Brad looked up and wiped the tears from his face. As he began to regain his composure he came to the conclusion that either A. He was suffering from some vastly delusional episode or B. He was actually in the presence of God. Even though his logical mind rejected it, he was convinced that the latter was true. There was just something about this man/God and this situation that told him he was, in fact, sitting with the almighty.
On the heels of this thought came another more disturbing one. Did I say fuck to God? Immediately this brought on a flurry of other realizations
I considered pushing God down the stairs!
I actually thought I was going to kick God’s ass!
Wait….Did I sit and watch God drink a beer!?!
Once he had resigned himself to the fact that, not only was he in the company of God , but also he had treated him badly, Brad’s demeanor toward him changed.
He bowed his head and said “Please forgive me, O’ Father for the way I have treated you” He tried to sound reverent and sincere.
God threw back his head and laughed heartily. “That has to be the worst sounding
Bible-speak that I have ever heard” he said through his laughter “Relax. This is not Egypt, 2000 years ago and we are not on Mt. Sinai and you are definitely not Moses, so you can talk to me in any way that you feel comfortable and if I hear so much as one thou or thy, I swear I’m outta’ here.”
Brad raised his head and looked at his guest. He was unsure of how to proceed, so an uncomfortable (for Brad) silence filled the room. He found that when he looked at God he would be filled with euphoria. His heart would pound and every nerve ending would sing. This made it impossible to stare at him for too long. He would look at Him and then look away quickly for fear of having his heart explode in his chest. This was by no means an unpleasant feeling. In fact it was quite the opposite.
Brad moved his mouth to speak but no words would come out. He could not form any lucid thoughts in his mind. He realized he had no idea what to say.
God saw this and said “Ok. I can see you’re having a little trouble getting started so let me help you out a little bit.
Your name is Brad Avery Carslisle. You’ve always hated your middle name so you go to great pains to hide it from the rest of the world. Avery, by the way, comes from your great grandfather on your father’s side. That name was picked by your parents because your mother heard it and thought that it was a lyrical sounding name. You, however, think of the paper company whenever you here it.
Your mother was born in 1930 as Evelyn Jane Skeats. She grew up just outside Worcester, Massachusetts in a small town called Brookside. Your father, Francis Earle Carlisle (Frank to his friends), was born in 1926 in Northboro, MA. He was drafted into the service in 1942 and was sent to Egypt, where he was a sergeant in the army. He never saw any combat but he did see a lot of the after effects and some of the things he witnessed haunted him until the day he died.
Your parents met after the war at a roadside carnival in Worcester. Frank was trying to knock over milk bottles at one of the carnival booths. He was trying to win a prize for his date, a manipulative and bitter woman named Gail, when, as he cocked his arm back to give one mighty heave, he hit your mother in the head with his hand. Your mother dropped the cotton candy she was eating and turned to curse at your father. Frank was very apologetic and after making sure that she was ok offered to buy Evelyn a new cotton candy, much to his date’s disgust. (She would later say to him “You didn’t need to be so nice to that woman. She shouldn’t have got in the way in the first place.” It was at this moment that Frank decided that he would break up with Gail because he finally recognized what a horrible woman she actually was.)
Your father could not stop thinking about the woman that bore the brunt of his ill timed throw. As he walked around the carnival he surreptitiously scanned the crowd for her. Later, as he waited next to the restroom for Gail to come out, she walked by. He got her phone number and the rest, as they say, is history. He dumped Gail a week later and called your mother.
You were born on December 23rd 1965, the last of six children. Your parents were not wealthy but you always had food to eat and a roof over your heads. Your Christmas tree always had a great deal of presents under it and you had a generally happy childhood. Once, when you were twelve, you saw your neighbor’s wife naked through her bathroom window and you spent every possible moment for the next month and a half trying to see her again.”
Brad blushed at the memory and turned his head away.
