A LOVE SUPREME

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

There's room for you in The Shack



The following is from William Young's The Shack. We are picking up in the middle of a dialog between Mack and Jesus:

"I don't have an agenda here, Mack. Just the opposite," Jesus interjected. "I came to give you Life to the fullest. My life." Mack was still straining to understand. "The simplicity and purity of enjoying a growing friendship?"
"Uh, got it!"
"If you try to live this without me, without the ongoing dialogue of us sharing this journey together, it will be like trying to walk on the water by yourself. You can't! And when you try, however well-intentioned, you're going to sink." Knowing full well the answer, Jesus asked, "Have you ever tried to save someone who was drowning?".....

"Mack, the world system is what it is. Institutions, systems, ideologies, and all the vain, futile efforts of humanity that go with them are everywhere, and interaction with all of it is unavoidable. But I can give you freedom to overcome any system of power in which you find yourself, be it religious, economic, social, or political. You will grow in the freedom to be inside or outside all kinds of systems and to move freely between and among them. Together, you and I can be in it and not of it."
"But so many of the people I care about seem to be both in it and of it!" Mack was thinking of his friends, church people who had expressed love to him and his family. He knew they loved Jesus, but were also sold out to religious activity and patriotism.
"Mack, I love them. And you wrongly judge many of them. For those who are both in it and of it, we must find ways to love and serve them, don't you think?" asked Jesus. "Remember, the people who know me are the ones who are free to live and love without any agenda."
"Is that what it means to be a Christian?" It sounded kind of stupid as Mack said it, but it was how he was trying to sum everything up in his mind.
"Who said anything about being a Christian? I'm not a Christian."
The idea struck Mack as odd and unexpected and he couldn't keep himself from grinning. "No, I suppose you aren't."
They arrived at the door of the workshop. Again Jesus stopped. "Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don't vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions. I have followers who were murderers and many who were self-righteous. Some are bankers and bookies, Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians. I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved."
"Does that mean," asked Mack, "that all roads will lead to you?"
"Not at all," smiled Jesus as he reached for the door handle to the shop. "Most roads don't lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you."
(Selections taken from pages 180-82)

The Shack is certainly evangelical. For example, there is a clear and robust theory of substitutionary atonement. And yet in the above dialog, there is something that is potentially very non-evangelical: accepting the validity of other religious perspectives. This is not just an "anything goes approach," as the above makes clear. And yet there is a tone of inclusiveness that is rare amongst evangelicals.

My initial sense was, "Cool! Young is saying that Jesus is working among non-Christians." That is, I was really really fascinated that Young would suggest that Jesus would be at work among Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, etc. If one could see the values and spirit of the Kingdom being embodied, then this was the activity of Jesus.

And yet Young's language is a bit ambiguous. His Jesus says that he has followers who were Buddhists and Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans, etc. If he would have used the present tense, are, then I think that the language would have been more clearly an inclusive stance: "my followers are Buddhists and Mormons, Baptists or Muslims..."

I wonder if Young has ever been questioned on this point. I know that he has taken a good deal of heat from the conservative sector of evangelicalism.

But The Shack has been extremely popular among evangelicals, primarily (I would suggest) because it loosens up the rigid "us versus them" spirit that has dominated evangelicalsim in the past. And this, I think, can only be a good thing. I think many evangelicals are taught that all other perspectives and religions are condemned (a peculiar interpretation of John 14:6), and that if we entertain any other idea then we are on a road to pure relativism and "anything goes!". What is often ignored in these discussions is that the Gospel is primarily about reconciliation. There is the indication that the reconciliation (apokatallasso) is for all (Colossians 1:20), to unite (anakephalaio) all (Ephesians 1:10), in Christ.

I'm not saying that the New Testament itself teaches inclusivism, but I do think that there is enough there to point us in that direction. There is certainly enough evidence in the New Testament and the Gospels to allow evangelicals to take seriously the idea that Jesus and the message of the Gospel may be quite active in non-Christian settings and in places in the world where the name "Jesus" is unknown. This is because the message and power of the Gospel is based on something greater than any particular religion or institution. And this is what Young brings out very clearly in The Shack.

Once we recognize that the power of the Gospel transcends institution/religion and is much deeper to the core of the human soul than a creed or dogma could ever be, then the theological door is wide open to consider that the power of the Gospel is alive and active within non-Christian settings.

In other words, maybe there's room in the shack for you.

Or perhaps you are already in the shack, and you just don't know it.

