Marc Vandenbrouke set down the book he was reading on the café table. In one hand was the cigarette that beckoned to him with smoldering nicotine. That was his life disintegrating into acrid smoke. Marc had been reading about the revered Buddha, Siddhartha, but the monk had taught him nothing about the meaning of his own life. He had also turned to Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud. These had all failed him. They told him he was a nothing, a parasite in an otherwise lovely ecosystem. Marc couldn’t even explain to himself why he, a human being, was significantly different from the chair or his cigarette. His thoughts were futile, his feelings were nonsense, and his choices, as his teachers had told him, were merely illusions based in chemical reactions taking place within the fat tissues of his skull. Was knowledge truly impossible? Did no one have a way to explain existence? Ah, well, here’s a phone call to relieve him from the brief sojourn into morbidity, despair and the meaninglessness of his life.
Marc set down the telephone and pondered the last thing he had heard. “God has spoken to humanity.” What did that mean? How could it be true? He could hardly bear to think that such a being as God even existed. Evolution, evil in the world, conflicting religions and the very aloneness he had felt all his brief life rose up against the idea. God. Was there a God? “God has spoken to humanity.” Marc reminded himself of an upcoming exam, of assignments for class, of anything that would derail the discomfort of his thoughts. He felt afraid almost. Escape was impossible.
Back in his dorm room, he knew it was there, on his desk under the loft bed. It was required reading for his class “Great Religions of the World.” He’d had to read odd bits and stories from different parts of the Christian Bible and compare them to the sayings and stories in other religions. He discovered that the Bible was just stories, poetry, letters and fantastical stuff. Some things had mildly interested him, but overall tone of what he read had mostly repulsed him with its rigidity of moral standards and harsh judgments. The writings pictured a wrathful, jealous deity who demanded the absolute fear and allegiance of all people. Its ethics were inferior and primitive for its grossly excessive judgments upon homosexuality, disobedience, and this thing of sin that seemed to be charged against everybody. Only a precious few were saved while the vast multitude were be to be punished forever in a lake of fire.
Now the thought that the Bible was God’s word haunted him. Marc was stuck on that one statement—“God has spoken to humanity.” The thought never would have gained a moment of his notice had not the person who spoke it been exactly that one who meant the whole world to him. She was the sunshine and laughter to him. He couldn’t seem to spend enough time with her, nor she with him. Suzanne had brought a sense of life being worthwhile and fun—so much so that even this, her recent fancy for religion, seemed interesting and tolerable. He had listened because of her.
Her parting sentence on the phone had provoked an explosion of thoughts. “God has spoken to humanity.” Marc had tried to deflect it by saying to himself, “But that’s religion, because the Bible and everything else are just ways that people have tried to make sense of their lives and the fear of some ultimate reality or whatever.” But something told him this was false even as he asserted it. Marc had seen the logic of what she said that if God had wanted to speak to humanity, then God was certainly capable of making sure that the message would be received properly. Didn’t that make sense? What if God had made people able to hear him? Couldn’t he also tell them things that they could understand? It might make sense, Marc agreed, but he didn’t like it. It didn’t fit with his ideas about the world as a happy accident of chance. The thought that there was a God who had created and then spoken to his creatures was oppressive. Marc felt stripped of his liberty. He felt watched.
Suzanne had actually put the sentence as a question, “What if God has spoken to humanity?” All the prowess of Marc’s mind now rose up to discover the answer. These were very unpleasant implications. If God has spoken to humanity, then God did exist and he wanted to be known and could be known by humanity. Marc clenched his jaw and lit another cigarette, as if that would reestablish his control over his unruly thoughts that chased the logic. If God has spoken, then the things God has said have an entirely transcendent and supreme authority for our knowledge about the things he has revealed. What God says must come first. No! Why was that?!
His ineluctable stream of thought continued to flow after the logic like cruel gravity. If God has spoken, then humanity is accountable to God for what he has said—accountable to hear and obey. Again, no! Marc wrested his thoughts out of the stream and protested the bare unfairness that God could be such a commanding deity. But his thoughts moved on. If God has spoken in the Bible, then anything contrary to it is wrong and all knowledge must be measured against this single, ultimate authority for whatever subjects the Bible speaks on. Here he could protest again. That just can’t be! That would be arrogant to claim one source of knowledge was above all others. Then again, doesn’t God’s involvement make certain things possible?