You met your wife at a Halloween party that neither of you wanted to go to. She was dating an unpleasant, hirsute man that she was considering dumping at the time. You had not been involved in a relationship for a year and a half and had pretty much resigned yourself to a life of loneliness. You saw her (more precisely you saw her legs) as she was sitting on the couch talking to a friend of hers. When your eyes finally made it up to her face you thought she was the most stunning thing you had ever seen. It was the only time in your life that you actually had the nerve to walk up to a strange girl and hit on her. She thought you were funny and cute and by the end of the night she was hooked. Eighteen months later you were married.”
“All your life you have thought that good fortune was passing you by. You honestly believe that there is something out there that you were born to do. You also honestly believe that you have been too lazy and self conscious to ever try to find it.”
Brad listened to this monologue with emotions ranging from amusement to shame to embarrassment. But ultimately he listened with a warm sense of nostalgia. He knew his life had had its moments and it was heartening to hear some of them retold now.
“That’s …uh….amazing! Brad said with genuine awe in his voice
“You see, Brad” God replied “I know everything about you. I have seen everything you have done. I have heard every word you have spoken and every thought that you have had.”
Brad let this sink in for a moment. Then he started to realize, with dawning horror, what this meant. God had seen EVERYTHING!!
That couldn’t be pretty.
Every man, woman and child on the face of the earth has, while they were alone, done certain things that they aren’t exactly bragging about and Brad was no exception. He began to think back at some of his less dignified moments and started to blush. He could no longer look at God. He was ashamed and embarrassed.
God chuckled and said “Don’t worry. You haven’t done anything that I haven’t seen an infinite number of times. Sure, I wouldn’t be proud of them if I were you but it does provide me with a great deal of entertainment.”
“So you know everything about every moment of my life.”
“I know everything about every moment of everybody’s life since the dawn of time. I know every good or evil thought ever conceived. I know what desires lurk in everyone’s heart. I know everything that has happened and why.”
“Of course you do.” Brad said as the idea finally was brought home in his mind. “You’re God.”
“See that isn’t so hard to believe now is it?”
“A thought suddenly occurred to Brad. “You know when I’m going to die.” Brad said as both a question and a statement.
“Not exactly” God replied
“Not exactly?” Brad repeated a little stunned “You’re God. How can you not know?”
“That’s in the future.” God said “What your future holds depends largely on you. You have free will. Even I can’t MAKE you do anything. If I wanted to I could influence your decisions to a certain extent but for the most part I leave all of you to your own devices. As you go through your life you make decisions every day. Some are big decisions, but most are small, seemingly insignificant choices that can vastly affect your life, for both good and bad.”
Brad looked at God with the expression that someone gets when they are trying to grasp a complex issue that remains just outside their understanding.
God continued “Ok, let me put it this way. Every morning your alarm goes off at 6:00AM, right? Most days you hit the snooze button 3 or 4 times. One day, when the alarm went off you decided that you are going to get up right away and get an early start on the day. Everything else you did that morning before you left for work is the same. So as a result you ended up leaving about 5 minutes earlier than normal. Because of this you end up at an intersection on your route to work and stop at a red light. If you had left at your normal time you would have arrived at that intersection at the same time that a Dodge Durango, driven by a woman who had turned her head to look at her 3 year old daughter in the back seat, ran the red light. Because you weren’t there at that time, she didn’t hit you broad side at 39 miles per hour instantly killing you and her child. As a matter of fact, because you weren’t there she went through the intersection unscathed and considered herself lucky.
In addition because there was no accident, a paramedic named Jim, was not summoned to the scene and he did not see the mangled remains of the 3 year old who was not properly buckled into her car seat. And because of this he was not haunted by this vision for the next several years. And because he was not haunted by this, he, instead of going to his therapist’s office one day, was at a wedding reception for his sister and he met a woman who would eventually become his wife.”
So you see, almost every choice that you make can alter not only your future, but the futures of any number of people. I don’t tell you to get up right away or to hit the snooze button. I decided a long time ago that mankind would always have the power to make its own decisions. It’s one of the things that I enjoy so much about you, your unpredictability.”