Or perhaps if we all recognize that we are in the same shack, then we can start to engage in a new way the Gospel's vision for reconciliation, transformation, and redemption.

37 comments:

Tamie said...

I was very curious this morning about what you were writing!

From now on, instead of saying "we're all in the same boat" maybe I will say "we're all in the same shack."

Actually, probably not. I like the boat metaphor. It has a lot of meaning to me! Still. :)

john doyle said...

What is this thing, Erdman, some sort of Jesus fanfiction? Jesus's dialogue is pretty wooden, like somebody gave him an essay to read aloud.

Tamie said...

Ah, thank you, John. It's a novel, but like, along the lines of "Sophie's World" (although that was way smarter and better written) in that the point of the book is to teach the reader, rather than do all the other kinds of things fiction might do. Not much of a story line, although there are some nice images, such as God as a black woman.

Anyway, I've been complaining about the really poor writing quality, so I'm glad you said something too!

Jonathan Erdman said...

Sorry, John. I probably should have mentioned a bit about The Shack as a novel. It is Christian fiction, and it has taken the evangelical world by storm. The writing isn't very good, but the story line is compelling and the theological perspective has prompted a good deal of response in the evangelical community.

I don't really have an ear for good or bad fiction writing, although even I could tell that the purpose of the book was to communicate theological/spiritual messages, rather than to be good literature/art.

The plot centers on Mack. He is someone who is less than thrilled with church, religion, and God in general. His little daughter was abducted and murdered while they were camping. She was taken to a remote shack and killed.

A year or so later, Mack gets an invitation in the mail to meet God at the same shack. Mack goes, and God meets him there, personified as a black woman. Jesus and the Holy Spirit are also personified, and Mack engages in a good deal of dialog with them about theology, spirituality, and the pain of feeling like God abandoned Mack and his daughter.

Apparently, the author had a really difficult time getting The Shack published. He got a group of folks together, and finally they self-published and the thing just sold copies like mad, becoming all the rage amongst evangelicals.

While the writing is lacking, many folks have really connected with it in the evangelical world, and of course many theological watchdogs have protested.

john doyle said...

"I've been complaining about the really poor writing quality"

That reminds me of comments about the Da Vinci Code: a lot of people said the writing was bad, but they did read it.

"I don't really have an ear for good or bad fiction writing"

Don't be modest, Erdman -- you could tell that my fiction is good (winky smiley).

john doyle said...

Sophie's World was an idiosyncratic project to be sure -- unlikely it'd have been published in America if it hadn't already become a hit in Europe.

So how's your book coming along, Tamie?

tamie said...

Yeah yeah....I'm reading it b/c it was recommended to me by a lot of people I respect. I'm a little surprised, actually, that more of those people weren't turned off by the cliche and sentimentalism and etc. I did read the DaVinci Code too! I hardly ever read stuff like that, but it was fun.

And the book is coming slower than I want, but at least it's not at a standstill! I finished a chapter yesterday and edited half a chapter so far today. And the day isn't over yet!

john doyle said...

Anne picked up The Shack from her church library, so I'll probably have a look. I too read DaVinci Code and got a kick out of it. The movie sucked though.

samlcarr said...

I have a strong suspicion that most evangelicals know what the gospel is but then go to extreme lengths to hide that truth from themselves and how they practice religion/live.

It takes something a little hokey sometimes to make the call...

john doyle said...

"most evangelicals know what the gospel is but then go to extreme lengths to hide that truth from themselves"

They've been hiding from the truth that the gospel is a work of fiction? (Just messin' with ya, Sam.)

samlcarr said...

The best fiction around, John, it really communicates, and one doesn't have to struggle too hard to suspend ones disbelief...

Jonathan Erdman said...

Sam/John,

One of the ideas that has been rolling around my mind for the last year or so is how the essence of the Gospel can get lost so easily. For example, Christians often have a conversion experience, followed by a period of emotional and intellectual engagement into the essence of the Gospel: the peace, love, and joy that come from grace. Then after this period of time, people lose it. That sense of deep grace, of deep acceptance, somehow gets displaced. Somehow we "lose the innocence," so to speak, and we move on from the core of the faith into other things. Things like service, mission, self-improvement, calling, etc.

John, is this phenomenon all that unlike the psychology of infant development? How we lose that sense of oneness with our mother, oneness with the world?

If there is a parallel here (between losing the grace of the Gospel and losing the innocent wonder and connectedness of our infant state), then what might it look like to move forward. Do we need to retrace our steps?

Any thoughts on this?

Melody said...

Isn't that how we are about everything though?

