Do you live life or does life happen to you?
How much are we a product of our upbringing or life circumstances? And how much do we have power to shape them? Big questions as I sat in the theatre last night ...
I hadn't intended to get involved in rigorous philosophical and theological questioning when I arranged to take my youngest, currently doing English A-level, to the stage production of Great Expectations in Brighton last night.
But as the gothic horror story of young Pip and his abusive step-mum, and Dickens' panoply of grotesque characters unfolded, I found myself wrestling with some big questions.
Why is it some people – faith and no faith – manage to rise above what life has thrown at them, and others don't? It is just down to personality? Is life divided into those who are able to make things happen and bring change to their own lives and the lives of others, and those who always seem to be buffeted and laid low by circumstance and others' actions?
And where does our view of God fit into this? Clearly many believers have an extraordinary testimony of answered prayer, God's faithfulness and fruitful living using the gifts He gives. Yet others – no less praying and faithful – are cut down in their prime, or struggle for years against traumatic circumstances.
Are some blessed and others not? Invariably all this drifts into the 'why do bad things happen to good people?' question, and maybe 'why' is the wrong place to start.
Yet, returning to Dickens' novel, I found it fascinating to see deeply flawed characters revealed as having redemptive qualities. The convict Magwitch is Pip's anonymous benefactor. The tricksy lawyer Jaggers confesses his own broken dreams and longing to have had a positive impact on just one child's life.
Even beautiful heart-breaker Estella can see the love Pip has for her, yet her cruel upbringing infected by Miss Haversham's recycled rejection has squeezed every ounce of emotion and humanity from her being. She is incapable of responding to him, it seems.
We all bear the image of God. And God has placed in us the divine spark which means we have the potential to be all he intends us to be. Yet so many don't get there, despite the prayer and love of others.
So many questions. But it's true we see "through a glass, darkly" and there is so much will not understand until eternity. Until then, we can choose to trust God or we can choose not to.
I'm going with the first option. But I'd be interested in your thoughts.
My review of Great Expectations, by the way, is here.