Thursday, December 9, 2010

Mourning Testifies to God's Existence . . . Finally, Getting to My Point

(The oil painting is by Premier Deuil, 1888, titled First Mourning)

Everyone knows the story. Someone has a major tragedy in their life and then, as a result, loose their faith. Often it is the death of someone they loved. But it could be any major loss. The reason for that of course, is a false expectation planted by erroneous Christian thinking.

This misunderstanding of scripture goes like this. God loves you and if you are faithful to Him, He will build a hedge of protection around you and your family so no harm will come. What happens to the disillusioned is that they really feel in their hearts that they were faithful . . . yet calamity came anyway. It appears as a celestial betrayal. But God never promised this hedge to us. It is wishful thinking and a bit of egocentrism. Verses, which were intended for the nation of Israel in a particular time and place or for a particular prophet, are applied to us simpletons. I know I was hoodwinked with this misunderstanding and thus fell into spiritual chaos when shit started happening in my life.

But the point I wanted to make (before I got sidetracked by tangents in my typical way) is that this feeling of grief and the mourning of loss, especially the loss of someone you love, is one of the strongest testimonies of God’s existence. I will make my case in the following paragraphs. If this takes too long, I may have to continue with yet another posting.

In a lecture by Francis Schaeffer, titled Possible Answers to Basic Philosophical Questions, he lays out the case that when you boil things down, there are only a few options of beliefs about the universe.

The very first point of divergence is whether there is anything here at all. Only a scant few philosophers and writers have suggested that nothing is here so that discussion isn’t worth having.

The next major break, and one that has great proponents of each side, is whether the universe had a personal beginning (being created) or impersonal. Now, if you choose the impersonal, you have to be true to your position. It is where, out of absolute nothing, the universe sprang into existence without provocation. It was a random act with no intention behind it. Then from that point (which you might call the Big Bang) all that is now has evolved, first a stellar evolution, then a geological one and finally a biological one. That evolution was without intent except for the natural laws which dictated it. But the natural laws, including the laws of physics, quantum mechanics and biological laws, are all arbitrary.

On the other side, there is the personal beginning. On the side of the personal beginning there are two main options. First there is the pantheistic answer, which the universe itself is all part of god. Secondly, there is the monotheistic view, that God created the universe outside of Himself. Now of course you can further break down the points of divergence into the Judaist, Islamic and Christian views but that isn’t my point here. I’m just going to compare the non-personal beginning to the monotheistic one as they answer this problem of mourning. I will call the non-personal (strict evolutionary without a creative influence) as position A, and the Christian (or more general monotheistic view) as position B.

So, when you look at mourning from the A position, of course it must be the consequences of millions of years of biological evolution, especially the evolution of the human brain and precisely the limbic system of that brain. The only guiding force is increasing the odds of reproduction, or of surviving to the point of being able to leave as many offspring as possible. That is really the only biological force behind evolution and natural selection. There is not a “happiness” force, only biological reproduction. Atheistic evolutionist often cheat at this point and speak of “personal” terminology such as, “That’s the way the universe intended it for our enrichment.” That’s nonsensical.

Now, I believe that the human brain is unique in its ability to mourn. Yes, animals do have a maternal instinct where they do appear to mourn with the loss of a dependent offspring. I’ve heard cows bellowing (is that the right word?) after their calf has died or been taken away. I’ve seen the same with dogs and with whales (who have much bigger brains than us). I am not an animal expert of course, but I think it is dubious that animals mourn anything but the loss of an offspring. Even that mourning, I think, is more of a defensive calling to get the offspring to come back to their safety. Certainly you could explain the loss of offspring in evolutionary terms if you wanted.

I know that people would argue with me on this point. There are stories about dogs lying on their deceased master’s graves for months or years. I suspect that it is a much more primal than that. I sense it is the longing for the dog food, which that master had dispensed over the years, sort of a conditioning reflex.

I hate to take a morbid turn in this story but I think it is pertinent. I once shared an office with a podiatrist, Steve, who was also the county corner in Marquette County, Michigan. Oddly, being a corner was his hobby. He ran for the office as an elected official. It didn’t pay that well. But I could tell he had a passion for the job.

Steve used to bring me some of his corner’s textbooks, thinking as a medical provider that those photos and stories would be interesting. I didn’t find them so. Mostly they were about identifying human bodies in a variety of situations and looking for tale-tale signs of mischief.

There was one chapter, which caught my attention. It was titled something to the effect of, “Recovering Bodies in Homes with Pets.” In that chapter it described the invariable consequence of a person dying alone with a pet in their apartment or house. Simply put, the pet eats their masters . . . always. As soon as they are cold, and apparently dead, the pet starts to nibble. There is no mourning, no sense of awe at the remains of the loved one. The chapter had plenty of horrible photos to prove the point. So I think we often project our very, uniquely human, sense of mourning onto animals, when they work from far more basic sense of instincts of hunger and reproduction.

So my point is, humans are exclusively programmed for mourning the loss of someone who has died. But this special sense goes far beyond just mourning. It has to do with consciousness, self-awareness and what I would call the love of life and longing for eternity. Don Richardson calls it, “Eternity in their Hearts.” My good friend, Coco (my Saint Bernard) has no sense that she is getting older and will probably die within the next couple of years. Sure, she doesn’t like her joint pain. But I really don’t think she has a sense of death, dying or mourning. When her dear friend (fellow Jones pet dog) Sparky died, her only concern was his corpse was blocking her food dish.

I know that there are those within the A perspective camp who would argue this point. There is a lot that we don’t know about animals and their sense of consciousness. But no one would argue that humans are not unique in our level of awareness of life, and the love there of.

Schaeffer talks about this rise to consciousness among men (meaning mankind). It suddenly puts us in dissonance with the reality of the universe. Here we are, a people who longs for life and eternity both in ourselves and in those we love. Yet, the universe in which we live, dictates a different outcome. It creates an incredible tension, of which, mourning, grief, depression and severe longing is the consequence.

He (Francis Schaeffer) further points out, that if you approached this situation from a clean position A (when I say “clean” I mean, not counting the theistic evolutionist but the strict atheistic evolutionist), then we have evolved beyond what the universe dictates. While biological laws dictate that evolutionary changes (except for brief mutations which are destructive and self-limiting) increase our likelihood of reproduction. But this sense of eternity creates a tension that makes us even more discontent, and leads to a less likely change of reproduction.

Schaeffer describes it like a fish in a sealed in a closed aquarium (without any perching stones or even free air) that evolves to the point of developing lungs. That evolutionary change would be more harmful to the fish and make this less likely to survive. They will eventually drown.

From the position A perspective, we humans have evolved into a situation where we now have “lungs” in a universe where there is no free air. We long for eternity for ourselves and for the people whom we love. We ache, suffer and grieve when that eternity is interrupted.

I will come back and talk more about the position B perspective next time. It is more obvious where I’m going with this but once again I’ve run out of attention span.

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