Checking With God
And what about this God, Supreme Being, Creator, Yahweh, Buddha, Allah? This institution that people of all races and creeds bother all the time with requests for a new bicycle, another chance, a free throw, victory over the stupid ambitious, the heathens, the Catholics, the infidels, the bad guys. Are they all asking the same (let’s just use God / Him / He for simplicity) God for these things? Because it seems to me there must be more than One, unless He has a terrific sense of humor (and I hope He does, otherwise I am truly toast), because the bad guys win too often. Churches collapse, children are molested by priests, young girls are kidnapped from their own beds, people die in traffic accidents, drunk drivers kill people and maybe get probation. And I don’t even want to think about suicide bombers.
I know, I know, I remind myself: one God. One and only one, and He wants no false gods hanging around.
Now if you are still reading, here is the crucial test of whether you will decide to keep reading. I am about to tell you that I spoke with God. I did. I am not crazy and I did not have a near-death experience. I actually spoke with God. Sort of a thirty minute interview.
You see, I have asked a lot of questions about God and religion ever since I can remember. I have also asked God for everything from a date with a particular young lady to good health, children who grew up to be my friends, a perfect low, fading 2-iron, a good job, and success in the stock market. But most of all I have asked God what I consider to be very difficult questions. Example: what did You have in mind when you let that serpent convince Eve to eat that apple? Another example: if You love us humans so much, why do You let us wallow in so much misery, so many events that leave us questioning your very existence? Lots of questions like that, all the time. I think it was the questions that convinced God that if he answered some of them I might reduce the frequency a bit. Uncle on the questions, I imagined Him saying. At least for a while.
And so while I sat on my folding chair recently, watching the ocean waves roll onto the shore, I began to imagine the waves were watching me. I leaned back and tilted my hat down over my eyes. Beach naps – one of my more polished skills. I don’t know how long I was out, but came to feeling a presence to my right and slightly behind me. I turned to see a smallish, elderly man, bearing a remarkable resemblance to George Burns. He must have pulled up his beach chair while I was drooling on my t-shirt.
“Geez,” I said, “you surprised me, sorta scared me even.”
“Sorry,” he said. “Didn’t mean to scare you. Surprise probably; scare no.”
“Anybody ever mention you look a lot like…”
“George Burns. When I choose to look like George, people tell me that all the time. I love old George. He has a great attitude. And superb timing. But I like to vary my appearance. I’m very fond of looking like Muhammed Ali, the best heavyweight ever.”
“I’m very confused,” I said. “Not to insult you, but I don’t think I’d ever mistake you for Ali.” In an instant, George Burns was gone and in his place was Ali, looking young and fit, near as I could tell, looking up at him. I had tipped over backwards in my beach chair.
I picked myself up and brushed at sand in my hair and stuck to my sweaty neck and arms. When I looked back at Ali, he was George Burns again.
“Did it again, didn’t I,” he said. “Scared you. Or maybe just surprised you. Didn’t mean for you to flip over like that. Good thing we’re in the sand. Going over backwards like that smarts when you hit concrete. I thought George Burns would be best for you. You liked that movie Oh God! so much, and I liked the way you took your kids to see it and told everybody else to take their kids to see it. It was a good movie. Came very close on several things. I was disappointed though. It didn’t seem to make many people take more time to consider important things like good manners and helping people who need help. Things like that.”
I thought I was dreaming. Asleep on the beach and having one whale of a dream. I closed my eyes and rubbed them a bit the way my kids and I do when we are ready to sleep. All that accomplished was to deposit some sand where I didn’t need it.
“Why are you here? What do you want?” I said.
“Questions. Always the questions. And in between golf and stock market stuff. You’re the champ, did you know? Over the last fifty years you’ve made the top one hundred with requests and questions. Hardly ever been inside a church, except for weddings and funerals, but you’re always talking to me. Watch a TV news program and start asking me questions. ‘Why do you let that creep sneak into a little girl’s bedroom, take her away, rape and torture and kill her, and then smirk at the camera when he’s caught?’ ‘How can you let all those people die like that?'”
My heart rate was slowing and I was beginning to enjoy this dream. Trouble was, I didn’t feel asleep.
“So,” George continued, “I had a little spare time and thought I’d come around and let you ask some questions. Give you a few answers right here and now. OK?”
“Sure,” I said. “I mean, what else would I say. Are you really….”
“God? Well I’m not George Burns. Although George is with us now and we all love having him. As I said, he’s a great person. Tell you what. I only have about a half hour, so you better start asking your questions. Think about them though, because I can get very wordy. Try to think of questions that have short answers.”
I could feel my whole body tingle. Kids were playing and people were walking along the beach, just like always. No one paid any attention to the two of us. I started to wonder what time it was, how long I had been sleeping, and whether my wife was on her way to wake me up, tell me to pack up and get back to the house for dinner.
“She won’t be down for another hour or so,” God said. “It’s only three-thirty, and you’re not asleep. Better get cracking on your questions, though. I haven’t got all day.”
“Okay,” I said, thinking I had hidden my surprise that He knew what I was thinking. “First, why me?”
“I already told you. You’re one of my all-time champs. Not an hour goes by when I don’t hear from you. So – fire away. And keep them brief or you’ll be asking me to come back for the next fifty years.”
