A Beautiful Life

What if I’m wrong?

Whatever space we happen to inhabit on the worldview continuum, this is a question that is bound to occur to all of us.  As human beings we simply do not and cannot know as much as we would like prior to deciding upon ultimate matters.  And I suspect that the “what if this is all a colossal mistake?” question occasionally occurs to even the most settled of minds.

At the end of Miroslav Volf’s Free of Charge there is a brief chapter entitled “Postlude: A Conversation with a Skeptic.”  After coming to agreement that the life of Jesus was good, beautiful, and worthy of emulation, Volf records the following hypothetical exchange around what would he do if he found out that the whole notion of a generous God who gives and forgives and who expects us to do the same, was nothing but an enormous lie:

Skeptic: “What if your dark thoughts at night—and my sober observations!—are true? What if you are waking up to a dream?”

Volf: “Well what?”

Skeptic: “You’d be wrong.”

Volf: “And I would have lived the right kind of life, the life you called beautiful.”

Skeptic: And have lived a false beautiful life! Wouldn’t that matter to you? Can a false life ever be good?”

Can a false life ever be beautiful? Can it be good?  And what, if anything, does our answer to this question have to say about the worldviews we adopt?

Some would suggest that our worldviews are simply the result of the culture we happen to have been raised in.  We are all socialized into and inhabit a particular “plausibility structure”—a taken-for-granted way of thinking about and living in the world which privileges certain kinds of answers to certain kinds of questions. At its most extreme, this view sets forth a kind of sociological determinism where our cognitive and behavioural options are completely determined by our social environment. Is it even possible to just accept a different way of looking at and living in the world given what we know about the nature of belief formation and the myriad sociological and psychological factors that contribute to the process?

Obviously it is.  People do, after all, change their minds about matters of faith.  But when they do, it seems that more often than not it is the quality of someone’s life that proves most compelling, as opposed to the comprehensiveness of their facts or the logical rigour of their argumentation. People respond to well-lived lives—to “beautiful” examples of forgiveness, grace, compassion, kindness, patience, and joy. The beauty and goodness of human lives can and do lead people to the conclusion that the foundation upon which such lives are based just might be true.

What is the connection between truth and beauty? However we answer this question, I think that the fact that we seem to be hard-wired to expect, even demand that the two be linked is suggestive. Is it possible that a genuinely good and beautiful life would have no connection to what is ultimately true about the world? If so, what would we be claiming about the nature of the world? About human beings? About God?

Sociologist Peter Berger has said that “to have faith is to bet on the ultimate validity of joy.” I think that it is also to bet on a deep and permanent connection between truth and beauty—between our deepest aspirations and intuitions and the way the world “really is” and will one day be.

One response to “A Beautiful Life

  1. Enjoyed this. I’ve often asked this question myself, and most of the time I’ve come to the same conclusion: there is something in a beautiful life that is tied to truth. Life well lived is compelling. And besides all that, even if it all isn’t true, why not live well…

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