What Lies Beyond

Along with everyone else, I have watched, with mounting horror and considerable admiration, the often heroic response of the Israelis to random daily stabbings, car rammings and all the other suicidal initiatives perpetrated on them by those who consistently crave their destruction. And, lest it be forgotten, the blindly savage zealotry of the ‘price tag’ responders, the wilful murders committed in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere by the deranged and the idolatrous. It all ends with death, termination and the passage of the innocent and the guilty into a shadowy unknown. I have not written about it, because I have nothing to say. I wish I could, but I lost nobody and it is those left behind who have the words and the tears. I live far away in Paris and the nearest I have come to touching the demon’s bloody paw has been in knowing someone killed in the Bataclan attack in Paris. But, death hovers like a vulture over us all and the loss of my stepfather recently, a good but not a religious man, has caused me to review my own suppositions about death, mercy and justice. He died, full of years and sleep and those of us left behind all reach out, with trembling hands, wondering and searching for the truth of what lies beyond.

Eight million people bought “A Brief History Of Time”. Probably a couple of hundred got further than page twenty-six and almost everybody read the last sentence…

“However, if we discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable by everyone, not just by a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we should know the mind of God.”

Which, of course, is the saving grace of the whole book. We all want to know the mind of God and, as Jeremiah put it ‘the plans He has for us’. This from Isaiah 40, 12-15:

  • Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?
 Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?
  • Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord, or instruct the Lord as his counsellor?
  • Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way?
 Who was it that taught him knowledge, or showed him the path of understanding?

The “who” is rabbinical rhetoric, almost ironic, since the answer is enshrouded in the unknown, the “mind of God”.

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The image is from Michelangelo’s Last Judgement fresco on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel, which I visited the other day. I asked myself at the time how myth translates into reality. Does Charon push his unwilling passengers into Hell’s flaming maw, or not? What else, therefore, do we, like the citizens of Nineveh, not know as we do not know our right hand from our left? We do not know about the afterlife, the Hereafter, the journey across the Styx, the tunnels of light, the shouts of welcome on Jordan’s further bank as the processor quietly shuts down like the winking, blinking red light of the Terminator’s eye as it fades and darkens, and without power, fails to reboot. Most cultures have developed a mythology of continuance after bodily functions cease. Some suggest that it is a fear of oblivion, the darkness and the cold that causes mankind to construct elaborate fantasies, delusional states, predisposed and woven into the fabric of consciousness and reinforced by religious adherence and indoctrination. Others have a sense of transience. It is here that one waits, perhaps. Here is C S Lewis’ bus station in a forgotten, rainy, ‘grey town’, the train terminus or the airport lounge. Later, the arrival of ‘here’ is in fact somewhere else. Perhaps Vladimir Nabokov’s suggestion that ‘our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness’ should be stood on its head. Here is the dark, the light was before it and will be after it. I am therefore guilty of the heresy of not believing that my brain deludes itself into believing instead in the eternality of its owner.

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