Monday, November 22, 2010

My favourite joke - and why it doesn't really work

This is my favourite joke. I am going to tell you why it isn't funny and what is wrong with it. I like this joke because there was a split second before I worked it out that I thought it was really funny.

So here goes;

"A middle aged woman had a heart attack and was taken to the hospital. While on the operating table, she had a near death experience. Seeing God, she asked Him if this was "it". God said, "No, I am sending you back. You have another 40 years, 2 months and 8 days to live."

Upon recovery, the woman decided to stay in the hospital and have a facelift, liposuction, breast augmentation, and a tummy tuck. She even had her hairdresser come to the hospital to change her hair colour before she was released to go home. She figured that since she had such a long life ahead of her, she had better make the most of it.

After all the operations, she left the hospital and while crossing the street she was hit by an ambulance and was immediately killed. Coming face to face with God, the woman demanded, "I thought you said I had another forty years left to live. What happened?"

God replied: "I'm sorry, I didn't recognize you." 

What's right with this joke? The message is that God loves you for who you are and you do not need to change. So what's wrong with this joke?

1. There is NO WAY that God would not recognise you. I can do no better than quote Psalm 139 which sums up God's intimate knowledge of each of us. (Scroll down to find the whole of the psalm).

2. The second thing that is wrong with this joke is the implausibility of the woman's reaction. She MET God. Let me say that again - She MET God! She gained the proof that doubting Thomas' such as myself crave. She did not need to believe or have faith - she KNEW God and he knew her. She spoke to him and he gave her another 40 years of life.

In return, when she woke up did she say to the doctors and nurses "Praise the Lord!"? No, instead we are faced with a completely prosaic response, "Get my hairstylist on the phone".

Perhaps this isn't as surprising as it may seem. After all, the Disciples knew Jesus and yet despite hanging around with him, seeing him calm the storm, heal people, speak with authority, cast out demons etc they still didn't get it. Time after time Jesus had patiently to re-explain who he was and why he was here on earth.

3. The third thing that is profoundly wrong with this - is that to quote Psalm 139 - Knowing God - would she not know that she was "fearfully and wonderfully made"? and therefore have no need of surgery.

4.This joke shows a profound misunderstanding of who God is and what he wants to do for each one of us in our lives. 

There is a chasm between the God that Christians know and the God portrayed here. So maybe it is a good joke after all - seeking to hold a mirror up to each of us - and showing up the casual, cavalier attitude of so many of us towards God.

As someone recently said to me "You can live without God but you can't die without him".

Psalm 139 (New International Version)

For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.

 1 You have searched me, LORD,
   and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
   you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
   you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
   you, LORD, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before,
   and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
   too lofty for me to attain.
 7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
   Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
   if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
   if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
   your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
   and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
   the night will shine like the day,
   for darkness is as light to you.
 13 For you created my inmost being;
   you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
   your works are wonderful,
   I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
   when I was made in the secret place,
   when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
   all the days ordained for me were written in your book
   before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!
   How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
   they would outnumber the grains of sand—
   when I awake, I am still with you.
 19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
   Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
   your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, LORD,
   and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
   I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
   test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
   and lead me in the way everlasting.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Two Steps forward - one step back

I've been wrestling for days about what to say. Two steps forward - one step back - sums it up really. I've been re-reading "The Unauthorised Version" by Robin Lane Fox, this time concentrating on the inaccuracies in Mark's Gospel. . Evangelist friends talk about the Bible being "the word of God breathed" and get very defensive / aggressive when I point out some basic inaccuracies. The usual line is that these were probably written about by atheists.

Here's just a couple I can think of off the top of my head - There was no decree from Caesar Augustus to the whole world.  A Roman census would not have taken Joseph to Bethlehem where he owed nothing. The census was used so they knew who to charge poll tax and property tax. As this was his ancestral home and not his home town there was no relevance to going there other than for the Gospel writers it fulfilled scripture.

Even if Joseph had to go to his own home town, he could represent his family so didn't need to take Mary.

Further, at that time Galilee, unlike Judea, was under independent rule so was not bound by a Roman census or taxing. As to proof of this - well, you can turn to Josephus - someone who is frequently turned to to justify and give credence to the Gospels' veracity. You can also look at coins of that period.

I just feel so tired of it all.

At Christianity Explored this week - we studied and discussed the Resurrection. I could see the frustration in the eyes of the "believer" on our table. Each table is given a leader who is a believer. They are not identified as such and don't make themselves known as such. Everyone turns up and sits down in groups of six and then it soon becomes apparent. On our table I am the only doubting Thomas. 

The "Believer" challenged me, "Where do you think you will end up if you don't believe?" If I follow the logic of the course so far I would have to say "Hell". "And do you really want to go there?". I rejoindered "No, but I can't make myself believe something I don't". I was starting to feel a little aggression and judgmentalism, on her part. I pointed out that all I could do was keep reading the Bible and going to church etc and hope/pray for a good outcome - relying on God's Grace - and that perhaps as many people believe - he will come to me in my last gasp. I think she thought this was a bit of a smart ass remark. She replied "So you're willing to wait that long are you?". 

I told her that only 7% of academics are religious  - and I imagine a few of those must work in the Theology department. So why is it easier to have faith when you are not in academia?

I explained that I felt that if I was a bit more stupid I might believe or if I was more clever it might help but instead I was stuck in a limbo of unknowing. She countered that I didn't have to understand to believe.....doubting Thomas etc.

That is indeed true - but not helpful to my state of limbo.

I've been reading a great book by Dr. Nick Edwards (a pseudonym) all about life working for the NHS. 

For some reason I feel particularly atheist today.

They are praying for me.