An 88-year old man walked into my office the other day and wanted to talk about the morality of God. His name was Larry and he wore women’s designer sunglasses, a Chuck Norris-beard, and U.S.A. hat. The conversation went something like this:
Larry: OK pastor, I’m going to ask you some questions and you’re going to answer YES or NO.
Me: Sounds fine Larry. But you don’t have to call me pastor. Just Jay will do.
Larry: OK no problem pastor. Just remember, only YES or NO. I’m not here to debate with you. And I think a simple YES or NO to each question will move us along better. Will that be alright?
Me: I’ll try but…
Larry: YES or NO?
Me: OK, yes?
Larry: Great. First question. I see a lot of terrible things in the world. Tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, people killing each other. Does God know everything?
Me: Wait, I’m not sure what your question is. Does God know everything about…
Larry: YES or NO??
Larry: OK, so God knows everything. Did he know everything when he made the Garden of Eden?
Larry: So he knew Adam and Eve would bring sin and destruction to the world?
Me: Larry, I think I see where you’re going…
Larry: YES or NO???
Me: OK yes.
Larry: Well, I can’t believe that a God who is supposed be love would knowingly create the world, only to see it crumble under the destruction of its own sin and wickedness!
Me: That’s not a question, right?
Larry: Do you believe in hell?
Larry: Do you believe in Satan?
Me: Yes but I think the ideas of hell and Satan are much more complicated than…
Larry: Next question. Have you read the…uhh…what’s that story about the guy…he’s got it all, then Satan tells God he’s going to tempt him and God allows it and, ehh…what’s the, uh…
Larry: Yes, have you read it?
Larry: So the story goes like this. Satan tells God he’s going to mess Job up. God allows it. He says, “Yeah you can mess him up but you can’t kill him.” What the hell is that!?! That’s like me telling some schmuck, yeah go ahead and rape my wife, just don’t kill her! That’s not a very loving God, now is it?
Me: Well, Larry, I think the book of Job was written to teach us something about the sovereignty of God and how he interacts with…
Larry: You probably think hell’s just some place people go when they die right? Well I’ll tell you what pastor, you know what I see? I see hell all over the place! I see hell right here on God’s green earth! Now that don’t make sense, now does it!?!
Me: I agree with you Larry.
Me: I agree with you on that point. I think in some ways, people choose to live into hell instead of living into the kingdom of God all the time. It can be heartbreaking when you think about it long enough.
Larry: You said you’re a pastor here? You look pretty young. How old are you?
Me: That isn’t a YES or NO question, Larry.
Larry: What are you? 25, 26?
Me: I’m 31.
Larry: What’d you say your name was?
Larry: Well alright Jay. Thank you for your time. God bless you.
Me: You too Larry. Have a good one.
Truth be told, my time with Larry left me feeling a little deflated. I’m certain that something spiritual went awry somewhere in his history. But I didn’t sense that our conversation brought him any closer to where his soul really wanted to be. I find myself often frustrated when I can’t seemingly help people with any sort of immediacy. But I am reminded of something G.K. Chesterton once wrote: “The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists.” We humans, more often than not, construct; we construct enterprise, empires, ideologies, and social norms. But God creates, and as creatures designed in the divine image, I think we too are called to create rather than construct. According to Chesterton, creating requires us to put aside the temptation to simply fix and replace it with the foremost priority, which is to love. I hope Larry gets that. I hope he can see that his calling isn’t to fix the world but to love the people living in it. His calling isn’t to fix God but to love him. This is my calling too. And yours.