I found God in a bar near the university. He was sitting alone at a table by the window, half-leaning against the letters painted on the glass, his face dark against the gray, rain-heavy day outside. He was smoking and drinking a Rolling Rock. “Hey, Mike,” he said. “Have a seat.” He looked like he hadn’t shaved in a day or two, but otherwise he was neat and well groomed—short, dark hair, thick, white Aran sweater, dark slacks. Nothing special. Not at all what I’d expected from God.
“What the hell,” I said. I went over to the table, but I didn’t sit. “What the hell are you doing here?”
He shrugged. “Hanging out,” he said. “Having a beer.” He tapped his cigarette on the ashtray and gestured to the opposite chair. “I thought you wanted to talk.”
I pulled out the chair and sat. “There’s no smoking over here,” I told him as he blew smoke across the table. “Not during lunch.”
“I’m God,” he said. “You want a burger? The burgers here are—oh, hey. Speak of the devil.”
I looked up to see a blue T-shirted waitress with a tray. “One bacon bleu cheese burger, extra well-done, extra onions,” she said, setting a plate in front of God. “One three cheese with mushrooms, rare.” That one was for me, apparently.
“I didn’t order this,” I told her. “I only walked in just now.”
“God ordered it for you,” she said. “I’ll be right back with your beer.”
“I don’t want a beer,” I said.
“Yes you do,” said God.
“No,” I said, looking right at him. “I don’t.”
He shrugged and took another drag of his cigarette, and the waitress left. “So where were we?”
“You couldn’t have turned up sooner?”
He set the still-burning cigarette in the ashtray and picked up his burger. “I suppose I could have.” He frowned, chewed for a few moments, then swallowed. “Hey, I heard this joke the other day. These three nuns, they die and they’re standing outside the Pearly Gates…”
I blinked. “So there is a heaven, then? With pearly gates?”
God’s hand, full of cheeseburger, stopped halfway to his mouth. “It’s a joke,” he said. “If I told you the talking muffin joke, would you think there were really talking muffins?” A few raindrops spattered on the window.
“What’s the talking muffin joke?”
“There are these muffins in the oven,” he said. “The one turns to the other and says, ‘It sure is hot in here.’ The other one says, ‘Holy shit, a talking muffin!’” He looked at me for a moment. “You always did take yourself too seriously.”
“So whose fault is that?”
“I’ll give you that,” he said. “Hey, are you going to eat your lunch or not?” He reached over and took a fry off my plate. I’d only seen him take a few bites of his burger, but it was gone, and his plate was nearly clean.
“I’m not hungry.”
I pushed the plate across the table. “So are you really omnipotent?” I asked.
“Of course I am,” he said around a mouthful of mushroom burger. “I wouldn’t be God if I weren’t.”
“So can you make a rock so heavy you can’t lift it?”
He picked up his beer. “Oh, yeah, like no one’s asked me that before.” He took a swig. “Got any other burning questions? How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Does a dog have Buddha nature?”
“The problem of evil?” I countered.
“Oh, sure, it looks like a problem from where you sit,” he said, gesturing towards me with his beer. “But it’s not. Trust me.”
I just looked at him.
“Really. Evil will not escape my sight.”
“Right,” I said. The rain was coming harder, blowing against the window, a rhythmless spatting sound. It was a few moments before I placed the quote. “What the hell,” I said. “Are you God, or the Green Lantern?” He laughed. “The Gospel According to Stan Lee?”
He picked up his cigarette. “I thought you were some kind of scholar, Mike,” he said. “Don’t you know the difference between Marvel and DC?” His face was completely serious. “Hey, I’ve gotta go.” He finished off the last of his Rolling Rock and stood.
“You’re forgetting something,” I said.
“I never forget anything. I’m a little short on cash.”
“You’re God. Make some.”
“That would be counterfeiting.”
“No it wouldn’t,” I said. “Besides, you’re outside time, right? Just make it so you earn some money or whatever, so you can pay for your own damn lunch.”
“Or I could make it so you earn some money so I can pay for my own damn lunch,” he said. “It was good talking to you. Maybe we can do it again sometime.”
The first time you seriously consider the idea of killing God, it’s natural to feel a bit overwhelmed. How would you do it? What could one human do that would kill the omnipotent creator of time itself? And what would that mean? Would the universe cease to exist once its creator was gone, if Brahma blinked and never opened his eyes again? Or would things just continue much as they had before, but with humans in charge of their own fate, no longer living at the whim of a capricious deity?
I obviously had a lot of research in front of me, so I studied. Theology, mythology, comparative religion. I read every holy book I could find—the Vedas, the Avesta, fragments of Sumerian hymns, anything. I read the commentaries on the holy books, and I read the commentaries on the commentaries. I had a long conversation with a schizophrenic who claimed God was a frequent correspondent of his via coded messages tucked into his Value Pack coupon envelopes, and such was my diligence and determination that I did not dismiss this possibility out of hand but instead studied my own junk mail assiduously.
