“I hear those voices that will not be drowned”
I’m trying a new strapline out for size: “The reason we think we have heard a voice is because we have”. It comes from the first chapter of N.T. Wright’s book Simply Christian, which I’ve just started reading.
In the introduction to the book, Wright describes “four areas of contemporary concern” that form the basis for his argument in Part I of his book: “the longing for justice, the quest for spirituality, the hunger for relationships, and the delight in beauty”.
He doesn’t present any of these as the basis for “proving” the existence of God. Instead, he suggests that:
Each of these … points beyond itself, though without in itself enabling us to deduce very much about the world except that it is a strange and exciting place. We hear each theme, I suggest, in the way that we might catch the echo of a voice, the elusive but evocative sound of someone speaking just round the corner, out of sight.
I find this a far more attractive, compelling and persuasive approach than lining up supposed “proofs” of the existence of God. We cannot prove the existence of God in a way that is likely to persuade a sceptic. We can, however, point to these “suggestive echoes” of a reality that cannot be accounted for entirely in scientific, naturalistic terms.
It may well be that scientific descriptions are developed in the future that show how our sense of justice or of beauty, or our reasoning abilities and consciousness, are linked to identifiable physical structures or processes within the brain. My personal hunch is that this will happen. But this will not remove our sense that justice, beauty, truth, goodness and so on really exist and are not “merely” the outworking of essentially impersonal and purposeless physical processes.
In the opening chapter of his book, “Putting the world to rights”, Wright argues that our sense of justice does arise from a deeper reality, and is not merely a convenient evolutionary illusion. He describes our sense of justice as “the echo of a voice”, “the dream of a world (and all of us within it) put to rights”.
This echo may be an illusion, he concedes. Or it may point to a different world entirely, one we will only enter when this world has gone entirely to wrack and ruin. Or (and guess which one the good bishop favours) it may be that:
…the reason we have a sense of a memory of the echo of a voice, is that there is someone there speaking to us, whispering in our inner ear, someone who cares very much about this present world, and our present selves, and who has made us, and it, for a purpose which will indeed involve justice, things being put to rights, ourselves being put to rights, the world being rescued at last.
He argues that this is the position taken, albeit in differing ways, by the three great (and interrelated) religious traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam:
There are many differences between these three traditions, but at this point they are agreed, over and against other philosophies and religions: the reason we think we have heard a voice is because we have. It wasn’t a dream. There are ways of getting in touch with it and making it happen. In real life. In our real lives.