In his Hugo Award winning science fiction novel, The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick created a “what if” world showing what the United States might have become if the assassination of President Roosevelt had occurred, and this event had eventually led to the American loss of World War II and the United States being taken over by Germany and Japan.
Although the author of this novel was apparently a somewhat unorthodox believer, it is clear that he was interested in the Bible and knew many of its characters and stories. This is interesting because at its heart, the kind of “alternative history” genre that The Man in the High Castle pioneered is, in a sense, based on a profoundly biblical idea. In the Bible we see many examples of God comparing what might have been with what actually was – often well in advance of the events which triggered alternative histories. Even from the beginning we find the Genesis narrative giving two possible events based on obedience and disobedience to God – and their subsequent very different outcomes (Genesis 2:16-17).
When God was about to lead the people of Israel into the land he had promised them, he also presented them with two possible histories: one based on obedience and one on disobedience – two divergent histories of blessings and curses:
“See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient ... you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess” (Deuteronomy 30:15-18).
In the same way, we find the prophets of God continually reminding Israel of the history they had given up in favor of the history of rebellion, defeat and punishment they had chosen (Jeremiah 17:5-8, 21:8-10, etc.). The story has continued throughout history as we know it, of course. Left to ourselves, we humans have usually chosen the wrong path and made history what it is. Yet the word of God shows a carefully prepared and executed plan which made possible a switch from the disastrous history humans have chosen to one which will eventually bring them a far better reality (Revelation 21:1-7).
In The Man in the High Castle, a single event – the assassination of the American president – led to a different history. The alternative histories of what is now and what God plans for humanity are also affected by individual events. The story of Eden in Genesis tells us of the first defining event for human history which created one outcome, but the stories of the birth, temptation, and sacrificial death of Christ told in the four Gospels show other defining events which have made possible a truly alternative history.
When we understand this, we come to see something about our own lives: we too have the opportunity to construct alternate history. Every time we choose to either turn away from wrong or to embrace it, to do good or not to do good, we construct an alternative reality. We make our own part of history – and that of those around us – better or worse. In this sense, we have the God-given ability to create our own story, to choose our own history, to make history different for ourselves and for others in our every word and every deed.
What alternate history will you make this year?