The world is a mysterious place, and part of human nature is to try to understand it. This is the role of science and rationality; we look to them to help us make sense of things. To an large extent they are very successful, and have improved our ability to manipulate the world more and more. And yet, there are things about the deeper underpinnings of reality that give us pause.
Some things we simply do not yet understand, such as the nature of consciousness and self-awareness. Some day we may have a good understanding of those, but today they are quite mysterious. But even within areas we do understand, there are truths that are mysterious in a different way: they defy common sense. It’s not that we don’t understand them, but that what we do understand just doesn’t seem right. Things like wave/particle duality, or relativistic non-causality. They are odd, yet reality is full of them.
Take non-causality, for example. We take for granted that events happen in a purely sequential manner, and that it’s always possible to tell which of two happened first. This is not strictly true, however. Because the speed of light is the maximum speed possible, there are situations in which it is impossible to know for sure which of two events happened first. In fact, different observers can come to different conclusions about the same experiment, showing that the universe is actually non-causal. This fact is not due to limited human, but is a well-documented aspect of reality. It’s not that there’s something unknown going on, but rather that what is known to be true, does not make sense.
The fact that reality violates common sense is true with more than physics, of course. It applies even more with the most important matters of existence: those having to do with human life. Many things that are most deeply important to us are not yet amenable to scientific analysis, and perhaps may never be. In other words, many of the most important things in life not only violate common sense, but have little to do with rational thought at all. Consider love, the meaning of life, art and meaning, matters of eternity, and so on. At best, common sense and reason may help enrich them, help us explore their depths, and help express and fulfill them. But fundamentally, common sense and reason are not the basis for them.
Because they are so foundational to human existence, the truest knowledge is through experience. Direct experience gives us the deepest understanding. For example, we experience love directly when others love us, when their actions tangibly express the feelings they have for us. We experience love even more deply when we love someone else, and even more so when we act that love out.
But it is also possible to experience love indirectly, by observing the relationships of other people.
Such indirect experiences speak to our very nature so deeply that they still impact us, move us, and have deep meaning for us. This is why we enjoy love stories, songs, and poetry. Love is such a fundamental and important part of being human, that even the vicarious is significant. Love cannot be analyzed, doesn’t make common sense, and is often irrational. And yet, we can understand much about it by seeing how it moves other people.
In a very real way, when we accept someone’s love for us, we take it on faith. We cannot truly know someone else’s heart, what they feel deep inside. The phrase “I love you” are just words, yet they convey the deepest commitment that one person may make to another. We may accept them because they are accompanied by some level of consistent action, but it really takes a lifetime to prove the feeling real. A mutual exchange of faith becomes concrete as it is lived out. As we receive the expression of someone else’s love, their abstract emotion becomes real, becomes something we experience. What starts as a matter of faith, ends up a matter of experience.
It is the same with matters of eternity. The things we know to be true, deep inside, cannot be proven and make no sense. They must be consciously accepted on faith. Having done so, we begin to experience their truth through experience, by living out that faith. But it is not empty faith, just as falling in love is not an empty experience. For many, that faith is ignited in some direct experience of it, such as an apologetic writing or experience in a family. But indirect experience of eternal truths present a significant starting point as well.
In a way similar to observing other people in love, we can observe other people of faith. We see the peace they have, or the guidance they receive, or their ability to change. People from all walks of life exhibit faith, people we would otherwise regard as rational, and whose opinions we would value on many other matters. This is one of the most powerful evidences of the reality of eternal matters. Since they cannot be proven, since they do not necessarily follow from common experience (and so follow common sense), they must be approached more like love. And since they also speak to our deepest needs, recognizing their reality in other’s lives opens the door for us to take a step of faith with some reasonable basis, that others who are every bit as rational and intelligent, profess to have found something significant when they have done so.
The faith exercised in eternity’s call is not empty, but based on testimonies of other people of faith. This becomes a starting point for our own journey. As we accept the truths proclaimed, we begin to live them out and see fruit in our own lives. In some sense, faith begins to fade over time as we live more and more by the reality that it recognized. Just as old married couples depend less and less on courting behavior and instead rely on the proof of shared lives, so we depend less and less on other people’s experiences, and instead rely on the proof of an active God working in our lives. The reality of a resurrected Messiah who paid the price to bring us into relationship with that God becomes something we can state from personal experience.
We come to understand that truth transcends understanding, is beyond reason, and defies common sense. Truth is a Person, active and personal, who loves us and wants us to be with Him in eternity. A Person who wants us whole and well and at peace while here, and has the power to make us so. We just have to accept His love.