Back to the Future, Forward to the PastPosted September 14th, 2011
by Bert Williams
Ten years ago, and four hundred years ago, events took place that changed our world. Could two events possibly have less in common than a flying terrorist attack on skyscrapers and the translation of an old book?
It can easily be argued that more differences than similarities exist between the life and times surrounding the two events. The experience of North Americans ten years ago would have seemed utterly foreign to residents of England during the reign of King James I. Those people had never heard of a whole raft of inventions we now consider necessities.
Just imagine! Controlling the temperature in your home simply by pushing a button on the wall! Yeah, like that’ll ever happen! Imagine traveling thousands of miles in a few hours with greater safety than a horse and carriage. Sure! As if to suggest that people can fly! A pure sweet fairytale.
In terms of most daily human activities, one can make the case that there is remarkably little in common between the 17th and the 21st centuries. But in terms of the foundational realities of life on planet Earth, we share much in common with the Brits of four hundred years ago.
Obtaining adequate food; finding shelter from cold and storm; the cycle of birth, life, and death that challenges every family; the need to love and be loved: we share much in common with fellow travelers of earlier centuries. The inexorable progress of science and technology changes human existence permanently in profound ways, and yet the most basic elements of life remain remarkably set.
This suggests that the book that received a fresh translation into English four hundred years ago may speak profoundly to a world filled with airplanes that can demolish buildings, and missiles that can knock airplanes from the sky. And that brings us to a key point. Two ways of regarding life on planet earth exist: Either (a) we are alone in the universe or (b) God is with us.
That’s it. Either God is here or He is not.
It is sometimes argued that science and technology have solved the needs that caused humans to create God. We don’t need Him any longer. Therefore, He does not exist.
But consider: Four hundred years ago humans could not imagine climate-controlled homes. They could not begin to imagine traveling almost effortlessly (well, except for the airport security checks) by air. So, what exists that we—in the 21st century—cannot imagine? Should current developments in science and technology so constrain our imaginations that we are robbed of the ability to dream of fantastic things beyond our present ability to comprehend?
Have human beings become so sated by technology that we can no longer imagine the possibility that there remains an infinity beyond our grasp? Our forebears could not imagine thermostats and airplanes. There is so much about our 21st century world that is better than theirs. I would not want to go back. But is there a danger of losing things—important things—along the way? Maybe their grasp of the divine—the infinite—outstripped ours. Our hectic, grind-it-out existence can be a strong anesthetic.
In this month’s articles we pursue these questions. We may not catch complete answers to them all, but the challenge of the chase will make us stronger and will do us good.