“People always ask me,” said Reverend Boden in his characteristic long-short rhythm, “why does the world have suffering if God is all powerful and all good?”
Eloy blinked and looked down at his iPod. The display said “Red Hot Chili Peppers – Californication.” He rolled his eyes. Knowing his mom, He wouldn’t get to hear anything else through his earbuds until he was through this, so he set his jaw and got comfortable. Hopefully it would be done by the time he got to school and he wouldn’t have to pick it up again on the way back. He didn’t really mind Boden. Dad used to listen to him in the car and Eloy remembered falling asleep to his cadence. “PEOPLE… ALWAYS… ASK- ME- ….. WHY does the WORLD have SUFF-ER-ING if GOD is ALL POW-ER-FUL and ALL GOOD.”
“First I remind them that God is incapable of evil, for what He does is the definition of good. God is good, but more to the point good is God. They often want more than that.” Cue laughter from the congregation.
Eloy rolled his eyes. Mom was really laying it on thick today. He could put up with it. He had to admit he had enjoyed the attention he got after rescuing that old woman from the fire. The first responders were baffled at how he had apparently ambled in and led the woman out by a hand. The old woman, who’s name he had completely forgotten, had told everyone the fire just died down wherever he was about to walk. They didn’t believe her any more than they would believe him that she and her daughter hadn’t existed at all just days before.
“So, I tell them that they need to look beyond this world. We suffer as children when we learn we cannot take a sodapop from the store without paying for it. Our childish minds curse this cruel society that puts sodapop in our reach and then slaps it from our hands for so little reason.”
Eloy yawned and looked over at his busmates. The red-haired girl was hunched over a bulky green and purple copy of The Half-Blood Prince. Eloy guessed it could be any gigantic green and purple hardcover book, seeing as her wild hair blocked his view of most of the cover, but it was hard to imagine what else it could be. He restrained himself from the urge to shout “Snape kills Dumbledore!” She’d probably heard it a hundred times by now.
“But then we grow up and see the greater plan. With experience, we see the wisdom our parents wished to teach us, and the world makes sense again, all the better for the suffering of our youth. That’s what this world is to eternity. It is your soul’s childhood.”
Eloy experimentally turned his iPod off. He may as well save the battery. The sound didn’t stop. On a lark, he took his earbuds out.
“God gives you experiences now,” the reverend’s voice rang clear in his bare ears. Eloy glanced around, but no one else could hear, naturally.
“When my father killed himself, I asked God ‘why, God, what lesson should I learn from this?’ He said nothing, for the lessons of our soul’s childhood are not ones that can be taught, they have to come through living.”
A chill ran over Eloy. He didn’t know the reverend had lost his father, too. He probably didn’t, and this was just his mom using the reverend’s voice to manipulate him. Eloy slouched further. He fished the newspaper clipping out of his backpack. The one with the picture of him leading Wilma Duff out through the roaring flames. The article made no mention that Wilma had ever had a granddaughter.
“Sometimes,” Boden intoned more loudly, “people don’t want to LIST-EN to the voice of God. They drown it out with their petty worldly pride and forget that all of their successes were given to them through His holy grace.”
Eloy knew better than to try to talk to his mom out loud in public when she wasn’t there. He tried to think as loud as he could, “I get it, Mom! Can I please listen to my music now!?”
“God is not your mother, young man,” Boden’s voice snapped. Eloy froze. He felt the blood drain from his face. After a moment, the voice continued preaching, “We are all finite beings. We are all running out of time on this Earth. There comes a time in our lives when we realize those who guided us are gone, and now we have to guide ourselves and perhaps be the guide to others.”
Eloy realized his mouth was hanging open and closed it, “What do you mean, time is running out?” he thought.
The voice started speaking more quickly, “Your virtue is paramount, but the acts on this earth are immaterial. Practice virtue, but don’t expect reward. Virtue for its own sake.”
Eloy’s heart was pumping in his chest. Something very bad was happening, he was sure. The bus stopped at his school, but he stayed rooted to the seat. The reverend was now speaking so quickly that he could barely follow, “Pro-social… greatest need… the first stone… the least of these…”
For ten tense seconds, Eloy listened to sage advice pumped into his ear at light speed, utterly incomprehensible. Then it stopped.
Eloy was shaking. He felt like his heart was either beating at quadruple the normal rate or had stopped beating entirely. The bus was empty. The driver shouted, “Hey, Eloy, you gotta go to school!”
More silence. More than that, Eloy felt a chill. He felt like he had been living all his life under a warm blanket, and now with no warning, he was exposed to the January air.
No, he had been in someone’s arms his whole life, and now he wasn’t.
Now Eloy was on his own.
Steve Duke the bus driver was worried about Eloy. He’d had students who were too frightened of bullies or telling their teacher they hadn’t done the homework and wouldn’t get off the bus, but he had always pegged Eloy as more mature. What did a boy who sauntered casually into burning buildings have to fear at South Davis High school? Steve stood and walked back to Eloy’s seat. Then he scanned all the seats. He got down on his hands and knees and looked underneath them. Then he stood up, pulled off his baseball cap and scratched his head.
“Now where on God’s green earth could that boy have gone?”