Everybody already has enlightenment. Why did Buddha sit for six years, see a star, and then get enlightenment? That’s stupid! If you see a star, you get enlightenment now!
— Ch’unsong Sunim
Evening, May 14, 2017
Opening the door to the Captain’s cabin, Ana saw a small room, dark and unadorned, with only a bare wooden bed. The Captain sat upon it, writing something, pages of notes strewn all about. He looked up at Ana, his face unreadable through the dark glasses. She hesitated for just a second, then spoke.
“I know your True Name,” she said.
The overt meaning of “Leviathan” is “a giant sea monster”.
The kabbalistic meaning of “Leviathan” is “the world”.
This we derive from gematria, where both Leviathan and Malkuth – the sephirah corresponding to the material world – have identical values of 496. 496 is a perfect number, from which we can derive that the world is perfect – helpful, since we probably wouldn’t derive that otherwise.
The analogy between the world and a sea monster cuts across faiths. The Norse speak of Jormungand, the World Serpent, who circles the earth to grasp its own tail. The Babylonians say that the heavens and earth were built from the corpse of the primordial sea dragon Tiamat. Even the atheists represent the cosmos as part of a great whale, saying that the whole world is a gigantic fluke.
And the same motif of sea-monster-as-world is found in every form of art and scholarship. Herman Melville uses the whale Moby Dick as a symbol for the forces of Nature. Thomas Hobbes uses the Leviathan as his metaphor for human society. Even Leonard Cohen writes, in his Anthem, “There is a kraken: everything”.
The world, like Leviathan, is very big. The world, like Leviathan, is difficult for humans to understand, let alone subdue. The world, like Leviathan, holds out its promise – if only you could catch up with it, measure up to it, maybe things would make sense. The world, like Leviathan in Job 40:19, is “the first of the works of God”; like Leviathan in Job 41:9, it “humbles the mighty and lays them low”, like Leviathan in Psalm 104:25, it is “that who You formed to play with”.
And like Leviathan in Job 41:34, it is “king over all the sons of pride”. Those who are proud chase after worldly things, worship the world, treat it as their king. They obsess, they pursue, they seek to dominate and control. Even the English phrase has obvious kabbalistic echoes: “chasing your white whale”.
And those who seek God seek Him in the world, for where else could He be? They seek Him by acquiring riches, or by renouncing riches, or by gaining power, or by forsaking power. If all human acts take place in the world, then how but by interacting with the world can God be attained?
Yet Jesus said in Gospel of Thomas: “If your leaders say to you, ‘Look, the Kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the Kingdom of God is within you.”
And Robert Wilson wrote the story of a man who looked through chamber after chamber of his soul, questing for his true self, only to give up and conclude that there was nobody there. “That’s odd”, the guru told him. “Who’s conducting the search?”
“Come in,” said the Comet King.
He sat alone, on his bed, in prayer. For the first time since Ellis had met him, he looked afraid.
“Jala,” said Father Ellis, “you should go abovedecks. The crew is on the verge of breaking. The harpoon line’s holding so far, but the Leviathan – the crew is scared, Jala. And I should be abovedecks, working the blue sail. We don’t have men to spare.”
“Father,” said the Comet King, ignoring everything he had just said, “if you were going to devise a placebomantic ritual to summon God, how would you do it?”
“That’s easy. I wouldn’t. You don’t summon God.”
“But suppose that billions of people were suffering, and the only way to save them was to learn the Most Holy Name of God, which has to come from His own lips, and you thought – what’s there to lose? – and decided to summon Him anyway. How would you do it?”
Father Ellis thought for a while. “No. I still wouldn’t. The point is, you can’t summon God. He’s already everywhere.”
The Comet King smiled. “And that,” he said, “is why the Leviathan does not bother me.” He motioned for Ellis to sit down. “The ritual should conform to the Bible, of course,” he said. “And the Bible says that if you seek God, you will find Him, if you seek with all your heart. So. We have our ship, All Your Heart. Seven earthly sails for the seven earthly sephirot, three hidden in other planes. But the sails themselves aren’t enough. We need ritual. So we enact them in order. Various adventures, activating each aspect of God in turn. We start in my Kingdom. We go to San Francisco, the Foundation, where Heaven meets Earth. We shine with Glory. We win a Victory. We cross through Tiferet via the Canal. We cross Chesed by committing an act of great kindness, then Gevurah with an act of great harshness. We pass Da’at and its dark night, its collapse of everything earthly and recognizable. Now here we are. Binah, understanding. And Chokhmah, Wisdom. Which you have just displayed. Leaving us at the end of our road.”
