Thought for the Week 23 October 2011
Truth and Falsity
Contrary to what it often thought truth and falsity are not opposites. Falsity often lies to close to truth as to masquerade as what it is not. Julian Barnes, in his new novel The Sense of an Ending has the following statement, “the purpose of life is to reconcile us to its eventual loss”. Now it might be responded that the purpose of life is quite other: to enjoy ourselves as much as we can, to make other people’s lives happier, to perpetuate the species, to glorify God that we may enjoy him forever and so on. In a society in which death is so marginalised, its rituals removed from view, it is possible to ignore it much of the time.
Yet Barnes is not unique in paying much attention to death, or in thinking that life’s purposes not greatly remarkable. The praise which the book has received suggests that not only does he write well but that his views are widely shared. His mediocre hero with his amiable marriage and amicable divorce, his unremarkable career from which he is now retired apparently touch a chord. Very different from the Christian hope, we may say. It is indeed different though it also pays attention to loss and death. The Christian does not pretend that there is no such thing; she praises her Saviour who died for her. The Christian does not imagine that he will escape death or its pains. However we shall die we must likely endure many little crucifixions, many losses which litter the pathway to God, whether or inflicted or not by others but part of our growth in holiness.
Scripture tells us that we must die to self. St. Paul has it that our passions and desires must be crucified. Doubtless that constitutes a challenge to those for whom pleasure is the purpose of life and death therefore the great vitiator of all that is valuable to us. The apostle makes us realise how destructive the untrammelled self can be of the happiness and even the lives of others. Crucifixion becomes a symbol of our freedom from such forces and our will to live not for the flesh but for Christ who loves me and gave himself up for me. For the paradox is that he who would save his life will lose it and whoever loses his life for Christ’s sake and the gospel will save it.
The words of Barnes’ proposal are thus similar to those of Scripture but the tone is utterly different. The lack of hope for the future and a suspicion of self knowledge make life almost wretched. Whereas for the Christian the limitation of life’s span is an incentive to good, a desire to please perhaps in the selfish conviction that we shall not hereafter lament our failure to serve our own desires but in any case with a sense of gratitude to each day’s possibilities and a desire to prepare ourselves for fellowship with him.