Although most people avoid talking to each other on the train, Ian Grice explores the existence of God with a fellow traveller.
It was one of those blustering cold mornings on the station platform.
The foot-stomping, hand-rubbing group of white-collar professionals milled around looking hopefully in the direction from which a train offering temporary relief from their bone-chilling wait was about to appear.
I particularly noticed him; one of those nameless faces on the platform. He had that harassed look of an unhappy person, and for a brief time I wondered whether he hated his job, or whether home life was less than satisfying. Then the surging schoolies hit the platform just as the train ground to a halt with a screech of brakes and hiss of released air. I was swept into the train.
To my surprise I'd made it to a carriage with seats available, and to my further surprise I was to share the journey to the city with the nameless man as my seat companion. I turned to wish him a good morning, but there was a “do not disturb” sign clearly imprinted on his face.
Then the facial expression changed to reveal irritation and surprise.
“Unbelievable!” he grunted.
I turned to look in the direction of his gaze, and there hovering above us with the late-entering crowd of corridor-standing commuters was a beaming young man with a gigantic “I love Jesus” sticker pinned to his coat.
“Good morning!” he shouted happily.
Dozens of eyes panned him for a second and went back to their private thoughts. My companion rolled his eyes.
“People like that shouldn't be allowed to roam the streets!” “Why not?” I asked.
“Exhibitionists! They prey on simple people and twist their minds into believing some fictional being is going to rescue them from all their troubles.” “Obviously you're not a Christian?” “No rational person would be. You look like a well-educated person so I'm sure you don't believe all those Christian myths?” “Why yes, I'm a Christian, and I think I'm fairly well educated and informed.” I introduced myself and told him I was the CEO of a Christian private hospital.
He studied me, and to my surprise his face softened. “I've used that hospital and was well looked after. The only problem with that crowd is that they emphasise religion and serve vegetarian dishes for meals.” I laughed. “Why do you find Christians so irritating?” He glanced at the beaming young man with the “I love Jesus” sticker and turned to face me.
“If there's a God, why do we have people in different countries murdering each other in the name of religion? Where was He when the tsunami hit Indonesia and Thailand? Why are innocent people who have done nothing wrong contacting AIDS and other dread diseases? Why does He allow evil men to exploit countless thousands? Why doesn't He prevent devastating floods and droughts?”
I replied, “Your questions show you recognise evil, so I suppose you think there should be something better? What about the agencies responding to the tsunami and hospitals like ours that not only treat your medical problems but also extend their services to countries of Asia and the Pacific? Teams of our doctors and nurses donate their time and money to care for the needs of the disadvantaged you talk about. If we had more people with this kind of motivation some of the other exploitations you mention wouldn't happen. God inspires people to do positive things for each other.”
“OK,” he retorted, “but you didn't explain the tsunami. It looks like God has an occasional anger fit; that is, if He exists!” “Well the Bible does help me to understand these negative acts of nature,” I said, “and it's unfortunate we describe them as acts of God . The Bible talks about an angel who in some mysterious way went wrong and challenged God's system of governance. God is allowing this evil angel to demonstrate his suggested alternative system of governing the universe, and so far it's been a disaster.Our church refers to this as the great controversy between Christ and Satan .”
His reply was swift, “That's nonsense! If there's a God, and He's supposed to be all powerful, He should have intervened and ensured the mess we see around us never happened. You Christians talk about a loving God. How could a loving God permit these disasters? As an intelligent person you should be able to see that!” “It's hard to deal with all these questions in the limited time we have together on this train,”
I replied. “Briefly, God insists on his created beings having power of choice. Would you prefer to be a programmed robot? There'd be no disasters if all created beings were programmed to follow God's instructions, but you'd have no free will, and your free will is important to God. God is a social being and wants to fellowship with beings who have the choice to be with Him rather than being programmed to do so. Satan's a control freak, and he's the one who's having anger fits. His demonstration of an alternative system of governance is just not working out, and he's very upset about it. I guess he takes it out on us through personal harassment, and acts of nature.”
“Well, I still think a God would intervene and set this character straight.”
“Oh, He will! As soon as He feels that the universal family is thoroughly convinced Satan's alternative system of government is not in their collective interests God will eradicate Satan and his agents of evil. No more disasters! Those who have chosen God's side on this earth will be reunited with the universal family, and the earth will get a makeover to remove the effects of sin.” The PA system announced the next stop would be my destination.
“Would you like to have me send you some literature answering your questions in greater depth?” I offered.
“No thanks! I've more than enough reading to do, but I'll think it over and contact you at the hospital if I decide to pursue our discussions further,” he declined politely.
He never did contact me, but I can't help hoping that he ponders our conversation as often as I do. As I said farewell and exited the train, he looked more friendly than when I first spotted him on the station platform. Our conversation had changed my view of him. Hopefully his view of God has taken a turn for the better as well.