Waiting for God

Joseph was a devout man. He prayed regularly to his God and worshipped frequently at the little neighbourhood church. His religious devotion was such that he had installed an altar in his living room. He surrounded it with various religious icons and inspirational pictures. His wife, Maria, always tried to ensure that there was a fresh vase of flowers there as well. In the evenings before retiring he habitually spent some time at his altar praying to his God.

He and his little family were well-regarded in the village. He was kind and generous, helping those in need and acted out the tenets of his belief so that he was a role model for his fellow villagers.

He had married Maria who was a gentle and loving woman. They had two children. The elder was Ruth who was now thirteen years old and destined to be as beautiful as her mother. The younger was Ben who was sturdy and bright and some five years younger than his sister.

Joseph earned a living off the land growing olives and some grain and rearing a few goats. He had lived a bountiful and satisfying life, with a loving wife, two adorable children and had enjoyed reasonable prosperity profiting from his crops and livestock.

But then things began to go wrong.

Firstly there came a drought and the crops began to decline. As a result his comfortable lifestyle became somewhat diminished. The little family began to struggle. They were not destitute but the relative impoverishment meant that life was necessarily more difficult.

In the evenings Joseph would pray, “Lord help me restore my little household to its previous comfort and well-being. What must I do to reverse my fortunes? If I have sinned please tell me so that I can repent.”

For many months Joseph repeated the sentiments of this prayer in various forms, petitioning his God to guide him. But to his great consternation there was no response. The drought continued and the family continued to suffer.

And then things got even worse. His beloved Maria fell ill and was so incapacitated that she was hardly able to get out of bed. Joseph was greatly distressed. He loved his wife and could not bear to see her suffering. But more than this he and the children had to take over many of her roles in the household which curtailed his ability to manage the farm and put undue pressure on the children as well.

When he went to his little altar in the evenings to petition his God he now asked for intercession to restore his poor wife. “Lord, tell me what I must do to restore my wife to health? I do not care so much about restoring my wealth and the output of the farm. But I would be most grateful if you could guide me in how to restore my beloved wife. If you are punishing me for transgressing your laws please enlighten me. I would do any penance that was required to ease the suffering of my Maria.”

When he finished his prayer he sobbed, so great was his love for his wife and his need to recover her health.

Every night now, before his little altar, he prayed for the restoration of his wife’s health. His prayers were earnest and heartfelt. He could not contain his emotions and most nights he finished his prayers with tears in his eyes. But his God seemed not to hear him.

This was a cause of great distress to Joseph who had assumed that if he had been virtuous and pious then his God would provide for him.

And then to top it all, a tax collector came. “You have not paid your taxes,” he asserted. “If you can’t meet the obligatory demands of the Prince (who has ultimate title over this land) to pay your taxes you will be dispossessed.”

The poor man’s anxiety escalated even further.

That night he knelt before his altar and beseeched assistance from his God. But then when as usual there was no response he became angry. “O, Lord how can you forsake me like this,” he ranted. “I have tried to abide by your teachings and obey your commandments but all I seem to get in return is misfortune. I pray and I pray for guidance and none is forthcoming.” In his despair he held his head in his arms and wept.

How long he sat there bewailing his misfortune and mired in his hopelessness he could not tell. Finally he made to stand from his kneeling position. But there came a soft voice, “Wait Joseph – I would speak with you.”

He sank back down into his position of subjugation and with considerable relief. “Oh, God – is that you? Have you at last responded to my petitions?”

There was a noise like a human clearing their throat. Then came the response. “No, not exactly.”

“But surely you must know what it is I can do to put aside these misfortunes that fate has bestowed on me?”

The voice responded. “Oh at least I am pleased that you understand that fate has bestowed these misfortunes on you and you are not blaming me.”

Joseph thought a while and then shook his head. “Well, I am not sure. I must confess that I thought you determined fate.”

“Oh, no, no, no! When I allowed you to be separated from me and gave you the perception of free will I had to give up all that control stuff.”

“Then you are not omnipotent?”

“Of course not. Once I gave you some ability to influence the trajectory of your own life then of course I compromised my omnipotence.”

Joseph shook his head. “I was relying on your omnipotence to rescue me from these travails. But it seems that can’t be so.”

“No I am afraid not. If you are going to make your own way in the Universe then ‘que sera sera.’”

“What on earth do you mean by that?”

“Sorry – got ahead of myself there. You’ve never heard of Doris Day. What I mean is ‘Whatever will be, will be.’”

“Are you implying that the world will continue confronting me with random problems that neither you nor I can control.”

God mused on this statement. “Yes I think that is a fair summary.”

Joseph ruminated over this a while. And then his eyes lit up. “Ah but if you are no longer omnipotent, then surely you are still omniscient. As a result you must know the solution to my problem. You may not be able to personally intervene to improve my lot, but because of your omniscience you should be able to tell me what to do to extricate myself from these dilemmas.”

