The God Machine

The humming noise seems to originate behind a set of industrial doors. The signs on the doors say AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY and DO NOT ENTER. But they left the door unlocked and, after a quick scan around for surveillance systems or supervising eyes, I press the release bar and open the door. No alarm goes off so I step through.

The doors open to a long and dimly lit hall that goes on and on. I cannot see its end. The humming noise grows steadily louder as I walk softly onward.

Then I come to another door—one not meant to be open—with a plaque that reads: G.O.D. GOVERNANCE, ORDER, DIVINITY.

I peek inside. There, in a mountain range of metal and wire, hums the biggest machine ever. I mindlessly push this door open and take a step inside. Looking from that open doorway, gazing to every horizon, I see a trillion indicator lights flicker, while a wide variety of wheels and pistons crank and turn, and while massive snakes of braided wire twist and gnarl upward and outward, disappearing into portals that open spontaneously into dimensions I cannot comprehend just then.

The infinite machine hisses and clicks, executing its robotic functions, churning out its inevitable results. When I realize what it is—a majestic machine grounding all being according to some sort of programmed, syllogistic, metaphysical guarantee—I marvel at its power and beauty, even as I gasp at the tyranny of it all.

Has God always been nothing but an awesome machine? Do any moments in this creation exist without a script? Even for God?

The haunt of inevitability dizzies me as the once endless universe collapses around me in sudden claustrophobia. The lie of my own autonomy squeezes my psyche. The lie of God’s autonomy chokes all hope of authentic love and meaning.

The despair comes so quick and heavy I feel a kind of sorrowful drunkenness as I amble back out to the hallway, trying, in some way, to get back to where I was, to reverse these terrifying revelations, to unlearn this hideous knowledge. The anguish avalanches over me and I stumble and fall to the tile floor, the contents of my pockets spilling out and sliding in front of me.

I crawl forward to collect my things: my keys, my wallet, my cellphone, and then my NRSV Pocket Bible, which sits on the floor haphazardly open to the gospel of Matthew, chapter 8. Mindlessly, I read it.

The leper says to Jesus: “Lord, if you choose, I know you can make me clean.”

I scoff and roll my eyes. “If you choose?” Does the leper not see divine inevitability? Has no one told the leper about the great machine? Was he not aware of logic, order, and ontology? Oh how great would the leper’s God be, and how awesome and glorious that transcendence, for God to stand free and autonomous, even against the omni-automation of the great machine!

I read on:

Jesus stretches out his hand. “I do choose.”

The sudden relief of God choosing erupts inside of me as I see the real lie, all along, was the machine. My joy returns to me, even greater than before, as I see God’s autonomy much larger in scope than I had previously dreamed. I feel the fingers of hope caress my heart again, as all the meaning I had gathered over the years boomerangs back to me even as the mighty universe re-expands to its rightful size and place.

And that is why I wept the first time I read Matthew 8:1-4.

Dan Kent