back to Mainly for Non-Believers
Years ago when my Ethel could walk we were driving (yes!) west to California. On the way we wanted to see the Grand Canyon but when we got into the general area we didn’t know exactly where to go to get a look at it. After driving around for a while we pulled the car over to a lay-by, got out and walked to the wall close by and before we were prepared for it—there it was! It took our breath away. Ethel spoke first. After a stunned silence she murmured, "How could anyone see that and say there’s no God?" (I didn’t bother to tell her that a non-believer would say that the huge "ditch" was a geological accident and that you can’t argue from that to some God or other. I thought I might mention the name Lessing and his "ugly ditch" to her but that would have been lost on her since she’d never met the man (he died in 1781). In any case, if she had met him my Ethel would have known how to deal with highfalutin arguments like that. (She has a Samuel Johnston way with her.) Then there was this, I was too filled with awe and a sense of my finitude and knew exactly how she was feeling and why she said what she said. Truth is, she just got the words out before I did.
Size will do that to us but—C.S. Lewis was right—only if the measurements are immense. A man or woman six feet three doesn’t boggle our minds but when you’re five feet seven and meet a basketball player who’s seven feet two, something happens. I’ve seen a lot of ditches in my life and a number of ravines but there’s only one Grand Canyon.
W.H. Fitchett chided non-believers for claiming that the size of the universe makes us so infinitesimal that we should know better than to claim to be special in the eyes of God, even if there was one. He said that they should try telling the parents of a child two feet tall that Mount Everest makes their child a trivial thing. That two feet tall person means more to those parents than the whole of the spiral nebula from top to toe. Size isn’t the same as significance and immensity isn’t the same as value. We’re not to compare things in that way.
Some non-believers are in an anxious froth to discover signs of life on some other planet (they’re sure that’ll disprove the Bible, don’t you see, and the whole "God thing" will get swallowed up in a black hole). If the universe is teeming with life then we’re dumb for thinking we’re special. On the other hand, if we’re alone then we’re sure to have got here by sheer accident. Heads we win and tails God loses. G.K. Chesterton noticed that approach and said fat people will think us thin and thin people will think us fat but maybe that’s because we’re "just right".
But back to the Grand Canyon experience. What Ethel and I felt was awe. Awe at the size and grandeur of what lay before us. We got the sense of something bigger than ourselves, something more lasting that our transient little lives in this phase of human life. A sense of utter dependence and of insufficiency flooded us. And because of our Christian faith we made the internal move toward God and the Grand Canyon became a kind of a sign pointing us higher. It was another reminder that the world and life has a whole different look when you come to faith in God because it is different. Kant was right; the only world we know is a perceived world but the world we perceive is shaped by our faith. So the Grand Canyon and we met and "spoke" to each other and we came away more emotionally committed and satisfied than ever. We find this happening in all kinds of situations, don’t you think? Once in a while we look at a child or hear a baby laughing or see two young lovers hanging on to each other as they go down the street or see those huge cumulus clouds build vast castles in the sky or catch an elderly parent on his or her knees in prayer and...
This may sound patronizing but I’ll risk it—I mean no harm—but I feel sad for those for whom the world and life is merely what we can empirically sense. I wish it were a kind of sacrament for everyone, pointing higher and lifting us higher. For that to be, of course, we need the transforming faith in Jesus Christ.