Friday, October 3, 2014

story: there once was a very clever man ...*

There once was a very clever man, a professor. Some thought he might have been the cleverest man that ever lived. He certainly thought he was. He made many great scientific discoveries and invented many wonderful gadgets and devices that improved the condition of all mankind. He was given many awards and prizes for his work and became very wealthy and respected. But there was one thing he hated. Every so often he would hear someone say 'thank God for the professor!' It really annoyed him that he had to share any of his glory with anyone, even God, in whom he didn't believe.

The day came when he won another important award. He had discovered a way to grow crops no matter how bad the soil, how dry the weather, how dull the sunshine. His new crops would grow anywhere. World hunger would soon be at an end. The president of the United States herself came to give him the award. After she had given him the huge gold medal, the president gave a speech. She praised the professor, thanked him for his work, said how he would go down in history as the greatest man who ever lived. The professor was beaming with delight. And then the president ended her speech by saying:
'I – no the whole world – give thanks to God for the professor.'

His evening was ruined. He was furious. Of course, he could say nothing. But he fumed and stewed all the way home. He was so angry that he couldn't sleep. Instead, he went for a walk to try to calm down. But it didn't work. Standing on the top of a hill he looked up at a starry sky and shook his fist.
'It's not fair. You don't even exist, but people give you all the credit for my work!'
There was a roll of thunder from the heavens.
'I don't usually do this … ' came a voice. And then there was God standing before him. The professor stared.
'Who are you?' he demanded.
'Long white beard, flowing white robes, appears out of nowhere, you're a clever man, who do you think I am?' said God.
'I don't believe it. It's some kind of trick,' said the professor.
'Hmm,' said God. 'I don't usually do this, but think of something about yourself that nobody else knows, nobody could possibly know.'
'I can see that you already have.' He leaned forward and whispered in the professor's ear. He gasped and staggered back.
'Not your finest hour,' said God. 'That's why you never told anyone.'
'How could you know about that?'
'I know everything.'
The professor scratched his head.
'All right. You're certainly some kind of very powerful being. I can see that with my own eyes. But that doesn't make you God.'
'Hmm,' said God. 'I don't usually do this, but I knew this day would come, so I kept a record. So I can show you how I created the universe and everything in it.'
'You can show me? How?'
'It's a bit like a video recording. But better.'
The next moment the professor was standing in utter darkness. Standing was the wrong word though for there was nothing to stand on.
'Let there be light,' said the voice of the being he said couldn't be God. And there was light. Now he could see he was standing next to the person with the long beard and white robes. And all the things he had read about in the Bible as a child about how God created the universe began to take place before his eyes. He saw the earth, the moon, the stars, the sky, the seas, and all the animals, birds, and fish come into being. And being the greatest scientist that had ever lived he knew what he was seeing was the absolute truth. Finally, he saw God take some of the earth from the ground in his hands, breath on it, and there before him stood a man, a man who looked remarkably like him.

And then they were standing on the starry hill side once more.

'There,' said God. 'I've shown you something I've never shown anyone before. I told them about it, but you are the first to see.'
'Why me?' said the professor.
'Man is the pinnacle of my creation,' said God. 'And you are perhaps the greatest man that ever lived. The only reason I say 'perhaps' is because I don't want you to get an even bigger head than you already have. You have done great work while thinking that I don't exist and that even if I do I don't really matter. You will do even greater work now that you know the truth.'
For a brief moment the professor was humbled and stared at the ground. But then his pride got the better of him.
'You say that man is the pinnacle of your creation? The greatest thing you have ever done?'
God sighed, as if he knew what was coming. Which of course he did.
'That's right.'
'That means that anyone who can create a man, can create life, is just as good as you.'
'You think so?'
'Of course I do! You had me going there for a moment with all your fancy tricks, but my mind is clear again. Very well. You are real. And you did create the universe and everything in it. But that doesn't mean that you're any better than me. I have the greatest mind of any man that ever lived. And I tell you here and now that I can make a man just as easily as you!'
'Really?' said God.
'Of course,' said the professor. 'I've known how to do it for years. But there wasn't any point. There are more than enough people in the world; and, anyway, all those ethicists and moralists and theologians would have objected. But I can do it, as easy as anything.'
'Really?' said God. 'Exactly the same way I did?'
'Exactly the same. Just you watch,' said the professor. And he stooped down, and began to pull up the grass to get at the earth below. 'I'll just grab some of this and we'll head for my lab.'
'Just a moment,' said God, 'you seem to have missed a step or two.'
The professor paused.
'What do you mean?'
'You seem to have forgotten that I began by creating everything that exists. I don't expect you to create a whole other universe; but I do think if you're going to prove you're just as good as me by making a man, you at least have to start by creating your own handful of earth.'
'Just to keep things on a level playing field. I'm sure you wouldn't want to have the advantage of using anything I made.'
The professor stared at his empty hands.
'I'm waiting,' said God.
For a long time the professor said nothing. Then at last he said:
'I can't.'
'I can't. I can't do it, all right? I can't make the handful of earth I need to begin. I can't make anything.'
'I know,' said God. 'But you knew that. Because you know that I know everything.'
'Then you'll know that right now I'm confused. Why have you told me all this? What does it matter? I've done so much good work not knowing or caring about you. Why come to me now?'
'Because you are – possibly – the cleverest of all the men I have ever made. The work you have done to benefit mankind has been truly great. And you can do even more. But it would be better if you did it knowing that there is more to the world than you can see; that it all had been made with a purpose; that life means more than satisfying your ego. That I not only made all that you can see; but that I made you – and that I did so so that you could do all the good works that you have done and will still do. And you can use all the things that I have made to help you to do so. I'd rather you didn't try to make living beings – others have tried and it hasn't worked out so well. Leave that to me. But keep going. I have given you so many gifts that the glory you have attained up until now will seem small in comparison.'
There was silence for a while. Then the man mumbled something.
'Pardon?' said God.
'I said 'thank you!'' said the man.
'You're welcome,' said God. 'There, that wasn't so hard, was it?'

'It was for me. I don't usually say things like that.'

copyright Fr Levi 2014
*inspired by a true joke I read online somewhere, the author of which was unaccredited, but I thank her/him nonetheless. I told the story to the kids in the local school this morning. They said they enjoyed it ... but then, they enjoy anything that gets them out of their lessons for a few minutes, bless them!

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