Marc lowered his resistance slightly. “Here’s how I see it,” he told himself. “If God has spoken in a definite, unmistakable way, then I can no longer pretend to choose what I want to believe about homosexuality, the categories of right and wrong, or the validity of world religions as equally good varieties for being a spiritual person. That is just unacceptable in the modern world.” It was plain to him that if God has spoken about these things, then God has defined what Marc must believe about all these things.
God imposed what must be believed. Marc was stunned to realize that the simple What if statement raised the question of an entirely different life because it meant that one would have to surrender the right (was that just an illusion?) to define values and beliefs for oneself and be required to adopt the imposition of all these beliefs by the commanding deity! This was like being on drugs and hallucinating about thinking like a religious fanatic. Marc smiled in a self-satisfied look around the other people at the café. They have no idea that I’ve been thinking like a total fanatic. His latte had cooled and the plastic chair felt hard pressing against his back.
What am I doing here? This is totally ridiculous. What if there is no God? What if God hasn’t spoken? Then, he thought, no worries about having to live a certain way or bow my values and actions to some all-powerful king of the universe. What if it’s just us? Yeah, we’re probably just alone here in this cold, cold space. But as he comforted himself, the sliver continued to prick his mind in a haunting, frightening echo tinged with Suzanne’s voice. God has spoken to humanity.
In Suzanne’s mind, it was just neat to think about the possibility that God might have spoken to humanity, and that the Bible might contain this divine communication. “Wow, a book that might be a path to true knowledge of God,” she said. “Whatever, I’ll see you when I get off work.” Marc drifted his gaze to the clock on the wall, still four hours till midnight. He wanted to talk to her. He wanted her to laugh with him and swirl all these thoughts away.
Ten thirty. Marc hadn’t been able to move on. Having burned into himself his last four cigarettes, and ignoring that he felt cold in the open air just wearing a t-shirt, he was still smoldering with the question: the Bible couldn’t be God’s word, could it? That would mean all sorts of terrible things. Only those who believed the Bible uniquely possessed the authority of God for their claims, and exclusively of all other religious claims. That seemed a bit off.
If the Bible was God’s word, then people would fight over how it was interpreted and claim divine authority for their beliefs against anyone who believed otherwise. Oh yeah, he remembered, that’s what Christians have believed: martyrdom, wars of religion, the Inquisition, church schisms, denominations. For the first time Marc saw that the Christian conviction about the Bible as God’s word made everything related to understanding the Bible intensely important for them. People would die based on what was said in that book. They took the words of a book as the commands of God himself. What a trip that would be!
It would have to be that everything else in their knowledge about God, life, and the world would have to start with the Bible. If God has spoken to humanity in the Bible, then the Bible is the God-given authority for human thoughts and actions. That is so whacked and crazy. Marc could not believe that people actually lived that way surrendering their basic beliefs to this single claim.
And he knew they didn’t, but most that he knew just sort of faked it.The Christians Marc had known did not live as if the Bible really was God’s word. They would say otherwise, but whenever it suited them, he knew friends who said they chose not to believe some things written in the Bible “because lots of things in the Bible were just for people in Bible times and we don’t have to do those things today.”
Oh, Marc smirked, then just some of the things in the Bible were God’s word, not all of it. That’s why some Christians had said, “God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, and he understands when we mess up. He wants us to make good decisions but it’s okay if we mess up and do stuff we shouldn’t.” One friend had even assured Marc that everybody will really be “saved” in the end, and “only the really bad people will be in hell, because that’s just what a loving God would do.” Was that right?
Yeah, Marc had been pleased to hear that at the time, but now, thinking back, he just couldn’t be sure what that meant to say a loving God would do this or wouldn’t do that. How could we know unless God told people what he would or wouldn’t do?
Marc thought about if he was God. Yeah, wouldn’t that be cool! And would the Almighty Marc have spoken to humanity so that people could decide for themselves what parts of the Bible were from Him and what parts weren’t? No way! What was the point of that? Wouldn’t that make people the final authorities over God’s word? Who is the God here, them, or Me? If I were God, I’d do things a whole lot different though. Like no pollution from cars. Marc smiled at that, just to think of all those people who couldn’t manage life without being able to get in a car and drive everywhere. Everybody would have to do things My way for sure.
Time passed a few moments to midnight and then a bit more and she was there, touching his hair and sliding aside his ashtray with mild irritation. “Been here this whole time waiting for me?” Marc smiled at her and nodded slowly. “Do you really think God has spoken to us?”