Yesterday I submitted to Cascade Books my final manuscript of Living in Truth, Beauty, and Goodness: Values and Virtues. It will be published next summer. Thirty-four years of drafting it has come to an end.
“Beginning, middle, and end,” I would tell my son Ben when he was young. My purpose was not so much to induce him to gather himself a bit before starting something as to pick up after himself when he was done.
I well know that this is not the end. There will be editing and much more to do before publication, which itself is only a beginning. Reflecting on that fact of no real end in sight, I could feel the surge of truth, beauty, and goodness flow as a powerful, endless river coursing through me.
I remember hearing a sermon during my childhood telling the congregation of the minister’s opinion that when you die, God takes what is good and lets the rest become recycled. In that sense, goodness goes on. I agree that goodness goes on, and I also believe that we go on as persons if we choose in faith to do so.
The beginning of my book began when I was inspired to begin developing my own philosophy of living in truth, beauty, and goodness. That was almost a decade before my first draft. But the real beginnings came before that, going back to childhood experiences, the way my parents each in their own way cared for those values, the wider history of which I am a part, and the Creator whose values quietly and powerfully accompany the evolution of our world.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Thus begins the Book of Genesis.
Physicists calculate that the universe began 13.7 billion years ago in what they call the Big Bang. That term connotes an explosion without purposeful development; but if physicists try to trace the earliest phase of the universe, the earliest fraction of a second, they come to a point where the laws of physics become meaningless. In other words, from the perspective of physics, you have an initial incoherent chaos—and then the laws of physics kick in. It’s not for physics to ask why or how that transition is made, for only after this transition is their work meaningful. But philosophy can wonder beyond the limits of science, and religion can believe beyond the limits of philosophy.
If God is eternal, he is beyond time. “Everlasting” means never-ending, but the word “eternal” points to a mystery beyond that. We creatures of time cannot gain that top-down perspective of eternity. But wherever God reveals himself and whenever God works within us, we can glimpse something.
Beginning, middle, and end.
The philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said that we cannot think back to beginnings, since we are already existing, already in the middle of a process, before we can even think about an origin that remains utterly obscure as we try to penetrate backwards.
Middles make sense in light of beginnings and ends. Most scientists since Galileo keep their analyses free of ends in the sense of goals that imply purpose. From a modern and strictly scientific perspective, human actions may have beginnings, middles, and ends, but such purposive striving is an anomaly in the cosmos. But I have argued that such restrictions on science do not represent the best of philosophical thinking and even biological thought (“Teleology Past and Present”).
I believe that our end or goal is to grow up, not just in the human cycle of birth and growth to maturity followed by death. I believe that we are destined (with free will) to grow up to the full spiritual stature of becoming like God in the way that is possible for a finite mortal child of an infinite Source Personality.
I believe that our end must be more than ascending to heaven and enjoying society sessions on pink clouds forever. The greatness of the universe belies these child-like images of the Creator’s plan. Our struggles have meaning beyond our ken. “Seek and you will find” said Jesus. I friend of mine used to say that this teaching was a proportional truth: “If you seek 10 percent, you’ll find 10 percent. If you seek 50 percent, you’ll find 50 percent. But if you seek 100 percent, you’ll find 100 percent.” I believe that much of that finding occurs beyond this life, and that we never find 100 percent because God (thank God!) is infinite. There’s always more. We find truth, perhaps we “get saved,” but genuine finding increases our appetite for more.
Happy seeking for your Source/beginning. Happy finding the courses of action and projects that are yours to pursue. And happy finding your entrance to eternal life even here and Now.
“Da Vinci Studies of Embryos Luc Viatour” by Leonardo da Vinci
Photography *own work www.lucnix.beNikon case D80 optical Sigma 17-70mm F2,8/4,5 Macro. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Da_Vinci_Studies_of_Embryos_Luc_Viatour.jpg#/media/File:Da_Vinci_Studies_of_Embryos_Luc_Viatour.jpg