I've spent hours frittering away in college philosophy clubs, alongside people who use words like prolegomena and quiddity. These intellectual dignitaries purse their lips and allow their brows to crease neatly above their noses. They express thoughts like men with tweezers trying to extract splinters from the marble toes of the goddess of reason.
If you want to know what I learned from them, I can count it on one finger: Thinkers are terrified of this world.
The truth is, I don't blame them. We—thinking, feeling, yearning life forms—are more than a little bit out of our depth.
We can't walk out our front doors into the summer air without tiny creatures trying to suck our blood, while the authorities do nothing. Or without a flaming star leering at us so brightly that our skin spots and burns if we don't coat ourselves in protection.
We're that vulnerable. That small.
The world that we live in is fundamentally at odds with human self-importance, the drive behind so much intellectual chatter. Mountains have no guardrails. County officials can ban spitting fireworks, but meteorites go unregulated. Clouds drench us whenever they like without fear of reprisal. Winds cheerfully vandalize and even demolish buildings that were appropriately permit- ted and approved. Birds fly. Tadpoles sprout legs and belch through the night regardless of noise ordinances. Monkeys are for real. So is what they fling.
We can understand why man, modern man in particular, would like to mop the floors and bleach the walls. We might not be able to tame reality, but we can tame our perception of reality. We intellectualize in order to feel in control.
But God's personality—his fingerprints— won't wipe off. His incredible, untamable, transcendent personality is everywhere. It oozes out of an aphid's hindquarters for an ant to savor. It slams against jagged cliffs in the North Sea and glows with pride at the birth of a star and flings the cold moon like a yo-yo trick and laughs when a too-green apple makes our insides panic.
This raucous place does have a steering wheel. But that steering wheel is far from our hands. Accepting this requires humility. It requires us to seek our knees and then our faces. To let this world suck us down while we form words of awe and repentance and affection for the One who crafted such beings as us in such a place as this.
Still, we are thinkers. Bombarded with glorious song from a heavenly chorus, we become defensive philosophers. We ponder and discuss reality, thereby ignoring it. We grow numb to the roar of glory, looking past the magic woven into our own lives by becoming hooked on Game of Thrones. Or politics. Or obsessing about bills. Or expending the entire quota of our mental energy on the pursuit of gadgets and doodads just shiny enough to keep a human from seeing the sun for what it actually is—a seething star, holding its position only by grace.
The modern intellectual makes one of two mistakes. She either clings to "realistic" stories, which have the audacity to claim to reflect the world as it truly is. These are stories without magic. Without the supernatural. The boring world of white suburban angst and pointlessness. Or she retreats into escapism—hyperfantasy and wish- fulfillment. Ironically, those fantastical stories are often powered by the same resentment of the real, the same implicit claim that the world is dull, purposeless, and in need of a literary boob job.
But Christians, who believe that the world is God's and is good, don't need to subtract the supernatural or escape our boring world. Indeed, we need to open our eyes wide to the wildness of God's art on earth. We need to see fantasy in the tides and the spring, in childbirth and love and sweat, in eyeballs that see and tongues that taste, in the blazing star above us and the forests grown with its energy, rustling in the wind.
Our stories and philosophies should help widen our eyes to the glorious personality of our Father. We are here, in a place where words are made flesh all around us, where dragonflies dart like living metallic origami while kids jump off docks into liquid. Where the Word himself was made flesh and showed us love stronger than the armies of Pharaoh.
The real is fantasy. Live in it, and trust the One who writes it.
N.D. Wilson is a best-selling author, observer of ants, and easily distracted father of five. His latest book, Death by Living, is a creative nonfiction celebration of mortality. When he isn't writing, you can find him on twitter @ndwilsonmutters.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.