Perhaps I was coming in to my parenthood at the time I wrote this. Or perhaps I’d just grown up a bit, but I envisioned a dialog between the hard-working, wise, and practical God and his youthful, idealistic son regarding the events of Jesus visit to Earth, and his crucifixion and resurrection. The Last Time was the result.
A big surprise I had from this story was how well it was received by the religious members of my family and friends. My parents reworked it slightly into a performance dialog that has been shown several times to their church congregation with great success. Whether you’re religious or not, Christian or not, I hope you enjoy my Easter offering, The Last Time.
Lightning flashed in the heavens, stabbing viciously at the helpless ground below. The bank of dark storm clouds flickered brightly like a celebrity caught in the machinegun fire of paparazzi cameras. Above the clouds, somewhat higher in space and reality, a heated discussion was occurring.
“That’s it! I’m finished. I’m not going to do it again! I absolutely will not go down there pulling Your ass out of the fire another time. If You get yourself into trouble again don’t come begging to Me. I don’t know why I did it this time — three days I sat here thinking; should I, shouldn’t I? In the end I did it for Your mother, bless her heart — she makes a mean gefilte fish. But that’s it, that’s all. That was the last time!”
“Come on dad, I haven’t needed that much help.”
“Shall I remind You?”
“First, the birth…”
“Which went fine.”
“Which was a disaster.”
“Did you think to look for a stable family…”
“They were fine!”
“…or at least a family that was at home…”
“They found something.”
“…instead of traveling during the busiest time of the year?”
“It was fine, dad; warm, comfortable.”
“It was a barn! And they were lucky to find that!”
“It was fine. I don’t know why You keep bringing it up.”
“Next was the whole child of prophecy thing; the star, the choir of angels, the three wise men. All fine and dandy, but You forgot that it wasn’t only the good people watching.”
“That couldn’t be helped, dad. The whole world deserved the same chance, I couldn’t be selective.”
“So I had to save Your newly mortal ass from Harrods’s purge.”
“That hardly counts! I wasn’t even a year old. Anyway, what were You doing letting people like that in power?”
“It’s their choice, not mine. Anyway, I was happy when You finally settled down for a while to grow up, but then what happened? You start calling out Rabbis and tearing up synagogues! Do You know what it took to keep that quiet.”
“They were making a mockery of You, of everything You taught them!”
“They wanted to string You up right there, and rightfully so! You can’t just go busting up places of worship — people take that very seriously.”
“But dad, they were doing business there!”
“That’s their choice! I had to rearrange continental politics for a few years to hold them off You and You still walked around all ‘holier-than-thou’”.
“I was helping them, dad, healing the sick, feeding the poor…”
“And then finally, I had to bail You out of this mess. Do You know how worried your mother was? Did You give any thought to her feelings before You went and got yourself crucified?”
“Come on dad…”
“I hope, at least, that You had a good reason for doing all this.”
There was an uncomfortable silence, Jesus looked around, to the distant stars, to the other planes of existence, and, finally, sadly, at the ground. A single tear fell from his eye to the otherworldly surface below. Looking up, He slowly answered, “There was so much violence and hate and suffering, I needed to bring them love, give them a sense that someone cared.”
“Do you think You’re Eros or something? You just wanted to bring them love? Since when is that Our job? I had hoped for something a little more substantial.”
“And…I just…I needed to understand what it was like…”
“Jesus H. Christ! Who do You think you are, Buddha? You’re omniscient! What in the name of Lucifer’s minions did You think You needed to learn?”
“I needed to feel it, first hand. I had to know what it was like, dad, all that suffering. There’s just so much pain and sorrow down there, I had to know.”
Like a gas giant deflating into the cold of space, God gave a great sigh, “You know, much of it they have caused themselves.”
“Do they cause the droughts? Do they cause the famines? Do they cause the diseases?”
“Well, yes in many ways.”
“Only because You don’t teach them otherwise. Really dad, how can You treat them like that — even Your chosen ones! I thought You loved them, how can You stand to see them that way?”
“You’re young, You wouldn’t understand.”
Now it was God’s turn to pause. He turned from Jesus and walked up the few stairs to His blindingly white throne, sitting himself slowly on its well-worn seat. He often came here to sit and think when the weight of the universe became too much. It reminded Him that He was still the ruler of creation, even if He didn’t always feel that way.