I learned very little, except that wherever God goes he seems to surround himself with paradoxes and contradictions.
The sound of the phone ringing woke me. I squinted at the clock, trying to make sense of the numbers. 3:04 AM. The phone, where was it? I sat up, forcing my brain to work, trying to locate the sound in the dark. I swung my feet to the floor and stood, walked forward until I met the counter that made the other half of the room a “kitchen,” and somehow found the handset.
“Hey, Mike. It’s me. God.”
“Do you know what time it is?”
“Of course I do,” he said. “I know everything. What are you doing?”
“Sleeping,” I said. “Are you stalking me or something?”
“You spent ten years tracking me around the world. I call you up once and I’m the stalker?”
“It’s three o’clock in the morning. What do you expect, calling at this hour?”
“How about, ‘Here I am, Lord.’”
“Fat chance,” I said.
“Look, there’s this club over on the East Side…”
I didn’t let him finish. “I have to work tomorrow.” I walked around the counter, into the kitchen.
“What do you think I made sick days for?” asked God. “Look, we don’t have to go to the East Side if you don’t want.” I pulled a glass out of the cupboard. “We could just hang out. Bullshit for a while.”
I turned on the tap. “No.”
“Damn,” he said. “Well, do you have some cigarettes I could borrow? I’m all out.”
“I don’t have any,” I said. I took a drink and set the glass on the counter. “I quit six years ago.”
“Oh, yeah, that’s right,” said God.
“Can’t you just say, ‘Let there be smokes?’”
“It wouldn’t be a good idea.”
“Why not? Seems like a good idea to me.” My hand brushed something on the counter, by the glass—something smooth, small and box-shaped. I picked it up and frowned at it, turned it so the street light coming through the blinds could shine on the tiny print on the side: Surgeon General’s Warning. The floor was cold on my bare feet, and I began to shiver.
“Oh, sure, it seems like a good idea. But it would be interfering. Like violating the Prime Directive.”
I put the phone down and walked around the counter to the window, where I pulled up the blinds and raised the sash. The cars parked along the street were flat and monochrome in the orange glow of the sodium lights. The early-morning silence was a tangible thing, as though it were something covering my ears and not merely an absence of sound. I raised the screen and tossed out the pack of cigarettes. I stood a few moments longer, chilled from the outside air, just looking out onto the street. Then I shut the window, lowered the blinds, and went back to the counter.
I picked up the phone. “Hey, thanks,” said God. “I owe you one.” I hung up, turned the ringer off, and went back to bed.
Even if you finally decide on a method, you have to find God to use it on him.
I thought maybe it would be a good idea to visit the places God goes. The places he’s been, the places people travel miles and miles to visit, just in the hope of meeting him. It seems manageable when you first think of it. The list starts with a few sites—”Well,” you say to yourself, “I’ll go to Jerusalem. And Rome. Pity I can’t get to Mecca, but it’ll have to do.” And then you buy your tickets and your travelers checks, and off you go. On the plane you think, “I should visit Bodh Gaya, and Chak Chak. Ise, Mount Abu, Amritsar, Fuji, Lourdes, Mexico City.” Your list is getting longer, but it’s still doable.
But every city on your path has one or more churches or temples or whatever that you should visit. Set down in a place like Benares, and you find that every three steps you take, you blunder onto a pilgrimage site. And now that you’re looking, now that you’re really seeing it, it’s clear that the list is endless. God should be everywhere you turn, inescapable, but he’s never there, only the signs: God was here. Once. A long time ago.
Still, I persevered. You don’t undertake to kill God as a casual thing.
He was waiting for me outside my apartment building, leaning against a sunny strip on the brick wall, a cigarette hanging from his mouth. I’d thought he’d be there, and I was ready, my hand in my pocket, fingers wrapped around the handle of the blade.
“Hey, you did call in sick,” he said when he saw me, straightening. I walked past him without saying anything, and he fell in beside me. He knew—he had to know—but if I was right, he was helpless against the weapon in my pocket. I walked towards the main road, not sure where I was going. I could do what I intended anywhere, but I wanted it to say something, wanted it to be the kind of ritual gesture God seemed to like so much.
He walked with me for half the block. “Where’re you headed?” he asked. I shrugged. “Come on, Mike,” he said, stopping. “Quit playing around.” I turned to face him, saying nothing. He gestured around the empty street, the row of apartment buildings, the houses further down the block, all bordered by neat strips of grass. “There’s nobody here but you and me. Everybody’s at work, and the kids are in school. Let’s see what you’ve got.”
I pulled the blade out of my pocket. It was six inches long, wicked-sharp on one side. It shone dully gray in the sunlight. “I’ve got this,” I said. I looked for some reaction on his face but only saw a bland, serious expression.
“I’ve got to hand it to you, Mike. When you do something, you do it right. Where’d you find it?”
“Damn,” said God. He took the cigarette out of his mouth. “You really can find anything there.”
