If I had known Hope better, I would have been less, hopeful, about our first date. Dinner was fine as she had nothing better to do. Life had taken a good bit of the high school craziness she remembered out of me and she was interested in catching up.
All I knew is that she said “yes” to dinner. The body language, the tone, all the communication that she was sharing missed me. I was too enamored or dense to see or hear.
We talked and talked at this first date. They put the chairs up on the other tables and neither of us noticed. She had ideas about consubstantiation. I listened, watched, and learned.
I have been listening, watching, and learning for the last thirty-five years. Hope can now communicate to me in many ways not available to us then and that might be opaque to anyone else.
There are now ways we can talk to each other that would communicate a bit to other people, but a great deal to us. We have both now read That Hideous Strength many times. If after a good glass, I become a recounter of old tales, she murmurs “the pony and the trap . . .”
And I know.
This story I am starting is a tale told a few times too often and if sane I stop. She has warned me with some subtlety.
Now it is possible that this reference to a scene in That Hideous Strength would make sense to other people if they happened to hear her, but she speaks quite softly and the reference to the text is indirect. It contains (to me) a warning not to be a repetitive bore, yet is also endearing. To grasp the tenderness takes thirty-five years of talking and laughing about this reference in the book to an older married couple and how it fits our bad habit of telling and retelling stories! Hope’s warning is not just a warning to avoid boring the guests, but also warm and funny. These words communicate to me.
They are not everyone or even comprehensible (fully) to most anyone, but make perfect sense to me.
There are many signs and symbols we can use to do the same. Some of them mean nothing to anyone else. They have only a private meaning and if seen by anyone else would appear meaningless or (if googled) would be given some other quite wrong meaning.
They work if you are one of the two of us, but not for anyone else. They are a sign, but not to everyone.
There was a time when communication was harder. She was (rightly!) cynical of my words and so what now would persuade would not then. I had to try harder and be more explicit. This is now (mostly!) not so true for either of us.
The full moon last night was not put in the heavens for us explicitly, but she could draw the full moon to my attention and (given what we had been discussing) communicated a great deal to me emotionally. She gave the moon a particular meaning.
None of that would have worked at all with even a very good friend. You had to have been with her all that day and under that sky.
None of this is odd to anyone who has ever been in a relationship. Knowledge and experience make communication easier. External events can carry extra weight or history in an older relationship. Cynical or skeptical moments in a relationship require a different kind of communication.
When we turn to God, we find the same is true. As a boy, I was constantly weak and ill. The doctor could not immediately explain this and never got a chance to try any elaborate tests. Why? Dad prayed for me and I immediately felt better and never felt that particular malaise again. I was healed.
This is not the sort of evidence of God talking and acting that should persuade an atheist. He does not think God exists and so will immediately set to work explaining away my experience. I have no doubt he can do so, mostly because he has no access to my feelings and experience. I would not expect or wish him to be persuaded! Since (for other reasons) I already believe in God, this event communicates His real presence to me.
For the skeptical or cynical (like a good atheist!), God would need to communicate in more accessible and public ways. He cannot use subtle signs, because there is no relationship on which to build meaning. The message will have to be more direct and in the language of philosophy.
What is good communication to a lover from the beloved, is inaccessible to an outsider. God can use a universal natural event (the moon) to impress one message on me, another on you, while a skeptic sees nothing more than the moon. That’s the nature of communication.
Fortunately for every one of us, God desires to talk to all His children and so is constantly trying through science, experience, philosophy, and every other means.
He will do so patiently! God need not hurry after all.
Not all communication is comprehensible to everyone or even should be! Each person will have his own relationship to the divine Beloved and based on that experience find meaning or no meaning differently!
Or so Hope suggests.