Things can't be both familiar and new can they?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody,

Personally, I think they can.

For example, do people who live by the ocean wake up in the morning and look out into the vastness and think, "Huh. Same old ocean. Sigh."

I mean, that might happen, but it means that something wrong. Something has happened to make that person dull and desensitized.

I think that much of our spirituality should focus on understanding the newness of the familiar, recognizing the holy in the mundane. This is, I think, why Scripture talks about the importance of having a spirit of gratitude and giving thanks in all things. It is a change of mentality, I think.....not something I understand, but it seems to be there, in Scripture, I mean. The sense that grace should just become the run-of-the-mill doctrine that it is in so many churches.

Melody said...

For example, do people who live by the ocean wake up in the morning and look out into the vastness and think, "Huh. Same old ocean. Sigh."

Actually...a lot of them do.

My family's from Florida. None of my Floridian friends and relatives seem overly impressed with the beach. They make fun of me for my need to visit it almost every day I'm there. They are desensitized, from over-exposure.

I'm not saying we should be desensitized to grace or God or joy or any of that...just that it's some-what inevitable.

samlcarr said...

Jon, my own take is that primarily it is certainly a normal human phenomenon - honeymoons don't last forever, if they last very long at all!
But that is compounded by a few things:
1. Jesus said it best "you cannot serve two masters" and it doesn't take long for the church master to try to become more important than the gospel master.
2. High expectations both about the orgs and for the people that one is surrounded with eventually face the reality test. The hard truths start to sink in - these are just folks like any other folks; underneath they are no more nor less holy than anyone else, despite all the pretty icing and party atmosphere. And the orgs are, after all, just orgs. They look after themselves first and foremost and the individual's needs very often will come in second best by that measure.

ktismatics said...

"If there is a parallel here (between losing the grace of the Gospel and losing the innocent wonder and connectedness of our infant state), then what might it look like to move forward. Do we need to retrace our steps?"

This idea ties back to our prior discussion of pilgrimage and quest. In the traditional distinction pilgrimage is the retracing of a trail that's already been laid down, a return, whereas a quest is a voyage into the unknown where no trail has yet been marked. Returning to childlike faith is a pilgrimage, no? Jesus talks about coming as a child, but pushes adulthood: when I became a man I put away childish things, solid meat is for the mature, the Law is for children, etc. Just because you are "born again" doesn't mean you're supposed to stay a child forever. (Close in prayer.)

ktismatics said...

I meant to say "but Paul pushes adulthood."

john doyle said...

I've read the first 70 pages of The Shack, just getting to the point where the little girl is presumed dead at the hands of a serial killer. Earlier her father told her a legend about an Indian princess who threw herself off a cliff as a sacrifice to save her tribe from an epidemic. Was the princess real? she asks her father; he says he doesn't know but he suspects she was. Was Jesus real? she asks. Yes, her father assures her, Jesus was real, though he doesn't address the implicit questions: did both the princess and Jesus die for others' sake, in order to appease the gods? The father does respond to one unasked question: no, as your father I will never ask you kill yourself. But now the girl is abducted and probably killed. It's the homicidal maniac who did it inside the story's reality, but outside the story it's the author who killer her off. She had to die in order for the story to unfold in a particular way...

Tamie said...

Oh good, I'm so glad you're reading The Shack. I'm almost done with it myself. It would be great to be able to talk to you about it--and whoever else wants to join in the conversation here. I'll certainly be interested to hear what you have to say as the "story" progresses (it becomes more theological didacticism, in my opinion, and less story).

Do you want to say more about the author having to kill the little girl? I'm curious to know where you're going with that.

john doyle said...

I grant that I'm inferring authorial intent here, but here's a guy who's creating a story in which substitionary sacrifice is an important theme. Isn't it likely that he's self-aware about the girl being sacrificed for the sake of some presumably larger good that he, as the story's creator and the father of his characters, has in mind?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Doyle,

Are you suggesting that the author of the Shack has constructed a story in which God is a homicidal maniac? Who is/are the maniac(s) who kill Jesus?

Clearly the author is presenting God as a God of love, who had nothing to do with the murder of Mack's daughter. God is a motherly figure of compassion.

And yet the author still promotes some theology of substitutionary atonement, no?

Mack's daughter is sacrificed at the hands of a homicidal maniac: who else could do such a thing?

So, where does that leave Jesus' sacrifice? Is the homicidal maniac God herself? Or the authorities who crucified him? Or is it us? Or is there some sort of collective guilt here?