Slowly, God turned back to Jesus, “Son, it’s precisely because I love them that I must leave them to their own devices.”
“What the hell does that mean? Some excuse for being lazy?”
“Far from it, son. When You grow older You will realize that sometimes watching, doing nothing, is the hardest decision You can make. But sometimes it is necessary.”
“I don’t understand.”
God sat quietly for a moment before shuffling positions in his throne. After a few minutes He gave up trying to get comfortable and continued, “They must learn to find the path themselves. If You learn nothing else from Me, I hope You learn this one thing.”
“You mean You can’t help them?”
“I mean that the best way to help them, is to leave them to themselves. Either they will find the way, or they won’t.”
“You mean, I can’t tell them anything: how to cure disease, how to end suffering, how to create peace on Earth…”
“I’m saying, You can tell them what You want, but until they learn it for themselves, they won’t really understand. And until they truly understand, the knowledge will be useless at best, abused by the powerful in the worst case.”
Jesus shook His head violently, “I can’t believe that, I can’t accept it.”
“Jesus! It’s crucially important that You understand this.”
God fidgeted on His throne for a few more minutes while Jesus stood defiantly staring at Him. With an effort of infinite patience, God tried again to explain, “Listen. When I head off to the great void…”
“Dad, don’t talk like that, You still have eons ahead of You.”
“That’s not the point, We all go sometime. We’re gods, but that doesn’t make Us immune from physics; entropy catches Us all sometime. So, like I was saying, when I go to the great void beyond the veil I need to know that there is someone here who can carry on my work, keep things running smoothly so to speak. Not someone who is going to send everything to Satan in a hand-basket.”
“Dad, I won’t sell the farm to Satan…”
“You will, if You don’t understand,” God insisted. “If You’re not careful Satan will take everything and then the universe will really be in trouble.”
Jesus suddenly seemed very interested in the dirt under His fingernails. He picked at it with great attention scraping out little bits of blood and soil that remained from His three-day ordeal.
“Did you hear me?” God asked, “You don’t want Satan getting his meat hooks into creation.”
“He’s not so bad,” Jesus said, under His breath.
“What? What was that?” God sputtered.
“I said ‘he’s not so bad.’”
“He’s… not so… he’s not so bad? He’s not so bad! Did I hear You right? He’s not so bad! He’s only been trying to undermine all My work since the beginning of time. Not so bad! What could possibly give You the idea that he’s not so bad?”
“I spoke with him,” Jesus answered, quietly.
“You what! You spoke with him. Are You crazy! When did this happen?”
“I met with him in the desert,” Jesus said, staring at his hands.
“And what forked tongued sweet-nothings did he whisper in Your ear?”
“It wasn’t like that. He wanted to help them, wanted Me to help them.”
“I suppose he offered You the world? Just take over, make everything right. That was it, wasn’t it?’
“That’s always his answer. Make everything right, force them to do the right things: stop their wars, put food on their tables, bring peace and love. And what does that solve, hmm, can You answer that, can You?”
“Well, at least they would be happy!” Jesus said, with a surge of defiance.
“And there would be enough food for all, there would be no poverty, no wars, no famines, no plagues, none of the stuff You love!” He said, in a final defiant cord that hung in the suddenly still air.
The room, indeed the entire plane of existence was deathly, uncomfortably quiet. Hours upon hours passed in awkward silence. As Jesus looked over at His Father He thought maybe He had overstepped the boundaries with His last comment.
“Is that what You think?” God answered quietly.
“Is that what they think?”
“No, of course not…”
“Do You really think I love visiting all that horror upon them?”
“No…I mean, I’m sure You have Your reasons…,” He answered, clearly unconvinced.
“Listen, do You think raising sentient beings is all about making them happy? About giving them everything they want so they can live forever in comfort? Is that what You think?
“No…of course not,” Jesus answered quietly.
“You do, don’t You? Well, let me tell You, buster, there’s a lot more to consider than that.
“Look, so far I’ve only shown You Earth, yes? I’ve let You have Your fun, heal the sick, make food and wine for the masses, experience first-hand what things are like. And it’s pretty fun and pretty interesting, no? Running around below, watching the material sentients go about their business. So let Me ask You this. What about the rest of the universe? Have You thought about how large infinity is? Have You thought about how many other galaxies there are, each with billions of stars, billions of planets and multitudes of other sentient lifeforms to raise?”
