On Choosing to See
Reading David Bentley Hart makes me happy to be a Christian. The closing few pages of The Experience of God are simply a joy to read. Hart’s diagnosis of our present cultural moment with all of its lightly informed and category-confusing debates about atheism and religious belief is penetrating and razor-sharp (not to mention more than a little unsettling!). More importantly, though, his call to return to wonder at the very heart of existence and gratitude toward its source, is welcome and necessary.
It’s easy to gloss over long-ish quotes, I know. But resist the urge in this case. Hart has much to say that is worth thinking about. And he says it, as usual, in truly arresting ways.
Ours is a culture largely formed by an ideological unwillingness to see what is there to be seen. The reason the very concept of God has become at once so impoverished, so thoroughly mystical, and ultimately so incredible for so many modern persons is not because of all the interesting things we have learned over the past few centuries, but because of all the vital things we have forgotten. Above all, somehow, we have as a culture forgotten being; the self-evident mystery of existence that only deep confusion could cause one to mistake for the sort of mystery that admits of a physical or natural or material solution.
Perhaps that is attributable not only to how we have been taught to think, but how we have been taught to live. Late modernity is, after all, a remarkably shrill and glaring reality, a dazzling chaos of the beguilingly trivial and terrifyingly atrocious, a world of ubiquitous mass media and constant interruption, a ceaseless storm of artificial sensations and appetites, an interminable spectacle whose only unifying theme is the imperative to acquire and spend.
It is scarcely surprising, in such a world, amid so many distractions, and so many distractions from distraction, that we should have little time to reflect upon the mystery that manifests itself not as a thing among other things, but as the silent event of being itself. Human beings have never before lived lives so remote from nature, or been more insensible to the enigma it embodies. For late modern peoples, God has become ever more a myth, but so in a sense has the world; and there probably is not way of living in real communion with one but not the other.
And if we should return to wonder? Communion? If we should attempt to remember things long forgotten?
We shall arrive at a way of seeing that sees God in all things, a joy that encounters God in the encounter with all reality; we shall find that all of reality is already embraced in the supernatural, that God is present in everything because everything abides in God, and that God is known in all experience because it is the knowledge of God that makes all other experience possible. That, at least, is the end we should seek.
For the most part, though, we pass our lives amid shadows and light, illusions and revelations, uncertain of what to believe or where to turn our gaze. Those who have entirely lost the ability to see the transcendent reality that shows itself in all things, and who refuse to seek it out or even to believe the search a meaningful one, have confined themselves for now within an illusory world, and wander in a labyrinth of dreams.
Those others, however, who are still able to see the truth that shines in and through and beyond the world of ordinary experience, and who know that nature is in its every aspect, the gift of the supernatural, and who understand that God is that absolute reality in whom, in every moment, they live and move and have their being—they are awake.