In one of the early scenes of The Matrix, the character Trinity meets Neo in a club and she tells him, “It’s the question that drives us.” Later Neo meets Morpheus, who describes this inherent curiosity as a “splinter in the mind.”
We are born into a world that is populated with stories, pregnant with multiple meanings. From our very entrance into the cosmos until death, the reality and presence of story envelops our lives. Like the deep-seated quest of Socrates to discover what, in fact, was the good life, we find ourselves asking questions and wanting answers. These questions are not mere curiosity, or intellectual pursuits; they carry enormous existential significance and importance. These questions haunt us.
Consider the following words from Lee Iacocca in Straight Talk: “Here I am in the twilight years of my life, still wondering what it’s all about… I can tell you this, fame and fortune is for the birds.” Our minds are splintered—or made numb—with pressing inquiry: What is the point of it all? What gives our lives meaning? Novelist William H. Gass expresses a similar nagging reality. “Life is itself exile,” he writes, “and its inevitability does not lessen our grief or alter the fact.” Journalist Malcolm Muggeridge notes further, “The first thing I remember about the world—and I pray it may be the last—is that I was a stranger in it. This feeling which everyone has in some degree, and which is at once the glory and desolation of homosapiens, provides the only thread of consistency that I can detect in my life.” Why are we here? Where are we going? Why do we at times find ourselves as strangers in our own home? Is there a greater story we are a part of, but ignoring?
In the Western world, we are progressively abandoning the metanarratives that for centuries served to define and give shape to our society and individual lives. Indeed, the very idea of a “defining story” is now considered offensive, imperialistic, sexist, or worse. The individual is left alone before a mind-boggling array of options and both the responsibility and the authority to reach a conclusion are totally rooted in the self. Yet, despite brave predictions of the demise of God or the eventual waning of belief under Modern conditions, the questions have not gone away. If anything, they are more at the forefront than we would have expected, given the nature and shape of progress.
In the opening pages of the Lord of the Rings, the narrator tells us of the process whereby history became legend and legend became myth and slowly it was all forgotten. Tolkien’s brilliant insight into what he deems our “real but forgotten” past is a telling representation of the story we are currently trying to tell. But if the world and our lives are the product of a divine creator, then though ignored or unknown, the echoes of our distant past and essential nature still call out to us. And they are calling.
“Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse.”(1) The heavens are yet declaring the glory of God; the skies are yet proclaiming the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display the love of one who invites us into the story of life itself.
Stuart McAllister is regional director of the Americas at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Romans 1:20.