Dave Bish: Where Are the Depths Found?

BishDave currently serves on the staff team for Grace Church Exeter, but is pursuing a next step into pastoral ministry elsewhere in 2016. He’s married with three young sons. He previously spent 11 years on the staff team of the UCCF, as a Christian Union Staff Worker and then as Team Leader for the South West. He’s edited three volumes of sermons by puritans Richard Sibbes and Jeremiah Burroughs in addition to many years of blogging at thebluefish.org.  As Foundations is being released, I am thankful to Dave for this guest post on what it means to be human.

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“The depths which were previously located in the cosmos, the enchanted world, are now more readily placed within.” Taylor, p540.

In his enormous book A Secular Age Charles Taylor is examining the shift that has occured over the past 500 years from a world in which it was plausible to believe to one in which it isn’t so much.

At the heart of his case is the observation that we have moved from considering the universe to be a meaningful cosmos to being an empty space. We find ourselves alone in the silence.

Taylor notes that where today’s youth may despair of whether there is any meaning in life, 500 years ago it was the overwhelming weight of meaning that might crush the young. The Alpha Course’s old investigative slogan “an opportunity to explore the meaning of life” raises hope today but would’ve seemed strange centuries back – the question would’ve been how to navigate through the immense significance of everything.

We used to view the world as enchanted. Michael Ward notes the goal of CS Lewis’ Narnia books: to re-enchant us with a magical world, to reawaken our imagination, so we might better know Christ in our world. Allegory in places, but much more a participation in a “meaning-drenched universe”.   For which see also Evan Koons work For the life of the world.

We struggle to hear the heavens singing their song, to see meaning in the seasons, but knowing there must be more we relocate meaning to be within ourselves. We examine ourselves deeply. We assign ourselves four letter Myers-Briggs code, we identify our Strengths and Weaknesses and so on. My humanity classified and understood. And there’s real value in self-awareness! But, I’m struck that it’s a function of the age in which we live… a sad consequence of putting the world on mute, that we’re left to look within to find out who we are.

We adopt a “buffered self” instead of a “porous” view of ourselves. We define ourselves within ourselves, rather than by our interaction and service of those around us. See Peter Leithart’s recent Traces of the Trinity for a wonderful portrait porous life, things go in and out of us all the time. Extrovert or Introvert or whatever, I am a human being and “…living in the enchanted, porous world of our ancestors was inherently living socially.”

I can’t help but think the search within can also be a manifestation of Luther’s 500 year old definition of sin “man curved in on himself”. As a man in a meaning-drenched world Luther – a youth who had been overwhelmed by the weight of significance in the world – knew real life, restoration of his humanity, not in identifying the hero within himself but looking outside himself to a Saviour and a community.

The Universe is singing if we can learn again to hear it. And it invites us to a social life –  with people and in the persons of the self-giving God. What it means to be human, most deeply, is not reasoned out by surveys or soul-searching but revealed to us, as bearers of his image, in his world. For “no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

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