“Did this actually happen to me?” Brad asked incredulously
“Seven years ago on June 18th.” God replied matter-of-factly
Brad was staggered by this revelation. How many times had he made some innocuous decision that saved his life? Or saved someone else’s, or cost someone their life? It was almost too much to absorb. The possibilities were endless.
“This happens every day?” Brad asked still unnerved
“Well….not every decision has such dramatic impact on your life. Some decisions are the difference between buying a scratch ticket and winning $2 and buying a scratch ticket and winning $4. The point is that all of the decisions that you make, big and small, affect the way your life turns out. If I knew exactly which decisions you will make every day I could, in fact, tell you when you are going to die. But because you have free will I cannot predict what decisions you will make.
Think of your life as an extraordinarily complex flow chart. Each decision leads you to a different point on the chart until ultimately you make a choice that will result in the end of your life. Whether that means that you will be killed in a car accident or hit by a stray bullet or fall into a well or simply die of old age. Every choice leads you on a path and that path will eventually lead you to heaven.”
“That’s …..uh…th…That’s incredible.” Brad said with amazement “so you can tell me everything about…uh….anything?
“Ok. Well I guess I have to ask the obvious question.” Brad said “Why are we here?”
God smiled “I’m afraid the answer to that might be just a little disappointing”
Brad was excited at the thought of finally finding out the answer to a question that has plagued mankind since the beginning. He looked at God with barely contained anticipation.
“You are here simply because I wanted you here.” God said
Brad was a little crestfallen. It seemed a little too mundane.
God noticed this but shrugged his shoulders as if to say I’m sorry but that’s it.
After a beat Brad accepted this easier than he thought he would. He considered all the possible answers to that question and he came to realize that this one felt the most….right.
Another thought came to Brad. “So the creationists are right and the evolutionists are wrong. That’s gonna cause some people some sleepless nights.” He said with amusement
“Not so fast.” God answered “The problem with mankind is that so many people see everything in black and white. Nothing is ever that cut and dried. The fact is that both of those groups are right.”
“Huh?” was all Brad could say
“Tell me something. What do the evolutionists say created the Earth?”
“Well…They say that there was an explosion that created the universe and everything else was a product of natural occurrences. Mankind evolved from whatever material was created by the Big Bang………More or less.”
“And what about creationists? What is their point of view?”
“I guess that they believe that Go…uh….YOU… created the heaven and earth in seven days and then…uh….the Garden of Eden and …uh… Adam and Eve….umm….and all mankind kind came from them.” Brad was a little embarrassed by his lack of biblical knowledge
“Well.” God started “Here is the real truth. The evolutionists got it right for the most part. Before there was this thing that you call a universe there was Heaven. It is where I exist. By the way in case you were wondering I have always existed. I am without time. There was no beginning of me. I was not born. I did not have parents or an adolescence or reach puberty and I do not age. I am infinite.”
Brad looked at him with awe.
“Pretty cool huh?” God paused for a moment and took another swig of his beer.
“Soooo” he continued “I was just metaphorically sitting around Heaven and I decided to create. So I initiated the “Big Bang”. I set the whole thing in motion knowing full well what the result would be. I knew that life would grow, life in all of the forms that you are familiar with as well as some life that would, quite frankly, boggle your mind. I knew that some of that life would evolve to become mankind. So the evolutionists were correct in saying that man evolved from apes.
However, the problem with evolutionists is that a lot of them believe that because science has proven that the universe began with the big bang that means that I do not exist. You see for some of them it was a black and white issue. If the big bang happened then there was no God. Kind of silly when you think about it”
“What about Adam and Eve and the whole created man in his own image thing.” Brad asked
“Heh” God scoffed “You are, of course, referring to the Bible. Well…. there are a few….well…let’s just say… inaccuracies in that little piece of literature. First of all I didn’t create Heaven. Heaven, like me, is timeless and infinite. It has just always been. As far as the Garden of Eden is concerned…pure fiction. I couldn’t create man in my own image because I have no image. What you see before you now is just an illusion, a picture that I have created for you so that you can better handle my presence. I really have no form. I am everywhere.
