The Earth is currently hurtling through space at about 67,000 miles per hour; its orbit beginning to tilt Ireland closer to the giant fireball the planet is currently spinning around.
This year, Americans will choose who gets the next go at being the most powerful man in the world. This year, the Arab spring will continue. This year, the world economy may collapse, or it may struggle on. And if the ancient Mayans are right, you can remove the word ‘economy’ from the previous sentence.
Many people’s reaction to this will be a kind of desultory boredom. The ‘January blues’ are well-documented, and in a way, very understandable. Christmas is over, but we’re still in the middle of winter.
People are back to work, and the festive atmosphere is fading away, to be replaced by familiar, dull routine. But wait a minute — familiar, dull routine?
Think of the things I mentioned earlier for a bit. Then add all other things that will happen this year on a smaller scale: the births, the deaths, the moments of joy and of sorrow, the new books and films that will be discovered, and all the adventures that we just can’t see coming.
Given this, an appropriate response might be being excited, delighted, full of wonder. People being sad, apprehensive or afraid is just as reasonable. But how can anyone be bored?
”Does anyone have the right to January blues?” is the kind of question that N. D. Wilson asks in his book Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl; along with ones like ”Does David Hume deserve a straight answer on the problem of evil?” and, ”what should I learn about God from kittens, puppies and naked mole rats?”
A crazy mixture of Christian apologetics and adventure story, the fantastic, completely implausible world that the book inhabits is our own.
Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl is very hard to summarise, because Wilson is already stuffing many of the deepest, most pressing questions about existence into a 200-page paperback. And also talking a lot about the wondrousness of ants.
Wilson doesn’t spend much time trying to prove that God exists — he thinks that most of the interesting questions are only interesting if He does.
What the book demonstrates very well is the sheer absurdity of materialist atheism. It’s not that it is somehow absurd or foolish to hold materialist atheism as one’s belief system in good faith. I know or know of many intelligent, insightful and wise atheists. But when it comes to debates, believers are often forced onto the defensive, trying to explain why various aspects of their religion aren’t just silly.
But as Wilson points out, ‘silly’ is a pretty good description of the idea that a large explosion in a completely random universe eventually produced the complete works of Shakespeare, Jeffersonian Democracy, and the Special Olympics.
‘Silly’ would be a kind word for any attempt to discover the meaning of a universe that has none.
Wilson’s more interested in the problems that the existence of a God causes, particularly the existence of suffering and evil. He tells of the painful death his rabbit Marcus Aurelius suffered at the talons of a hawk, and notes that God is as responsible for the hawk as for his rabbit.
Wilson doesn’t attempt to philosophise away the troubling side of creation. Actually, he’s a bit distrustful of philosophy — despite being a philosophy graduate.
His answer forms the central theme of the book: the world is art. It’s not a perfectly easy place to live; it’s a sculpture, an impressionist painting, a story. Looking at it this way, Wilson asks: ”Would Pride and Prejudice be improved by throwing away every page prior to the resolution and removing every character flaw?” ”Ought Hamlet to curse the name of Shakespeare?”
Of course, this only makes sense if the story has a redemptive, happy ending. But as Christians, that’s precisely what we believe, so we really have no excuse for not appreciating the adventure that is life.
At times it can be sad, at times it can be horrifying, but if it’s ever boring, we’re doing it wrong.
If you’re sad because Christmas is over, write a song about it; my little brother did, a funny one. Lyrics include ”reindeer cry themselves to sleep/the snow is no longer deep” and ”people take down their decorations/there are no more celebrations”. Something tells me N.D. Wilson would approve.
I didn’t agree with everything in Tilt-A-Whirl. I was surprised that a man so comfortable with the darker side of creation would reject the creative destruction of Darwinian evolution, and I think he’s a bit harsh on the great philosophers.
But this is not a book to nod sagely at: it’s an adventure to grapple with, struggle with, and above all, enjoy. A bit, perhaps, like life.