Web Log 2018.10.21
This piece, A Clever Plan, is something I've worked on for half of 2018. I've submitted it a few places, but got no interest. Maybe you will find it interesting. (Since I am not its narrator, ignore this Foreword 'till afterward. But it's the fashion these days to ignore Forewords, so never mind.)
The relevant verses in the Tanakh are Jeremiah 7:31 and 19:5, and Job 26:7. The Jeremiah verses are plain enough, although when I was a boy the religious authorities explained God’s stated lack of awareness as a poetical device. But I was not satisfied and took my questions directly to God since both He and my mother said I could do that (James 1:5). It took decades and other questions before I could receive and understand the answer.
As to the verse in Job, there is a similar problem the authorities handled differently. The Hebrew says, “He hangs the Earth on nothing.” Granted that Hebrew has far fewer words than English, and each one can have many meanings that are driven by context, but translators can be tempted to choose a translation that fits their limited understanding. Hence, one translator, who does not understand Newton’s discoveries as they apply to Job 26:7, gives us, “He hangs the Earth over nothing.” This seems correct as far as it goes, but is certainly incomplete and can even be misleading, given the physics we now know.
A Clever Plan
My name is Job (rhymes with robe). I’ve had laments, as you may know. Many centuries ago my friend Jeremiah wrote his own laments in scrolls from time to time, but he also took a lot of dictation. One day the scribe heard a paradoxical sentence but wrote it down anyway:
“It never entered my mind that they would do such a thing.”
My friend is a prophet as well as a scribe, and he is also more familiar with paradoxes than I am, so into his scroll this one went with no questions asked. Some time later God said it again, and again it went into the scroll. You can look them up.
But today, for a moment, forget about what the thing was. Think instead about the paradox, and ask how an all-knowing yet completely truthful God could admit not knowing any “such a thing”? Is Jeremiah’s original text in error? Has a translator made a mistake?
Rather than argue about errors and translations, let’s go back to a conversation from about fourteen billion years ago at the beginning of time—before the beginning, actually:
The Archangel Gabriel says to God, “I see you have your clever plan look going, my Lord. What is it, if I may ask?”
God replies, “You and all of my other servants were individually created. I want to do something different now. The plan is to create one being called a human, give it free will, split it into he and she pieces, and let them procreate.”
“What means ‘procreate,’ my Lord?”
“The he and she will come together from time to time and, with a couple of quiet gifts from me, they will create other hes and shes, who should pair off at maturity and continue the process. But the new humans shall be small and helpless while they are young. The he and she must both protect and train the young until they also reach maturity. This will produce myriad families of fascinating beings for us here to talk with and deal with about all manner of things.”
God’s twinkling clever-plan look morphs into a grin but before the Archangel can press for details, God laughs and supplies the biggest one: “For me, the most interesting aspect of this plan is that when the humans deal with their families and neighbors, they will get a hearty taste of the problems I have. We shall all have so much to do and talk about!”
“Where in heaven will they live, my Lord?”
“That comes later. I will first create and prepare a planet for them.”
“What means ‘planet,’ my Lord?”
“It will be a rather large and slightly oblate spheroidal rock. Its surface will come to be covered with water, mountains, procreated animals, trees, grasses, and other wonderful things such as you see around you here, but no buildings or paths or things like that. The humans will make those as they explore the planet.”
“Ummm,” says Gabriel, who sees a problem. “...You will put them on a spheroid? A surface with a radius of curvature less than the smallest infinity?”
“Yes. But for quite a while they will think it is a plane surface: flat but very rocky.”
“…Will they be able to fly?”
“Eventually, but not as you suppose.”
“Then yes, Lord, I see that the planet must be large. ...But until they can fly, won’t they slide off if they stray too far toward the horizon?”
God laughs. His clever look twinkles brightly as He confides: “They will stand on and explore its entire surface. To avoid them bumping into a pedestal or chain and starting to explore that, I will hang the planet on nothing—or, in a way, on everything—and they shall not fall off.”
Gabriel laughs too: “I still don’t understand, but that’s nothing new. It will be fascinating to watch everything happen. What will they do on the planet besides exploring, and making buildings, paths, and families?”
God sighs and says, “The moment I thought to give them free will, I saw them doing things that had never entered my mind before... things that cannot be allowed to happen here.”
The Archangel blurts out, “What things, my Lord?”
“Gabriel, I shall only tell you that some of them will forget me; they will begin to sacrifice their young humans to death in various attempts to ensure good harvests or otherwise make life better for themselves. It never entered my mind that humans would sacrifice their young... until I thought to give the first one free will.”
“But Lord, why would you want to create them if they will kill each other?”
“Because when I saw the first one, I also saw them all, and loved them all.”
“Even the ones who forget you, and do those evil things?”
“Yes. I love them all despite their sins.”
“My Lord! Would you let them do those things forever?”
“No. When they deliberately lie or take things that do not belong to them—including the life of another human—they separate themselves from me. When they separate themselves from me they die, but the dying lasts the rest of their lives on the planet (however long that may be).”
“I see, Lord: Some will be better than others, and will not forget you. They shall come here—”
“No!” God thunders. “None will be created—or procreated—to be better than another. They will just be created all different, and all selfish, but all innocent. Any who die before deliberately choosing to lie, steal, and so on, those shall come here. All the rest will do evil things at times; it is the proof that I made them free to do as they wish.”
“Lord, forgive me, but how then can any who do evil ever come here?”
“Before I create them it has been my plan to bring them here, so I have also made a way to reconcile them to myself. But they must want reconciliation enough to ask me, and they must repent honestly and completely.”
“May I ask what that way is?”
“Yes, you may,” says God with a smile and then a sigh of infinite resolution and sadness. “I am the way. I will die for them all.”
My own scroll, written long before Jeremiah’s, also has paradoxes that cannot be understood until the future makes them understandable. Answers come quicker if we start asking questions, as Gabriel did, instead of agreeing or dismissing based only on the evidence we have at the moment. I do admit that it sometimes takes an awful lot of questions. And a frank examination of the past often helps.
Most of my paradoxes were resolved by the end of my scroll. One wasn’t: the one where it reads that God hangs that planet—the Earth, as the English call it—on nothing. I did believe what was written, because, as with my friend Jeremiah, it is what I heard God say. But I did not understand it. When I died, my point of view changed, of course, but even that didn’t help resolve the paradox because, if we want to, we can go see the Earth just hanging there among the stars and other planets where everything moves around but is also stretching out over time. (I had written about that stretching too, but never saw it as a paradox.)
I didn’t understand much about those things until only a few centuries ago when I swapped stories with a fellow—an Englishman, as I remember. He knew who I was, and we talked about my agonies for a while. Suddenly he asked, “Has anyone told you about my apple?” I said no. With a relieved sigh he said, “Good. Don’t let anyone tell you that when it fell it hit me on the head. It didn’t. I did watch it hit the ground, though, and a silly question occurred to me: Did the apple fall to the Earth, or did the Earth rise to the apple?”
He smiled, obviously expecting me to choose. Somehow, I felt that the obvious answer must be wrong. Perhaps this was due to the look on his face, which suggested that he too had a clever plan. But I didn’t see how the other choice could be right, so I kept quiet.
“The answer,” he said, “is: both, don’t you see?” Then he talked all about where this clever answer had led him: to the mathematics of movement, masses and distances between them, and I finally saw how a force he called gravity could hang everything on nothing. Paradox resolved.
With all of his mathematics, though, I’ve no laments for not asking questions about it earlier.
Copyright © 2002-2018, by Lewis Jenkins. All rights reserved.