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No one was more surprised than me to meet God. I had grown up in a Christian home and attended church faithfully as a child, but God had always been a remote and unapproachable figure to me. I knew about God, and I prayed to God, but I could never really say that I had heard anything from God. Some people with whom I went to church assured me that God had said all that he had to say to mankind in the Bible, but I had read most of it and somehow I never believed this could be true. There were too many unanswered questions between the first book and the last. Other people told me that if I listened when I prayed, I could hear God talking to me, but I listened intently during my prayers and never heard a thing except my mind playing catch with itself. This all changed one night in a hotel room. At the time, I was a traveling consultant and spent many a night on the road. On this particular night, I was catching up on some work in the room, when I heard a knock on my door. I was slightly irritated at the interruption because I knew I hadn't ordered room service and hadn't reported anything out of order. Nevertheless, I grudgingly got up from the desk and opened the door. I saw an old man with a white beard who looked totally out of place. He looked to be around 80 and wore an old-style solid gray suit with a black tie. His face was wrinkled, but he had a look of both weariness and kindness on his face. "Yes, sir, may I help you?", I asked. "Hello, Wayne", he said, "I've been wanting to talk to you for a while; I'm sorry it has taken me so long to get around to it." I was perplexed. I didn't recognize this man and had no idea how he knew my name. So I asked, "Sir, have we met?" He smiled knowingly and explained, "I'm God and I know from your prayers that you have a lot of questions, so I thought I would drop by after all these years to finally answer them." There was a moment of silence as my thoughts raced. It seemed like an hour, but was probably only a second or two. I must admit that my first thought was that a crazy person had chanced upon the hotel and had overheard my colleagues call me by name in the lobby. Then I thought that maybe some of my fellow consultants had put the old man up to this for a laugh. But, for some reason, I couldn't stop the next thing from spilling out of my mouth: "Please come in." "Please have a seat", I offered, "can I get you something to drink?" "No, thank you", he replied as he sat down on the sofa. I sat on the chair facing the sofa and looked at him. He looked back at me as if I were a long lost family member whom he had not seen for a very long time. He said, "So about your questions, please ask away." After all my years of searching you would think that I would have been ready for this moment, but I could hardly form a question. "I don't know where to start, really", I apologized. "Start wherever you please", he implored. I breathed a heavy breath and started with a default, "Ok. My first question: Why?" He gazed at me expectantly. "Why anything?", I continued. "Why a universe? Why a world? Why this world? Why am I here?" The man smiled and said simply, "Because it pleased me to make it all. The universe, the world, and you are here because it pleased me to make them and you."
"But why did it please you?" "I had time and energy on my hands and the thing to do with time and energy is to create something, right?" "Well, I guess that makes sense, but why a universe, why a world like this?" "Because it was the best I could do at the time. Believe me, I've learned a lot from the experience." "The best you could do? You mean that you couldn't create a better world than this? Something a little more perfect?" "It all depends on what you mean by 'perfect'. The world certainly 'worked' before humans showed up and it continues to work now, but humans have certainly complicated things." "Then why did you create humans? Didn't you know we were going to wreak havoc on the world?" "No, I didn't. I thought that by including the emergence of intelligence into the fabric of the universe that it would help sustain the world. But I was mistaken. As I said, I learned a lot in the process." "I'm having a hard time with the thought that you learn. Please pardon my bluntness, but it just doesn't seem very God-like to me." "Oh, I learn all the time. I've made my share of mistakes." I let that one sink in for a minute. "How can you make mistakes? I thought you were all-knowing and all-powerful." "Now where did you get an idea like that?" I thought about this, searching my mind and finally said, "From the Bible. Doesn't it say those things about you?" "No", he said simply, "the Bible recounts many mistakes that I have made. Don't you remember the story of the flood? I said that I had made a mistake ever creating man. Does that sound like something a person who doesn't make mistakes would say?" "Well, no", I had to admit. "So the world is a mistake? Do you regret making it and making mankind?" "On my better days, no. I still have hope for the world. On my darker days, I do have doubts about the wisdom of creating it. I had such great hopes for mankind, but I just couldn't foresee at the time how things would turn out." "But, if you're not happy about the way things have turned out, why don't you fix it? You have the power, right?" "Unfortunately, no. I don't have the power to 'fix' the world." "But you're God," I interjected, "you have the power to create the world, but not the power to fix it?" "I have the power to do some things, but I'm as subject to the law of unintended consequences as
