Meet the Deity
Anna was standing on a high bluff admiring the sunset – a particularly spectacular one full of gilded clouds – thinking blissfully of God and gratitude and the beauty of the world, when suddenly the sun seemed to swell and pulse, the sky turned every shade of purple and silver, there was ethereal music, and then an angel appeared next to her. “Beloved servant,” remarked the angel pleasantly, “for that thou art our dedicated and humble servant, and the first woman minister of thy parish, we have chosen thee to have an audience with the deity.”
Anna stared, coloured; the earth seemed to tilt and rock all around her; she planted her feet wide apart and hoped not to fall over. “Uh,” she said haltingly, “uh,” she said stupidly, “I am not worthy.” “You don’t get to decide that,” the angel said snappily, making Anna think of Ethel and Mr Salteena and have to suppress a snort of laughter.
“Come on – chop chop.” Anna gaped. “What – now?” “Yes, now,” the angel said crossly, “when did you think, next Tuesday? Get a move on.” “But – I’m not ready, I’m not prepared, I haven’t thought, I don’t know what to say, I haven’t prayed – ” “Look, stupid, this is the deity you’re meeting, not some bishop or CEO or city official – it’s not like you’re going to be able to talk on his level, is it. It’s like an ant trying to “prepare” to have a chat with Einstein. Don’t bother, because it wouldn’t make any difference. And the deity doesn’t like to make plans in advance, or to wait around for dithering humans, so come on.”
“You said his,” she said mournfully, “it’s a man then?” “Oh, no, not really,” the angel said breezily, “we just like to say that to women because it annoys them.” The angel cackled. “I’m not dressed for it,” Anna said; the angel rolled its eyes and made a gesture, and Anna found herself in a bear costume. “Hey!” she said. “It’s too hot, I can’t see, I can’t breathe – it smells bad, too.” “Oh, sorry,” the angel said witheringly, and Anna found herself in a purple and gold brocaded robe. “That better?” “Yes, thank – ” The angel made another gesture and Anna found herself back in her jeans and sweatshirt, but they were dirtier than they’d been before. “Come on,” the angel barked. “You keep saying come on,” Anna said, feeling like Alice, “but how do I come on?” “Move your butt,” was the transcendent reply.
Anna took a step, and found herself in what looked like a basketball court with a few chairs in it. “There you go,” said the angel, and walked off. A guy with a buzz cut in jeans and a sweatshirt with a logo on it approached her. “How ya doin’?” he said, not sounding as if he wanted to know. “Hello,” Anna said self-consciously, “are you – ” “We didn’t drag you here to meet the staff,” he said, and sniggered. “You are a man,” she said. “Not necessarily.” He twirled his hand mockingly in the air over his head, and Anna was confronted by a woman who looked exactly like Ann Coulter. “That better?” “Uh – ” Another twirl, and Buzzcut was back. “Nice outfit,” he said. “Well,” she began, “I wanted to – ” “I know, I know. I liked the bear costume.” He gave a loud bark of laughter and Anna, to her amazement, felt a strong desire to slap him. “Siddown,” he said, flopping himself into a chair. He looked at her appraisingly. “So. You’re pretty old, aren’t you.” Anna recoiled. “Excuse me?” “Old. You’re old. Those lines around your mouth – not attractive.” “Well whose fault is that?” she said hotly. His eyebrows shot up and he gave a huge mocking grin. “Mine?” he said innocently. “Well not mine!” Anna retorted. “I didn’t decide to get lines in my face. They just showed up.” “Like gravy,” he said absently. “Yeah, I know – I’m just saying. They’re not flattering.” “Well I’m sorry if I’m repelling you,” Anna began furiously. “Oh that’s okay,” he said. “I know you can’t help it. You should have stuck with the bear thing though.” He gave another shout of laughter.
“You’re not all that attractive yourself,” Anna said through clenched teeth. “Oh, I know,” he said, “but I don’t have to be. It doesn’t matter what I’m like. People worship me anyway. Like you.” Anna stared at him, digesting this. “I can be beautiful if I feel like it,” he added; he brushed his hand over the top of his head and turned into what looked like a male model in a Calvin Klein ad, then into Greta Garbo, then Harrison Ford, then Julia Roberts, then Buzzcut again. “I like this look though,” he said, “and I get to please myself.” He smirked at her cheerfully.
There was a long pause. “Well,” Anna croaked. She cleared her throat and began again. “Well, that must be very nice for you.”
“Oh, it is,” he said. “It’s ideal. I can do whatever I want to. The unmoved mover.” He gave another bark of laughter.
“That sounds like a rather childish ‘ideal,’” she said, “just doing whatever you want to.”
“Oh, no,” he said, “not at all. Because I’m the one who’s doing it, you see. I’m the deity, so by definition, if I’m doing it, it can’t be childish, it’s divine, omniscient, perfect, all that good stuff.”
“Is – ” Anna’s throat closed. She took a breath. “Is all this a joke to you?”