“Okay, space is big, so? I like to watch the humans. Clearly You’ve been taking care of the other species.”
“Yes, I’ve been taking care of the other species while You’ve been playing Messiah, but in case You haven’t noticed, there is only one of Me and I’m no spring godling any more,” God said. He was feeling agitated again. What was it with kids? Were they intentionally obtuse, or did Jesus really not understand? With a Herculean effort He calmed Himself and tried again to explain.
“Listen, all of the sentient species in the universe follow a similar developmental path. I seed a few potentials, kick start evolution and check back every few million years to see what’s been happening. Once they develop sentience, they have a whole new set of concerns and it takes a lot more of My attention, especially in the beginning. From nomadic hunter-gatherers, they develop agriculture and urbanization, progressing through stone, bronze and iron ages and then the industrial age, atomic and information ages. If they get that far, they will either succeed wildly or fail miserably.”
“So? All the more reason to help them,” said Jesus.
Kids! “Listen, You have left the humans at a delicate period, they are mid-iron age and most signs suggest their principal empires are on the verge of collapse. It seems likely that some form of organized mythology — evolving from Your visit — will fill the coming power vacuum. From that kind of development there are many paths. Without technological evolution and a means to disseminate information to the masses, the various clergy will maintain power ultimately leading to stagnant civilizations that exist solely to pay tribute to the priesthood. In many such cases, the clergy attempt to exert their power through fear and enact widespread bloodshed in the name of the saviour — in this case that would be You.”
“Me?! No one’s going to create a bloodbath in My name, I brought them peace and love,” insisted Jesus.
“Peace and love! One thing You’ll learn when dealing with early sentients is that any lessons are quickly forgotten. Your name, My name, the name of some distant star or lowly animal — the name doesn’t matter to the powerful and neither does the original message, those are only means and justifications for control.
“Eventually the religion will fragment and the various denominations will commit highly imaginative and bloody genocides in Our name.
“On the other hand, with rampant, unchecked technological development a society will grow faster in knowledge than in wisdom until it runs the risk of destroying itself.”
Jesus stared at his father, mouth agape, before speaking, “Well that’s great. Create species that self-destruct at every turn.”
“Shut up and learn something for a change. The way forward requires the species find a balance between that which is important for living and that which is important for existing. Sure, some or many will fail to find the path, but many others will succeed. They must, however, learn to walk it themselves. They’ll never be successful if We have to show it to them.”
“You’re saying that they can’t find the balance without learning it themselves. Even if We explain it to them.”
“Yes, that’s what I’m trying to tell You. We can’t just tell them. They won’t understand if You just tell them. Just like You had to experience their suffering first hand to understand, they have to learn the right path themselves. All of them. For every species in the universe it’s the same. Experience is the great teacher, the only teacher.
“That’s not so surprising, really. Even Gods learn by experience. Look, do You think this universe was My first try? Far from it. I must have tried infinite different ways of pulling something from nothing. I mean, wow, You should have seen some of the early ones. In fact, some of them may still be floating around out there somewhere. And what about the whole ‘Noah-gate’ thing. I mean, the world was going to hell in a hand basket. I was ready to wash My hands of the whole thing. It was only at the last minute, figuratively speaking, that I realized it was still good and changed My mind. Boy, when Your mother learned of that one…well, let’s just say, You almost weren’t born.
“Anyway, the point is, if We were to give them all the knowledge and technology they need, they would never learn it for themselves. Then We would have a universe full of helpless sentients — and where’s the point in that? Think of it this way; even as I’m training You to take over from Me when I pass the veil, so too will You one day pass beyond the veil. In that day, it will be these species, the ones who have learned the lessons well, that will inherit the universe. There won’t be gods forever, You know.”
~ ~ ~
Jesus stood, quietly contemplating his Father’s words. Of course, God was right, as usual. Jesus saw it now. He would have to postpone His trip. There was no reason to go until they were ready. He should probably tell someone, give them a message.
Vision unfocused, Jesus peered ahead several thousand years.
There was no way John was going to understand that. Still, He had to try.