“You know,” he said, as he sat in the old wooden rocker, watching the fire. “People talk about the perseverance of the Saints as if it’s a good thing. I’m not so sure it is.” The old man stared at the flames as they danced around the logs. “I mean, sure. ‘Once saved always saved,’ and all that jazz, but wouldn’t it be better if we could lose our salvation?”
“How are we even certain of our salvation in the first place, Jim? We’re told that good fruit comes from good trees, but then at other times we’re told that all the trees are rotten, and only one thing can rid the rot. Where’s that magical tipping point?” Jim didn’t answer.
“‘Confess with your mouth and believe in your heart,’ Jim! That’s what they used to say. They also told me that I couldn’t do anything. ‘Not by works, old boy.’ ‘God is love, son;’ that’s why He burns the rotten trees that couldn’t grow anew. I mean, you can’t allow the infection to fester. What about when God plants the trees, Jim? What then? What if the infection is sown by the Doctor? The Doctor sure doesn’t like to see His patients suffer. That much is clear. What Doctor would? At what point do the sick become the condemned, though? I just don’t know, Jim.” Jim just sat there.
A fiery avalanche in miniature tumbled into the ashes. Sparks cartwheeled and floated, seemingly of their own volition. The air expanded and exploded, and Jim just sat there.
“I really want to believe in a loving God, you know? I can’t believe that there is no God. Sure, perhaps our idea of God is wrong. I could be a deist, but then there’s all those stories. God is love. Jesus loves the little children. He healed that woman who bled; He deigned to touch the lepers. Love your enemies and, bless those who curse you. The peace that would result from such an attitude, Jim! But I suppose that forgiveness requires wrongs, and wrongs require a Right. Malice needs an object, Jim. How do we get around that?” Jim looked over for a minute, but he didn’t say.
“An all-powerful God is a terrible idea, Jim. A loving, all-powerful God is a thing of beauty. A just, loving, all-powerful God is what they posit, Jim. The justice supersedes our idea of love! God’s justice requires Him to destroy evil, and we are evil! I didn’t want to be evil, though, Jim. I didn’t have a choice in the matter. I want to be saved; who doesn’t? I want to do good; only the truly sick don’t want that. Only those in need of a Doctor, Jim, not a Binary Judge. Why would the Doctor-Judge make His patients his defendants, and then try them before treating them? Jim, I don’t mean to be blasphemous, but the idea of a loving Father does not mesh with the idea of a fickle King who casts his subjects into a fire. The judgement is always the same. ‘You are sick. You shall die.’ How do we know when we’ve won the cosmic lottery, Jim? Do we want to?” Jim stood up and began to pace.
“Come on Jim. Let’s go for a walk.”
Jim wagged his tail.
The weather was nice. He thought so, anyway. The air was chilly, but he wouldn’t have called it cold. The leaves were all brown now, and they tumbled in the wind beneath the trees, rather than hang in the limbs. The crunching and blustering distracted him for a moment, but then another thought hit him.
“I really like this place, Jim. When I walk outside and see the beauty of it all, I’m disinclined to believe that a megalomaniac put me here. Heck, it makes me think that if this is all really just a tease, then, well, maybe I’m on the wrong side of the fence, you know? Maybe I am just really happy with my mud pies, but I think that Clive could have acknowledged a bit of context in that one, Jim.” Jim was watching a bird. Maybe he wished he was one. Maybe he wished he was eating one.
“I mean, when someone finds a kid playing the mud, he can demonstrate the validity of having things better, you know? The kid might not want to go, but should the kid be tortured forever because he won’t leave his mud pit? Maybe a picture of the beach would be useful, or maybe the adult could say ‘Hey kid, just let me try something. Come with me for a bit, check out this beach. See this toffee? Try it; it’s delicious!’ Why must the child take on faith a thing which is supposedly so good that he would never want to go back to the old ways? Why can’t the child go to the beach and see the beauty and majesty for himself?
Why does the adult say ‘Well, sorry kid. Here’s the thing. You stay here and play in the mud. Share your mud with the other kids. In fact, don’t even collect the nice things you find in the mud. That would be focusing on the wrong things. Here’s what I want you to do, kid. I put you in this mud pit so that you could talk about how great I am with my beautiful palace on the beach. Tell the others in the mud how great I am. How loving I am. How absolutely just I am, for you are a wretch. A loving adult I am, for when you are done in this mud, you will have a place in my palace. What of the others? If I choose them, they will come with. I put you in this mud. I’ll choose what happens when you come out.’” Jim had given up on the bird, and he now was eating some grass. “Stop that, Jim!”
“I’ve always wondered why God stopped working, Jim. Haven’t you? Did He get bored? Did He come down to earth and see our inequality and think to Himself ‘hmmm… I really didn’t think this one through…’” Jim didn’t know, but he did like his stuffed toy.
“I mean, why are miracles always past-tense? Sure, we hear people say ‘it’s a miracle!’ But when it’s not a miracle, Jim, it’s just a period of testing. It’s the worst sort of validation process, Jim.”
“‘God always answers prayers.’ God, I wish that were true. Sometimes it’s a yes, sometimes it’s a no, and sometimes He says ‘wait a while.’ I mean, Jim, it’s enough to make a man insane. If I ask a meteorologist for the forecast, his answer cannot be ‘wait a bit, my child. If the rain comes on Thursday, then Thursday will be rain. If the sun shines, then sunny. If something else entirely happens, we cannot forget that the weather is mysterious.’ He would be out a job, I’m afraid.” Jim didn’t like rain.
