Remember walking through thick woods as a kid? Pushing back the branches as you shoulder your way through? Remember too, when the person in front of you let go of the bent branch before you were clear of it? I thought I would go blind that day. The branch wasn’t thick, but it doesn’t have to be when it snaps across your open eyes.
If you’ve never had this experience then find a bungee cord. Have a friend stretch it as far as it will go and let go of his end. Don’t hold it near your face though. You’ll lose an eye. (On second thought don’t do this at all!)
These experiences instruct. They remind us of our limits. Some things can only be bent or stretched so far before they snap back. And it’s not just tree branches or bungee cords. All of reality is like a supple branch or stretchy cord.
We have been bending and stretching reality for a long time: since the Fall in the Garden of Eden. There we first took God’s law, God’s ordering of all things, and “bent” it. “Did God really mean that you would die if you ate of this tree? Maybe that’s not the way it really is. Maybe God is hiding some information from you because he’s afraid that you’ll become like him and he won’t be able to rule you anymore. Maybe you could rule instead!” So Adam and Eve pushed on that law. They stretched beyond their place and reached for God’s.
And when that branch snapped back, baby, it snapped back with deadly force. And boy oh boy did it leave a mark. A bruise so deep, it bruised our souls. Humanity has never been right in the head since.
So we stupidly keep on bending and stretching reality. For most of history we tried to stretch the spiritual world. We created gods and goddesses in our image, hoping to control them with devotions and rituals. But reality always snapped back. Regardless of our efforts to placate our homemade gods, the droughts kept coming, as did the wars and famines, diseases and death.
But we didn’t give up. In the 1600’s we started to understand the inner workings of the physical universe. True power over reality seemed to be in sight. With the new methods of modern science we could really bend and stretch things. Our power grew as we shrank its domain. Slowly, we gave up trying to control the spiritual world and focused our attentions on the physical. If we couldn’t be gods over all, we could at least be gods over some. Soon, of course, we told ourselves that the some was all there was, and so we believed we were god’s over all after all.
Fast forward to our day. We’ve conquered the atom. We’ve eradicated many diseases. We’ve mastered the air, planted our flag on the moon, deciphered the genetic code, and peered into the dim reaches of the universe. Certainly there were some snap backs along the way. Eugenics produced Hitler. Physics brought Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But through further application of the same methods we have, it seems, succeeded in pushing back those branches and securing them. Now, we are masters of all that we survey. At every turn physical reality has given way. It has stretched farther than our ancestors could have imagined.
So we push and pull even more. There is no vestige of humility left. We have transcended our physical limitations. We have repopulated the spiritual realm with our own wills. We are the gods! We are the determiners of our own identities. If our physical bodies or surroundings do not like the choices we make, it’s no bother, we simply change the hormones, edit the DNA, reeducate the masses, coerce the ignorant.
We cannot be restrained by reality. We have mastered it, or so we believe. We are overdue for a snap back. Let us pray that when it finally happens, some of us survive.
- Brandon Booth