“Well that is the problem,” responded God. “Your difficulty is a complex one and the solution is bound not to be simple. That is why I have taken so long to respond. After all, it would not be much help recommending to you a course of action that wasn’t effective.”

“But surely,” said Joseph, “with your omniscience you should be able to immediately recommend a course of action. I would be so grateful if you could do so. If you cannot intervene at least give me directions about how to extricate myself from these dilemmas.”

“Unfortunately,” said God, “this is beyond my capacity. As I mentioned earlier, this is quite a complex issue.”

“Are you then implying,” protested Joseph, “that you do not have the capacity to give me this advice?”

[It should be remembered that despite provocation God never takes offence.]

“Well you might put it that way. But in the longer term I will have the capacity to give you such advice.”

Joseph was now very perplexed. “Why do you say ‘in the longer term’? Surely your omniscience would allow you to give an immediate response to such a request?”

“No, you are mistaken. I have immediate access to a lot of knowledge – but not everything. I have to wait to gain access to those things that I don’t immediately know. That is why I have taken so long to respond to your petitions. I was reluctant to give some half-baked response. What sort of God would I be if I were to give you unprofessional advice?”

Joseph shook his head. “You are indeed confusing me now. How do you fill in those gaps? What do you do to acquire that information that is not immediately available to you?”

“What a strange question. I do exactly as you do.”

“What do you mean?

“Well, I pray to God.

“What, do you pray to yourself?”

“Oh don’t be silly. What good would that do? I pray to my God.”

Joseph was aghast. “You have a God?”

“Of course; doesn’t everyone. I am so sorry that I couldn’t deal with your issues earlier, but my God hadn’t responded to some of your complex issues that I had referred to Him, and I felt somewhat inadequate to give a rational response. And therefore your pleas were not responded to.”

“Perhaps then I should have petitioned your God instead of you?”

Now God was aghast. (Take it on my authority that whilst God never takes offence He can still sometimes be flabbergasted!) “Oh no – that would never do! Unless of course I gave you a referral. It would violate the eternal divine labour laws and demarcations. Just imagine how overloaded my God would be if everyone went directly to him or, indeed, even to his God. No, no – wouldn’t work at all. Not of course to mention the devastation that the Saints and angels might feel being deprived of a place in the supply chain.”

(Modern readers would understand this dilemma. Joseph is trying to short-cut the protocols. It is a bit like going directly to the specialist without paying an entrance fee via your GP.)

“Well what am I to do?” Joseph enquired.

“I would suggest you take a little warm mead before going to bed. That will help assuage your anxiety. And then come back in a month, by which time I should have answers to the issues I have referred on.”

You might imagine how devastated Joseph felt by the tenor of this discussion.

But in the end everything came out well. Disillusioned by the impotence of his God instead of praying in the evenings Joseph got a part time job as bar tender at the local inn. With the extra income he was easily able to pay his taxes and as a result maintained his right to work his farm.

The lovely Maria discovered her illness was just an unexpected advanced pregnancy. In due time she gave birth to a son which pleased the couple well, knowing they would in their older years have assistance in working the farm.

And of course eventually the rains came.

End Note.

Whilst many of you with fecund minds might think otherwise, this story has no moral. I wrote it because it entertained me. You are entitled to interpret it and deconstruct it as you will.

I have also followed tradition and portrayed Joseph’s ineffectual God as male. I concede that whatever it is that we imagine God to be He is not Male! The problem is that the English language has limited resources in portraying androgyny. I wish we could get over this obsession with gender, which before political correctness was called sex.

8 Replies to “Waiting for God”

  1. Bottom line…we are on our own so need to stop externalising what happenes…it won’t help. How we enjoy the good and handle the bad is up to us!

  2. I like it, but don’t understand why you say it doesn’t have a moral to the story. Am I missing something?

  3. It is my little joke, Mark. I started off wondering why people pray when there seems to be no substantive benefit. I then toyed with the idea of “nested” Gods such that everyone had a God who also had a God and so on infinitum. I then suggested that it would be more pragmetic to do something positive oneself in the face of such uncertainty. I can assure you I had no desire to promote a specific moral to this story. However I made the context rich enough that people might come to various conclusions about the lesson embedded in the parable! Pretty devious, don’t you think? Mmm – but might be hard for an accountant to comprehend.

  4. I love this piece Ted.

    A reminder of those days – was it the 70’s? when the trend was to “think positively”. Or Dusty Springfield’s words “thinking, and praying, and hoping won’t get you into his arms……” Also – “God helps those who help themselves….” etc, etc.

    “Doing” remains the key. The trick is doing the right things – the things which need to be done.

    Best I get on then and so some of them!

  5. Sorry, I just read your comment. I think that my attempt at humour could have been missed!Speak soon.

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