Weighty Matters

Is “Why?” a legitimate question?

Not “Why did you say that awful thing?” Or “Why did you swerve off the road and hit that tree?” No. This has more to do with “Why are we here?” and, relatedly, “What is our purpose?” Old questions, I know. Maybe it’s sad that I’m just getting around to asking them with a heightened sense of urgency.

I’m asking because I’m no longer sure of my faith, of the existence and whereabouts of God.

We know more every day about the “What?” and the “How?” But when I try to take in the night sky full of galaxies and black holes and quasars and nebulae and solar systems, when I attempt contemplation of the immensity of the universe and the passage of time and progression of events and evolution and what my eyes see and ears hear and heart feels…, when I pick up a newspaper and read yet another gut-wrenching headline, I end up in a place fraught with confusion and doubt and the feeling that pursuit of an answer to this particular version of “Why?” is an exercise in futility.

We have the right to ask, though. There has to be some reward for making it this far in our evolutionary journey toward sentient, self-aware being. Why are we here? Is our arrival at the point where we can ask the question simply not as significant as we wish it would be? Is there nothing we are supposed to be learning? Is it just a characteristic of this point in our cosmic development, like a two-year-old who reflexively asks “Why?” every chance he gets? Do we need only wait a few more generations and we’ll be asking different questions, or no questions at all?

To hear certain quite rational and intelligent people tell it, we humans are simply, albeit amazingly, the result of eons of evolution, composed of elements found in comets and everywhere else in the universe. Whether or not there is any divine spark remains a contentious issue. While not being the way God would probably want us to look at things, there are still sizeable gaps in our understanding and knowledge, in which we place God because we don’t know what else to put there. The logical end point of this way of thinking is that, some day, we will know everything, and God will become a moot point, a quaint reminder. No longer needed.

I’m not sure this is the road or direction on and in which I want to travel. Not only because it would cast a different light on the way I spent the biggest portion of my vocational life, but more because of what it would say about life in general and what lies beyond life. What it would say about redemption, unless redemption turns out to be part of our fever dream, just a manifestation of our desire that there be something more in store beyond the measly amount of time we get on this mortal coil.

Why are we here? Science gives us the reasoned, evolutionary answer. But that’s not the answer a lot of us are looking for. For many of us, there is a hope, a holding out for, another answer. It’s the one we’ve already told ourselves or have been told by others, and it involves a capacity for awe that moves beyond the awe we may already feel for what is already known through the blood, sweat, and tears and trial and error of scientific research.

To ask “Why?” is an attempt at some sort of assurance that our lives are more, mean more, than being the result of a gradual, logical development from something simple to something more complex. We’re hoping that being “wonderfully made” does indeed insinuate a bond with a creator, with God. Because apart from God, there is no answer to this existential “Why?” It’s just more death and bad behavior and suffering and idiocy until evolution moves us along to some enlightened place a few more eons down the road.

The astronauts who have had the incredible opportunity of traveling away from Earth and looking back have been moved by the sight of a blue and white orb hanging in the black nothingness of space. From most accounts, this view changed them, gave them a perspective hardly any of us will have, but from which we can learn. It was humbling, it was a graphic reminder that, in the vastness of the universe, and as far as we can tell, we live in the only place where life has made it as far as it has. The only place in the universe where life of any sort or to any extent even exists.

Logic and reason might lead us to think that, given the size of the cosmos, there must be other places where life has evolved and even progressed further in its developmental journey– we just haven’t seen evidence of this yet. Conversely, this absence of contact, apart from the Hollywood depictions of close encounters, might lead us to a place where we can dare utter a thought that’s both chilling and exhilirating- we are alone in the universe. And if this happens to be the case, might that not cause us to ask “Why are we here?”

Honestly, I feel more comfortable with the possibility that there is life elsewhere in the universe. It would make sense and be only mildly disappointing to learn of such a thing. Yet there will remain a part of me that will always hold out for some sort of grand design, even if the reason is God just got bored and decided to set the wheels in motion here on Earth. That’s ridiculously simplistic and naive and dumb and sounds like what might be behind the life-sized Noah’s Ark in Kentucky.

I don’t think I’m alone, though, in wanting answers to existential questions, especially the biggies. Does Augustine have it right when he observes that our hearts are restless until they rest in God? Or is this earthly life just a godless, amazing, brief crap shoot?

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