Beaton column: Conversations in the dark
The Aspen Beat
“It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.”
— Leonard Cohen
God is just the explanation that people concoct for those random moments when the pain of life eases. That’s what I was told one dark night as I was going through a rough patch and heard a raspy voice in my ear taunting me.
“If there’s a God in heaven, then why all the pain, lies and destruction on earth?” asked the voice.
“But there’s also a lot of beauty and joy,” I replied. “I’ve seen it.”
“Oh? Like what?”
“I’ve seen the beauty in children laughing. I’ve seen the joy of a new mother. I’ve seen that life is not all pain.”
“Ha! I’ll leave to your imagination the details about what I sometimes do to mothers and children. But have you ever seen and heard a pack of wolves separate a fawn from a doe and then attack and start to eat the fawn before it’s even dead, while the doe watches helplessly?”
“Multiply that a million times and apply it to your human world. It’s evil and it’s me.”
He was on a roll. “Have you noticed how humans identify their tribe not by what they love, but by what they hate? I make hate, and hate makes the world go around. It doesn’t matter to a group that they’re all Republicans or Democrats, or all Phi Delta Theta’s or all Bronco fans. What matters is that they all hate the Democrats or Republicans, or hate the Sigma Tau Gamma’s or hate the Kansas City Chiefs. It doesn’t matter that …”
I interrupted. “But there’s good in humanity, too. You can’t deny it.”
“There’s good, you say? Ha! Next, you’ll be telling me there’s truth and beauty. OK, I’ll stipulate that there’s good too, whatever that is. But in the end, I always win. And it will hurt.”
“Oh, maybe not. Some people die in their sleep.”
“Don’t fool yourself. Just because they’re found dead in the morning doesn’t mean they’ve died in their sleep. Do you think a heart attack or stroke doesn’t hurt just because it happens at night? I wake them before I take them. Because I want them to feel both the pain and the fear.”
“I own this world,” he lied, “and I made it hard because I like to see you suffer. You won’t get out alive. You won’t get out painlessly. And you won’t get out unafraid.”
“Go to hell. I’m not afraid of you,” I exaggerated. “There’s another way.”
“Shut up!” he barked. “l was cheated that time!”
The voice quickly regained the cloying slyness with which it began our conversation. Lawyer-like, he demanded, “Now answer my question: If there’s a God, then why’s there so much pain on earth?”
I’ve heard that question before, and I have an answer: “Because this isn’t heaven. It’s earth.”
“OK, that’s a nice pat answer,” the voice replied. “Now I have a follow-up question: Why? Why is this earth and not heaven?”
The voice had the momentum in our debate and went in for the kill. “God is just the explanation from dolts like you for the random moments when their pain eases. But their pain will be back — I’ll be back.”
I was on the defensive now. I replied softly, really to myself, “I don’t know why earth isn’t heaven. I don’t know why you can spread pain, lies and hatred. I don’t know why you can destroy good people. I don’t know why you exist. There’s lots that I don’t know.”
I paused for what seemed like an eternity.
“Maybe we need to see the bad in order to comprehend the good. Maybe God doesn’t control everything. Maybe the struggle for the universe is ongoing. I can’t comprehend God or how he works. I can’t imagine what he’s up against. But I believe in him.”
I looked up. “And I believe that in the end he will save those who want saving. He will beat you. And he’ll save us whether we’ve earned it or not. He’s a saving God, not a transactional God. Unlike you, God doesn’t make deals.”
“Ha!” The voice always laughed not out of amusement, but out of mockery. “What kind of God is this? Is he only partially omnipotent but wholly inscrutable? Better to make a deal with me than to take your chances with this fickle God of yours that goes missing right when you need him.”
Gloating, the voice stared at me.
Then there was thunder and lightning in the distance. It stormed ever closer, louder and brighter.
“I gotta go,” he hissed urgently. “But I’ll be back.”
Then it rained and rained as the dawn broke. Hallelujah.
Glenn Beaton writes a monthly column for the Post Independent and Aspen Times. Correspond and subscribe at theAspenbeat@gmail.com