I watched the movie Life of Pi last night. Basically, the film is about a young atheist who visits Pi to ponder the age old question, “How do you prove that God exists?” Pi, a professed Hindu/Catholic/Muslim, (!) becomes shipwrecked and survives for 227 days at sea. In his final dialogue, he cites two versions of his experiences, one with animals and one without. He is asked by those interviewing him which story is the true story. In actuality, neither account explains why the freighter he was initially on sank. The fact is – it sank and Pi’s ‘experiences’ do not support or negate that fact. Pi challenges them by saying, “So tell me, since it [his story] makes no factual difference to you and you can’t prove the question either way, which story do you prefer? Which is the better story, the story with animals or the story without animals?” The interviewers agree the story with animals in it is better. Pi responds, “And so it goes with God.” Ultimately, Pi changes the question from that which the young man initially presented to, “Who do you say that God is?”
We frequently get caught up in the details of a story so much so that the real story can become lost. And, sometimes the meaning we take away from our stories focuses on the wrong thing. It’s like phonics – a word can sound completely different with a variety of pronunciations. Yet, it happens in different dialects all the time. Does that change the meaning of the word? Typically not. Yet, we fuss and fret over the correct pronunciation when the tomato [long ‘a’] or tomato [short ‘a’] is right in front of us an appears as a red, shiny fruit. (Ummmm – vegetable???) You get my drift… Perception is the result of our reality, or worldview.
Our understanding of God is so much more convoluted than the tomato. Christians typically see God and Jesus as different characters. God takes the role as the hard-to-get-along-with-perfectionist of the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament. Jesus becomes the good-guy-we-can-all-hang-out-with-hero of the New Testament. Two pretty complex and different personalities! So, who do you say that God is?
We know that the Hebrew Bible was written through the lens, or worldview, of an ancient world that believed gods caused all things – good and bad. And, we put our human stamp on what we think a god should or should not do. Look at the horrors of the Hebrew Bible – David’s son died because of David’s sin. We extrapolate this as God’s punishment, even though we read that God forgave David! How does that work??? Yes, there are a plethora of examples pointing toward the wrath of God throughout these ancient works. Thank goodness Jesus came along to set God right! People were still asking why God caused ‘stuff’ happens when they hung out with Jesus. Consider John 9 when the disciples tried to understand God’s ways and asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Generation after generation, after generation shared the stories of a god who loves us…as long as we don’t cross him/her. Yet, Jesus was so different…he healed people! And he loved people. And, he didn’t see gender, race, socio-economics, disabilities, eye color or weight. (Okay, scripture doesn’t talk about eye color or weight…) Even people who didn’t deserve it!!! (So we think…)
I fully believe that Jesus came to set the record straight. And, I fully embrace that “God so loved the world that he sent his son…” [Jn 3:16]. But, what does that mean? Do we continue to look through the lens of the ancients that believed gods caused everything? Or do we look through the lens of Jesus and visualize that God loves? Do we accept the story of David that God forgives – even the unforgivable? Do we accept that sometimes life’s consequences are simply of our own making and we are still forgiven and loved in spite of all that we do…and don’t do?
Maybe Jesus, the incarnate God, came to us to change our worldview of who God is and who we are in God’s world. Maybe God has always been about love and acceptance. Maybe God just wants us to know that ‘stuff’ happens and there isn’t anywhere or anything or anyone who isn’t in God’s loving presence. Maybe life is simply that – life. And maybe God wants us to know that his/her love is always present to give us hope – even when you are in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on a life boat with a tiger and no food and in a storm. (Remember Pi?)
I recently read a quote that said, “God doesn’t really care what you do; God cares why you do it.” Who do you say that God is? How you answer that will determine what you do and why you do it. Maybe that’s Jesus’s example and message to us.
My best guess? I like the story with the animals.