I’ve been reading a book titled The Universe Next Door by James W. Sire. It gives exhaustive descriptions of various world views (as many as he was aware of back in the day) talking about how to address various relevant questions like: Is there a God? What is God like? Why do we exist? What happens after death? Pretty deep stuff. Since I’m trying to understand the way different people approach these questions this kind of book was right up my alley, and I recommend it to anyone looking to understand the plethora of world views out there. (Warning: he uses a lot of big words. I myself understood about half of it.)
When it came to the section on Existentialism it reminded me of an occurrence in my twenties, which I think would be accurately described as an existential crisis. The train of thought also caused me to consider other questions that I hadn’t before, which I’d like to discuss in detail in a later post. For now, I feel like just sharing this story from when I was 23. I’ve documented portions of the experience in my personal journal.
As a child I was in the habit of freaking out whenever my brain tried to comprehend anything that was essentially infinite. I guess the way that my brain worked was that I needed to be able to contain information inside my mind in order for it to make sense, so the idea of an infinite universe really bothered me because if it was infinite (meaning without end) then I couldn’t possibly contain it, nor could I ever hope to. The same thing happened whenever I tried to understand Christian concepts like “eternal life” or “God had no beginning”. The idea of living forever used to terrify me because I couldn’t see that far ahead, and God having no beginning required trying to fathom that far back into a timeline that needed to end somewhere. As a child the only thing I could do to move on with my mind was ignore the questions, but as an adult that option felt too much like a cop out.
April 10, 2007
“It’s happened again, my mind has tried to grasp the infinite. Where did God come from? How did God come to be? The Bible says that He always has been – but isn’t that against the rules? What ‘rules’? God created all things. If there was ever a time He wasn’t around there would’ve been no rules to break. It’s no use trying to explain God’s existence through science because He created science. How could something He made be responsible for His existence? Something cannot come out of nothing. But by this logic nothing should exist at all.”
I remember more or less where I was at the time. I was at home. I remember that much. I think I was going back and forth through the house looking for something to do – something to take my mind off of it.
It had taken quite a few years, but my mind had finally touched on a very key factor in this whole line of questioning, and I could ignore it no longer. I shut myself in the bathroom, but that was probably a mistake. Isolation just made the realization louder. All of reality as I knew it operated on basic, fundamental and irreplaceable laws of cause and effect. Nothing can exist without something else causing it to exist. Logically, if you take this far enough back, you end up with a paradox. I finally realized that it was literally impossible for anything to exist – including myself. I’m not sure I can get this across strongly enough. It wasn’t possible for anything to exist. This wasn’t a logical conclusion. This wasn’t a thought or a feeling. I knew, without question, it is impossible for anything to exist.
I don’t perfectly remember what happened next. I think I blacked out. I could be wrong, because I don’t remember. But the fact that I don’t remember is possibly an indication that I blacked out. The next thing I remember was lying on the bathroom floor. I remember feeling the cold, hard tiles on my skin. I remember how solid they were, and I remember how much that surprised me. My realization that it was impossible for them to exist had no impact whatsoever on their existence. They remained as hard and solid as ever before.
I concluded two things from this. One – the universe I live in is sustained by something or someone other than myself. (Because if my mental breakdown doesn’t even have the slightest effect on something as insignificant as bathroom tiles then how can I conclude that I’m sustaining this whole universe myself?) And two – there must exist something in this universe or another that exists outside of my understanding of the laws of cause and effect.
The second conclusion touches on something philosophers have been trying to pin down for a while – the need for a Prime Mover. If everything comes from something, then when you eventually go far enough back you have to find something that was the first cause of everything else. For naturalists, even the Big Bang theory doesn’t quite satisfy, though it comes close, but even that still needs something before it to spark it. For theists the question of the Prime Mover seems easy – it’s God. But whatever answer one settles on, ultimately fails to satisfy as long as the understood laws of cause and effect are still applied. What I ended up having to conclude was that God is something outside of those laws as I know them. And if God is not the answer, then whatever the answer is must be something that exists outside of those laws. For me, being Christian my whole life, it was an easy transition to simply assume that God was even bigger than I had previously thought.
“As much as this thought freaks me out I am actually stumbling into a state of worship. Because I am here. Despite all logic on how things should work – according to my ‘rules’ – I am very much here, and alive, and thinking. If this were all an illusion it would’ve ended by now. This line of thought has brought me to a place of panic and instability that I had never known before and at the same time a place of reverence.
If I were holding this reality together in my mind as some people suggest then it would have shattered during this episode but the LORD has sustained it – He has sustained me.
I have tried so long and so hard to analyze God and explain Him but He is so much bigger than my understanding, my logic and my rules. My inability to grasp this is just one of the reasons that God is God and I’m not, and for that He is worthy of reverence and praise.”
I wanted to share that story first. There’s another more recent episode that I’d like to share in a future blog post, but I figure this one on its own may be heavy enough for one day.