Man has evolved, on Earth anyway, due to what you call natural causes. I set the wheel in motion and just let it roll. You look the way you do because that is just the way it turned out. Now I must confess that I did do some tweaking here and there but for the most part you evolved on your own, without divine intervention.
Getting back to the Bible, you have to understand that the bible, in all it’s forms whether you call it the Bible or the Torah or the Quran, was written by man. It was a way for people in the early days to cope with life on this planet. Without the scientific advances that you have today they had to find a way to put there minds at ease. So they wrote this book to give them a sense of purpose in the world. It was a way to deal with the tragedy that naturally occurs. A tree is struck by lightning and falls on an innocent child. This must be part of God’s plan.
There was no Adam, no Eve, no forbidden fruit, no snake and certainly no such thing as original sin. That is one thing that really irks me. The idea that a baby is burdened with sin until he or she is baptized is one of the more bizarre beliefs that you people have come up with.” God shook his head at the foolishness of the thought.
“Speaking of sin” Brad said “I’ve always wondered, what sins would keep someone out of Heaven?
“You’re assuming, of course, that a person, after they die, either goes to heaven or hell correct?”
“Well….yeah, I kind of thought that since you exist there must be a place to send the rapists, the child molesters, the killers and the rest of the generally bad people” Brad said and then quickly added “If there isn’t then I’m going to be verrrrry disappointed because it wouldn’t be fair that, if I live a good, honest and decent life with the idea that I will be rewarded after my death, I would be sharing the same dorm room in heaven with Adolph Hitler.”
God laughed heartily “…sharing a dorm room in Heaven with Hitler, I like that. That should be an album title for a heavy metal band. Don’t you think?” God chuckled
When his laughter died down God said “So you believe that Adolph Hitler should be in hell?”
“Of course” Brad said indignantly
“Sorry to tell you this but he is indeed in Heaven.”
“How can that be!!” Brad shouted “He murdered millions of people just because they were different from him! He tortured and maimed women and children because he thought they were less than human!! Brad was beginning to feel sick.
“Settle down” God said good-naturedly “I’ll try to explain. First of all you have to do away with the notion that there is a place called Hell.”
Brad was startled by this revelation.
“That’s right” God continued “No hell. Hell was another invention by man as a means of trying to keep the masses in line. Religious leaders wanted to control people so they used one of mankind’s most primal emotions; fear. They created the idea of a fiery pit of torment out of whole cloth with the sole intention of controlling the actions of their congregation, while, ironically, they themselves were some of the most disgusting human beings ever.
Now, as far as Hitler is concerned he is, as I said, in Heaven. But here’s the thing, while he was alive he was a monster. He did all of the things that you said. However, he honestly had no idea that what he was doing was wrong. Like you said he killed, tortured and maimed countless men woman and children but he thought that he was justified in doing this. Even on his deathbed he felt no contrition, no remorse. However when he died and was sent to my neck of the woods he suddenly gained complete consciousness. He felt the pain and suffering of every person he hurt. He felt the anguish of every family member of those he killed and he felt the agony of every person who had to witness his atrocities.
Imagine getting to heaven and feeling boundless joy. Imagine feeling unbridled euphoria beyond your wildest imaginations and then imagine having it all stripped away and replaced by ultimate sorrow, ultimate pain and ultimate desperation. THAT..is what Hitler felt and will feel for all eternity. The pain is bad enough but the pain is infinitely worse after you have felt the ecstasy of Heaven and realize that you will never feel it again.
So, all of the people that you consider “Hell-worthy” are actually in Heaven. But their existence there is painful. You have heard the phrase “Hell on earth”? Well for folks like Hitler, Pol Pot, Jeffery Dahmer and their ilk, they exist in a sort of “Hell in Heaven.”
