What Is Real?
I’ve been mulling over a recent conversation where someone confided to me that she has questioned for years and years what is real and how does she know what is real. I’ve had the same questions! And how can I really trust what I know when society, others, our culture, seem to say the opposite?
The more I’ve mulled over that conversation – thinking about recent political events, and what the culture seeks to impress upon us that disconnects from our real experience – I’ve become convinced that a lot of us must also have the same questions.
I think it is an evil that began in Genesis when the devil, that snake, asked, “Hath Godsaid...?” and sowed doubt where there otherwise was clear certainty.
The devil found the hook by human desire turned inward to self. We want something more: God, truth, beauty, peace, love, happiness. Yes! We are made for this! We are made for God and only the Infinite will ultimately satisfy us. But when we, instead, look for the answers within our finite selves – and by means of our own selves, for ourselves, seeking more riches, more power, more esteem all for ourselves – well, we become just like the snake. Who dupes us.
The same snake, the same evil, has been duping our culture for a very long time. We all feel disoriented on some level. We wonder where the truth lies, what is real.
We know intuitively this isn’t how the world is supposed to be. Something’s off kilter. It’s not real. That’s why we keep asking, What is real? Can I trust my perceptions? Or am I crazy? Maybe we can’t put our finger on it, or maybe we think we can – but we know it is off. Things just don’t make sense.
I’ve come to approach this first with creation. God made us beings with reason. We are made to perceive and to know and to think, so we are not adrift. Start with what you know. Your experience counts. Look for objective facts. Many times the disconnect is not having enough information or assuming what we are told is true (when often it is not). If we seek truth, we will find it. But we do have to put in the effort. Gathering facts, we use our reason, our common sense, and we can rely on it. God gave it to us. It’s not perfect, but it is adequate.
Secondly, God also gives us the help of knowledge beyond us. It’s called “revelation,” and is found in Scripture, in the historical person of Jesus Christ, and in the doctrine and teachings of his Church. When the Apostle Philip felt disoriented he said, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” (Jn 14:5) He might as well have said, Yipes, Lord, this doesn’t make any sense! How can I possibly know?! Jesus answered, “If you had known me…” (v. 7), and asked, “You do not know me, Philip?” (v. 9). Faith is a gift. If you have the gift, you know the Lord. You DO know Him!
If you don’t have the gift, or if a present trial exceeds your faith, then ask for more. He will give it. Jesus told Philip, “From now on, you do know the Father and have seen him” because you’ve seen Me (vv. 7, 9), indicating that Jesus was giving Philip the gift of faith. Jesus even said (basically) if you can’t believe just because it is I who am saying this to you, then believe because of what you have seen me do (v. 11) – there’s your evidence, use your reason. So, yes, we do come to know him personally, in the Scriptures, and in the teachings of his Church.
My third help is the humility of Psalm 131: “O, Lord, my heart is not proud, nor haughty my eyes. I have not gone after things too great, nor marvels beyond me. Truly I have set my soul in tranquility and silence. Like a child on its mother’s lap, as a child is my soul within me.” We trust the Lord to work out what is beyond us, and we rest in him like a little child.