I have always wanted to believe in a fair and just universe.
I was the kid who asked too many questions in Sunday school and was labeled a problem child.
I honestly wasn’t trying to cause trouble.
I just wanted to understand my world.
I prayed a lot.
I talked to god, but god never talked back.
I often wondered if I was just talking to myself.
When I was 5, a kindergarten classmate was killed in a drive-by shooting.
I asked the Sunday school teacher how god could allow these things to happen.
She told me just to have faith.
I did not understand what this meant.
I had faith.
It was understanding that I lacked.
As I graduated up to regular church, the questions persisted.
If god is so loving then why is there so much evil against innocent people?
Why are the children in Africa starving on my TV?
Why do kids die of cancer?
The more I learned about the world, the harder it was to imagine a loving god.
The church elders would say things like “God granted man the gift of free will. It is not God who allows these things. It is man who chooses them. This is why we must get all people to come to God.”
or a platitude that angered me even then…
“God needed the little children in heaven, so he took them.”
“So it’s all just a game?” I would ask.
Some of the church’s would say that I was infecting the minds of the church youth with all these questions and asked me not to return.
No love lost.
I was looking for answers and clearly these fake houses of god knew little to nothing about the subject they claimed to be experts in.
I broadened my scope to study religions from around the world.
I lived at the library.
There were subtle differences, but more similarities.
-There is a better life beyond this one.
-Believe in god and you will be rewarded.
-Disobey and you will be cursed.
-Practice these principals to become closer to God.
The god’s faces changed, but the ideas were pretty much the same.
Yet none of them could explain why this powerful and loving God would allow it’s children to suffer in ways that were so extreme.
Columbine happened and I talked to god.
God was in the shower.
9/11 happened and I talked to god.
God put me on hold.
My baby died and I begged god to “PLEASE FUCKING ANSWER ME!!”
God was on vacation.
I was talking to myself.
I recall a scene in the Woody Allen masterpiece, Hannah and Her Sisters, where in the throes of an existential crisis, Woody asks his parents…
“If there is a God then why are there Nazis?!”
His father replies
“How do I know why there are Nazis! I can’t even work the can opener!”
No one seemed to know anything.
By my teen years, I had mastered the can opener, but was no closer to understanding how evil thrives if there is a loving omnipotent god.
A youth pastor took pity on me and offered to help answer some of my questions, on one condition;
I was not allowed, under any circumstances to tell anyone what he had taught me, on fear of him losing his job.
This pastor could read Hebrew and he helped me dive into The Bible as it was originally written.
I was shocked to find that the bible verses I had been raised on were nothing like the original writings.
The Hebrew texts spoke nothing of mysticism. They were just a series of laws and rules, a guide to being a virtuous person.
There was no mention of heaven and hell was only proverbial.
It was not a place one goes in the afterlife, but a burning that a man feels in his soul when he is tortured.
Hell was just part of life.
As I sat in the church listening to the man teach the sugar-coated version of The Bible to the masses, I wondered how he could tell lies to his followers and still consider himself to be an ethical man.
He told me “These people aren’t seeking truth. They are seeking comfort. The church has provided this for thousands of years.”
“But what about Jesus and heaven and eternal life?” I begged.
“What about them?” he countered.
“Don’t you believe in these things?”
He waved an old copy of The Bible at me and said “No one who gives serious time to studying this book, will believe in those things.”
I was crushed.
I abandoned my studies with him and dived headlong into the world of philosophy.
I went to university.
I was lucky.
My hunger was rewarded with some of the world’s best mentors helping me to answer life’s eternal questions.
But none of them could explain how or why god allows evil and suffering.
They wondered too.
But they had no answers.
Only more questions.
But there was a man…
An elderly man with wise eyes and a youthful walk.
He was always glowing…always smiling…
He came to the philosophy discussions and I saw his beautiful, glowing face all over campus.
I inquired about him.
I found out he was the leader of the religion department at the university.
I admired him.
He was as well-read as any of my mentors.
He was incredibly bright.
But unlike most people who have peeked too far behind the curtain, he was not tortured.
He seemed happy…content…
And he didn’t have the kind of fake happiness people put on when they have to interact with others.
He was radiating energy.
He was on fire.
One day I went to his office and asked if he had some time.
He invited me inside.
His office was grandiose, a huge circular room with 20 foot tall ceilings and bookshelves built into the walls.
I looked at the books with admiration.
All of the greatest minds ever sat on his shelves.
“Have you read all of these books?” I asked.
“Many times.” he said, without an iota of arrogance.
He gave me the gift of his time and he listened with great interest.
At the end he said
“I can not give you that which you seek. I want to, but I can’t. The things I do on this Earth matter. They affect others. They reverberate and when I stop breathing those actions will still continue to have an effect. In that sense I am eternal.”
I thought for a very long time and then I said “But you won’t carry on?”
“No. Not in any sense we would recognize. When my body dies, I die.” he said.
After a long pause he added…
“I sense that you are suffering and seeking solace and I know my answer will not provide that for you.”
I thanked him for his kindness and candor and left his office.
As I got in my car and pulled away, I couldn’t help but wonder why I was so blessed, when so many others have it so hard.
I really couldn’t complain.
I was attending a prestigious university.
I had amazing people in my life.
I was born in a mostly free country and my body worked relatively well.
I could see the sunshine and I could hear my daughter say “I love you, daddy.”
Tears welled up in my eyes as I thought of how fortunate I was and how unfortunate others are.
Out of habit, the words that have always escaped my lips when gratitude takes my breath away, found their way out…
“Thank you, god.” I heard myself say…
Knowing all too well..
That I was only talking to myself.