“It’s the real thing,” I said. “The guy changed his name to William of Occam, just so he could sell them.”
“Yeah.” He dropped the cigarette to the sidewalk and ground it out with his foot. “Yeah, I can see it’s the real thing.”
“It’ll work.” My conviction was wavering slightly in the face of his calm.
“Oh, it’ll work. The question is, do you really want to use it?”
“No,” I said. “That’s not the question. The question is, how can you be all powerful and all good and let things happen the way they do? Earthquakes and hurricanes. Wars. People starving all over the world. It’s bad enough people have to die, but you make them die of AIDS, of cancer. Long, painful deaths, wasting away.”
“Hey,” God said, “I’m sorry about your mom.”
“No you’re not.” My voice was raised. I couldn’t help it. “If you were sorry it wouldn’t have happened to begin with. You’re God.”
“Yeah, I am. And you’ve got Occam’s razor in your hand. You gonna use it? Or not?”
“Am I free to use it? Or am I just your puppet?”
God shrugged. “See,” he said. “You’re asking the wrong question. It’s amazing how often that happens.”
“Answer the damn question. Do we have free will, or is everything predestined?”
“Yes,” said God. “There’s your answer.”
“How can it be free will if it’s all according to plan?”
“There are a hundred and seven theologians who can answer that question for you.” He frowned. “Wait—a hundred and six. The hundred and seventh, she isn’t born yet.” He shook his head. “Time,” he said.
“Don’t bullshit me, God,” I said, and hefted the blade. “I’m not kidding around.”
“I know you’re not, Mike. But I don’t think you really want to do this. It won’t change any of those things, death and earthquakes and whatever. It’ll all still be the same. That’s how Occam’s Razor works.”
“I know how Occam’s Razor works!”
“Sure you do. So why did you spend ten years blowing your savings on books and travel when all you needed was five minutes with eBay? Why didn’t you use it when you got it, or last night? How come you’re standing here arguing theology?” He spread his hands. “Fish or cut bait, Mike. Here I am. What the hell are you waiting for?”
“Nothing,” I said, and swung my arm back for the strike.
“Excuse me,” said a voice behind me. I turned my head. The mail carrier was behind me, bag on his shoulder, a stack of grocery store fliers in his hand. “Can I get by?”
“Sure,” I said, stepping aside. “Sorry.”
“No problem,” he said. He raised his free hand. “Hi, God. How you doing today?”
“Fine, just fine. And yourself?”
“Can’t complain. Won’t do me any good.”
“You too,” said God.
I watched the mail carrier go into the apartment building nearest us. We were both silent for a few moments.
“No time like the past,” said God.
I turned to look at him again. “What?”
“Twilight Zone. You know, the one where Dana Andrews went back in time to shoot Hitler. Only he kept getting interrupted and couldn’t do it. Except he could have, you know? Because he had Hitler in his sights. Why would a knock on the door stop him? Do you think it was the unchangeable past, or his indecision?”
“I think it was crappy writing,” I said, and put the blade back in my pocket.
“That too.” He reached into his jacket and pulled out a cigarette. Behind me I could hear the traffic on the main road, two blocks away. I couldn’t think of anything to say.
“Don’t feel bad,” said God. “It wouldn’t have worked out the way you expected anyway.”
“What do you mean?” He didn’t answer. “You mean I didn’t have a choice after all?”
“You’re kind of stuck on that choice thing, aren’t you.” He took a lighter out of a back pocket. “Hey, let’s go bowling.”
“I don’t want to go bowling.” Out of the corner of my eye I saw movement. I turned my head to look. It was the mail carrier coming back out of the building. He stopped beside us, looked at the mail in his hand, then looked up.
“Hey,” he said. “You’re in 6163, aren’t you?”
He pulled a bundle out of the stack of mail. “Here.”
“No problem.” He walked off.
God was lighting his cigarette, not looking at me. I looked down at the papers in my hand. Bills. Sale fliers. A bright green one, jutting out uneven from the stack, caught my eye. I could just make out the top line:
Happy Luck Chinese Buffet
I pulled out the flier and something else came with it. Paper-clipped to the green flier was a small beige rectangle, one edge ragged. It was the sort of coupon that comes in books, the ones that promise hundreds of dollars in savings but you never use them, they just sit in your junk drawer until the next fundraiser comes around. Tropicana Lanes, it read. Two bowl for the price of one. I looked up and saw the mail carrier’s back as he disappeared into the next building.
“We don’t need to go bowling if you don’t want,” said God. “Let’s go to Steak ‘n’ Shake instead. I could stand a bacon cheeseburger.”
“Oh, right. And you’ll smoke while you eat, and nobody will stop you because you’re God. And then you’ll make me pay for it. The hell with that.”
“Heh,” said God. “I’m kind of a bastard, aren’t I?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Yeah, God, you kind of are.”
We were both silent a moment. I looked down again at the flier in my hand: All you can eat, one low price!
“No Steak-n-Shake,” I said finally. “Chinese.”