Monday, January 4, 2016

Reality and Fiction and God

For a few years in my youth I traveled the universe, explored distant worlds, encountered strange alien civilizations, and struggled with dangers unimagined. It was exciting, and I have men like Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clark, and Isaac Asimov to thank for the journeys.

Some of the universes I visited called me back again and again; they were that intriguing. Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy was one of those.  Thank you, Dr. Asimov. 

     Since then I have visited many new worlds. Some of them even resemble the world of reality. My current favorite novelist Lee Child creates worlds that almost sound real, like Steinbeck’s Joads and the American west during the Dust Bowl decade. Other novels are peopled by characters that have no counterpart in our reality. C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia are like that.  But I loved the characters.

     Over the years as  I’ve thought about reality and fiction and God, I’ve wondered if the creativity of an author is not the closest analogy to what God does in creating our “real” world.

     In Colossians 1 Paul describes the work of Christ in creation this way: “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-- all things have been created through Him and for Him.” The writer of Hebrews adds that Christ sustains all things by his powerful word.   That sounds a lot like what an author does. 

     An author creates the narrative of a novel in his mind. He creates the setting in which the action of the plot will take place. He creates a backstory, and he peoples this fictional place with characters with individual characteristics that many times are so real we can actually come to know them as friends. And more important, those characters interact with others in the story as though they were real and as though the world of the novel is real  reality.  

     But they really only exist in the author’s mind and on the pages of the novel he writes.  Yes. Sometimes an author may tell us that his characters take on a life of their own, but that is only a way of saying the characters are bound to act as their personalities dictate.  If they did not the story would seem fake and that phoniness would destroy the verisimilitude of the narrative.  The fact is, however, they are totally dependent upon the author who can at any time write a character out of the story just as Will Gardner was written out of the Good Wife TV series. 
     That all is eerily similar to what we read in the pages of the Bible. 

      But some reply that “real” reality is far different from fictional reality. Reality is, well, real and substantial and exists independently. The reality of fiction is only in your head. In real reality if you walk out in front of a truck, as a recent poster on a discussion site said, “your head will exist all over the truck’s front grill.”  

     But is that true? Maybe it is only true because the author determines the parameters of the reality he created. 

     Even from a purely scientific point of view, how substantial is reality? I lit a fire in my fireplace this last weekend. The log I placed on the fire was gradually consumed in the fire, and only a few ashes remained in the morning. What happened to the log that seemed so substantial the night before? A high school physics student can tell me that it was converted to energy – in other words, heat – and the energy was dissipated into the room and the outside. 

     None of the matter that was converted to energy remains.  None of the dispersed energy will be reconverted to matter. It will remain insubstantial (2nd law of thermal dynamics).   If that is the case, this “substantial’ reality is more a fiction than a reality. 

     Not only so, but the reality which we assume is so absolutely substantial is really mostly empty space. Every atom is made of a few very small particles and immense space. And even that description may be overstating reality.  We may find that those particles are more energy than matter. Recently there has been speculation that the origin of the universe was quantum fluctuations, waves of energy, in other words. How insubstantial would that be?  Whether that turns out to be so or not, it is certain that our idea of a substantial reality is less accurate than we have imagined.

     It is entirely possible that this reality is no more substantial or made of what we call matter than a digital picture stored on a camera card.  That changes things dramatically. 

     It makes the idea of a God who created the universe out of nothing and sustains that universe by simply his word and his will, seem more and more reasonable and understandable.  And it makes the idea that God is like an author a more and more powerful analogy. 

     But there is more.  The Bible also describes the author God as having eternal plans for his characters. There is a sequel, same characters but a different setting with different conditions.  And he intends to enter the story as a character - something that authors actually sometimes do in their novels. In fact, the Bible declares that God has entered the story. That is what happened when the Son of God was born into the story as the man Jesus. In the sequel the author will write himself into the narrative as the King forever. 

     Exciting, isn’t it?

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