Chris Jepson had the week off for this issue, so here’s a favorite column of his from the past.
“He sends flies to wounds He should heal.” — Terrence Malick
It’s the premise I cannot buy. Language is a human construct. At some point in our development as a species, a distant ancestor took that gush of lung air and articulated a feeling, a thought, an expression. A warning perhaps. A rush of expressed pain. A rudimentary sentiment of emotion. Who knows the word(s) uttered. Lost in the ether.
My third child skipped single words altogether when he first began to speak. “Had it first,” was what rolled out of his virginal mind and mouth. Does that not express the quintessential essence of humanity? Anyone who ever experienced an older sibling gets the sentiment.
It is through language that we build our world. It constructs our universe. It reveals the unknowable. It forms our fears. And it defines our gods. What a jump of imagination it was when “that” distant evolutionary cousin so long ago introduced God into the human equation. How else to explain what was “then” unknowable, but to an unknowable super entity, God?
And as our language grew, so did the attributes of our god(s). Powerful beyond description. Omnipotent. Omniscient. Omnipresent. All powerful. All knowing. All present. And that is the premise I cannot buy.
I recently saw a marvelous movie, Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life.” Brad Pitt and Sean Penn star, but it is the female lead, Jessica Chastain, who rightly commands our attention. She is the mother of three boys and wrestles with life’s accompanying sorrows, constantly imploring/questioning God’s meaning. It is a beautifully filmed movie. Some attribute “religious” overtones to the movie’s meaning, but that should not prevent one from embracing its artistic pleasures, its humanity.
A line softly uttered early in the movie goes to the heart of the human predicament, “He sends flies to wounds He should heal.” This is a statement questioning God’s plan.
And it is a fundamental question we should all ask of God. The words attributed to God are “Omnipotent. Omniscient. Omnipresent.” If you are God, you know everything that will ever be, you cannot create a mountain you cannot lift and you are everywhere for all time.
So why, if this is as you are, would you not ever so slightly tweak the human model? Knowing what you know? If you knew that on June 8, 1972 American pilots would open their bomb bay doors and rain napalm on sleeping Vietnamese peasants and the flesh would melt like butter from the arms of screaming innocence (children) as they ran from their burning huts — why not tweak the model? Why not ever so slightly “change” that which you claim to so love?
Malick does a good job of finessing this question — masterfully, actually. Just look at the beauty of the universe. As life consumes us all, in every sorrowful iteration, the universe displays its glory (beauty) in all its infinite iterations. And God, well, he’s a busy chap. A busy beaver. And please don’t take it personally (the sorrow). It’s all of a piece, don’t-cha see. No, actually I do not see. The words we use to define God give him all the cards. He deals deuces to some and aces to others. A rigged game.
Yet none of us get to sit it out. We either need a new croupier or a new vocabulary.
I opt for words.