The final Chapter 13 is entitled, Why I Came Back: Love Embraces the Cosmos. As he noted in earlier chapters, despite the conservative evangelical background he was raised in, by the time he left home for college, Wallace’s childhood faith was gone. At college he found little to draw him back. He adopted the whole “rebel” outlook including long hair, old army coats, and worn-out Chuck Taylors plus attitude. He recounts conversations with Baptist students trying to convert him and responding with the argumentative, smart-alecky, atheist attitude. This continued until his senior year, when he met Elizabeth, his future wife-to-be. He says:
This went on until September of my senior year. That’s when I met Elizabeth, a Christian I couldn’t argue with. I don’t mean she had all the answers or was a skilled debater. She just didn’t argue. She had no interest in it. And it didn’t matter how she dressed or what her theology was, because on the day I met her… she looked at me and didn’t see a conversion project or a physics major or a freaky rock musician. I felt like she saw me beneath all that, and she had no agenda. This immediately shut down the rather prominent smart-ass component of my persona, which was unpleasant… But we got along so well. We talked for hours, night after night, with zero effort. It was the first time I had ever dated someone and not gotten all locked up by nerves and self-consciousness. But the faith thing held us back. She had it and I didn’t, and that mattered to both of us.
Over the next six months, she stood still as I skittered toward her and away from her like a nervous squirrel. It caused her some pain, but she held out. In the level gaze of her love, I eventually calmed down, began to pray with her, and months later, attended church with her. Within two years of meeting, we were joined in Christian marriage… So it was love, not science or an argument, that brought me back and opened up my world.
I’m having an extremely tough time not being cynical here. Wallace is trying to say that Elizabeth’s agape’ is what drew him back. However, it seems likely to me that storge’, philia, and even eros were equally involved. Not to mention the strong cultural identity that he was raised in. It’s hard not to imagine that if he were raised Hindu and she were a Hindu beauty, that it would be Hinduism he would be returning to, or Muslim and a Muslim beauty… you get the idea. Still – it is Wallace’s story – and he has to tell it as it occurred to him.
Wallace’s larger point – that scientific knowledge is not opposed to Christian faith – is still being made. After all 1 Corinthians 8:1, “But knowledge puffs up while love builds up” is still true. He says:
Love and reason work together like faith and science. And in the same way that faith must contain all science, love must encompass all reason and knowledge and sound argument. Love puts these tools in their proper context and sets them to their rightful task of building a better and more just and more beautiful world.
Search the cosmos, and you will find no bottom and no boundaries, but faith can contain it still. God does not explain the world the way gravity or evolution does, and faith does not compete with science. God is not a theory of everything. God does not close the door on our not-knowing but throws it open and invites us to experience the joy of knowing and to deepen the great mystery of not knowing.
God is not knowledge but love, a love embracing all-knowing and all not-knowing, a love in which fear – of the unknown, of our own questions, even of death – has no place. And we are perhaps the strangest of all things: walking talking assemblies of atoms that have found ourselves in an infinite and evolving universe that somehow makes no sense and carries no meaning and offers no hope outside the great and shining reality we call love.
Well said, Paul, well said.