He’s been an Almighty letdown, but that’s OK, says Charles Handy
I think I’ve been working you too hard recently because I’ve been disappointed in you. Every time I ask for help, nothing comes. When I can’t think of an answer, I find myself saying, “God only knows,” and I’m sure you do but you don’t tell me. Or when I stumble and fall once again, I find myself saying, “God help me from the floor,” but nothing happens. So I’m very disillusioned with you.
In my childhood, you were the one who protected me. You were like a stern headmaster, kindly but stiff and strict. If I kept to your rules, all would be well, but now your rules don’t seem to explain to me who I am or what I’m supposed to be doing with my time on this earth. I ask for help but when I pray, I find I’m really just talking to myself… which is fine. Actually, I realise that theologically, if you actually created me in your image, then I am in a sense like you, and so it’s up to me to be my own god and take responsibility for my own life. So here am I, having been dumping it all on you and being disappointed. I’ve come to the conclusion that I was wrong, it is up to me – if I am like you, then there’s no one else to talk to except myself. And that’s very good. If I’m in the right mood, I can answer my questions quite well.
Why am I here? Because I’m part of the great scheme of things which the Stoics called the logos and David Attenborough calls the story of the earth in his riveting television series. How everything combines to keep things going so that yes, spring follows winter and summer follows spring. But also, we are part of all that because we are needed to make the best of this world, for the sake of the world at the moment; to fight the onset of climate change, to clean up the atmosphere which is killing little children, to slow everything down, to live by nature and close to nature.
At the moment I’m living in Norfolk, in the middle of some fields. And I live by nature. I get up when the sun gets up, I go down when it goes down. All sorts of weather batters this house and I love it. I sit inside, away from its fury, amazed at the beauty of the trees now standing bare like skeletons, but very beautiful in their bareness. And when I’m well again, I know I will go walking in the woods every morning. And draw both strength and inspiration from the rustle of the leaves in the wind. In the past I would say I was getting close to you. Now, like the Archbishop of Canterbury, I call it my walking meditation, but it comes to the same thing. So yes, the closer to nature, the better I live, and the more useful my ideas are.
I have fallen in love with the Greek philosophers. They never talked about God but I think they must have known about the writers of the Gospels. After all, St John, the most spiritual of the Gospel writers, talks a lot about logos: “In the beginning was logos, and logos was with God and logos was God”. But logos was what the Greek philosophers called the system. And so, they said, the point of life was true happiness, was the giving of one’s best to help others. Or, as I put it, to be the best at what one can be best at for the sake of others.
In other words, it’s no good just running a marathon to beat last year’s time – that’s not going to do anybody else any good. But if one uses the marathon to get other people to donate to a chosen charity, or a school, then it’s being done not just for one’s own benefit but for the good of others. You’re contributing to the natural world; you’re leaving your footsteps on the sands of time. You are in that sense immortal.
To use your language, God, I could say that happiness is actually walking with you and living with you, or in your person of Jesus Christ. But I don’t relate to Jesus as well as to you. I don’t like his pop idol looks. I feel the way people worship him is close to idolatry. You weren’t too keen on that in your wonderful list of Ten. I do feel I’m in touch with your Holy Spirit and that lifts me up and helps me, encourages me and gives me the strength to think.
So dear God, I’m sorry to say that I no longer need you – but to be honest, I think it’s a good thing. I was giving you too much responsibility for my life and I must take it back myself. After all, if you’ve made me in your image then I should be able to do it. I may not be able to create the world but I can improve it a little I think by encouraging the people who run things to do it better, and not to harm the globe as much as they do.
One day soon I will leave this world. I don’t know where I will go. I will just disappear into the starry world where I came from. But I will leave something behind, I hope, and that is my immortality.
It was Julian Barnes who said, “I don’t believe in God, but I do miss him.” I used to think that but to be honest, I don’t miss you any more. I am going to do it by myself. But if you can help me, I will be very grateful.