About 97% of people in the world believe in some kind of spiritual reality, which is an amazing thing to believe if you think about it—an entirely different, miraculous, unseen world living right next door to our own, out-of-sight and it seems, for most of us, out-of-mind as well.
I don’t have any hard stats for this one, but based on my own experience, I’d say that about 97% of those people who believe in spirituality act entirely according to natural laws, regardless of the spiritual laws they might profess. No doubt you’ve seen plenty of examples yourself. You’ve probably heard people say things like, “nothing left to do but pray.” But that implies that praying is a last resort, something impractical. That would make sense coming from an atheist or an agnostic, but most of the time it’s the devout, spiritual sort of people who say this!
Even those of us who believe in miracles tend not to put much trust in them. We much prefer to base our day-to-day lives around natural laws because we see them as more practical. But here’s the kicker: nothing is practical until you’re willing to put some faith in it. If you want to scale a wall, a climbing harness is a very practical piece of equipment, but it does you no good unless you’re willing to trust it to hold your weight.
Of course, that’s much easier when you can directly observe the thing and understand its mechanisms. But we observe things every day that we can’t explain, and we still make use of them. In the Physician’s Desk Reference, the Bible of western medicine, most of the medications we use every day are listed as “mechanism of action unknown,” essentially meaning that we know what it does, but not how or why.
Take love, for example. Every atheist I’ve met has said that they believe in love, but they can’t “prove” it exists or precisely define it. Yet just about all of us can come together in our need for love, and our appreciation of its power. I believe love points the way to miracles, aside from being one itself. We may not understand its mechanisms, but we can observe its power to change lives. Not only that, but it frequently goes against the practical, natural course. The most basic instinct we have is self-preservation, the drive to ease our pain and avoid danger. But love can prompt us to walk through fire.
Love, then, represents the miraculous in our daily lives. There’s a simple diagnostic that can show you where you are with all this. Would you rather have love in your life, or have no pain? It’s easy to say you’d rather have love, but try to be really honest with yourself, and think about how you’re living your daily life. I think the most honest you can be with yourself is when you actually are in pain. Given the choice, would you rather act in love, or be free from that pain?
You might think that this type of faith is only the province of spirituality, but it isn’t. The ability to trust in abstract or intangible concepts is precious in any number of fields. I’ve mentioned before, the social experiment in which each child was given a marshmallow, then told that if they did not eat it, they could have two marshmallows a little later. Most of them couldn’t hold out, and the ones that did tend to be the most successful later in life. Financial investors work by trusting their money to the principles of the market, even in spite of the position it might have in the moment. My son tells me that in martial arts, you have to learn to overcome your natural instinct to flinch away from an attack so that you can use the techniques you’ve learned to defend yourself more efficiently.
Over and over again, we see that the greatest lessons and tools in life can’t live up to their potential until we are willing to put our weight into them. Practically everyone agrees that love is a wonderful idea, but if we are serious about experiencing it as a first-hand miracle, then it has to be more than an idea. We have to be willing to risk effort, pain, and (not least) looking very silly on faith that love will overcome fear, that compassion and acceptance are worth all the pain that comes with them, and that love’s power to unite is even greater than entropy’s power to corrupt—what C.S. Lewis called “good infection.”