Layers in the Atmosphere

The Taste of Belief

We know that believing something is quite different from living it. But for the religious, what does “living it” mean? Let us refrain from stating the obvious—I am not referring to the good deeds that one ought to commit, but the aspect of our beliefs that strike us as having the most gravity.

There is first what I call the Mighty God perspective, or what I call “the calm, dry, dusty, short life.” I think here primarily of missionaries, a sun that is up more often than down, brick buildings, stained glass windows, thinly dispersed crowds, and having no care at all for the expectations of the culture. One acquires this perspective by internalizing the truth about death, transience, and eternity. We are all just passing through. It is not that life has no value, but that it only has value inasmuch as it affects the hereafter. I look upon people who hold this perspective with some awe, because they are not only consistent individuals, but they are imbued with a real aura of transcendence. They are not like some, who will themselves to give up the pleasures of life, and in doing so only increase their own appetites. No, they are like men among caged animals, peaceful as the afternoon breeze through fields of overgrown and dying crops. A conversation with them will cast a light upon our world of ties, suits and profits that makes it seem quite silly. Nonetheless, there are dimensions of the human experience are left out of this paradigm, and it is difficult to explain why they should exist, if we should not explore them. How much of an impact can one expect to have upon the world if one does not understand it?

There is second what I call the Friendly God perspective, or what I call “the colourful life.” I think primarily of brightly-coloured lights, emblems, extensive prayers, short-term mission’s trips, aesthetic considerations, and motivational books. One acquires this perspective by focusing upon the natural conclusion that God must have created us to live life as best we can, and to have it to the fullest. Naturally, he should help us along in this endeavour. People possessed of this mindset are happy; but they are not always in touch, and they are not always fulfilled. They may not realize this unless great tragedy strikes. Indeed, when carried to extremes, it is difficult to distinguish this type of religiosity from simple optimism.

There is third what I call the Mysterious God perspective, or what I think of as “the secret life.” I think primarily of my own experiences. The most important thing to me is what I, the individual, am to do right now. My beliefs cannot be predicated upon attachment to a present or—barring the natural hope that faith requires—future condition. There is no saying what shall happen in the future, and no decision that I would or would not make if I knew it. Human experiences are to be explored, inasmuch as it allows me to know what I am to do, and as it enables me to do it. This mindset casts the world in a very real light, as if each thing must contain some commentary upon the truth; for if it had nothing to do with the truth, it could not exist. It is long because the hereafter is far off, and it is secret because it requires the individual to discover what cannot be discovered for him. Nonetheless, in this paradigm it is more difficult to make commitments of the type that will allow one to endure a great deal of physical or emotional pain. There is potential for the individual to lose the sense of humility and insignificance that is sometimes due.

Even the known truths cannot demand a mood from us. With regard to those truths that are held as a position of faith, there are as many moods as life itself contains.

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