac of lights, this tent of dropping clouds,
this striped coat of climates, this fourfold year?