It got very quiet up in the mountains.
He was trying to pray, but it wasn’t easy. He’d climbed for hours into the mountains. He didn’t really believe that climbing a mountain would bring him closer to God. At least not consciously. But he wanted to get through. He had a complaint. God needed to hear him and he needed to know God had heard him.
He sat down on a rock. He didn’t know how high up he was. He thought maybe the air was thinner. Had he climbed high enough to notice such a thing? He didn’t know.
He looked up at the sky and started his complaint. He’d worked it out in his mind. It was a complaint, but a very polite one.
Copyright © 2014
Henry E. Neufeld
“Oh Lord, Creator of the Universe, Bringer of all good things, I do thank You for all Your many blessings. I believe Your Word, I trust You.”
“Who are you talking to?” said a voice. It might have been the wind. It might have been in his head. But it was real enough that he looked around. Must be my imagination, he thought.
“I believe that You reward those who do Your will, and punish those who do evil.”
“No you don’t,” said the voice. “And I still wonder who you’re talking to. I hear all those capital letters, ‘You’ and ‘Your’.”
How can one hear capital letters? he thought.
“It’s the way you say them. I can tell you’d capitalize them if you wrote them. You’d see it as a sign of respect. But I notice you didn’t respond to my most important comment.”
He was startled that he got an answer when he just thought. “But I do believe God rewards good and punishes evil!”
“It’s interesting that you speak so courteously, and yet you’re not afraid to lie to me.”
“I’m not lying!” He hesitated. “Are you claiming to be God?”
“Who’s claiming anything? Do you see anyone around here other than yourself? You left the sane people behind several miles back!”
He looked around. Indeed, he saw nobody but himself. Even the trees were sparse and stunted. He must have walked further than he had planned. “But you said I was lying!” His voice hardened with anger.
“Aha! Honest words! Honest emotion! I said you were lying because you were. You do not believe that I reward good and punish evil. In fact, that’s why you’re up in this God-forsaken (you should pardon the expression, but you were thinking it!) place. You think you have been treated unfairly.”
He forgot to argue about who the voice was. “But I have been treated unfairly!” he exclaimed. “All my life I have done what was right. I have submitted to the authority of your ministers. I have lived a good life. I have caused no trouble. Yet I have next to nothing. No reward. I’ve been a good man. I should be rewarded!”
“Well, that’s more honest. Not actually honest, but better. It might seem that with a wife, four children, a dozen grandchildren, a successful business, and the acceptance of your neighbors you would be satisfied.”
“How do you know all those things?”
“I’m just a voice in your head, after all.”
“I didn’t say that!”
“You were thinking it.”
There was a pause. He wasn’t going to win that one. He had been thinking it was just a voice in his head. “And my neighbors don’t just accept me. They respect me.”
“No, actually they don’t. I would say you’re lying, but in this case you’ve lied to yourself so often that you think you’re telling the truth. Your neighbors just think you’re safe. That you won’t do anything unexpected. That you won’t rock the boat.”
“Well, doesn’t that make me a good neighbor?”
“Sometimes the boat needs rocking. Sometimes it needs to be turned over.”
“That sounds dangerous.”
“Actually living is dangerous.”
He was thinking this conversation was dangerous, and he didn’t like dangerous things. He had a habit with conversations like this. He’d direct them to what he called “the subject at hand,” which was always something safe. “In any case,” he said out loud, “I came here to pray and I was trying to pray.”
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“Holding a conversation with a voice,” he said testily, then went on. “But Lord, you rule the heavens, and I need you to look at my enemy, my nemesis, Jason. He’s a troublemaker, yet he has a major following. He has a good job and lots of money, and people follow him. In fact, he’s trying to change my church …”
“My church,” said the voice.
“Yes, my church.”
“No,” said the voice. “It’s My church. Hear the capital letter in my voice. My church. Mine. All Mine! Not yours.” Somehow the voice didn’t sound petulant saying it. Just calm and factual.
“I’m trying to pray here,” he said.
“And I’m trying to answer a prayer,” said the voice. “Like I said, look around. Who’s making claims?”
