God’s Viruses

I’m tickled to have had this previous blog entry, “Snow Geese,” featured last week on the front page of the Capitol Region section of the TU. I think — I hope — it’s a sweet little piece of writing. But what’s really interesting to me is the conversation that barry and I got into in the comments. (I know Barry — or barry, his written persona — from the synagogue, but it seems we communicate most often through the electronic world.)

If you like, you can traipse through barry’s very long post, “eve and the two world trees”, which he mentions at the end of comment #4. I originally wrote most of what’s below as a comment to his post. But you can also just click the “More” button and read on…

We are creators and inventors, we humans, and as such we have the capacity to surprise God. That’s part of what being created b’tselem Elohim, in God’s image, means. Genesis, especially the first half, is not just the story of humanity’s growing up; it’s the story of God’s growing up, of God’s having to constantly re-evaluate the relationship between divine and human, and to update God’s expectations of the human being!

I’d written (in a comment to my “Snow Geese” post) something about nature basically being in balance, but barry reminded me (in his comment #4):

also, don’t write off the rest of nature as being all in balance. it’s worth keeping an eye on. it’s come up with big surprises before too! like cyanobacteria inventing photosynthesis and filling the atmosphere with oxygen and burning off the rest of the critters. or algae and watermolds inventing rainforests 400million years ago. or even recently, grasses inventing a way to keep their buds underground and burning off all the other plants out west and inventing prairies. our ability to surprise has its roots.

of course we are VERY quick at what we do. that’s why we are so confused! becomeing human was SO fast. our heads are still spinning!

This is what I wrote in answer, posted on his blog:

We invent and blue-green algae invent too. Creativity seems to be part of the reason (or essence, or whatever word you want to use) for/of the universe. But algae and even chimpanzees create slowly, evolve in limited steps.

In creating us, on the other hand, in creating us with self-awareness, the universe/the divine created a creator that could go off in myriad and unpredictable directions, rapidly, simultaneously. Seen that way, we’re part of the universe’s push toward creativity and inventiveness, toward playing out combinations and permutations.

But perhaps there’s more to us as creators and inventors than just abundent variety. I’m thinking of a concept I read of a decade or more ago, in a science fiction novel by writer Shari Tepper. I don’t remember the name of the book, though I’ll Google her to look it up. (Ah, there is is: Grass.)

The idea: That God created the larger, clunkier aspects of the universe — gravity, time, the strong and the weak nuclear forces, electricity and magnetism, cause and effect and so forth — and left the details for us to work out: truth, justice, compassion, peace. (The “small things”… !)

I think Tepper has her protagonist introduce the idea that we are like God’s viruses: We are small workers, tiny enough to do the jobs that require manipulation too small and delicate and precise to be done by hands.

So I’m thinking: Given what we know today, perhaps we are not just God’s viruses … but God’s genetically-engineered viruses.

Viruses run around the universe doing their thing, which primarily seems to be replicating. In the course of this, they have effects, often unpleasant, upon their hosts. But the purpose of a virus seems basically to be — being a virus. Living as a virus and making more viruses.

We now know how to genetically engineer viruses so that while they’re running around doing their thing, they’re also automatically doing some tiny jobs that change their world for the better in specific, planned, micro-ways. We can set viruses up to do their own little version of tikkun olam, world-repair; we can give them a purpose (from our point of view, that is) and they will carry it out, all unknowing that they were programmed to do this job.

I don’t mean this to “prove anything”; it’s just an idea, a little midrash. If we’re God’s genetically engineered viruses, then as we run around the universe doing our human creative thing, we are carrying out a purpose for which we were designed. Perhaps our amazing b’tselem Elohim capacity to create and invent — even to re-invent ourselves — allows us to reach into the metaphorical “spaces” that God’s “fingers” are too small to reach, in order to manipulate the delicate pieces that create compassion, peace, justice and truth.