“You mean I’m going to live to be a hundred?”
“No. I won’t tell you how long you’ll live. That was just a figure of speech. Let’s go with the questions.”
Now that I was sitting next to God, I couldn’t get my brain going. Questions. I had so many. How to choose?
God supplied the first question. “Why don’t you start with the one about why I allow so much evil if I’m such a kind God?”
“OK,” I mumbled. “Why?”
“I didn’t start all this with the idea of controlling every single thing. I gave humans free will and the ability to distinguish right from wrong. That and a good sense of humor should have been enough. But ever since the beginning, with that thing between Cain and Abel, not to mention the apple, humans have surprised me with the ways they misuse their gifts.”
“Wait a minute,” I said. “You’re surprised? You know everything, see everything. How can what humans do surprise you?”
“Look,” God/George said, “don’t you remember in the movie George said he made a few mistakes. I think he said the giraffe was a mistake. And maybe the turtle. And there were a few others. Sometimes things just take their own directions. Like I said, I didn’t have in mind controlling every single thing that ever happened. But you better get on to other questions. We could be on this one the whole half hour.”
“All right,” I said, confidence beginning to well up inside me a bit. “What about free will and the ability to tell right from wrong? When you did that, why didn’t you include a built-in program of some kind, something that would only allow bad behavior to reach a certain level?
“You mean like a computer chip?” he said. “Like a governor on a golf cart? Only let it go so fast before it kicked in and slowed things down? That’s a problem humans have. Thinking that magnificent structure called the human body is like some machine. Replace a part here, throw in a pig valve there, do an overhaul every few thousand miles. Doesn’t quite work that way. Oh sure, there are some magic tricks doctors can do with hearts and kidneys and such, but when I gave humans those abilities you mentioned I didn’t do it with the idea that it would be necessary to place limits. If there were limits on free will, it wouldn’t be free will, would it? Hasn’t humanity learned that from dealing with people like Stalin, Idi Amin, and that extraordinarily puny man that Charlie Chaplin imitated so well? What’s next. Time’s almost up.”
That speech just made me think of more questions. I took a deep breath before the big one.
“What about religion? What does religion have to do with you? How do you feel about all these people who think they have a lock on what you want, how you want them to behave?”
“Now you’re getting to something important. I was hoping you would get into this subject. The truth of the matter is I don’t much care about religion unless it’s the only way to get people to care about each other, take care of each other. When I hear people shout about how their beliefs are the only way to heaven, the only road to take to be sure and please me, I’d laugh if it weren’t so sad, so far from the truth. I went to a Sunday service the other day. I won’t mention the name of the church. It’s not important. It was a nice service, with lots of lively singing and promises to love one another. After, in the church parking lot, several of the drivers used my name to curse their fellow church goers for doing stupid things with their automobiles on the way out. The happiness in their expressions when they were in church melted away into angry looks and words. No, what type of religion is not important to me. What people have in their hearts is important, and not just while they are in church.”
“All right!” I said. “I have suspected that for a long time. I’ve always felt more than a little guilty for not going to church more, but didn’t really get off my – well, you know what I mean – didn’t really do anything about it because I felt that I could reach my goal of being a decent person without church, by being a good father, good husband, good friend. And then along comes someone who flies an airliner into a skyscraper in New York, or blows himself or herself up on a bus in Jerusalem. And some people in the Middle East cheer and say that their brothers and sisters are martyrs, that they gain your favor with their actions. I just don’t understand.”
“They gain no favor from me,” God/George said, a look on his face that would peel the steel from an armored car. “People who think they gain my favor by killing other people in my name will receive no reward. Have you read Dante’s Inferno?”
“There is a place where the souls of people who kill in my name go. You call it Hell. Dante’s idea of eternal punishment didn’t go far enough. His book did not furnish a complete or sufficiently brutal description of the horror those souls suffer. The other books, the Bible, the Koran, the Torah, all of them, were written by men just like Dante. In all of them is truth, guidance of the type I had in mind when I started all this. But many people go too far. They take those words, written by men, and twist them and turn them and use them to justify behavior I will not forgive. There is no one book written by men that will reveal all truth. And it does not matter whether those words written by men are used in whole or in part. What I want is that people do not harm each other but rather take care of and help each other. A book written by a minister a few years ago, All I Ever Really Needed To Know I Learned In Kindergarten, comes closer to revealing what I want from people than all the rantings and ravings of the lunatics who kill each other in my name. From all people, all races, all creeds, all nations.”
God/George took a deep breath and the fierce look on his face the last few minutes relaxed into a wry smile.
“Your time is almost up. I warned you about asking questions that needed long answers. One more question?”
“Yes. How am I doing? I mean, am I making the right choices, hurting anyone, doing what I need to do to be a decent human being?”
Another smile. “Mostly. I really didn’t have time for those free throws. And by the way, I gave a Scottish sheepherder the idea that became golf as a bit of a joke. I didn’t think humankind would take it so seriously, so stop with the prayers for a good drive, chip shot, etc. Stick with the important things. I always hear you, but I always pay special attention when you remind yourself how lucky you are to have your health, your wife, your children and grandchildren, and thank me for those gifts. You’ve done well so far. You’re a good person. Keep it up.”
And with that God/George stood up, waved, and walked away.
Honest to George he did.
Einar Bohlin; August, 2009