I’ve been watching some TV shows featuring professional magicians and illusionists. It has gotten me thinking about how God’s work in our lives is like these tricks on our perception.
There’s a long recognized principle in the world of professional stage magicians. Knowing the way a magic trick works is never as exciting as the effect of mystery and wonder produced by watching the trick when it is performed. That’s the other reason magicians don’t want to say how it’s done. It would spoil your enjoyment. I think God reverses this in His work. We sometimes begin not delighted but shocked and scandalized by what God has done or allowed. He promises to show us He was right all along later, but not just yet. This is where our trust and faith in Him must be shown by us.
I thought of that observation when I heard about Stephen Fry’s rant earlier this year (discussed and answered by Bishop Robert Barron). Of course Mr. Fry would doubt that the mystery of why children can get bone cancer could ever have anything to do with our enjoyment. But this, as Bishop Barron notes, is because we assume we see everything clearly now. We do not. One of the things that will change in eternity is our perspective. Things will look different to us then because we will see the whole picture at last. We will at last see the whole of what God has been doing. It will change our opinion about things that mystify us now.
When we’re thinking of magic tricks, we’re talking about the wonder and surprise we feel watching them. Bone cancer in children is a different sort of surprise. But I think the principle is the same on God’s part.
There’s another rule that magicians rely on when preparing to fool us. One word for it is “practice.” The first time you see a professional magician do a trick is not the first time he has done it. There are weeks of rehearsal and repetition, thousands of repetitions behind every move. He seems casual and relaxed because he has trained his hands and body to do every gesture smoothly. We are not only mislead about what he is doing, we tend to think no one would go to such efforts just to do a silly trick.
One of the best stories I’ve come across that illustrates this principle is about a trick one magician pulled off in a public restaurant. He had a friend meet him there for lunch. They sat at a table in the middle of the room, with people moving around them as they ate. They continued their conversation for almost an hour. Then the magician told his friend he had a new trick to show him.
He flapped his large cloth napkin over the table and pulled it back to reveal a two-foot block of solid ice. He smiled at his friend, said goodbye, got up from the table and left.
I don’t know “how he did it” but it seems hard to imagine that anyone would sit there for an hour, hiding the block of ice, just so he could amaze his friend. But that is obviously what was required.
The question for us is: would God really go to all the trouble of creating the entire Universe just so He would have a platform on which He could introduce Himself to us? Are we worth the trouble? At the appropriate moment I think the answer will become clear to us. Even obvious.
And this time knowing how it was done will not disappoint. We’ll even understand why.