Looking not at what is, but what could be

Life is more than what is seen — or, at least, it ought to be

BY JAMIE VEITCH

I was recently reminded about Don Quixote, which is likely the most famous novel written in the Spanish language.

The story’s protagonist, who will come to call himself Don Quixote, is an idealist who goes mad from dreaming. In the author’s words, “‘Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.”

The results, like the description, are somewhat comedic.

Quixote ends up at an inn where he meets Aldonza, the inn’s servant and prostitute. But Quixote does not see a prostitute; he sees a high-born, love-of-his-life woman to be adored. When he’s finally confronted on the matter by his friend, Quixote’s response is one of the most moving lines in literature:

“When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!”

This thought deserves much reflection.

Life is more than what is seen—or, at least, it ought to be. To be blinded by what is so that we dare not imagine what could be—that is perhaps the craziest thing you and I could do.

I suppose there could be countless applications for this principal, but what strikes me is how well it fits Jesus’ message of good news: “You will love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:31).

While it is easy to feel rather chummy with Jesus’ message, as though it completely reflects our own lifestyles, these words remain as ludicrous today as they ever have.

Who has actually achieved them? Who has fully grappled with the cost they demand of a person, and let them trouble one’s thoughts at night?

Are we literally to love others as ourselves—not merely as a reference to some aimless sentiment which produces little change, but to an active and costly commitment to obtaining their good before my own? Jesus’ answer would unquestionably be “Yes.”

As I consider our society and the many difficulties we share, I can’t help but think that what is needed most is a vivid, shared imagination of the way things could be, rather than a rigorous assessment of the way things are.

And there is no more challenging imagination than that which dwells on Christ’s words to, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” What if the changes we’re looking for are found in this—more than an axiom; a passion?

What if Jesus was right in his ludicrous claim that the kingdom we seek is found, not by working with what is—a society in which each person guards closely his or her own interests—but with what could be—a society of those who give entirely of themselves, considering everyone of equal value to themselves?

What if the entire way we look at others could change?

This challenge is one of the greatest reasons I have tied myself to the Christian faith. And it is the source and object of my greatest hope as I look forward—not at what is, but what could be.

Which of us has the courage and resilience to imagine how much that dream can change us?

Jamie Veitch is senior pastor at Clive Baptist Church.