Yahweh leaned back in his chair and stole a quick glance out the window. Mondays were murder in Heaven. Such a workload. Sometimes he regretted inventing weekends – sure, they’re great but it just makes getting back to work all the more annoying. He watched as people mingled with angels on the gold-gilded main boulevard, 257 floors below his penthouse suite window. He mindlessly fiddled with the stapler in his hand for a few moments.
His daze was abruptly halted by the buzzing of the intercom.
“What is it, Margaret?” he said into the speaker.
“Sir, your ten o’clock is here.”
“What? I thought was free for the next hour. This is supposed to be my executive time, Margaret.”
“I’m sorry, sir. Last minute addition to the calendar. It’s an appeals case. Peter sent him up. He didn’t know what to do with the guy.”
“Oh well,” Yahweh sighed, “Okay, send him in.”
This won’t take long, he thought. Appeals are routine work. Just a formality, really. It had been – what? – at least 100 years since the last successful appeal. He started thumbing through this month’s Better Clouds and Halos.
Moments later, the heavy gopher wood office door creaked open and Yahweh’s personal secretary Margaret Feinstein led a man into the office. Margaret spoke.
“Sir, this is Mr. Adam Fluke. Mr. Fluke, meet…”, she paused and looked up as if recalling a phrase she had memorized and recited many times, “… The Almighty Yahweh Adonai El-Shaddai, LORD God of all Creation and Savior of the World.”
Margaret turned and left the office.
“Fluke, huh?” Yahweh grunted as he looked up from the magazine to see a tall, trim, sixty-ish man with a scraggly beard and long gray hair pulled back into a ponytail – but completely bald on top.
Great. An old hippie. These guys can be tough to deal with.
“Pleasure to meet you, sir.”
He extended his hand. Yahweh ignored it.
“Sit down, Fluke. This won’t take long. I understand you wish to appeal your sentence. On what grounds?”
“Well, sir,” he began, “Like I told Mr. Peter, I don’t belong in hell because hell doesn’t exist. For that matter, neither does this place – er, Heaven. Or you. Or Peter. None of this is real.”
Yahweh sat and stared the man down, stone-faced. A minute passed. Then another. Fluke shifted uncomfortably, then broke the silence.
“Well, clearly you aren’t impressed by my opening gambit. Obviously I didn’t mean literally, that you don’t exist. But there is a sense in which none of this is real.”
Another awkward pause, then Fluke spoke again.
“Shall I go on?”
“Mr. Fluke. The fact that you are still sitting here in my office 30 seconds longer than the last appeal I heard is evidence enough that I am intrigued. That’s not to say you have – if you’ll pardon the expression – a prayer of winning your appeal, mind you. But I am intrigued. Continue.”
“So, I freely admit that I’m a lifelong atheist…”
“My, that’s a surprise!” Yahweh interrupted, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
“Yes, I didn’t expect that to be a shocker to you. So, like I said, lifelong atheist, but also a lifelong seeker. You see, I did try to find you. I really did. But you didn’t make it easy.”
“No, you did not. Sir. You see, I studied all the world’s religions as a young man. I tried them all. I didn’t find any answers in any of them. So I decided that all religion is bogus and that there are no gods or angels or demons.”
Yahweh looked expectant, so Fluke continued.
“But then when I was 27, I met a wonderful woman, fell in love, and got married. But she was a devout Christian. An evangelical. A fundy…. I’m sorry, a fundamentalist.”
“It’s alright, Fluke. I call ’em fundies too.”
“Good people but damn annoying. Look, get to the point, will you Fluke? This is supposed to be my free hour.”
“Yes sir. So, here I was married to a devout follower of yours. And I decided the best course of action was to give religion – well, Christianity – another shot. So I started attending church with Eve…”
“Wait,” Yahweh chortled, “Isn’t your first name Adam? You’re telling me that you and your wife were…”
“Adam and Eve, yes sir. It did make for some interesting conversations.”
“Oh my Me, that’s rich! I need to write that one down. Please tell me you named your kids Cain and Abel!”
“Um, no… Sally and James, actually. Anyway, I tried really hard to believe. Honestly, I did. I read the Bible, attended church faithfully, I prayed regularly…”
At that, Yahweh turned to what appeared to be a 1980s era desktop computer, complete with monochrome CRT monitor. He began typing. One key at a time. He became aware of the fact that Fluke had stopped talking.
“Go on, Fluke. You prayed regularly and what?”
Fluke gaped at the scene. Here was a cartoonish deity, a very old looking white man with long, flowing white hair and beard, sitting in a sitcom office from 20th century America, typing like a toddler on an IBM PC. Come to think of it, where had the PC come from? He hadn’t noticed it until just now.
“Um, sir… pardon my asking, but what are you doing?”
Click. Click. Click.
“Huh? Oh, well I’m fact-checking of course. Lots of fake news these days, Fluke. You gotta fact check.”