“Wouldn’t it have been fantastic to have been there when Jesus healed the lame, Jim? When he told the man on the cot, ‘get up and walk!’ What of the sea that was parted in two? Can you imagine a jar of oil that never runs dry? Can you imagine how terrible, then, when you had traveled miles, you learned that your Healer was hung on a cross? Can you imagine the disillusionment when the lame were brought a few weeks late? The stone may have been rolled away, but what now, Jim? The era of normalcy and silence? Yell into the tomb and listen for an echo, for another response you shall not get. Pray and hope, now. If it is deemed good, then it shall be done.”
“I’ve been struggling lately with the sum of the Scriptures, Jim. I can love my neighbors, I think, but I’m not sure about my God. Unfortunately, I think I have the order wrong. You can’t force a love, though, Jim. You can fake it, but I hear that that’s worse than no love at all. God chooses His children, or so I’ve been led to believe. I suppose I’m still a orphan, looking on as the others are leaving the orphanage. I want to go, too. I want a home, a love eternal, but I can’t have it if I can’t accept it. If my nature is sin, how then can I change, unless I’m changed. What is there to change me? Why isn’t it happening. I’m willing. Was I tested? Found wanting? Why does that even matter? These questions are revolting, Jim. I want it to be easier than this.”
He looked over at Jim. “You’ve got it easy, Jim. No worries beyond food and company. A brain the size of a golf ball and no eternal soul. I envy you.”
He loved storms. The kind with lightning and thunder and rolling rain. The kind of storm that caused you to wish for a boat, just in case the water didn’t stop. The kind that made the house feel as if it was struggling with a force. He stood at the window and watched the trees bend and dance. Jim didn’t cower; he wasn’t that type of dog. He laid under the table and watched his master, his ears flat against his head, obviously disturbed.
“It’s a class distinction, I’d say, Jim. It’s like A Brave New World, but with a subtlety of the highest order. We don’t have Alphas and Betas, Gammas and Deltas. We have the rich and poor. We have the inherently wealthy of the world who have their God, and we have everyone else who needs a God. “You will always have the poor…” Why, Jim? Why will we always have the poor? Why are the poor different from us?”
“I’ve been told that in our Western society, with our modern mindset, we set the worth of an individual’s thoughts higher than other cultures and other times, but does that make us wrong, Jim? If a boy is born parentless and entirely without means in Chicago or Chile, to what standards is he held? If he is raised with hatred as his foundation, and he grows to become a drug runner, will he be held responsible for his situation? Sure, one must take responsibility for one’s actions. A rapist is a rapist, but if the rapist was raised by rapists who taught him that rape is acceptable, is he to be eternally punished for the toxic environment that formed him? If a child is forced into a gang at an age when her mind is still forming, will she be cast into the pit for her actions to which she knew no alternative?”
The storm had subsided somewhat, and Jim looked substantially less worried.
“His eye is on the sparrow, Jim, but I’ve seen many a sparrow who would have fared better had His hand been on them. He clothes the lilies of the field, but what of the children who play in the field whose clothes are made of rags and sheets? Does some magic happen when a man is saved? Must a white man in a suit share a two-thousand year-old story with a village for the Creator of the Universe to turn his favor upon that village? Slaves, obey your masters, for this is profitable, and profits line the coffers, and the coffers fund God’s attention span.”
“I’m sorry, God.”
“What did they mean when they wrote ‘…in the image of God He created them, male and female…,’ Jim? What does that image look like? Did they literally mean He’s a bipedal creature who floats around in the sky? It’s too bad He didn’t give us that ability… I suppose they meant something else, though, Jim. Physical attributes vary in so many ways. If we’re all just deities in miniature, perhaps there’s an ideal. That’d mean some of us are less God-like than others. I doubt that was the message, Jim. Is it a Platonic Person, Jim? Are we all shadows of the real One? Image of Dog, Jim? Would you spring for that?” Jim’s ears perked up, and he swished his tail a bit.
“I feel like it wasn’t a literal statement, though, Jim. It was more figurative… symbolic, perhaps. But what does that mean? Do we have the attitude of God? Our are actions and intuitions of God? Is my deceitful heart in the image of God’s? Does my desperately wicked tongue utter imitative phrases? We are all His children, or so the songs say. Yet we sinned, and we fell, and now only those He chooses are fit for adoption.”
“That adoptive process, Jim. It’s made out to be merciful, beautiful. He takes the sinners who went astray and He gives them a life eternal. He brings them to place where they can forever worship their Creator. He cleanses their sins and makes them new. What can be better than that? Jim, an eternity! An infinite lifetime. We can’t imagine the happiness afforded those adopted. The adoptive process, Jim. He ransoms our souls. He makes us free. It’s out of our hands.” Jim didn’t seem that interested in eternal life.
“The adoptive process assumes an absence of parents, Jim. There’s a reason a child has need of adoption. Why is that, Jim? What happens to a man that he loses his soul? Does he misplace it, Jim? Can a man, a child in the eyes of God, set aside his soul like a child who loses a pair of socks? Well, no, Jim. We lose our soul when we sin. And what is sin, Jim? It’s an act that displeases our Father. Jim, we need adoption because our Father has given us over to our fates. We need salvation from our Father, by our Father, Jim. Our sins have separated us from the one who made us. Our actions have sent us to the Fire. We may ask for a loaf of bread, Jim, and in return we may receive it. We may receive a serpent. We may receive a bath in fire.”
“But that’s not fair, Jim. He loves us. He wants the best for us. That’s why, when we sin. He punishes us. Forever, Jim. It wouldn’t be fair any other way. He adopts some of us, Jim, but it’s not for us to decide. It’s not for us to judge what is right. God is good, Jim. God is Love. Love punishes evil, Jim. Love adopts children, Jim. Love sends them to Hell. They’ve lost their souls, Jim. Some of them find them. Some of them burn. God is good, Jim, all the time.”
“All the time, God is good.” Jim didn’t say that, but I’m sure he would have, if he wasn’t a dog.