Os Guinness lived for 10 years in the Buddhist culture, later sat at the feet of a Hindu guru after studying in a leading western secularist university (Oxford), and has written several books, including Long Journey Home: A Guide to Your Search for the Meaning of Life (Doubleday, 2001). He is now senior fellow at the Trinity Forum in McLean, Virginia.
One of the themes of this book is that there is a universal reality of spiritual journey. Most human beings will admit to being on some sort of journey.
The picture of journey is one of the most universal pictures of human life. You can go to almost all the continents, and you can run down all the centuries, and you see that this theme of the journey comes up. The Hebrew Exodus. Homer's Odyssey. Jump the years right down to Don Quixote and Pilgrim's Progress. Jack Kerouac's On the Road. We're all somewhere between the day we were born and the day we'll die.
But you say that's not all that's universal about this notion of journey. People are universally longing for identity, mission, and meaning.
Exactly. Having it all isn't enough. You take the events of September 11, and it's as if the façade of normal life was savagely torn off. And as many have said to me, "I was suddenly aware of the brevity of life and the reality of evil and trying to figure out what it all meant." So normal life in times of incredible prosperity raises questions about meaning, but things like terrorism and the strike we saw, and the death of thousands of so many innocent people has raised the same questions, but at a very deeper level.
It's as if suddenly it became crystal clear in one moment that we, as human beings, do believe that there is something Right and there is something Wrong. In one of your chapters, you say we are animals who ask. And after an event like this, people are asking very important questions.
That's right. And you can see that the evil was so obviously evil, you didn't need to have a theoretical or ethical discussion on it. Postmodernismthe idea that everything is relativeis just shown up as absolute nonsense. Intuitively the heart cries out, "This is absolutely wrong."
I love the story of W. H. Auden, who, in the 1930s, was an atheist who believed in a sort of relativism, came to New York and saw the documentary of Hitler's siege of Poland. He knew immediately two things. One, human beings were evil. But then he saw, secondly, he needed an absolute to be able to judge that they were absolutely evil. He said all his life as a European intellectual he'd been trying to destroy the absolutes. He left the cinema a seeker after an unconditional absolute, and came to faith.
That's one of the things that you get into later in the book: ultimately, whatever spiritual journey we're on, we want it to match up with reality.
The seeker, as it's used today, is just someone unattached. They're not Jews, not Christians, not Muslims, not atheists. They're just unattached. The real meaning of the word seeker is someone for whom life has become a question, and they're seeking for an answer. Any thought is arguable. But there are thoughts that can be thought, but not lived.
You say spiritual journey is universal, yet it is unique to each individual. For one person it's gratefulness. For C. S. Lewis it was joy. For another, it's the Holocaust and the reality of evil. And whatever the trigger, ultimately it heads the person toward asking big questions.
For many people that first phase, that time for questions is the key one. Because it's questions that constitute a seeker. Most people aren't searching. As Walker Percy put it, "The search is what everyone would undertake if they weren't sunk in everydayness." For many people, September 11 shattered the everydayness.
In this book, you lay out three broad families of faiths that try to answer these questions.
Today's world has an incredible diversity of faith. There's sort of a million and one faiths, philosophies, worldviews, ideologies. Pick your word. So some people say, that's far too many for me to check out, and they just feel confused and overwhelmed. But there are actually only so many families of faiths. While there are tremendous differences, they have a family resemblance because they go back to the same view of what's the ultimate source of reality.
The first is Eastern. And they can be Buddhists or Hindus or New Agers, but they all go back to the same view of ultimate reality: an impersonal ground of beingwhat the philosophers call the undifferentiated impersonal. The second huge family of faiths is the Secularist. Their view of ultimate reality is chance plus time plus matter. As one American humanist puts it, we human beings are living in a world which didn't have us in mind. The third big family of faiths is the Biblical: Jewish and Christian. They both go back to the same view of ultimate reality, an infinite personal God, whose made us in his image, and so on, and everything flows from that.
A lot of people say, if you get down to the common core of religions, they're all the same. But there is no common core. There are huge differences, and they make a huge difference.
Near the end of your book you tell some stories that indicate that people on such a search actually need to be heartened with the realization that the Hound of heaven is searching for them. This isn't a one-way street.
No, you can see that as a terribly recurring theme in the earlier stages. We're looking, we're examining, we're seeking, we're doing it all. And suddenly at the last stageand a person is never more themselves than when they make that commitment of faithsuddenly then you realize though we were searching, we've been found. We've been arrested. C. S. Lewis's wife put it, "God came in."
But Lewis reacted to God coming in not with joy, but with
with horror. There was no word in his book that made him more upset than the word interference. The idea that he was not in total control of his life, or not captain in his own ship horrified him. And I suppose he had to bow, so he was a reluctant, dejected convert.
Which is why so many people who say they're on journey ultimately don't find the fulfillment in God. Lewis was coming face-to-face with the vestiges of his own secularism, his "I do it my way." And that's very much where a lot of seekers are today.
And there's always two things at the end. You always still have a choice. You either fall on your knees or turn on your heels. Or to put it more carefully philosophically, either we try and shape the truth to our desires and go our way, or we shape our desires to the truth and bow and go God's way.
The journey towards faith in Christ is not the end. It's the beginning of the journey that leads us all the way home. But from then onwards it's a pilgrim's progress, as Bunyan put it. In other words, as Christians we never think we've arrived. We're on the road, but we do know the One who's the Way, the Truth and the Life. But not until we see him and the Father face-to-face and arrive home do we complete the journey. Until our deaths, it's still a journey. We've got to finish well.
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