One day, you find yourself waking below the ornate arches and archaic architecture of some ancient museum. Lying there, you remember nothing of the past – your only reality is the here and now of the present moment. You pick yourself up, you start exploring; connections in your mind are excitedly awoken as you trace a story of your surroundings through the corridors of artefacts you come across. Everything so new to you, so awe-inspiring, a terrifying journey through cavernous rooms filled with treasures and blueprints and unknown things.
You come to a large door in an unassuming corridor; cracks of light breaking through the splintered wood indicate that this is the front door exiting into some brave new world, out there. You give it a push. Nothing gives. No handle, no way out – this door is locked on the outside, and it is beyond your power of reason or strength to find a way out. You retrace your steps.
You begin to meet other people on your journey through this endless place. Most of them have been awake longer than you. Some of them have made elaborate theories about how you got there; some have taken to an investigation into the composition of the stones, the science of the building, an enquiry into the elements of this marble universe from which you cannot escape.
In one corner you hear the muffled conversation of two bearded old compeers who have lived in this place for all their short lives – they say that the ornate and intricate design work in the interior indicates some sort of architect, some designer who lives outside in the real world; his or her character, they can only guess at. From another corner you hear younger men scoffing – “Of course there is no designer. There is order, yes, but there is chaos too, chaos that no designer would allow – you see dust and dirt, you see ivy breaking through the cladding, you see mould in the manuscripts, you see all manner of wild plant life breaking through the outer walls. This is all there is – order and chaos, and us to make sense of it all.”
Everywhere, men and women have their own elaborate theories, but none of them has any substantial idea about the nature of the world outside the walls.
Someone has mapped out the vast entirety of the place. Others have worked out the relation between the positions of the artefacts; yet others have considered the material composition and age of the relics. They seem to have made sense of the whole affair. Science at her best, casting new light into the shadowy recesses of the museum they call home.
And yet, they can go no further. There are questions even the scientists can’t answer, and even if they were more intelligent, they’d still be no closer to the truth of the matter. They’ve got the facts about their little world straight. But, trapped inside the museum, there is no way they can get at the answers about the things outside. They can’t hope to, from within the dusty confines of their prison, gain true intelligence about the fresh air outside. Questions about whether the museum does or does not have an architect, questions about this architect’s character, even if he does exist – all impossible to get a clue about simply from observing the interior of the structure.
This is the calamity we find ourselves with. We are trapped on the inside. We are in the museum. We are all, if you like, fish in a fish bowl seeing only refracted rays of light seeping through the liquid. Science can go as far as searching out the answers about our material world, and as humans we’re closing down the gaps in our knowledge. But even if we search it all out, we merely have total inside knowledge of a closed system, locked from the outside. Science is the truth about that system, but it can’t go any further. It can’t claim to have knowledge about things outside the system, about whether something or someone put the system in motion; about if someone built the museum. If she claims answers to these questions, she oversteps her mark.
Where does this leave us? Lost, chasing the whim of some far off sound, the echoes of birds who call to each other on the rooftop?
The Christian position is this. That, unlocking the front doors from the outside, a man steps into the confines of our museum world. He makes the ridiculous claim that he is the Son of the Architect, the rightful possessor and heir of the structure. He, in opening the door, gives us the taste of the fresh air outside, the natural light of the world beyond, a hope of freedom. We taste something we haven’t tasted before, something we can’t quite put our finger on – but we don’t quite get the full thing. Not yet.
This man gives us an ultimatum – that if we would but trust him, hold his hand and one day follow him out, we can forever live in that world. We must only wait until the time that the Architect has ordained for the doors to be broken and the windows smashed, so that the world outside can stream in and breathe new life into the hallways of stone. Until then, we live in faith, holding on to the brief catch of air we tasted in our nostrils when he first awoke our senses to the outside. He tells us, even if the others kill him, we must hold on to him, seek him out; for to those who trust, he will return and lead out.
Some shout him down as a madman. Others condemn him as a vile trickster, among the worst conmen for letting people buy into a lie. But those who looked him in the eye, who saw the depth of the love and mercy he held there even as the others led him down the corridors to kill him, they trust him still.
They hold on to this man’s astonishing promise. What alternative do they have? He holds the keys to the door. It is either that, or spend out the rest of their short lives traversing the meaninglessness of empty rooms and among objects whose wonders have worn off, forever disappointed by the half-baked answers of confused men.
So we hold on to the catch of breath contained in the memory of his voice, trusting that one day his promise will be fulfilled and that the doors will be thrown wide open.