Everywhere and at all times, the guilty walk free, indistinguishable from the innocent. The blasphemers, the idolaters, the moneychangers, the prodigals—God finds none too rank to be seen with, none too foul to implore. There is no discernment among persons in him. The just are jostled and trounced by the unjust, with never a flag thrown or a whistle blasted.
Why is it that I—stuck in mid-level management—can spot the sheep, know the goats? I can separate them, and do so daily, so why won’t he?
But no; with his Oedipus act, God stands aloof from the counting house; he is too good for the scales, and insists that all are welcome here. His neon sign never goes out—Open—Open—Open—it flashes, and every sort of trash walks in the door and sits at the table.
Oh, I know, I know. It will not ever be thus, I’m assured. One day justice will prevail; there is a limit to this irresponsibility, to this misfeasance. One day, professionalism will be resumed, and the exactions I crave will be doled out.
But that’s not until the scroll of time spools up like a window shade and the vastness of heaven crumples like crepe paper set alight. Even then, it’s rumored that his “justice” is only letting people have what they want—forever allowing them the dark distance that they seek. “Hell has a door locked from the inside,” they claim.
That’s better than nothing, I guess, but how does it serve me now? I, who rankle at the disparities unseen, at the extremities and enormities unpunished?
For it’s one thing to give equal wages to laborers late to the field—to shower graces upon them in measures comparable to those who have worked since dawn. That’s bad enough. But to solicit even the multitude that have never turned their faces to the toil? To cast out invitations so randomly? To toss bouquets to those who daily rebuff and scorn?
I could direct this operation better.
Faithfulness with me is hard won: “Not so fast,” I say. “You’ve gotta earn it.”
With me, you start in a state of bankruptcy, and if you’re good and nice and do as I require, you may—may—gain more and more of my trust until I’ll finally call you an associate.
But let me be clear at the outset: your account is always subject to fees; it’s always conditional upon my withdrawal of charges for cruelties, indifferences, disloyalty. This toll I exact, and the next time you want more, you’ll pay with interest. I can’t forget your credit history, after all; there are standards, you must realize.
Still, at times, even a professional like me wonders what it’s like to be my opposite.
I know a college-age girl who starts everyone with a full balance; to her, people are rich from the moment she meets them, and her faithfulness is nearly impossible to lose. Transgressions never meet penalty; excuses, alibis, however weak, are accepted without endorsement. There is no need for a letter of credit or a bill of lading.
This girl’s love gathers the maimed and useless in the fashion of Michael harrowing purgatory; it speaks to everyone, so that they turn like the thousand broken-hearted sons who answer the anonymous plea, published among newspaper ads in Hemingway’s “The Capital of the World”: Come home. All is forgiven. Papa.
She is just as aggravating as God, with her thoughtless extravagance, with her slipshod munificence.
I understand those who are terrified by theophanies, which her kind of love seems to be. Because most can’t bear the exposure.
“Turn back,” they say to the holiness that appears before them. “Don’t look at this mollusk without a shell—at this mucous-mass, blanched and fly-blown. It is sacrilege to be here; you anger me by doing so. Leave me to what I am.”
For if this is God, I don’t understand his principles. On what grounds does he come? None. What business does he seek? None.
So why does his favor do this, then? Why does it come charging in this way? It is unsound. It is unsystematic. It disturbs the order of things. Can’t he see that? Do I have to draw a graph?
When disease and death arrive, I comprehend them. When loathing and hate and despair walk through my heart, they do not trespass. It is their homeland, after all, and they fit citizens there. I do my duty to them, and they to me.
But then—unbidden—I assure you, unbidden—I most emphatically assure you—God comes intruding anyway, springing up—yet again—from the beshitten, bewrayed confusion of my world; he imposes himself, regaled in whiteness, in the shy green of hope.
He seems heedless that there are those about me, like this girl, whom he should spend all of his time loving. He seems incapable of understanding worth—of realizing desert—of calling only to those who warrant it.
I repeat: He is unjust. He will not be just, at least not in the way that I understand it.
He pays more than he owes—spendthrift, wastrel. He insists on this slack, sloppy mode of business, on love that spills the bucket and swamps the shore—that won’t respect the offices that I’ve built, breaching and flooding as he comes.
The maddening insolence of it all—that he would have me, too. That he insists so. That he spoils to drown me with his Jordan, and that with his wild, indiscriminate winds, he would find me, despite my just cries, and lift me up with blood-soaked hands and Easter breath.
A.G. Harmon teaches Shakespeare, Law and Literature, Jurisprudence, and Writing at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. His novel, A House All Stilled, won the 2001 Peter Taylor Prize for the Novel.