In 1950 James Stewart played the leading role in the movie adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize winning play written by Mary Chase called ‘Harvey’. The story was based on a man’s relationship with an imaginary, six-foot-tall rabbit named, Harvey. The rabbit was Elwood’s constant companion and a trusted friend with whom he interacted regularly, and whose counsel proved more trustworthy than the advice proffered by most of his human counterparts. The obvious problem was that Harvey didn’t exist, or maybe it was that he did, only not in a way that most folks would have been comfortable with. In any case, it was a very popular movie back in those days, and the pros and cons of imaginary friends got a lot of discussion from movie goers in the ‘50s, and in some ways, the core questions still linger today.
Nobody’s concerned these days about giant, invisible, woodland creatures that talk with humans, unless you work in a psych ward, or perhaps are involved in liberal groups, like PETA. The quandary we face today centers on the existence, identity, and implications of a character much bigger than a 6’ 3½” rabbit, but who shares Harvey’s challenging features of being invisible and inaudible to the population in general, at least in the normally accepted meaning of those terms. Sometimes I think we should just throw Mary Chase’s characters into the mix of our discussions and post an opening question like, ‘Is God’s real name Harvey?’ After all, the response often encountered by those who claim to have a functioning relationship with God through Jesus Christ is not unlike that of Mary Chase’s character in the story. The more benevolent observers thought of Elwood as just being a little ‘off’, a few nuts short of a fruit cake, you might say, a sad but benign mental case who should be tolerated, maybe pitied, but never taken seriously. Others who were less compassionate saw him as dangerously irrational, unpredictable, and a potential threat. They were convinced that for the protection of the general population, and for his own good, he should be confined and isolated to the company of others like himself, and of course, carefully supervised at all times. These attitudes are not unfamiliar with regard to evangelical Christianity in America these days, particularly by those involved in mainstream media, those who frequent the denizens of academia, and those in the entertainment industry. To them, we’re all just another version of Elwood.
The value of any advice that Harvey allegedly provided to Elwood was predicated upon the question of his existence. Elwood had only the testimony of his personal experience to offer as proof of Harvey’s reality, and that was not enough. The general conclusion was that if Harvey existed at all, it was only in Elwood’s mind. Others might argue philosophically that if Harvey existed in Elwood’s mind, then he did, in fact, exist, because Elwood had ‘created’ him. That same approach is postulated frequently in regard to the existence of the God we serve and our relationship with Him. Does God only exist because we have chosen to believe that He does? Is He simply a made-up entity to help us get through tough times and avoid dealing with life’s incomprehensible difficulties and insoluble mysteries? Multitudes hold that opinion and openly declare it.
One of two possibilities must be true of God, and the implications of each one are huge. Either God exists, and He created me, or does not exist, and I have simply ‘created’ Him. If He created me, then I am, by definition, His. In that case, I am inherently subject to His authority, evaluated according to His standards, dependent upon His provision, and ultimately accountable to Him. If, on the other hand, I created Him, then He is nothing more than my personal and private hallucination. Any set of standards He might claim, and any authority to enforce them is subject to my approval, and constrained within the flexible boundaries of my own desires, whims, and preferences. His power to provide is subjugated to the extent of my own personal talents, abilities, and intellect. If He is not God, but only ‘god’, then he is no longer invisible, nor inaudible. I see him in the mirror every day, and I hear him in the tones of my own proud declarations of what I will or will not do. If he is not God, but only god, then I am accountable to no one but myself.
Mary Chase was not the first to create a ‘Harvey’, nor will she be the last. The truth is that we humans have created a whole menagerie of invisible creatures to interact with, and we’ve been doing it for eons of time. The sons of Israel, for instance, apparently thought they needed something extra when they ran into some challenges after leaving Egypt. Their preference was to go with something more imposing to converse with than a giant rabbit. They opted for a huge bull and were so convinced of his existence that they made a statue of him. Sadly for them, their god, like all created gods, couldn’t produce when the chips were down. The question remains, though. Does God exist only because I choose to believe that He does? Does my ‘faith’, my capacity to believe, establish His only reality, or is there something else to consider?
Harvey was always a rabbit, never a man. Conversely, Elwood would never become anything like a rabbit, with a twitchy nose and huge floppy ears. The God who simply ‘is’ forbade any attempt to make anything that we declare to be an image of Him. We are His image, and He revealed Himself by becoming one with us, and one of us. Harvey never revealed himself at all. He never inspired a book, never delivered a public address, and he never subjugated the ‘laws’ of nature to his will. Harvey never spoke hope to the hopeless, never healed the incurable, never freed anyone from bondage, and never condensed the wisdom of the ages into simple statements so profound that libraries can’t contain the books attempting to expound on them. Harvey never offered to abolish Elwood’s failures or to take every disgusting, repulsive thing Elwood ever did upon himself and die in his place. Jesus isn’t a figment of anyone’s imagination, and He doesn’t hide His speech, or obscure His presence, or disguise His identity. He isn’t real because we believe. We believe because He ‘is’ real … undeniably real. Apart from Him, all you have left is ‘Harvey’.
© 2015 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
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