On a whim, whilst out shopping yesterday, I bought a copy of the film 'Inception'. I'd seen trailers for it, and had read comments on Facebook from people who'd seen it, so I figured - give it a go. And it's a weird film - weird, but good.
It seems to me that the central themes of the film are around reality, identity and belief - and here I should put out a warning for those who've not got round to watching it and are planning to, that there may be one or two spoilers coming up. The premise of the film is subconscious espionage - stealing secrets from people's dreams, which then develops into planting ideas into people's subconscious to force them to change their actions. Coupled with that is the hero's struggle with the death of his wife and her continued existence in his subconscious mind.
As I mused about the film this morning, I was left with a number of questions: Where do our ideas come from? What about those core beliefs that define who we are and how we behave? Why do we like certain types of music, sport, art or literature and not others? What is it that governs our political preferences and our prejudices? Are these 'implanted' in us from birth (or even before then), are they inherited from our parents or from our environment, or are they learnt, developed and nurtured as we mature?
I am a Christian. I was brought up in a Christian home, with Christian, church-attending parents. I was baptised at 10 weeks old. I was educated at a church-run school. I made a personal profession of faith at 14. I was almost an alcoholic at 21, and came back to faith at 22. I was 'called' to Christian ministry at 23; attended Bible College and Theological College and was ordained at 33 (I should be grateful - Jesus was crucified at that age). I have served God and God's church for the last 18 years or so.
But where did that germ of faith come from? Was it nurture, nature or super-nature? Why have I, who have had those experiences, become who I am, when others have had almost identical nurture and are totally different?
St Paul says that 'Since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities... have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that [we] are without excuse.' [Romans 1:20] The idea of God is out there (or in there), so why do only some see it? St Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, said 'Give me the boy until he is seven, and I will give you the man', implying that nurture and education are the key, yet how many non-believers are alumni of Sunday Schools?
There are two answers that come to mind, and I hope that they are not a cop-out. One is Mystery - we simply do not know why these things are as they are. The other is Grace: the truth that God is constantly on the look-out for us; constantly reaching out to us; constantly longing for us to know God, Father, Son & Holy Spirit; constantly giving of himself in the hope of restoring our relationship with God.
But then where did that idea come from?