“What about people who were not exactly upstanding citizens but didn’t commit mass genocide?” Brad asked
“Just about everyone in Heaven have a certain number of sins to atone for.” God answered “All of them will feel the pain they have caused. All of them will suffer for their transgressions. But there are certain degrees of suffering. Think of it like jail. The sins you commit bring with them a penalty. There are varying degrees of sin and much like your penal system on earth, there are varying degrees of punishment. If someone is caught for speeding, they get a ticket pay a fine and get on with their lives. However, if a person kills another in anger they get life in prison. It kind of works the same way in Heaven. If you commit a minor sin, let’s say…..stealing a pack of gum from the local convenience store, you will be punished in Heaven. However that punishment will be short lived and not very severe. On the other hand if you’re Adolph Hitler, you get the Heavenly life sentence. Pain and suffering for all eternity.”
Brad hesitated to ask the question that now formed in his mind but he pressed on anyway. “How long am I going to have to suffer?”
“Well, if you were to die right now, I’d say not very long. You are a good and decent person. You usually try to the right things in all situations and anytime that you have given in to committing a sin you feel bad about it later and wish that you could go back and do it over. If you live to be 100, then who knows. It depends on what choices you make between now and then.”
“I’m really curious, what is considered a sin and what isn’t?” Brad asked “I mean…we’re told from early on that certain things are sins and we should never do them but I see people do them everyday.”
“Like what?” asked God
“Well, let’s just start with the Ten Commandments.”
God smiled “Can you even name all 10?”
Brad blushed “Well, I bet I could crank out about 6 or 7 of them.”
God laughed again “I’m sure you could but it won’t be necessary. I never gave Moses any stone tablets. That again was a creation of man. In a well intentioned effort to bring his flock together, Moses himself carved the stone tablets with those laws. I did speak with Moses on Mt. Sinai and told him what message I wanted him to bring to his people but I never gave him any hard and fast rules. He took it upon himself to write his own rules down. Now having said that, I must admit that he did a pretty good job of creating laws that gave people a way to live and worship, and as I said, he did it with the best of intentions. He was a good man.”
Brad, again was shocked. “So those laws don’t apply? We can do pretty much anything we want? That’s a little depressing.”
“No, you can’t do anything you want and not pay the price later.”
“So again, what is a sin?”
“How about you give me examples and I’ll tell you whether it’s a sin or not.”
”Ok, fair enough” Brad stood up and began pacing around the room thinking
“Let’s start with the big ones, killing?”
“Intent and remorse. If you kill someone by accident then the answer is no, not a sin. If you kill someone on purpose then yes it is a sin and you will have to pay for that in the afterlife. However, if you kill someone intentionally but feel remorseful about it then you punishment in Heaven will be less severe.”
Ok, then what about taking the Lords na…uh…your name in vain?”
“If that’s the worst thing you ever do then you’re way ahead of the game. Most people when they say something like “God-Damn it” they are not even thinking about me. It’s just an expression; kind of like saying shit or fuck.
Brad nearly spit out his beer upon hearing the Lord say the “S” word AND the “F” word. “What about sex?”
“What about it?” God took another sip of his beer
“Is sex a sin?” Brad asked
“No” God replied simply
“What about pre-marital sex?
“Really?” Brad was incredulous “Not even sex just for pleasure, I mean sex without the intent of procreation.”
“Sex is a natural function of the human animal. To deem it a sin is to go against nature. Besides why would it be pleasurable if it was something I didn’t want you to take part in? If I didn’t want you to have sex for any reason other than to continue the species I would have stepped in and altered your makeup so that it would be a chore instead of a desire.”
“What about masturbation?” The question was out of his mouth before he could stop it and he once again blushed and turned away.
“Same rules apply for that.” God said with amusement
Brad paused a moment to think of another question. He was really warming up to this idea now.
A question leapt into his head “What about homosexuality?” Brad was sure there would be some issue with this.
