Phantom: There Are Ghosts, and They Are Us

I like to read layman’s books on science and pretend I understand them.  Black holes, quantum physics—I can’t quit perusing the Science shelf at my library.  But no matter the marathon of study, I swear I retain only a tidbit of trivia from each tome.  I’m considering moving down to children’s books—although I did read one about Space, and all I recall is that the first dog the Russians rocketed into space died of a heart attack from abject terror, or something terrible and totally brain-sticking like that.  Yes, I enjoy reading about science and Schrödinger’s cat.  No, I don’t really grasp it.  Can’t be brilliant at everything.  Wouldn’t be fair. 

Yet each little light I see (speaking of light, is it a wave? A particle?  I don’t know, I DON’T GET YOU SCIENCE.), I tend to see a spiritual connection.  I read a mind-twisting fact about matter.  Our bodies are made of billions of atoms, but the atoms themselves are astoundingly full of space.  The electron that orbits the neutron in the center is, proportionally, ridiculously far away.  Here’s what boggled my baby brain—if you were to condense every human body down to its atomic particles, squeezing out the space between, you could fit the matter of the entire human race into the volume of a sugar cube. [1] WHAT. 

Some stars, in fact, are squeezed down in just this way, becoming incredibly dense, and yada yada, that’s where my sciencing ends.  But here’s where my spiritual connection begins.  I was reminded of the Bible’s repeated refrain of man’s ephemeral existence.  “Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro: He bustles about, but only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it.” [2]  This observation must have seemed a pretty comment on the brevity of man’s life and his feverish cravings, but come to find out, man is, in his material body, quite literally an airy phantom.  (However—why can’t we walk through walls?  One of you science geeks could maybe explain that to me.)

Man’s existence on earth is temporary and, it seems, physiologically full of holes.  “What is your life?” James asks.  “You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” [3] We’re familiar with this mistiness: in youth, the here and now feels so solid and unchangeable, but pass a few years, and you realize the epic stuff of life comes and goes quite easily.  (Alanis Morissette OWNED US in the 90s, and then one day it’s all boy bands and we’ve moved on Thank U.)  The only constant is change.  James compares our very lives to vapor.  What’s a vapor to do?

 "The unexamined life is not worth living."  -Socrates  "If he's so smart, how come he's dead?"  -Homer Simpson

"The unexamined life is not worth living."  -Socrates

"If he's so smart, how come he's dead?"  -Homer Simpson

As a young vapor, I was full of steam and striving and was rewarded with early-onset world-weariness, HATS OFF TO YOU LIFE.  I am a child of Ecclesiastes—I see how man labors so intensely and yet the earth soon closes over him and he is forgotten.  Those who admire you die, too, and those who sprout up after remember nothing and think they invented everything.  History fades from sight.  Empires evaporate.  The Greek empire (holy cow do not test my history here) was world-changing in its influence and reach.  Greece is now a small country with a debt problem.  The grand and unshakable become knickknacks in the gift shop of history.  So before we ruin ourselves over trinkets that will fade tomorrow, I think it's smart to take thought to our ways.  I’m no genius here—even Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”  (And wasn’t he Greek?  Full circle.  Man I’m good at this writing stuff.)

Ecclesiastes says that God has “set eternity in the hearts of men.” [4]  That’s our problem.  We crave another world and waste our lives chasing earthly copies or embittered in jade because “life’s a cruel joke.”  C.S. Lewis, himself a former atheist, wrote of being haunted by otherworldly yearnings that found no answer here. [5]  (Mick Jagger, too, couldn’t get no satisfaction.  Are we smarter than Jagger?)  We want heaven.  We live on earth.  Is it foolish to dream of filling these airy bodies and misty lives with something substantial, even everlasting?

Substance is possible, I believe.  But we can’t grab it from this shifting plane.  God promises that, in the end, it is His Word that will outlast everything.  “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” [6] His love endures as well, and His promises to us and to the earth will not fail.  When we are restored to relationship with God through the blood of Christ, we can become substantial, creatures of eternal weight, even as we walk out our days on earth. 

Instead of fidgeting over my vapory days, I have found comfort in learning to hold life with an open hand instead of being so uptight.  (Okay, I’m still uptight, but that helps me get stuff DONE people.)  I’ve learned to trust the One who exists outside of temporal things to guide me into the paths that matter—and stay out of the junk that just doesn’t.  It’s a blessing to step off the hamster wheel.  Dang hamsters had it better than I did, believe it.

Oh, and all the oppression and evil in the world right now?  That too is on its way out.  God promises us that oppression will end tomorrow, if we will just hold on.  When it seems like evil is winning, that it just will not stop, I look to the final word: “Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.” [7]  There are benefits to temporariness!

We, too, will soon “shuffle off these mortal coils”[8] and be welcomed by the solid One who holds us forever.  If our eyes are fixed beyond this shifty, shady plane, the fading of the phantom can be, not a curse, but our most cherished hope.

 


[1] I can't remember the book I read, but here's the info on the interweb:  http://www.physics.org/featuredetail.asp?id=41  

[2] Psalm 39:6

[3] James 4:14

[4] Ecc 3:11

[5] “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”  C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

[6] Isaiah 40:8  

[7] Psalm 37:1-2

[8] Hamlet, Mr. Melancholy himself.  Hello friend!

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