“The Experience of God” (Part 4)

How do we move from knowing god to knowing God? It is a movement, David Hart explains, from power to impotence:

The gods are enfolded within nature and enter human thought at the most exalted expressions of its power; they emerge from the magnificent energy of the physical order. God, however, is first glimpsed within nature’s still greater powerlessness—its transitoriness and contingency and explanatory poverty. He is known or imagined or hoped for as that reality that lies beyond the awful shadow of potential nothingness that falls across all finite things, the gods included. (pp. 94-95)

God is glimpsed, suggests Hart, in a moment of wonderment, of ontological surprise. How is it that that which I see and hear and touch actually exists? From whence did it all come? Whither does it go? How could it be? Why is there something, anything, everything rather than nothing? Hart becomes virtually rhapsodic as he describes the metaphysical encounter with the mystery of existence:

In the dawn of life we sense with a perfect immediacy, which we have no capacity or inclination to translate into any objective concept, how miraculous it is that—as Angelius Silesius (1624-1677) says—”Die Rose ist ohne warum, sie blühet, weil sie blühet”: “The rose is without ‘why’; it blooms because it blooms.” As we age, however, we lose our sense of the intimate otherness of things; we allow habit to displace awe, inevitability to banish delight; we grow into adulthood and put away childish things. Thereafter, there are only fleeting instants scattered throughout our lives when all at once, our defense momentarily relaxed, we find ourselves brought to a pause by a sudden unanticipated sense of the utter uncanniness of the reality we inhabit, the startling fortuity and strangeness of everything familiar: how odd it is, and how unfathomable, that anything at all exists; how disconcerting that the world and one’s consciousness of it are simply there, joined in a single ineffable event. … One realizes that everything about the world that seems so unexceptional and drearily predictable is in fact charged with an immense and imponderable mystery. In that instant one is aware, even if the precise formulation eludes one, that everything one knows exists in an irreducibly gratuitous way: “what it is” has no logical connection with the reality “that it is”; nothing within experience has any “right” to be, any power to give itself existence, any apparent “why.” The world is unable to provide any account of its own actuality, and yet there it is all the same. In that instant one recalls that one’s every encounter with the world has always been an encounter with an enigma that no merely physical explanation can resolve. (pp. 88-89)

Is Hart speaking here as philosopher, theologian, mystic, poet? Yes—all of the above. Perhaps he is not saying anything more than what St Thomas Aquinas formulates in his Five Ways, yet how many are given a glimpse of God through scholastic argument? Hart brings to word the experience of mystery that haunts our lives, even as we expend all of our energy seeking to evade that mystery—the absolute contingency of the universe and the intimation of transcendent infinitude. In that moment of revelation we become open to the fundamental truth of our existence—God.

(Go to Part 5)

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3 Responses to “The Experience of God” (Part 4)

  1. Mary Holste says:

    Marvelous! It occurs to me that wonder is, in fact, a way to describe our experience of pure love- the kind of non-possessive love that simply delights in the other. My 2 year old has learned the word love this week, and he is prone to exclaiming, “Firefighters? LOVE firefighters!” or the same about all kinds of everyday things in his life. Thank you for this series. I think this gets to the heart of our faith.

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