Nature and reality

I sometimes come across references to the same topic (more or less) throughout the day, or over the course of two or three days. I assume everyone experiences this type of coincidence on occasion. For me it often has the effect of helping me to see a thing from different points of view, which can be enlightening. Recently I came across the following in the course of the same day:

“I spent some time with nature
To remind me of all that’s real”

Creed, “Faceless Man”, from the album Human Clay, 1999.

“The upper frequency point below which energy transfer will exhibit a steady decrease, is a function of both the nature of the radiation impedance of air and the radius of the radiating surface. Smaller radiating surfaces can reproduce higher frequencies than larger radiating surfaces, a fact of nature which accounts for the advent of specialized speakers which cover different frequency ranges.”

Vance Dickason, The Loudspeaker Design Cookbook (Peterborough:Audio Amateur Press, 1995), p. 6 (emphasis added).

These two things made me think about what nature is. According to Creed, it’s basically “what’s real”. Creed, as you may know, is a Christian rock band. They’re not usually explicit about it, but neither do they hide it. I see them as a good rock band that happens to be Christian. Seen from the Christian point of view, by “what’s real” I assume they are making reference to God, i.e. to get in touch with nature is to get in touch with God. I think the rest of the lyrics bear out this interpretation.

So nature is what’s real, and God also is what’s real. Assuming they more or less go along with traditional Christian theology, they would in fact say that God is Ultimate Reality.

The Dickason quote, too, takes nature as “what’s real”. It gives an explanation for why smaller radiating surfaces can reproduce higher frequencies better than larger radiating surfaces, having to do with the resistance of the air to being radiated, which is higher at some frequencies than others. But why does air have that level of radiation impedance? Dickason calls it “a fact of nature”. It’s the reality with which we are confronted.

Getting back to Creed, note that he says he spent some time with nature to remind him of “all that’s real”. In other words he goes out to the wilderness. Wilderness is a place where man is not, or at least, where his presence is greatly reduced. So getting away from man is how he is reminded of what’s real. I interpret this as meaning, not that man isn’t real, but that man, being made in God’s image, is a creator like God. He makes things: buildings, roads, cars, televisions, advertisements. The things man makes are real. So why does he have to get away from man to be reminded of what’s real?

I think he means that man makes real things, but not ultimately real things. He takes what’s already there and reshapes it to suit his purposes, and so the reality inherent in them, for the most part, is limited to the purposes for which he made them. Natural substances, on the other hand, are made for the purposes for which God made them. God being the Ultimate Reality, the preeminent way of reminding yourself of God is by noticing nature.

Putting it in Thomistic terms, the final causes for which man makes buildings and cars are man-made purposes, therefore the things remind you of man. Whereas the final causes of nature are God’s purposes and thus remind you of God. Further, the things which man shapes in order to make things pursuant to his final causes, are the very things which God has made for his own final causes. So man’s purposes are subsumed in God’s purposes, and cannot be otherwise.

Now if man makes things and decides for what purposes he will make them, how much more has God the right to decide for what purposes he makes man? The realization of this fact was the turning point of my conversion: The point where I realized that the world is God’s, not mine; and I’m part of the world, so I’m God’s along with everything else. I didn’t make myself for my own purposes, rather God made me for his purposes. We get fooled into thinking as though we “make” our own lives, because we are so God-like: Because God has made us capable of taking the things we find and shaping them to suit our purposes, as he himself does; forgetting that God made the things which we shape!

So again, my conversion consisted mainly in the realization that creation is not mine but God’s, and that I don’t get to command God to make things this way or that way to please me, and get angry when he refuses. Like anything else God has made, he can make me do one thing or another. He could have made my (i.e. human) nature other than it is, but he made it the way he made it. He could control me the way he can control anything else, the way he can regenerate the parts of a body to make it rise from the dead, or strike a country with drought or with plenty, or smite armies, or whatsoever he wills.

Yet unlike these other things, he doesn’t make me love him or know him or submit my will to his. Rather, he gives me a will that is capable of choosing to love and submit to him as my designer and creator — my owner, if you will — or not.

What Christianity brings to the picture is the opportunity, in choosing to love and submit to him, to thereby become a son, and not merely a creature like a rock or a squirrel or a planet: A son like him in nature, spiritual, intellectual, creative, sharing with him in ruling over the cosmos because I choose to be with him rather than against him, submitting to his will because he IS goodness and intelligence and reality — not only a lot better and smarter than I am, but the very source of my goodness and intelligence.

Undoubtedly this sounds horrible to a non-Christian. They don’t like this talk of submitting and conforming our wills to someone else’s. This makes us like slaves, or robots! Except that we aren’t slaves or robots, as evidenced by the fact that I did not always submit my will to God’s. I was free to choose otherwise and did; as are they, as illustrated by their making this very protest.

I made the decision to submit because I came to want “what’s real”. All I had before submitting my will to God’s, was my will, and my demands upon God: “Make poverty go away!! You could do it with the blink of an eye! So do it, what the f*** are you waiting for!! I hate you!!” OK, so I hate him. So now what? Poverty is still here. I still have my stupid parents, I’m still stuck in this crappy job, the Russians still have the Bomb.

This wasn’t getting me anywhere. So why not try it the other way?

I’m not saying it was a wager type of thing, “Let’s just try submitting to God’s will and see how it turns out. Nothing to lose, right?” Somehow I was convinced that it really was the right thing to do, and I submitted from the bottom of my heart. A surrender is actually more how I experienced it; on my knees, crying, sorry. It’s only in that state of mind that you can really “try it and see”.

The thing is, trying it and seeing only reinforced the decision I had made. I was not disappointed or let down. On the contrary, things entered my life which before had been strangers: Patience and love towards strangers. Love of chastity, of respect, of obedience. An appreciation for and attempts to attain humility. But most of all peace. I was no longer compelled to demand that my will be done and complain when it wasn’t.

When I submitted to the nature of things, I discovered a kind of happiness and peace that I had never known. Acting, or trying to act, against nature is like trying to make high-frequency speakers out of large radiating surfaces, and low-frequency out of small. You’re free to do it, or try to do it. But you’re making things harder for yourself than they need to be.

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