I'm curious because it has almost been a year since I read the book, and I can't recall quite how the author falls on the question of atonement theology. I do recall that he seems to promote it, in some way.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics,

Good thoughts on pilgrimage.

This may be the subject of the next post.....It seems that there is some sort of an interesting paradox going on: to move forward and reach full maturity, we must go backward, retracing our steps into our childlike innocence and spiritual wonder. We are never again naive because we have eaten of the fruit, but something from that pre-fallen state must be discovered again.

Jonathan Erdman said...

John,

Do you see the above dynamic at work in The Stations?

tamie said...

I'm nearing the end of The Shack--should finish it today--and it's interesting reading it while we're having these conversations and bringing up these questions.

To answer your question, Jon, even though you asked John :), it seems to me that there is this assumption throughout the book that *something* had to happen, in order to save us from hell, or in order to create a way for us to reach God, or in order to save us from our sins. The assumption seems to be that this is just a law of the universe, perhaps even a law that God didn't create, but is just the way things are. You know, it's that common assumption that because God is holy and we are sinners, it is impossible for us to reach God unless our sin is somehow expunged, or atoned for, or removed from us, or what-have-you.

That seems to be the unquestioned assumption of the book. The author of The Shack is willing to question many presuppositions about conservative evangelical Christianity (and even orthodox Christianity), but this one assumption appears to go unquestioned.

All through the book I keep thinking, "this book is SUCH a mixed bag!" On the one hand, it's very imaginative, offering lovely visions of God that exceed our typical, dry, overly theologized visions of God. There are some lovely images, some lovely ideas. On the other hand, some of what I believe are the most damaging doctrines of Christianity are unquestioned, and even though the author tries to promote an endlessly loving God, I somehow do not believe the author--and not because of my own hang-ups, but because God in the story is occasionally brutal and violent(like when Sophia demands that Mack condemn 2 of his children to hell), occasionally forcing Mack into realizing "love." And then of course there is the assumption that substitutionary atonement was necessary, in order for our presence to be tolerable to God.

Alas. I sure do wish the author had questioned that one idea, and offered an alternative!

samlcarr said...

Tamie, that's a fascinating thing, though I'm sorry to say that I haven't read the book and am unlikely to as our Christian booksellers here in my part of India are all of the very conservative kind.

I think the same is true of C.S. Lewis' Christian fiction. Some things are so deeply embedded as truths that they should not be questioned, it's easier to argue that the truth is just too profound for us to understand so God can appear to be cruel while still being always actually only as kind and loving as we will allow.

john doyle said...

I'm more than halfway through The Shack. So far there's been no discussion of God allowing evil and atonement and so on. I get a sort of queasy sensation while reading the book.

It's not so much about the theology, which is traditional enough by most standards with a touchy-feely, easy listening packaging that people seem particularly comfortable with. It's more this sense of what God is up to. It's like they're living out a fairly widespread vision of an ideal retirement: people are blandly content and cheerful, there's no work to be done, you hang around cooking and eating together and puttering in the garden, there's no need to bother with anybody else, you invite an occasional house guest in for the weekend.

There's also something off-putting for me about the multiracial embodiments of the trinity. The Father is like a stereotypical Aunt Jemima mammy -- she even cooks pancakes for breakfast. And the Spirit is a stereotypically mysterious Oriental woman. The tendency in the West is to regard these positive yet caricaturized depictions of racial -- and sexual -- otherness as something the white man has lost and that he'd like to get back, by force if necessary. The main character says he finds it easiest to relate to Jesus, who is depicted as an ordinary, plain-looking, plain-spoken, roll-up-his-sleeves guy. Jesus is depicted as Middle Eastern, but he's explicitly Jewish. Jewishness is the one part of Middle Eastness that contemporary evangelicals are prepared to acknowledge and even to regard as their cultural forebears, much as Americans look respectfully to England as a kind of cultural authority.

More later.

tamie said...

John. Indeed, indeed. Yesterday I read a little article in Newsweek, written by a black woman, about racism. Oh, I wish I had it with me so that I could quote it directly. But she talked about the "stock characters," as she put it, that we all take for granted. Like the ditzy blond woman, the nerdy white guy, that kind of thing.

When I first read about God as a big black woman I was like, cool! God as a black woman. But after a few days I started to think, hang on a second, there is something fishy about this. This woman doesn't even really have character, as created by the author. And what does "big, black woman" even mean, in my mind?

