“Just so you know,” Liam said as I closed my music notebook. “I’m not convinced.”
I laughed, “If a couple of scones, a dirge, and a Bossa Nova setting for the Sanctus was enough, I’d open Conversions Я Us.”
“At first, I did want to convince you. I was flattered that you asked me about my faith. You ask serious questions. I wanted to answer them,” I replied.
Liam opened his lips to speak but I rushed on before he could voice the first word, “But early on, you told me, ‘Your God is either cruel beyond measure or insane. How could it be otherwise?’ It took a while but eventually I realized that I can’t convince you.”
“You can’t,” he said. “You make up stories about God and suffering — like my sister did.”
“No” I replied. “But I did realize that you can’t see what I see, what she saw.”
Liam articulated each word with precision, “You see nothing. She saw nothing. You just comfort yourself with lies.”
“Six years ago, I’d have insisted you were wrong.” I shook my head, “But not now.”
“Because you know I’m right,” he replied.
“Because I know that it won’t work to tell you you’re wrong,” I said. “I can tell you how I’ve changed. I can show you that my writing is no longer full of wistful longing for halcyon days. I can play joyful music, tell you about the series of songs I’m working on, or my design projects. You can see my face go all red and excited because I’m teaching sewing and design or because I’m studying math. You can come to dinner every week and hang out with my friends who are so close, they’re family. But none of that matters…”
“You’re right about that,” Liam blushed and blurted out, “I’m glad you’re happy. Glad you’re off the pain medicine. You were so loopy.” He blushed again, “I didn’t mean…”
“It’s okay. I know what you meant. And none of that means God isn’t cruel.”
“Your God let you suffer for years, only now are you happy. And even though you’re happy, you’ve still got problems.”
“True,” I nodded. “You see my suffering and your sister’s suffering as examples of God’s cruelty or insanity.” Our eyes met and I smiled, “You did call Him insane.”
“He is either cruel or insane.”
“You can’t see any reason God allows suffering,” I said. “The good that comes just doesn’t outweigh the pain.”
“God knows the suffering we’d undergo, that we’d visit on each other,” Liam replied. “He could prevent that. Only a cruel or insane God would allow cancer, child abuse, terrorism.”
“There are those who’d say, ‘Only a cruel or insane person would experiment on animals.'” I replied. “But you do and you’re neither.”
“I treat my animals humanely,” Liam said. “God isn’t humane.”
“God doesn’t follow our idea of humane,” I replied. “You don’t follow PETA’s idea of humane. And if they could reason and speak, your animals might agree with PETA, not you.”
“They’re mice. Bred for the lab. That’s they’re purpose,” Liam asserted.
“We’re God’s. Made for a purpose,” I said.
“So you say,” Liam insisted, “but where’s your proof?”
“That’s just it,” I retorted. “You have a preconception of God, how He acts or ought to act. If He is good, there’d be no suffering. You can’t imagine that suffering might be a good thing even though you cause your lab animals to suffer.”
“My animals are treated humanely,” Liam repeated.
I breathed took in a deep breath and relaxed my shoulders. “I know you treat them as humanely as possible. They still don’t live as animals naturally live. They’re not even pets. They’re manipulated.” I smiled wryly, “That’s suffering. To live in a cage and not be able to run and hide or move about and use muscles that were made to climb is suffering. It’s horrible to be thwarted.”
Liam’s shoulders stiffened, his fists clenched. “What would you suggest?”
“Me?” I asked, my voice squeaky. “That you continue your research, You’re doing good things.”
“Then I’m not cruel,” he retorted. “But God is.”
“That’s what I mean: you don’t see what your sister and I see,” I replied. “And I can’t open your eyes.
“PETA doesn’t see that your research is so important, experimenting on animals is necessary. I see it. You see it. But they don’t.”
“You mean you see God isn’t cruel but I don’t,” he smirked.
“Yes,” I answered. “And there’s nothing I can do to convince you otherwise. God will have to do that.”
“Maybe a blinding light,” he smiled.
“If that’s what you need,” I replied. “Meanwhile, I’ll keep trying to find ways to say what I mean.” I nodded at him, “You encourage me to do that. I really believe that you want to know if God is cruel or insane or something else, something immensely good.”
“You believe He’s the latter,” Liam said.
“Why are we friends?” he asked.
“You don’t have to agree with me for us to be friends,” I told him.