Enlightenment, modern style: Bums on suitcases, all packed and ready to leave for the next departure lounge

“The need to get away? The desire to arrive?”

 (Herman Hertzberger, “Space and the Architect” in “Silent Wounds of the family,” a proposal for the conversion of the Great Synagogue of Pretoria building to a family court.)

In 1961, I was a student of philosophy at the University of Cape Town and in love with Aristotle, especially his “Golden mean”; if it is possible, that is, to go weak at the knees over equanimity:

“The concept of Aristotle’s theory of golden mean is represented in his work called Nicomachean Ethics, in which Aristotle explains the origin, nature and development of virtues which are essential for achieving the ultimate goal, happiness (Greek: eudaimonia), which must be desired for itself. It must not be confused with carnal or material pleasures, although there are many people who consider this to be real happiness, since they are the most basic form of pleasures. It is a way of life that enables us to live in accordance with our nature, to improve our character, to better deal with the inevitable hardships of life and to strive for the good of the whole, not just of the individual.”

(The person who wrote this has got Aristotle right on the button in spite of the fact that his lewd URL seems to suggest otherwise; http://www.anus.com/zine/articles/draugdur/golden_mean/)

Aristotle believed that virtue was the means to life’s goal, which – plus ça change… – is happiness. Virtue strives for happiness and the good, the good of all. Indeed, Aristotle’s happiness (and Plato’s for that matter) IS the good. In Aristotle, every human life has a departure and a destination; the reason why you travel is – surely – to arrive at a specific place. That place, for Aristotle, is here, in this world. Since the 19th century, the place to find happiness hasn’t changed, but what has changed since the “Enlightenment” is that its all about departing and no more about arriving unless arriving at another departure lounge.

Always departing never arriving. Never standing still, always moving. Bums on suitcases, all packed and ready to leave for the next departure lounge.

In the same year that I was basking in the academic glow of the Golden Mean, Martyn Lloyd Jones was giving one of his wonderful sermons in Westminster Chapel, London. Here is part of that sermon:

“The Victorians said,’To travel hopefully is better than to arrive.’ Stuff and nonsense. If that were true no one would get married, they’d say courtship is better than marriage. But you see this is the sort of phrase that fascinates people and it sounds so wonderful. Ah, they say, we don’t want any of your Christian evangelical dogmatic certainty. We are seekers after truth,we like the great quest after reality. There was no such thing as the knowledge of truth; that was the nonsense they talked, based on nothing but sheer ignorance.” (“By faith, Abraham”).

God called Abraham out of Ur, promised him an inheritance, but told him nothing between the departing and the arriving. Does this mean that the world in between doesn’t count for much? Yes, but in the way that school counts as preparation for life. We are pilgrims in this world. Pilgrims are not children of the “Enlightenment” who are always arriving at the next departure lounge; they (pilgrims) are, in contrast, children of the promise of a glorious inheritance looking for a better country:

“Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised. Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable. These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. 16 But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city” (Hebrews 11:11-16)

“Christ, the Messiah, the Lord delivered them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” ( Hebrews 2:15).

Don’t run aimlessly. Don’t box as one beating the air (1 Corinthians 9:26).

“Let our path, then, be upward; let us gather around us the trailing garment, casting away whatever impedes our progress; and leaning upon our Beloved and our Friend, hasten from all below, until we find ourselves actually reposing in the bosom upon which, in faith and love, in weakness and sorrow, we had rested amid the trials and perils of the ascent. There is ever this great encouragement, this light upon the way, that it is a heaven-pointing, a heaven-conducting, a Heaven-terminating path; and before long the weary pilgrim will reach its sunlit summit” (Octavius Winslow).

In the living light the silent wound of the soul is healed.

6 thoughts on “Enlightenment, modern style: Bums on suitcases, all packed and ready to leave for the next departure lounge

  1. What do you take from the reality that a profound subscriber to superficially beautiful Aristotelian beliefs would boil down, at his core, to lewdness?

  2. For children of God, between the ‘departing’ and the ‘arriving’ comes the testing and the furnace of refinement (Deut 13:3; Eze 21:13; Luke 8:13; Acts 20:19; Hev 3:8; James 1:3.. Jer 6:29; Ps 66:10; Isa 48:10; Jer 9:7; Dan 11:35.

    And Dan 12:10…

    • You are right, Karen, a very important reminder. Although this world is our halfway house, there is much that we have to endure – for the sake of the Gospel.

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