Then when I read that article in Newsweek I realized that I'd fallen prey to a kind of nice racism, the racism that assumes that there is a general category of "big, black women" that people fall into, and that they don't need much more description than that, because they don't amount to much more than that.

This made me rather sick, to realize.

I hadn't thought about the mystery Oriental woman stereotype, I think because I've had less exposure to such stereotypes, or maybe I've just paid attention less or something.

It's interesting that you say you get a queasy feeling when you read the book. My feeling wasn't queasiness exactly, but I found myself kind of squinting, and holding the book at arm's length. I was relieved to finish the book yesterday. Jon and I talked about it over dinner and he asked me to write a guest post on this blog--yay! I feel honored!--so that should be up soon.

john doyle said...

Yes, I hear you, Tamie.

The Green Mile, starring Morgan Freeman as the Magic Negro! I read Steven King's latest book of short stories, and in one of them his narrator explicitly acknowledges his tendency to write this stock character.

The mysterious Orient, the inscrutable Chinese, etc. -- these are pretty common depictions in Western imagination. The Holy Spirit is kind of like a geisha. This mysterious east thing happens a lot in noir film/fiction. The film Chinatown inverts the image, since behind all the mystery and intrigue stands the powerful old white man. Is he the Gandalf of Mack's imagination, the Father who controls the mysteries? Well the old white guy's name in Chinatown is Noah Cross -- pretty expicit Judeo-Christian imagery.

john doyle said...

So I read what I guess is the emotional climax of the book, the big reconciliation scene of Mack with God. Why didn't you save Missie? Well, let's say two of your five children have to burn in hell: which ones would you choose? I don't know: take me instead, that all five might live. My point exactly. Ah, now I understand; my Great Sadness is lifting.

Understand what? Why doesn't Mack say to God something like: okay, if it's either Missie or the serial killer who has to go to hell, the choice should be pretty obvious. Or is God saying that he let Jesus die so that even the serial killer won't go to hell no matter what he does on earth?

The main persuasion point for Mack is when he sees Missie, who's "really there," playing with her brothers and sisters, who are dreaming this reunion. So she's not really dead after all because there's an afterlife. This is more real than your ordinary life, God tells Mack. Okay, so death, even horrible death, is an illusion; the afterlife is real. So sure, if Missie isn't really dead, if her murder wasn't all that real, then the Great Sadness lifts. The reality of the afterlife is a pretty persuasive argument.

Now if Jesus died for Missie's killer and he too has a spot reserved in the afterlife, the story gets more complex. And why put everyone through earthly life if it's painful and not even very real? Why not just start the afterlife right now? I think the conversation could have gone on a little longer before Mack rolls over.

john doyle said...

Did you know that when God looks at us he sees us surrounded by our auras, in all colors of the rainbow? Trippy! (25 pages to go)

john doyle said...

Finished.

tamie said...

You're fast. Okay, Jon's invited me to do a guest post on the book. Hopefully I'll get to that tomorrow. It'll be interesting to converse with you, and others, on the subject.

john doyle said...

I don't know if you still track comments on the old blog...

Anne just read The Shack, and didn't regard it as endorsing substitutionary atonement. I didn't remember much about the book, so I reread the "Here Come Da Judge" chapter, which in my comment here on your post I regarded as decisively substitutionary. The Judge asks Mack to choose which of his kids should go to hell. I can't choose, he says; can I go in their stead? Now you're thinking like Jesus, the Judge tells Mack. Sounds like traditional substitution, right? But I think there's at least one other possible reading.

Leading up to this conversation the Judge gets Mack to acknowledge that he's mad at God for allowing his kid's killer to live. But, says the Judge, maybe the killer's father was mean to him, and the father's father, and so on, back to Adam. But why stop there, asks the Judge: why not put the blame back on God the Father, who let this whole mess get started? So when Mack agrees to go to hell on his kids' behalf, he could be acknowledging that, if they've done hell-worthy bad deeds, he as their father might be the reason why. Maybe Jesus was acting on God the Father's behalf in a similar way, atoning not for humankind's failings but for the Father's. And since the Son and the Father are one, it's the Father blaming Himself, punishing Himself, atoning for Himself. So He reconciles humankind to Himself by not counting their trespasses against them, but instead acknowledging his own complicity in their corrupted state. Now he wants Mack to get over his anger, to be reconciled to God. Cf. 2 Cor. 5:18-20.

john doyle said...