“Are you God?” There was a pause. “Speaking to me?”
“What do you think?”
“I think I’m crazy.”
“You could go talk to a counselor. Get the voice suppressed or removed.”
“What? Go to a counselor and say, ‘A voice told me to come to you so I wouldn’t hear it any more?’ Wouldn’t that be crazier than average?”
“You’re the guy who’s climbed a mountain for hours and brought himself close to a heart attack—you ought to exercise more—in order to get closer to God. And you don’t even really believe in God.”
“What? I’m a believer. I’ve believed all my life!”
“Of course, in God.”
“And what have I done, according to you, up to now.”
There was silence for several minutes.
“Can’t really think of anything, can you?”
“Well, you’re the creator of the universe, right?”
“I am. Do you really believe it? Or is it just a default that you know you’re supposed to believe.”
“I never really thought about it. The pastor preached it, I believed it.”
“The pastor preached it, you ignored it.”
“What was I supposed to do about it?”
“What about when the creation care folks came to the church. What did you do?”
“Are you on the side of the creation care people?”
“I’m not really on anybody’s side. I ask people to be on mine. Answer the question! What did you do?”
“I proposed the compromise vote by which the church agreed to pass a resolution saying that we should take care of God’s world.”
“But your resolution didn’t involve doing anything, right?”
“Well, no. That was the point. Anything we did would cause a fight in the church. So I made peace. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’, right?”
“‘I came not to bring peace, but a sword’.”
“You wanted a church fight?”
“I’m asking the questions. Most of them, at least. So what about when your church voted on the new building project? What did you do then?”
“I suggested that we wait until we had the funds.”
“And did the funds ever come in?”
“So you killed that one too.”
“Did you want the church to add on a building?”
“No, not particularly. I can answer that one. But you didn’t pay any attention. Now Jason. He led the fight for the extension.”
“Yes, and people loved him for it. They wanted that building and he was their leader.”
“People respected him, loved him.”
“Yes! That’s the problem, Lord. I believe in you. I do good things. Yet Jason gets the rewards.”
“What do you believe about me? What good things have you done?”
There was another pause. He was trying to think of what to say. Obviously, keeping the peace in the church didn’t work.
“What you have,” said the voice, “is the natural result of the way you lived your life.”
“Isn’t it your blessing or curse?”
“Only in the sense that I created everything, and quite often, you reap what you sow.”
“But what about Job? Did he reap what he sowed?”
“No. Sometimes it doesn’t work that way. Sometimes you reap what others sow. Sometimes you don’t know what’s going on in the background. But you’re not Job. You’re not suffering.”
“Yes I am! Just look at what you’re doing for that Jason character, and he’s even been in prison before. He gets the respect, the money, the easy life, and I don’t. He’s a sinner, a troublemaker, and you keep blessing him!”
“So your problem is not what I do for you, it’s that you think I’m doing better things for someone else?”
“Yes! No! I mean I’ve been a better person than Jason, and he gets the better blessings.”
“So, let’s say that Jason falls on hard times, would that make you happy?”
There was another pause.
“You don’t want to say it, but I can hear it in your mind. You’d deny it, but you’d gloat if Jason fell on hard times.”
“But he’s a troublemaker.”
“Jason is a man of action. He’s often wrong, but never quiet, never apathetic.”
Another pause. “And me?” He almost said “Lord” after that.
“You? You’re boring. You avoid trouble even when trouble is needed. Then you complain about the people who are making a difference.”
“So you think Jason is right more often than I am.”
“Quite the contrary. You’re often right but never active.”
“So right and wrong doesn’t matter?”
“Oh, it matters. But what matters first is caring and acting. If you’re right but inactive it’s not much good. Oh, and people don’t always get what they deserve. Remember that. It’s just that in your case, you’ve pretty much gotten what you deserve, just proving that humans will complain about fairness too.”
“So I really did hear from God up on this mountain?”
“You don’t need to believe that,” said the voice. “Maybe you just got too high up and the air is thin. Why don’t you hike down a ways. But slowly. Your heart isn’t really up to all this.”
It got very quite up in the mountains.