When looking to take a trip to a new area I often look up popular pictures from the area to get an idea of what and where to photograph. Many photographers try to capture the essence of a place and looking at their work can give great insight into an area. I would say this is generally true except for the Grand Canyon. Many photographers are trying to capture the rich colors that are illuminated by sunrise and sunsets. All the parking lots fill up at sunrise and sunset. They look for rainbows and other weather related events that give scale to the vast size of the Canyon.
After several trip to the Grand Canyon and also trying to capture this same beauty I found myself frustrated; the same frustration that comes from trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. These added elements of weather and light are truly beautiful but the Canyon itself is not. When looking at the Canyon I do not see the work the Divine hand of creation. I do not find beauty, but the scene of unprecedented cataclysmic destruction. I find the remnants of floodwaters of desolation now baking in the sun soaked cliffs all majestic in its magnitude. Like true beauty, it brings me to stillness and wonder but it lacks the goodness of the Creator that must undergird true beauty.
With this new perspective of looking at the Canyon, the frustration fled away and the Canyon opened up to all kinds of possibilities for photography. Morning, afternoon and evening were filled with countless opportunities to capture what is continually exuding from the Canyon. So these photos are not beautiful in its truest sense but I believe they, however ineloquently, capture the truth of what the Grand Canyon is.
Truly, if such are the good things of time, what will be those of eternity? If such is the beauty of visible things, what shall we think of invisible things? If the grandeur of heaven exceeds the measure of human intelligence, what mind shall be able to trace the nature of the everlasting? If the sun, subject to corruption, is so beautiful, so grand, so rapid in its movement, so invariable in its course; if its grandeur is in such perfect harmony with and due proportion to the universe: if, by the beauty of its nature, it shines like a brilliant eye in the middle of creation; if finally, one cannot tire of contemplating it, what will be the beauty of the Sun of Righteousness? If the blind man suffers from not seeing the material sun, what a deprivation is it for the sinner not to enjoy the true light!
“The accord and affinity of all things with one another that is controlled in an orderly and sequential manner is the primal, archetypal, true music. It is this music that the conductor of the universe skillfully strikes up in the unspoken speech of wisdom through these ever-occurring movements.”
- Gregory of Nyssa
Ecclesiastes 2:16a For there is no more remembrance of the wise than of the fool forever, Since all that now is will be forgotten in the days to come.
Yesterday, my daughter and I received a tour of the ASU library by a librarian in our church. Our guide was familiar with French, German, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and was sure to show us all the volumes of writings from the middle ages that have not been translated into English. I came away with a renewed humility about how little modern man truly knows about his history. How little do we know and understand the events of our own day. How little do we know and understand the events of the past. Hindsight is not 20/20.
The study of history is a worthwhile pursuit that all who love wisdom should value. But this pursuit is tainted by the sin of pride. Nothing corrupts a historian like over confidence. This is true in the study of history as well as archeology, science, economics, etc. It just may be that the underlying flaw of modernism is not its presuppositions but its pride.
He waters the hills from His upper chambers; The earth is satisfied with the fruit of Your works. He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, And vegetation for the service of man, That he may bring forth food from the earth, - Psalm 104:13-14
This week I have read countless debates about Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. They are so difficult for us to define. When we ask our Creator for a definition, he takes us to the edge of the field, stretches out his hand and says “this.”
The majority decision of voting members of the Boy Scouts of America yesterday illustrates C.S. Lewis’ point in the Abolition of Man. In the Boy Scout Oath, a boy vows to keep himself “morally straight.” The term “moral” has lost all objective meaning and is now more about how the person feels about something. There is no objective definition of morally straight and no one knows where to find one. We are lost on the sea of public opinion.
Anyone who studies history knows where this ends. The strongest one wins and the most powerful rules. Lewis was right when he said “I am very doubtful whether history shows us one example of a man who, having stepped outside traditional morality and attained power, has used that power benevolently.” He later states “Man’s conquest of Nature turns out, in the moment of its consummation, to be Nature’s conquest of Man.” Nature, red in tooth and claw, here we come.
I recently finished the short work The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis. His “starting-point” illustration is from the story of Coleridge where two men look at a waterfall and one calls it “sublime” while the other calls it “pretty.” He then quotes from what he calls “The Green Book” (a high school level English book).
When the man said this is sublime, he appeared to be making a remark about the waterfall… Actually … he was not making a remark about the waterfall, but a remark about his own feelings. What he was saying was really I have feelings associated in my mind with the word ‘Sublime”, or shortly I have sublime feelings.
This quote illustrates the main issue in the decline of western civilization: a loss of objective meaning. The word “sublime” no longer has objective meaning. Nothing has objective meaning. This loss of meaning impacts all of our society including visual art, poetry, architecture, music, politics, law, and religion.
A panel of prominent Evangelical pastors and leaders were asked what the greatest problem in Christianity was today. They all claimed it was a lack of genuine love for God and improper Christian affections. These same evangelicals point to the introduction of popular forms of worship as a leading factor in this problem. They generally see implementing appropriate forms as the primary means to restore proper affection. This is naïve. The problem is not just with Evangelicals and its source is not with popular forms of worship. The issues evangelicals face are part of the larger broader culture in which evangelicals find themselves.
The reality for Christianity today is that our doctrinal statements are incomplete. What was taken for granted for almost 2000 years can be no longer. We need a doctrine of objective value. We do not need a new doctrine but a clear concise articulation of what Christianity has always believed. The “Abolition of Man” is an important work summarizing the problem of the loss of meaning and is helpful in finding a solution.
Christian leaders need to be thinking through these issues. Thankfully, some are.