anyone. I've tried a lot of things. I destroyed everyone except for Noah and his family, trying to start again, as it were, but that didn't work out well. I tried threatening and raging through prophets, but that only scared people into behaving better for a while. I tried sending more loving messages through later prophets, and that helped, but not enough. I'm open to new ideas; do you have any?" I was temporarily stunned that God would actually be asking my advice, but finally I said, "I've had some ideas over the years, but I'm just a human, I can't believe you wouldn't have thought of the things I have." "As I said, I'm open. Give it your best shot." "Ok", I started tentatively. "How about just talking to people, just like you're talking to me now. Just sit down and talk to people. Tell them who you are and how you'd like things to be." "Yes, I have thought of that and tried it for the last few years. The problem is that for every one person like you who would give me an audience, there are a hundred thousand who simply shut the door in my face. They think I'm some crazy person, and, to be honest, I'm surprised that you didn't." My face flushed slightly. "I have to admit the thought crossed my mind." I could see his point, though. I couldn't really explain why I had asked him in, but I could easily imagine the reaction of many other people to his showing up at their door. I took another stab. "Alright, then, what about a larger audience. You know Larry King, right? I'm sure he would love to interview you." God chuckled. "I do know Larry, but I'm afraid I'd have to wait behind Barack Obama and Paris Hilton. Besides that, think about it for a minute. Larry brings on an old man who claims to be God. Maybe I could even do a few magic tricks. People would probably change the channel to 'Dog the Bounty Hunter' or 'Mindfreak'" "Why not just boom your voice over the whole world, talk to everyone at once in a loud voice from the sky?" "That might have some effect" he said simply. "But even if I did, what would people make of it? Why would they believe a voice from the sky? I can only imagine the conspiracy theories that it would beget. 'The Americans are using secret satellite technology to try to control the world' and the like. I've dealt with people for a long time. I'm sure cults would start to form, but I don't think it would change the world in any permanent way." I was running out of ideas. "So what do you plan to do? What's the next step?" "You're seeing it. My last idea is just to seek people out who have sought me out, answer their questions and ask them to talk to others. So let's talk some more about your questions." Ok. Let's talk about the Bible then. Is it all true?" "Much of it. The writers got it seriously wrong in places, though, and they included books that had no earthly business being in there." "So the fundamentalists are sort of right?"
"About some things, yes. About some other things, though, they are terribly mistaken." "Like what?" "Like all the things about my being all-knowing and all-powerful and having a perfect plan. Things that the Bible doesn't say at all. If I were all those things and had some kind of perfect plan, how could anyone explain the present state of your world or the things that have happened in it to this point?" "It would be hard to explain", I had to agree. He continued, "Most of the things that are said about me these days are products of human imagination and have very little to do with what's said in the Bible. Mixing ideas from my children the Greeks with a little bit of the Enlightenment thrown in. One thing I will say about humans that has surprised me: they have imaginations beyond what I would have ever expected." "So you really didn't know how all this was going to turn out?" "No. The early scribes tell you very clearly on more than a few occasions that I was shocked and disappointed at how things turned out." I couldn't argue. As I thought about it, I remembered the story about God "repenting" that he had made man right before the flood. I also remembered the story in Exodus where God regretted leading the people out of Egypt and threatened to destroy them. Moses had to talk him out of it. It was all there, but somehow I had glossed over those parts. I, like most people, sometimes see what I want to see. "Ok, so if much of the Bible is true and some of it isn't, let's talk about which parts are true and which aren't." "Fire away." "What about the stories in the Jewish scripture about you ordering the Israelites to slaughter the other people in their vicinity? Are those true?" God's face turned down. "Some of them are just legends, but many of them are true. And in hindsight, I have to say, that I'm ashamed of some of the things I ordered. I had no idea how frustrating working with humans was going to be. And like any parent, I let my temper get the best of me. I didn't want all those nations surrounding my chosen people to influence them or cause them to worship idols. I tried to raise up prophets in the other nations to get them to listen to me, but the fools just wouldn't listen. Only Abraham, Moses and others like them got the picture, so finally I just got fed up and told the Israelites to kill all of the others who got in their way. I wanted the people who worshiped me to prosper at any cost. I'm not proud of it now, but that's the way it happened. I should have been more patient." "But your people worshiped idols too, didn't they?" I asked. "Yes, they did. And I didn't like it one bit, but I put up with it for a while. Whenever I got mad at the Israelites for worshiping me and their idols, I thought about the good ones like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses and thought to myself that if only a few kept the faith and prospered that the others would eventually catch on. Of course, they didn't. But I had faith in them and made excuses for them for a long time. Eventually, there were fewer and fewer who were faithful and the others became so evil, especially the kings after David, that I lost my temper again and just let the Assyrians and Babylonians come in and destroy or plunder the lot of them. Again, not something I'm proud of, but there it is."
