Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Theodicy Lessons from the Twilight Zone
One of the things I have loved about being in Fowler so far is the opportunity to hear people's stories. Although people here do not always understand their faith in terms of a growing narrative, they certainly do understand their lives that way. The last couple of weeks I have been taking time to drop by people's homes and get to know them. One person I have gotten to know pretty well is Scotty.
Scott has had a rough go of it lately. He is a truck driver, and recently rolled his truck around Salina, KS. He was heading home from Kansas City, and he had an empty trailer. The winds got up to 80 miles per hour, and one gust picked his trailer up which tipped his truck. He was rushed to a hospital in Wichita, which did a very poor job in caring for his wounds. In particular, he was tipped over in a way that he had road abrasions on his skull.
Since the accident, he has been waiting on Workmen's Compensation. Since that is slow in developing, he has been recieving care through the Veteran's Administration. He still has a rather large and somewhat open wound on his head. His accident was sometime around March.
Scott and his wife Sheryl live across the alley from Jennifer and I. The first time I visited with Scotty over the fence he said, "Clint, I can tell we are going to be really good friends."
Scott is a Vietnam Veteran. He talked about listening to the Doors when he left for Vietnam, and realizing the whole world was different when he returned after four years of combat and the hot group was the Jackson Five.
What I like about Scotty is that he is part wide-eyed five year old boy, and part armchair philosopher and sage. When he talks, his voice raises pitch and his eyes get big like a child. Some of the things he talks about lets you know that he thinks a lot more than most folks about life, faith, and what everything means.
Last Monday, I headed up to Denver to visit Scott at the VA Hospital. He and his wife Cheryl were battling discouragement. He had went up to Denver expecting to get a skin graft from his leg to go over his wounded head. Instead, they spent four hours in surgery cleaning gravel, glass and other debris and clearing infection from his wound. Its seems the first responders did not put a lot of energy into making sure his wound was clean when they released him from care. Each day, they are told a different story about when he will be ready for the surgery that he expected.
As I visited Monday, Scott was nearly moved to tears. Our church had given he and his wife gifts and cards that I had brought with me. Most of the gifts were monetary, to defray expenses while they were in the hospital.
As I continued to listen to their story, Scotty taught me about what philosophers call "the problem of evil" or the "problem of pain". The theologian shorthand for this term is theodicy. In other words, why do bad things happen to good people. Scotty was pondering these questions and he said, "Sometimes I wonder about why all this is happening to me," he said, "But then I remember this episode from the Twilight Zone"
The episode he descibed I later discoverd is titled A Nice Place to Visit. The story begins with a man robbing a pawn shop. At some point in the middle of the robbery, the police come. As the robber, named Rocky, seeks to make his escape, he is shot dead by the police.
The next thing he knows, he wakes up with a large man in a nice suit next to him. The large man introduces himself as Pip, and Pip explains that he is Rocky's guide to the afterlife.
Pip tells Rocky he can have everything he wants. Rocky wants a nice place. He gets a Penthouse. He wants women. He gets three who tend to his every need. Rocky wants a million dollars. He is given that as well. As Rocky goes along, he assumes he is in heaven.
Pip takes him to the casino downstairs. Everything he plays he wins. He always rolls the right number at craps and roullette. He always wins when he plays the slots.
For a while this thrills Rocky, but then he gets bored. Everything is just too easy. Everything is just what he wants.
He calls up Pip, and through a conversation he discovers that everything around him is programmed to give him whatever he wants. Nobody choses to love him. Everyone is just playing the role of treating him well. He never has to have any risk or any faith. He never has to deal with anything he does not want.
Rocky does not like this. He grows to dislike this programmed antiseptic world where he is given everything he wants. Finally he explodes to Pip, who he assumes is an angel. Rocky says, "I want to go to the other place if this is what this is going to be like!"
Pip responds, "Why this IS THE OTHER PLACE!" and then laughs this evil disturbing laugh.
Scotty finishes telling this story. "A life where everything was easy and I got everything I ever wanted wouldn't be more like hell I suppose," he says, "that is what that show said and I think it is true."
"I am just going to continue to pray and hope for the best," he said to me, "and I know you will too."