“Ahhhh….I had a feeling this would come up. It never ceases to amaze me how worked up you people can get over something that really has no effect on you. People that are attracted to members of the same sex are no different than you. They can’t control what sex they are attracted to any more than you can. Let me ask you a question. Why are you sexually attracted to women?”
Brad thought for a moment and finally said “I don’t know …… I just am.”
“Exactly. Why would it be different for anyone else?”
“Well if that’s the case than it is ok for an adult to be attracted to little children or have sex with animals or just go out and rape anyone they wanted just because they don’t have any control over it.” Brad was getting a little bit angry. The thought of pedophilia and bestiality being “ok” with God made him physically ill.
God smiled another one of those infinitely patient smiles “Believe me, the type of people you are talking about make me as sick as they do you. I have no patience for people who take advantage of the helpless for there own pleasure or to validate their sense of power. They may be told that they can’t control these urges but the fact of the matter is that they can; they just choose not to. People that have relationships with members of the same sex have one thing that pedophiles and rapists don’t; consent. People who have molested children or raped women are punished in Heaven severely.”
Brad was relieved. He quickly moved on to another sin.
“What about stealing?”
“Pretty much a sin in all cases. Again, don’t forget, if you have remorse for committing this or any other sin it will reduce your punishment.”
Brad was going to continue to rattle of indiscretion after indiscretion to see if some of the things he had done in his life would put him in the Heavenly penalty box when another, more interesting question stuck him “What is Heaven like?”
“Well, it’s kind of hard to describe so that you will understand. Most of the folks in Heaven don’t have a form or body. Keep in mind that it is your soul that makes its way to the hereafter not your body. However when you first arrive in Heaven you will perceive yourself and everyone else as a body; it helps you to adjust from a bodily existence to a spiritual one. For example, when you die and make your way up you will have a chance to reunite with anyone that you want. They will appear to you as you remember them. Your father, for instance, will look like he did when you last saw him.”
“I’ll be able to talk to him?” Brad asked as his eyes grew watery
“Of course. It is one of the perks of dying.”
“You said that most people don’t have bodies. Do you eventually stop seeing the people that are there?”
“Yes and no. You will always see everyone in Heaven but after you have been there a while you will stop seeing them with your eyes and start seeing them on a more spiritual level. Like I said, it’s kind of hard to explain”
“What about the landscape? Is it like a beautiful green land or is it just like a bed of clouds or…uh...what?
“You’re trying to apply earthly concepts to a completely spiritual place. Heaven is not as much a place as a state of mind. I know that sounds kind of new age-y and crunchy but it’s really the only way to describe it.”
“What do you do there?”
“That’s an excellent question. You can watch over the people that you left behind on earth, you can replay your entire life and see the things that you did right and wrong, you can replay just the highlights of your life or, because you will be happy and at complete peace, you really don’t need to do anything at all, but a lot of people spend time getting the answers to all of life’s mysteries; or to all of their personal mysteries.”
“What do you mean by personal mysteries?”
“Well, say you wanted to know how many pens that you lost in your life of which girl secretly loved you in high school that you never knew about, all of the answers to these and a trillion other questions will be at you finger tips. Most people find it fascinating.”
Brad smiled at the thought. He found it, in a strange way, heartwarming to be able to see everything he did on earth played out for him on an ESPN like highlight reel.
Brad and God continued talking for hour after hour. (At least it would have been hour after hour if time were actually moving at that point) Brad peppered God with question after question about life and the afterlife. God imparted an amazing amount of information on Brad; from things as mundane as where his wife lost her favorite watch (it fell off her nightstand and into the trash and was subsequently thrown out) to things as ridiculous as is there an area 51 and have aliens landed on this planet (No to both) to many things political like who killed JFK (the Johnson administration had a hand in it but not the president himself) and where is Jimmy Hoffa (alive and well and living in the Caribbean)
Brad was giddy with the knowledge that he gleaned from the almighty. So many questions were answered and he felt that he could now live the rest of his life in peace.