"But you eventually let the Israelites come home and start again, why?", I asked. "For a few reasons. Once they got hauled off to Babylon, the people got a real dose of religion. They finally understood that I was serious about them only worshiping me and they took it to heart. The other reason is that one of my children from Persia, a king named Cyrus, talked me into it. Cyrus knew who I was, even though he called me a funny Persian name, Ahura Mazda, or something cute like that. He was a one of the few good ones outside of Israel. Anyway, the story is that I eventually got fed up with the Babylonians and told Cyrus to take them out. He did as I ordered which pleased me greatly. Then one night Cyrus and I were talking and he said that he thought I had been a little rough on the Israelites. That, after all, they were just people and I was expecting way too much from them. People are dense, he told me, and sometimes it takes a 2x4 across the head before they get the message. He said that he thought the Israelites got the message and that it was time to let them go home and start again. Hearing him talk so compassionately about them, made me feel like an ogre, so I agreed to let him release them and send them back to Israel to try again." "So you let them start again. How do you think they did?" "They did well for quite a while. They made mistakes, but overall I think they deserve a good grade." "What kind of mistakes?" "Well, this one had been building up for a while, but they developed an obsession about sacrifices and the temple. Even though my prophets told them that I was much more interested in the attitudes of their hearts than sacrifices, many of them had this idea stuck in their heads that I was some kind of legal stickler about covenants and that what I cared about most was ritual purity and sacrifices." "But sacrifices were such an integral part of the Hebrew scriptures, how could it be that you didn't care that much about them?" "Sacrifices were food. The people had to eat and so when they took the lives of animals, I wanted them to recognize that killing animals for food was not an insignificant thing. The animals lives were taken so that the humans could live. The first priests were butchers. They knew how to prepare animals for eating. That's how it started anyway. As time went on, the Israelites started to understand this, but they also attached other meanings to the sacrifices like the idea that the sacrifices were in some way atoning for their sins against me and one another. I had no problem with their symbolism and encouraged it for a while. In a very real way, the animals were atoning for their sins. Even though the animals were innocents and the people were not, the people got to live and the animals did not. The animals gave their life for the people. But always remember what I said first, sacrifices were food. "As time went on, the Israelites could not keep that simple understanding. As humans are prone to do, they developed an entire institution around it. The priests became 'holy men' who thought they had the only direct access to me. As a result, the people began to think that they could bring the sacrifices, get their sins forgiven and go on living however they wanted. It's at that point, I became disgusted with the whole thing. I thought I would let them have a little institution and nothing would be harmed by it, but, alas, as had happened so many times before, I miscalculated." I was still not entirely comfortable with the idea of God miscalculating and making mistakes, but here he was telling me that this was so. But then a disturbing thought occurred to me. God saw the question on my lips before I spoke it.