“Ah, here it is! Ain’t this technology great! Okay, I see here where you did in fact do some praying, back in the day. Yes, yes… world peace… to be a better husband and father… your sick mother…”
“Wait, sir. You’re telling me that my prayers never reached your ears? They just went into – what – a cosmic database of some sort?”
Yahweh looked taken aback.
“Well, we have to keep track of ‘em. In case we need to investigate someone, for instance. Like now. Can’t just let ‘em evaporate into the ether now, can we?”
Fluke wasn’t sure whether to be disappointed or exasperated. Finally he decided that this was actually vindication.
“So prayer does absolutely nothing then. I was right after all!”
“Oh Heavens no! Did I say that? No, I do get action alerts from time to time. When we get enough prayers about a particular topic, my beeper goes off.”
“Yes. And then I log in, see – and then I can decide if it’s something I need to attend to. But usually it isn’t.”
Fluke shook his head as if trying to dislodge cobwebs from his brain.
Yawyeh looked at his gold wristwatch and then back at Fluke.
“Fluke, I’m giving you exactly 90 seconds to wrap this up. You’d better have a damn good argument as to why I shouldn’t damn you. If you’ll pardon the pun.” He gave another self-satisfied chuckle.
Fluke tried to pull himself together. This was going nothing like he had planned. All his carefully constructed arguments seemed beyond the grasp of this guy. Now what?
Finally a thought occurred to him.
“Sir,” Fluke began, “May I ask you a question?”
“Knock yourself out, kid. You have ” — another glance at the watch — “65 seconds.”
“Sir, of all the virtues you value in humans, which virtue above all others do you value? What is the one virtue that qualifies a man or woman for Heaven?”
“Well, that’s simple, Fluke. The highest and best virtue is simply faith. All you need is faith. Faith is all you need.” He chuckled again.
“That would be faith in… you.”
“Well, of course, my boy! What else?”
“So you’re telling me that no matter how good a life I lived, how many people I helped, how much better I may have left the world, because I was not willing or able to place blind faith in you – even in my state of not believing in your existence – I am for that reason and that reason alone, consigned to eternal torment?”
Yahweh looked up from his watch just as the second hand hit 12.
“Sorry my boy. Time’s up. Maybe you shouldn’t have wasted it asking silly questions. Margaret will see you out. MARGARET!” he called to the outer office.
“Wait, sir!” the exasperated Fluke said, “Can’t you at least answer my final question?”
Yahweh removed his round spectacles – was he wearing them when Fluke had come in? – and rubbed his beard. He looked down for a moment, then up at his assistant standing in the doorway expectantly.
“Just a sec, Margaret. Look Fluke. I think you are failing to grasp a very important point here. I’m not a cosmic version of one of your Supreme Court justices or such. I don’t have to worry about what’s fair or what’s written in some ancient document. I’m God – have you noticed?”
Fluke sat in silence.
Yahweh continued. “You are assuming that I’m bound by your hippy ideas of love and fairness and forgiveness. But have you read my book? Do you realize that the so-called ten commandments are mostly about me?
“I am the LORD your God! You shall have none before me! You shall worship only me! Don’t be making idols and don’t be forgetting my Sabbath. Do these commands sound like someone who gives a flying flip about your peace and love bullshit?”
Fluke remained silent as he began to squirm uncomfortably in his seat. Margaret left the room. Yahweh resumed his monologue.
“My most ardent and beloved followers are more concerned that you don’t blaspheme my name or my holy book than how you treat your neighbor. They get me. They know that all I want from you puny little hairless apes is that you adore me.
“Are you getting it now, Fluke? I couldn’t care less what happens to you! Because I am basically an asshole!”
Margaret returned and spoke softly.
“Mr. Fluke, I’ll see you out now.”
Fluke rose from his chair as if in a trance, his vacant eyes staring off into the distance. Stunned, he walked toward Margaret and said nothing. As he was leaving the room, Yahweh spoke again.
“Hey Fluke. One more thing. You’re in.”
Fluke stopped and turned. “I beg your pardon?” was all he could muster.
“I said, you’re in. I’ve changed my mind. Congratulations, you’re among the zero-point-two percent. See Peter for your robe and crown.”
“But, you just lectured me about how you couldn’t care less about my eternal fate. I had nothing to say in reply. Why would you backtrack?”
Yahweh chuckled again. “My boy, are you that dense? I’m an asshole, a pompous, jealous, self-centered, and capricious bastard and you’re right – I couldn’t care less what happens to you. But I also like to have fun from time to time. This conversation has been fun. Stick around and we’ll do it again in 1,000 years or so.”
Fluke just nodded and started to follow Margaret, then hesitated.He turned to Yahweh, squared his shoulders, and straightened his back. He looked him square in the eye for the first time.
“You know what, God? I’ve changed my mind as well.”
“I want no part of your Heaven or of you. I’m going to Hell.”