On further review I think I'm giving the book more credit than it deserves. Page 166 -- Mack is talking with the hot mystical Latina, who may be Wisdom. She says:

"Your world is severely broken. You demanded your independence, and now you are angry with the One who loved you enough to give it to you. Nothing is as it should be, as Papa desires it to be, and as it will be one day. Right now your world is lost in darkness and chaos, and horrible things happen to those she is especially fond of."
"Then why doesn't she do something about it?"
"She already has..."
"You mean what Jesus did?"
"Haven't you seen the wounds on Papa too?"
"I didn't understand them. How could she..."
"For love. She chose the way of the cross, where mercy triumphs over justice because of love. Would you prefer she'd chosen justice for everyone?"


It's not explained how the cross represents the triumph of mercy over justice, but it's pretty certain that Papa isn't about to own up to having made any sort of mistake. Substitution seems the obvious explanation for those of us who are theologically trained. But maybe in this novel it's mercy for Papa to allow people to kill Jesus without stepping in to prevent it, just as she didn't prevent Mack's daughter from being killed. The mercy then is presumably bestowed not on the victims but on the killers, who are given second and third chances to straighten up and fly right. And in the end it seems that universal salvation is being offered in this story, with everyone getting to live in the wonderful afterlife and no one going to hell. So maybe that's how "the way of the cross" isn't substitutionary; it's that in the long run everyone is found not guilty.

Maybe I'd like this book better if it didn't feel so preachy, if it just presented an alternative fictional theology that applies within the confines of the story but that doesn't purport to spill over into the real world.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Hey John. Interesting to reach back seven years into the past. Good fun.

I've never heard of this more radical idea of atonement. Rather than substitution atonement, your alternative hypothesis is more like God says, "my bad," and suffers the effects of the sin that must (inevitably?) go back to God. Good luck getting the faithful to buy into that theology, but it does hold a lot of intrigue, and I honestly think that there is a lot of support for this biblically and theologically, if one scratches beneath the surface of fossilized dogma.

What might a book like this look like if it "presented an alternative fictional theology that applies within the confines of the story but that doesn't purport to spill over into the real world"? And does this coincide with your renewed interest in fiction writing and your current writing direction? It's really curious to me, because I've always been interested in the question of whether fiction writing can "do any good." But fiction that tries to get a point across is often pretty lousy.

john doyle said...

How about a bit of farcical theatre, a Show Trial? Wisdom smirkily insists that Mack sit in judgment of God, knowing that Mack isn't qualified and knowing that Mack knows it too. But isn't this the usual dodge of those who are in charge? You have neither the knowledge nor the wisdom to question us. Isn't it the fear of losing this authoritative edge that prompted the elohim to convene their panicky powwow during the Edenic rebellion, later repackaged as the Fall?

Then Yahweh elohim said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” – therefore Yahweh elohim sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So he drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden he stationed the cherubim, and the flaming sword which turned in every direction, to guard the way to the tree of life.

Act One. The Clerk of Court escorts God the Judge to the Witness Stand. First case: Plaintiff accuses the Defendant of not protecting his daughter from a murder he could foresee and prevent. The jury poses a question. I did it to preserve human freedom, Defendant replies. Another question. You have no right to judge me. Defendant claims. Objection sustained. Another question. Mercy is more important than justice, asserts Defendant. Another question. Defendant shrugs: the kid's still alive in heaven, so what's the big deal? We've heard enough, says the Jury Foreperson. We have reached a unanimous verdict. Drumroll. Guilty. TaDa! Bailiff, could you please escort the Defendant from the courtroom. Wait, says the Defendant: I brought my substitute to court; he's agreed to atone for me. Could the Defendant please point to the atoning substitute? God points to a young man seated in the second row: it's Jesus. Very well, the Foreperson says. The bailiff and his lynch mob grab Jesus by the elbows and take him away. God rises, starts walking out of the Witness Box. Hold it right there, the Foreperson says to him. I believe that you are the named Defendant in the next case as well. Fourteen cases are brought before the jury, everything from a kid making up a fake excuse for not turning in his homework to the Holocaust. Fourteen guilty verdicts, fourteen times Jesus steps in as vicarious substitute for his criminal father, fourteen times he's led away to the atonement.

Court recesses, the gallery adjourns for cocktails (Bloody Marys natch, just like for Miguel Obispo's HemoBoy shows), then returns to the courtroom for Act Two. It's Jesus in the tomb, awaiting the resurrection, thinking out loud. Did he make a good deal, taking the rap in exchange for resurrection? What if he doesn't stick with the cover story about dying for the people, goes off-script, tells how it really went down? Will he find himself walking down a Jerusalem back alley when a couple of hitmen send him to the afterlife?