"But if sacrifices are unimportant, what about Jesus' death? Wasn't Jesus' death a sacrifice for our sins? My sins?" For the first time during the conversation, I saw a look of discomfort bordering on anger in God's face. Finally, he said, "No. And anyone who says so has totally misunderstood what happened to Jesus." "But what about Paul, the Book of Hebrews...It's all over the New Testament...how can you say that Jesus' death was not a sacrifice for human sin?" "I told you before that much of the Bible was correct. On this point, however, the authors who said this about Jesus were wrong", he said sternly. "I did not want or need Jesus to be tortured and murdered for anyone's sins. People may think a lot of bad things about me, but to my mind that is the worst. What kind of a father do they think I am?" I said, "But Paul said you were holy and and couldn't stand the sight of sin. That you needed the perfect sacrifice to be able to forgive us our sins. In Hebrews, it says that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Have can you forgive us without the sacrifice?" "Like this." God raised his hand and stretched it out toward me. "Take my hand", he motioned. Slowly, I reached out my hand, trembling, towards his and grasped it. I felt an indescribable warmth and power in his grasp. He said, "Wayne, I forgive you." I could feel nothing but warmth. My soul which had been frozen melted like an ice cube thrown into the sun. At this point, I could hardly think a coherent thought. My mind was spinning and God must have seen it in my face. He continued more gently, "Paul and the others simply misunderstood. They thought that Jesus' death was some kind of sacrifice needed to placate my anger. It was my fault in a way, letting the sacrificial system go on for too long. But Paul set me up as some kind of half-wit who had to set up a legal fiction to forgive people. As if a human sacrifice would blind me to the fact that people were imperfect and had sinned against each other and against me. As if the torture and death of one of my precious children would fool me into thinking that you were all pure as the driven snow. Do I look that dumb to you?" Finally the tension broke and the last line made me laugh gently. "No", I answered. "You don't." "Jesus knew that I was done with sacrifices and that I didn't want anyone to think they could get an inch closer to me by sacrificing anything least of all one of my children. That's the reason he became angry and began clearing the Temple in Jerusalem. Somehow he felt my anger over the sacrificial system as if it were his own. To put it bluntly, he went berserk as he felt every ounce of my anger over the way the powerful had turned an eating ritual into a a system of exploitation. I'm not proud of it now, but to tell you the truth, I felt nothing but joy as I watched him rip through the Temple. I felt all the joy a father feels when his son does his will. I said to myself 'Finally!'" "But then what does Jesus' death mean?", I asked with resignation. "It means that when you stand up to the powerful and threaten their livelihood and control of people, you can't expect to live long." We sat silently for a few minutes.
Finally, I said, "Tell me more about Jesus?" God smiled sincerely at me with a deep gaze and then asked "What would you like to know?" "Who was Jesus? What was he doing? What was his purpose? Was he human? Was he born of a virgin? Is he the Messiah? Is he God? Was he sinless? Is he coming again?" "Wow", God winked, "now those are some heavy questions. Let me try to take them one at a time." "Jesus is special. My son and my pride and joy as you might have gathered from reading the Gospels. He was very much human but had such a resemblance to me and was so full of my spirit that even I was surprised to see him when he appeared." I unconsciously gasped. Slowly the words formed on my lips, "You..didn't know that he was coming?" "It's sort of hard to explain, but, no, I didn't. I knew it was possible for him to appear and thought eventually he would, but I didn't know he was going to show up when he did. I had had other children who showed up unexpectedly as well, but none of them had so much of my spirit as him." "Other children?" I asked. "Yes", he explained. "The one you call the Buddha, the prophet Zoroaster and Albert Schweitzer are examples. All of them shown with a special light, but Jesus, as I said, was special. He understood me as none of the others fully did. They saw glimpses, he saw the whole sh-bang." "In what way?" "He understood that I loved humanity and while I did become angry with humans from time to time, and did things I regretted, that my overwhelming emotion in my best moments was love and empathy for humans. He knew that I really didn't give a lick about sacrifices. All I wanted was for people to live compassionately and to take care of each other." "So that's it. You want us to take care of each other?" "That's it." "God, I have one last question." "Shoot."
"Why am I here? Why did you create me?" "Ah, now you've asked a good question. I hope I don't disappoint you with my answer, but you are here because your parents had you." I laughed. "Sir, I know that. But for what purpose am I here?" "I'm afraid I can't answer that." "Why not?"
"Because that is a question only you can answer."
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