Friday, April 16, 2010

Time & God & Stuff

Yesterday, a student in my Bible-school English class did a presentation on "Open Theism," and the ideas reminded me of The Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut. Open Theism, which is not a novel by Vonnegut, apparently argues for a special & potentially heretical way of viewing God's relationship to time. The classic conception, the one that Open Theism wants to reject, was displayed for us in a powerpoint picture: a two-dimensional line representing our experience of the past, present, and future, and then around it, beyond it, all-encirclingly: the all-knowing God. Despite having been taught this picture of the universe my whole life, seeing it actually graphed out made me laugh, and made me think of Vonnegut's novel -- Billy Pilgrim coming unloosed in time, and the extra-dimensional extraterrestrials who greet him. "I am a Tralfamadorian," says one to Billy, "seeing all time as you might see a stretch of the Rocky Mountains. All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is."

The Open Theists disagree. They don't suppose God to be very Tralfamadorian-like, though they don't deny God his omniscience. He does know everything that there is to know, everything that exists or has existed, but he doesn't know what doesn't exist yet-- i.e. the future. Which isn't to say he doesn't have an effect on what happens. He's big and powerful enough to make sure that what he wants to have happen will happen, kind of like when LeBron James says the Cavs will win the NBA championship this year. If King James says they're gonna win, you can be pretty darned sure they will. The dude's a monster. He can make it happen.

A few minutes ago, I ordered an iced americano, and by golly, I got it; but this isn't evidence supporting my own theological beliefs about time. A moment ago I wasn't drinking an iced americano, and now I am. I made it happen-- by the power of cash and suction, I made a way. But really, how did it happen, and why? I have no idea how to talk about it in a satisfactory way. Flesh and convention, language and motion, blah, blah.

The future doesn't seem to exist yet, but Einstein said some stuff once that countered that fact, and sounded pretty convincing, right? Or someone did. We are strange little creatures. We make assertions. We flail against the unknown. We tell each other what God says. We gather in little coffee shops and drink americanos, and watch the attractive lady who is standing in line, laughing annoyingly.

Another essai, another attempt, to voice alongside all of those who are voicing themselves and their assertions, something about existence. Something about the universe. My will is smaller than God's and LeBron's. My vision less keen than a tralfamadorian's. The only way I know to leap out of my own presence is to join the other humans in their little boats of meaning.

Here's a joke I heard once: God, Billy Pilgrim, and another guy take a boat ride into space. They ride the star-water waves, they tune their radio to pick up the song of Jupiter. They rock to it, they rock the boat. They make things happen. God says to Billy Pilgrim, "We making things happen." Billy smiles, and puts his arm around the other guy's shoulder, and says, "Let's keep this up forever, guys." Jupiter hums, deep space yawns spectacularly, and the other guy-- who is I, who is me-- quotes a passage from The Slaughterhouse Five, saying, "If what Billy Pilgrim learned from the Tralfamadorians is true, that we will all live forever, no matter how dead we may sometimes seem to be, I am not overjoyed. Still--if I am going to spend eternity visiting this moment and that, I'm grateful that so many of those moments are nice." Which makes God smile. Which, of course, makes new galaxies bloom brightly all around us, like fields of brilliant tulips.

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