Last week I finally finished the short novel by Alan Lightman, Mr g – a novel about creation. When I say short, I mean VERY short. It’s only 214 pages including end notes, and the print is fairly large. As novels go, visually it’s very nice to read. I do have to admit that the lack of a period after the abbreviation “Mr.” is bothersome in the extreme, but I just try not to look at that. Yes, I have been called a grammar nazi. I don’t like being called that. I’d rather be called “grammar-sensitive”. [ I think I’m somewhat allergic to bad grammar. I may possibly break out into hives at the sight of another misplaced apostrophe.]
Poor grammar aside, I must say that I quite enjoyed Mr g. It was thought-provoking, which is why I read it so slowly. I believe I had the book for over two months before I managed to close it for the last time.
The basic premise is the creation of the world told from god’s* perspective. It’s a unique blend of theoretical astrophysics, literature, poetry, and theology. Rather than approach this as a formal-type book review, I’ll just record some of my realizations, thoughts, and feelings about Mr g.
- I realized how desperately important the role theology plays in the life of a person, even if it’s something we never consciously think about. It affects how we view the world, how we think about others, how we think about ourselves, how we think about God*, and what place we believe we have in the world. Despite Mr. Lightman’s very intelligent approach to the creation of the world, and thus humans, at the end of the book humanity is reduced to nothing more than an opportunity to glimpse the Divine upon one’s deathbed. The joys and the sorrows of life count for nothing because there is nothing immortal in a person – no soul, no spirit.
- Lightman claims to use aspects from Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Eastern religions, but the overarching theology Mr g is based on is Eastern. Despite his best efforts to fuse elements from each strand of world religions, the Eastern strand proves strongest. This is what leads to the triumph of fatalism in Mr g. Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all have as a central tenet of belief the idea that we mortals affect the Divine, that our actions and non-actions reverberate through eternity.
- I suddenly understood, in my heart, the necessity of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection. These parts of Christianity are not touched on or incorporated into Lightman’s narrative in any way. God gets the world going, then steps back to observe. He is often present in the world to observe, but does not become a part of his creation in any way, despite the love for it he has. When suffering happens, god is deeply moved about it, but is unable to act in any way to respond to the prayers or tears of his creation because he realizes that he does not have the ability to know what the consequences of any actions will be – there’s an infinite number of consequences possible for any action. This is the picture of our relationship to God if the incarnation did not happen. But it did, and God knew, intimately, in the person of Jesus, suffering and death.
- Suddenly the suffering that has taken place in my own life gained meaning: God knows what it is like to suffer, even if the suffering is not relieved. I found great comfort in knowing that the events in my own insignificant life (cosmologically speaking) had been given meaning and are welcomed with love by God.
- There is a lot of talk about how the universe god created follows the rules he laid out for it, and follows them inexorably. The resurrection of Jesus shows that God, even as a part of His own creation, does not always “follow the rules”. There’s a great deal more theology that I could write about this, but my brain is getting tired. From me, short, sweet, and simple is better.
- I really enjoyed the descriptions of the the physical creation and evolution of the universe as time moved on. Some of the descriptions were poetically beautiful, and the explanation of theoretical physics was easily understood in the guise of literature. The writing is smooth, fluid, interesting, and sensitive. The characters are well-rounded, and much is said about each with only a few words.
- The character of Belhor (Satan in Christian literature) was handled with a lot of ambiguity. In Christian tradition, Satan is the archangel of evil, the powerful despot of badness and death. Belhor is one huge grey area, and I was left with the impression of Belhor being of necessity in the divine scheme of things, the balance for god’s goodness. Often he seemed to know more/understand more than god himself. Then I thought, yes, but sometimes the nature of evil in our Western world is insidious and ambiguous. Belhor isn’t explicitly linked with what is wrong in the world, and one anecdote related about Belhor’s actions in the world is quite comical, but I was left with the idea that the problem of evil is the result of Satan’s actions, and God does not act in the world at all.
All criticism aside, Mr g is well-worth the read, just for the clarification of one’s own theology. Mr. Lightman took on an impossible task: writing about God from God’s perspective. It’s impossible to do it perfectly – just look at all the controversy about the Bible between Christians!
And now I think I need an antihistamine after typing so many “Mr.”s without using a period.
*A note of clarification: In order to differentiate, I use [g] to speak of the character “god” in the book, and [G] to speak of God Himself.