Thursday, August 03, 2017

What no eye has seen

What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
    nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him
(2 Cor 2:9).

That's a tantalizing promise. But Paul can't spell out what he means, for in the nature of the case, that's not something we can know in advance or experience in this life. At least not ordinarily.

Perhaps Paul is alluding to his "third-heaven visions" (2 Cor 12:2-4)–which gave him a glimpse of that unimaginable future. Maybe his visions were indescribable in principle. Or maybe they were describable in principle, but incommunicable in practice because an intelligible description requires a common frame of reference. Since his readers didn't share his visionary experience, there's nothing analogous he can point to.

Obviously I don't know something Paul didn't know. However, I'd like to venture a comparison. Some people are born deaf or blind. There's a major aspect of reality they're unable to experience. Indeed, it's an aspect of reality they're unable to fathom. It's striking how dissimilar the five senses are to each other. You can't infer what one sense is like from another sense. There's a whole nother world out there to be discovered, but they lack the sensory aptitude to perceive it. Birdsong. A mother's voice. Music. The sound of surf. A kaleidoscope of shapes and colors. Overwhelming. 

They know they're missing out on something, something very significant, without knowing what that something is. 

Suppose they suddenly gain their sight or hearing. Like awakening to a world that's both familiar and strangely unfamiliar. Imagine the thrill of hearing or seeing for the first time. For the first few days and weeks and months.

Another example, even for sighted people, is natural wonders of the world. Towards the end of his great story, the climax, Bunyan attempts to describe the Delectable Mountains. Yet it's obvious to many readers that he's never seen a real mountain range. Try as he might, he can't visualize mountain grandeur. What he hasn't seen, he can't conceive. 

In his autobiography, Ruskin describes how, as a teenager, he saw the Alps for the first time: "They were clear as crystal, sharp on the pure horizon sky, and already tinged with rose by the sinking sun.... I went down that evening from the garden-terrace at Schaffhausen with my destiny fixed in all of it that was to be sacred and useful..." 

Or suppose you had a world in which everyone was deaf. No one even suspected there was more than four senses. No one even suspected there was a whole nother perceptual vantage-point on the world. A fabulous aspect to the world hidden from their experience. They had no inkling that anything like that was even waiting to be found. Imagine the impact if a world of sounds suddenly opened up to them. For the first time they'd realize what they were missing all along. They could never go back to how they felt before. One thing to lose what you had–quite another to stumble upon what you never knew was there. 

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