What would you say to God?
Following Stephen Fry’s recent video, in which he gives quite a frank response to the question "What would you say to God?", regular columnist James Knight considers the question more deeply, and shares his thoughts on the possible glories of heaven.
"I'd say, bone cancer in children? What's that about? How dare you? How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault? It's not right, it's utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God that creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain?"
What this really amounts to is Stephen Fry not being able to reconcile the world with a Creator God. That's fair enough - some people can't, whereas others can. Whichever way we cut the cloth, it is a tough world, with lots of cruelty and injustice, and whereas many atheists can't see that world as being created by a perfect God, Christians see the fallen-ness and afflictions of nature as being part of the earthly narrative from which God has saved us in Christ, and into which He'll come back again to restore to glory.
It's quite understandable that believers and unbelievers would view the above differently, but here's an interesting question that both may not have considered in quite this way - one that on first inspection seems easy and obvious, but on closer inspection maybe isn't. The question is: given the natural laws of nature, why is it that we can imagine a reality so much better than this one? The 'on the surface' answer is easy, but deeper layers reveal it to be a very interesting question.
The surface answer seems to be that we can imagine a better reality because we know of a better reality through other people's experience. For example, if you asked me the question - how can you imagine how good it would be to win the lottery and be super rich? - my answer would be that although I've never been super rich myself, I know what the pleasures of having money is like, I know what nice things are like, and I can get a sense of what others are feeling when they win big money. They have more days off than me; they have more holidays, a nicer house, a nicer car, they can do more to help others financially, and so forth.
The reason I can imagine how good it would be to win the lottery and be super rich is because the pleasures are not qualitatively beyond what I can conjecture - they amount to a quantitative increase in pleasure because they are more of what I already know. Similarly, suppose a machine was invented that can make the male orgasm last 30 minutes. I can imagine what a 30 minute orgasm would be like because I know what a shorter orgasm feels like, so again what I'm being asked to consider is a quantitative improvement not a qualitative one.
Now when it comes to the question - why is it that we can imagine an other-worldly reality so much better than this one? - we obviously need a qualifier, because it is easy to assume that the so-called 'better' reality imagined is really a mental aggregation of all our earthly experiences and aspirations.
But I get the impression that there is more to it than that. The imagined better world I have in mind seems to me to be the imagination of a reality that transcends our universe altogether. Perhaps it is intuition, perhaps it is even a trick of the mind - but perhaps that reality imagined really is a case of tapping into a world for which we were created - that this world is only a prelude to a more stupendous disquisition not yet fully realised.
Maybe when the poets tell us that heavenly roses are planted where earthly thorns grow, and to expect souls to heaven taking flight, they were tapping into hints of a reality that dwarfs the stupendousness of earthly life. Perhaps when Christian scripture writers tell us that we have a heavenly city that has foundations whose designer and builder is God, or that the river of the water of life is as bright as crystal and flowing from the throne of God, or that there will be a new heaven and a new earth for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, what's actually being expressed with those metaphors and symbolisms is the real glory for which we were created, and into which we'll enter, thanks to Christ's love and grace on the cross.
Image above is courtesy of Robert Michie on http://www.freeimages.com/
James Knight is a long term contributor to the Network Norwich & Norfolk website and a local government officer based in Norwich. He is also a writer for the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.
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