Hamlet Looks For Shakespeare

On April 12, 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into space and orbit the earth. The blow to the American psyche at losing this leg of the Space Race was deepened when reports began to circulate that, during his flight, Gagarin had commented: “I don’t see any God up here.”

Sometimes Christians are displeased by God’s apparent willingness to be ridiculed this way and remain hidden. Why doesn’t He just show Himself—prove to everyone that He really is there? It sure would make our lives and mission easier if Yuri Gagarin had reached space and found a huge welcome mat: “Welcome to Space – Home of the Trinity!” Or if God would just answer our request for a miracle once in a while?

I think C. S. Lewis helps us see the error in this desire for absolute proof of God’s existence as he relates the story of his own conversion to Christianity in Surprised by Joy. Though raised a Christian, Lewis became an atheist at age 15, primarily through his struggle over the problem of evil. He later said that as an atheist he was “very angry at God for not existing.” Slowly Lewis returned to theism, as he came to understand something of this point: God is not beholden to us in our search for Him. In fact, since God is Creator and we are His creatures, anything we know about Him is completely at His initiative. Lewis likened it to the relationship between a playwright and his literary characters: “Even if my own philosophy [of God] were true, how could the initiative lie on my side? …If Shakespeare and Hamlet could ever meet, it must be Shakespeare's doing. Hamlet could initiate nothing.”

In other words, for us to look for God in space would be for Hamlet to search his attic for Shakespeare. If there is a God, He certainly isn’t going to be just another object in the universe for us to analyze. He would relate to us the way a playwright relates to the characters in his play. Whatever we know about Him, we know because He chose to write information about Himself into the play.

The point of the analogy, of course, is NOT that God is stingy with information or that we are merely fictional characters to Him. The playwright analogy illustrates this one thing: our complete dependence upon God for all information about Him. Thankfully, God has written all sorts of information about Himself into the play—a multitude of clues to His existence and character.