In Defense of Playing God

“This is where you play God…” so says Dr. Alan Grant in the under-appreciated film “Jurassic Park 3.” His comment is a theme among any seasoned Michael Crichton reader- people, mostly corporations, are going to attempt to become godlike. Generally speaking, the attempt will go poorly and will result in disaster. But the disaster will be thrilling to read about or watch. People love reading Crichton’s novels and watching the subsequent movies because there is the sneaky suspicion that unchecked achievement will one day undo all creation as we know it.

But the attitude about “playing God” is not limited to disaster movies. It also pervades the popular imagination about scientific discovery. It has also always pervaded the popular imagination about scientific discovery. While today’s population wrestles with genetic engineering and particle physics, the populations of yesteryear struggled with irrigation and animal husbandry. After all, the gods were the ones who brought the rain, who are we to control the rivers (especially when there were river gods!)? It is interesting that the rise of technology usually precipitates the decline of religious belief. Polytheism fairly well collapsed when people increasingly realized that they didn’t need the gods to bring water when they could irrigate. By the time of the Roman Empire, the “gods” were a known ruse to most. Supporting the gods just kept the empire functioning.

A similar transition is happening now with technology. The space reserved for God- creating life, is increasingly invaded by folks who can grow an ear on someone’s arm or delete a genetic illness from someone’s DNA. Once again, we are “playing God.”

Friends, we were designed to play God. To be in the image of God is to represent God’s power, character and purpose on earth and in the cosmos. Genesis 2 makes it clear that humans were meant to help God in the fashioning of a garden. Genesis 4 makes it clear that humans are given the privilege of building societies and technology… even the arts are a human privilege. Unlike the polytheisms of old, a river god did not give us the flute. A person built one. The building of cities and industry is a human responsibility.

The problem with the image of God is that humans have been attracted to God’s power more than God’s character and purpose. Genesis 3 is a staged rebellion to rule the garden. The first generation post-garden is also the first generation with murder. Cities like Babel attempt to control the divine relationship and the violence even undoes the order of creation in a great flood. All of this happens within 12 chapters of the Biblical narrative. Today it is seen, too. Technology is most often furthered when a nation is at war. Nobody cared about Einstien until he could be weaponized. Power motivates creation for the purpose of destruction (let the irony of that sentence sink in).

Indeed, the Church is not immune. Much energy is spent defending hierarchies and power structures. Christians are more willing to go to court to defend their rights than the rights of the poor and marginalized. But what if we could play God a little more fully? What if we could be known for playing God’s love?  If we, the Church, could learn to play God, then it may be possible for our voice in ethics to hold a little more sway. But we can only control ourselves, and so I turn to the people I want to play like.

I want to play God like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, who combined power with love on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I want to play God like the Quakers, who loved against all odds. I want to play God like the prophets, who used absurd skits to convey a divine call to action. What if it’s true that we need to not play God less, but actually play God more?

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2 thoughts on “In Defense of Playing God

  1. Nice, Andy. This is reminiscent, for me, of C.S. Lewis, who talked about us playing at being holy, building up our spiritual muscles for the Kingdom the way children playing house or school of cops and robbers build up their social muscles for adulthood. Of course, playing these things is not the same as being these things, and you are quite correctly pointing out that we are playing God (in Lewis’ sense) and being bits of God all at the same time.

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