“Oh, yeah, pretty much.”
“Well…it’s not to us.”
“No, I know.”
She stared. “Don’t you care?”
“Not really. I’m not much good at caring. Not one of my skills.”
“N – not?”
“So why do we bother praying to you when we’re ill, or when our children or friends are ill, or we’re frightened or lonely or sad, or there’s an earthquake or a hurricane?”
“Because you’re labouring under a misapprehension, I assume. You think I do care, so you tell me your stuff. And it usually makes you feel better doesn’t it? So no harm done; everybody’s happy. I don’t listen, and you feel better – no problem.”
“I – all this time, that was the one thing I thought I knew: that you cared. That even if you couldn’t help, or wouldn’t, for whatever good theological reason – because it would upset free will, or causality, or the cosmic order, or something – that you cared. That you cared passionately – that your heart bled for us. That every sorrow of ours was a sorrow of yours. Every grief, every loss, every bereavement, was sorrowful to you. That’s what I’ve always told my parishioners.”
“Thanks a lot,” he said. “There are six and a half billion of you now? And I’m supposed to feel all the pain that every single one of you feels? Well that would be a fun job. I don’t think so. Do you notice how much nicer I am than you are? I only make humans suffer their own pain: you want me to suffer that times 6.5 billion! Very generous, very kind. No, it’s a sweet thought, but I’ll pass, thanks.”
“But you made the whole thing, we didn’t.”
“So? So I made it, that doesn’t mean I have to feel its pain. You make dinner every night: do you feel its pain while you eat it?” He cackled.
Anna felt herself flushing. “You’re very obnoxious!” she blurted.
“I know. Everyone always tells me.”
“Well if everyone tells you, why don’t you stop?”
He made his eyes very round. “I told you. Why should I? People worship me anyway. And it’s fun being obnoxious – really, really fun. I love it. I’m having a really good time right now.”
Her eyes filled. “Because you’re infuriating me and disillusioning me.”
“Of course. Fun! I know you’re just itching to slap me right across the face, but you can’t very well, being as how I’m the deity and all. I might hit you with my purse.” He cackled again. “I get to say any old thing I want to, and you just have to sit there and fume. You think that’s not fun?” He shook his head. “Wrong.”
“You’re worse than obnoxious then,” she said in wonder. “You’re mean. You’re cruel.”
“Oh yeah? And what are you? Who made you the morality cop? Morality comes from God, remember? That’s me – so obviously whatever I do is good, by definition. Cruelty isn’t good – is it? So I can’t be cruel. Or else cruelty is good. It’s one of those.”
“But you just said you’ve been having fun making me feel miserable. That can’t be good.”
“It can if I say it can. I decide this stuff, not you, don’t you remember?”
“But if this is what you’re like, then…” She trailed off, uncertain.
“Then what? Then you get to decide instead of me?” He grinned sharkishly at her. “You’re very self-righteous, aren’t you. Very pleased with yourself. You feel very superior, don’t you. You know what’s good and bad, and you’ll lay down the law to anyone, including The Lawgiver himself. Why do you think you’re superior?”
“I don’t,” she said angrily.
“Ah, ah – temper. Superior people don’t lose their tempers.”
“I’m not superior. I don’t feel superior. Especially not right now. I feel like a complete fool.”
He nodded sagely. “Buyer’s remorse.”
“I’ll have to re-train now,” she said absently.
“I’d recommend IT, except you’re so old.”
“No,” she said acidly, “I think I’ll take up Satanism.”
He laughed. “A bit superfluous, I think.”
“So…you’re really not good in any way? Not what we humans think of as good at least.”
“Not as far as I can tell. I’m not that bad, I would say – but I do what pleases me, not what pleases you guys.”
“I can’t seem to take it in…”
“Well what I don’t get is, why’d you ever think anything else? What else would I be? Did you just never look at the world around you, or what?”
She blinked rapidly, trying to drive the tears back. “I thought you had your reasons. You know…your inscrutable will…”
He sighed and nodded. “Yeah, I know. That’s what everyone says. It just sounds like a formula, to me. They don’t like what they see when they look at the world, so they write up this label, “God’s Inscrutable Purpose” and slap it on there and figure that takes care of it. But it’s just a label. There’s nothing behind it.”
“You’re not trying to make us stronger, or braver, or more compassionate, or something like that?”
He made big eyes at her again. “No. Nothing like that. I don’t care whether you guys are braver or more compassionate or not. I really don’t – I’m just not interested. But you keep thinking I do. You’re a weird bunch of animals, you know. You can ignore anything, no matter how obvious it is.”
“You’re not much like George Burns,” Anna said inanely.
“Well you’re not much like John Denver. So it goes.” He stood up. “Well, this has been fun, but I have to go work out now. Moonbeam here will show you out.”
The angel indeed was indeed beckoning to her from the door. “Nice meeting you,” Anna said, like a fool, as she turned to go.
“Vaya con dios,” he called, with a final bray of mocking laughter.