An abyss of nothingness awakens in us the terror of the void.
My Father raised his glass and made a toast. “To God’s precious gift of life,” he said. But as the words passed his lips, he could not hide the emotion behind them. His eyes filled with tears as he honored the birth of a newborn child. Over the years my father has become a man who wears his heart on his sleeve and in his eyes. If you told him to keep a straight face as he gazed upon the newborn, you would’ve been asking the impossible from him. However, his response to the preciousness of the beautiful baby was not unique only to him. For, the proud mother and father were also taken back by the miracle in their arms.
The response which people give to the value of a newborn is a tender and moving sight to behold. It would be difficult and uncomfortable to conceive of treating a newborn baby with indifference and a cold heart. It is of vital importance that we apprehend values; that we are disgusted when man neglects to do so and inspired when he succeeds in doing so. The apprehension of values is the core of being. Without it there would be no dialogue between subject and object. It would be impossible for man to coexist within the world around him and likewise, impossible for him to seek transcendent knowledge.
Man responds to the world of values because it is of fundamental ontological importance that he do so. Neutrality and indifference rob the universe of the joy behind a baby’s first laugh, true love’s kiss, a tender embrace before a loved one dies. Grasping values is essential to our being and our nature. If we do not grasp values, we are failing to let our being flourish to its fullest extent. Dietrich von Hildebrand writes in his chapter on Gratitude in The Art of Living, “If the capacity for apprehending objective values were to be taken from man, he would be cut off from the innermost life of the cosmos” (pg. 106).
Consider how depressing it would be to live in a world in which everything were utterly neutral, in which everyone was indifferent. There is no joy or hope to be found in a world where everything is a subjective illusion. Why would I be joyful at the birth of a newborn baby if the event does not possess any deeper meaning than reproduction? If the material world is the only dimension of the universe, why would I hope that something or someone could prevent my beloved’s inevitable death? Hildebrand writes, “The inconceivable barrenness, the absurdity and nothingness of a world in which there is no objective value and disvalue, can hardly be imagined” (pg. 105). This inconceivable abyss of nothingness would frighten the skeptic on his death bed, afraid of the unknown and his finite ending. If he finds no deeper meaning during his life, the end of life carries no weight, only despair; his existence is coming to a complete stop. The abyss inhales faith and hope; exhales doubt and despair. Belief in this abyss of nothingness strips man of his meaning and substance, leaving behind only emptiness.
This is the abyss our culture lives in, when we prefer an illusion to the world of values. Yet, I venture to believe in a reality which possess intrinsic splendor, beauty, and mystery. The splendor, beauty, and mystery of a newborn baby experienced by my tearful father.
Quotes: Pages 105-106. Dietrich von Hildebrand, The Art of Living (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1965).