The Invention of Lying
Just finished watching the invention of lying with Ricky Gevaise, that guy form “the Office”. He plays a character called Mark Bellison who invents lying in a world where everyone tells the truth. It’s a really, really great idea (the film that is, not lying!). Everyone says to each other exactly what they think is true. I was a little apprehensive about watching it as I knew it would be taking a dig at God but actually I found it very thought provoking in a number of ways.
Firstly it exposes the shallowness of us humans. Imagine that on meeting someone you told them what you really thought of them. Anna McDoogles, played by Jenifer Garner, keeps telling Mark that he is “a short, fat, looser with a stub nose”. While each time Mark is visibly hurt, it’s not taken as rude as everyone says things like that in this world. No beating about the bush, no little white lies to make people feel better, just the raw, honest truth. When Anna arrives at a restaurant looking beautiful the female receptionist says straight away “I am threatened by you” and in the next breath asks them follower her to their seats. Another example that made me sad was when Anna asked a short plump kid his name he replies “short fat Tim”. Kids have been bullying him and calling him that so that’s who he thinks he really is. Broke my heart and made me more determined to let people know who they are or can be in Christ.
Secondly it’s interesting to see Mark make up a system of morality on the spot. Really bad things mean you go to a bad place, “three strikes and you’re out” but most people who don’t murder, or do horrid things get a big mansion in the sky to live in forever, see all their loved ones and eat as much ice cream as they want. Morality is basically “don’t do anything really bad or you’ll regret it forever”.
Thirdly, and most significantly for my thinking at present, this film touches on the sovereignty of God. This is where, in the original screen play, the anti-God venom starts to spray. Mark appears in front of his house looking like Moses clutching two pizza boxes upon which are written his deceitful summary of life after death. When people discover that there is a “man in the sky” who makes all the bad things happen, they are really angry.
MAN #4 Does he cause natural disasters?
WOMAN #3 Did he cause my mom to get cancer?
WOMAN #4 Did he cause that tree to land on my car last week?
The crowd is quiet for a long beat….they’re mulling this
over. The first man to speak is a blue collar guy with a
thick Brooklyn accent.
BROOKLYN GUY I say **** the guy that lives in the sky!
The whole crowd erupts in agreement. People stand up shouting, flicking off the sky.
MAN #5 Yeah! That guy’s a ******* *******!
WOMAN #5 That mother****** better hope I never see him face to face!
MAN #6 That guy’s a ******* coward! Hiding up there and doing
bad **** to us! Why doesn’t he do it to our faces?
WOMAN #6 We need to stop that mother****** before he kills us all!
Mark looks worried. He didn’t anticipate this. Suddenly a thought occurs to him.
MARK (shouting) WAIT!
Everyone quiets down.
MARK This guy who lives in the sky and controls everything is also responsible for all the good stuff that happens.
The whole crowd “aaaahhs”.
MAN #7 He’s the guy who saved my life on that fishing trip when the
MAN #7 Did he capsize the boat?
MARK Well, yes.
WOMAN #7 He’s the one who killed my grandmother and left me those
millions of dollars?
MARK You betcha.
WOMAN #3 So is he the same one who cured my mom’s cancer?
MARK That too.
The crowd thinks this over.
MAN #8 So he’s kind of a good guy, but he’s also kind of a ***** too?
The language was turned down in the film (I have tried to * it out, sorry if I’ve missed any, I don’t mean to offend) I think but the challenge is still there and it’s not an easy one to answer. If God is sovereign, controlling everything and making both good and bad things happen, then surly he is a grotesque mix of good and bad; a sort of schizophrenic maniac making people ill and then healing them.
While describing God as “in control” and “working through all things”, the bible does not let us make the seemingly logical deduction that God is morally responsible for evil. He does not stand behind good and evil in the same way. Hopefully I’ll read some more out that in Bruce Ware’s book, but for now I will make one observation.
The ballast that keep my understanding of a good and sovereign God from capsizing in these sorts of gross caricatures is the cross. While it is conspicuously absent from Mark’s pizza box revelations it is essential to a true representation of the heart of God. The cross above all things shows me that God will stop at nothing to rescue us from greatest and most terrible suffering. If he did that then I hope I can live with some mystery with other bad things I see and experience.
Mark originally made up the lie about a man in the sky to make his dying mum feel better. Her frightened words are very telling:
I’m so scared, Mark. I don’t want to die. You know, people don’t talk about it much, but death is a horrible thing. One minute you’re alive, there’s a whole world around you, humming and jumping, people coming in and out, doors opening and closing, love and anger and the whole mess of it all, and then like that, it’s all gone.(crying) This is it Mark, only a few hours left of this until an eternity of nothingness.
She is literally shaking with fear but after hearing Mark’s reassuring lies about life after death she sheds tears of joy and passes away peacefully. This is perhaps the saddest moment in the whole film for me. A lie at this, the most significant point in her life, is devastating. You see, she was right to be scared of death because we will be held accountable for the things we have done wrong. God is just and will not overlook the first two big offences while sweeping all the other “little things” under a rug. He will come against all wrong doing and all evil in all of its forms. It is this terrible and eternal consequence of our moral sin and failings that God has endeavoured, at all costs, to remove from us. Knowing this means I can’t tip over into a view of God that makes him anything less than loving and merciful. Nor can I see him as anything less than good and just. We messed up badly and he was prepared to take the worst of the consequences in our place. It doesn’t solve the problem of how he is sovereign over sickness as well as healing, death as well as life, but it gives me a firm foundation upon which to explore those things.
Fifthly and finally, God is not an “invisible man in the sky”. Addressing this gets me deep into the mystery of the incarnation but I’ll give it a go. We cannot look at a man (me, you, other people) and think God is a larger version. We are in his image but he is not in ours. Because we are in his image there are some things about us that tell us something about what God is like, but like any image there is much that God is that we are not. The reason we cannot grasp how God can be sovereign in the way he is, is that we cannot conceive of how we could be sovereign in that way. How could I, or even a bigger, smarter, more powerful version of me, work out my will through all the events of history to achieve a particular goal? I could, at best, improve the chances of something happening but I cannot with any certainty effect other peoples wills and decisions. Furthermore there is no way I can have any part in a bad thing happening without being morally responsible for it. If I suggest to someone that they do something bad, or set things up to tempt them to do something bad, I will bear moral responsibility for it along with them.
Although God is Spirit he became a man when the son of God “took on flesh”. Around 2000 years ago the invisible God became visible. The fullness of God was in him. Now we can look at Jesus and know we are looking at God but when people saw this “man in the sky” come down to earth they took their chance and killed him. But God in his unsearchable sovereignty was working right though the heart of their terrible crime to pay for our sin and bring us into a wonderful relationship with himself.
I thank God that he went ahead of us to take away the sting of death making a way through the grave to everlasting life. That’s not a lie made up to comfort people, it’s the truth testified to by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. If I start at the cross were I see my sin and failure and God’s love and mercy then I will avoid capsizing or running aground as I navigate this difficult doctrine.