“What do you mean?” asked Ellis. He didn’t like where this was going.
“God help us if we ever reeled the Leviathan all the way in,” said the Comet King. “No. We are going to very conspicuously demonstrate the ability to capture the Leviathan, and then we are going to complete the ritual exactly as you said. By realizing that God is already everywhere. Inside all of us. God isn’t out there in the world. He’s in all your heart. Tell me, Father, who of the crew seems most mysterious to you? Who doesn’t have a past?”
“Hm,” said Ellis, going over the crew in his mind, one crewmember per sail. “Orange sail…no, Clara came highly recommended from the Board of Ritual Magic. Yellow…Rabbi Pinson’s one of our greatest living kabbalists. Green…Leonard’s from Canada, his history checks out. Blue…that’s me. Purple…Gadiriel we all know. Black. That’s you. Everybody’s got a pretty clear history…wait. The First Mate. I…I don’t understand. Somehow I’ve known him this long and I…never thought to ask his name!”
“A common problem,” said the Comet King, smiling, “and one which we will soon correct. Bring him down here.”
A minute later, Ellis returned to the captain’s room, along with the First Mate. A big man, dressed in dark glasses. Ellis wondered why he’d never thought about him before, why it had never confused him that he didn’t know the name of one of the crew.
The Comet King fell to his knees.
Ellis had heard an old joke, once. The Pope was visiting New York City, but he was running late for his flight back to the Vatican. So he hailed a cab and told the taxi driver to floor it to LaGuardia airport, fast as he could. Well, the driver wasn’t going fast enough for the Pontiff, so he demanded they switch seats, and the Pope took the wheel and really started speeding down the freeway. Eventually a cop takes notice and pulls them over, then he gets cold feet. He radios the chief “Um,” he says “I think I accidentally pulled over someone really important.” “How important?” asks the chief. “Well,” said the cop, “all I know is that the Pope is his cabdriver.”
All Father Ellis knew was that the Comet King was kneeling before the big man, but that was enough. He dropped to his knees too.
“I know your True Name,” said the Comet King.
He just stared at them with those dark glasses.
And the Comet King said –
“Metatron.” Ana spoke the word without a hint of uncertainty. Then, realizing what she had gotten herself into, she fell to her knees.
The Captain took off his dark glasses, and Ana stared into the whirlwind.
The Sepher Hekhalot states that when the patriarch Enoch died, God “turned his flesh to flame, his veins to fire, his eye-lashes to bolts of lightning, his eye-balls to flaming torches, and placed him on a throne next to the throne of glory.” Then he imbued him with the Most Holy Name, and thenceforward he was called the “Measure of the Lord”, the “Prince of the Divine Presence” and “the Lesser God”. All of these titles are blasphemous as hell to call anybody who isn’t God, and it was this that made Elisha ben Abuyah, in the throes of heresy, give his famous proclamation – “There are two gods. T-W-O. Deal with it.”
The orthodox conception was different. God is ineffable, invisible, unspeakable, unknowable. He is the author of the world, not an entity in it. But sometimes it’s useful for an author to have a self-insert character, so to speak. Thus Metatron. Not God. Definitely not God. But slightly less not-God than anything else in Creation. And the things in creation were already rather less not-God than most of them would have expected. So Metatron’s not-God-ness was very low indeed, practically a rounding error.
Low enough that he, of all creation, could speak with God’s voice to reveal the secrets of the world.
“Hey,” I’d said one night, months before. We were sitting in the living room in Ithaca, reading our respective books. “If you caught Metatron in his boat at the edge of the world, and you got to ask one question and hear the answer from the voice of God Himself, what would you ask?”
“The Explicit Name,” said Erica.
“The problem of evil,” said Ana at the same time.
Erica raised an eyebrow at her cousin. “What? No! So suppose God says oh, the reason there’s evil is that there’s a blockage on the path between Binah and Yesod, sorry about that. Then what? How do you – ”
“There’s no path between Binah and Yesod,” I interrupted.
“Aaron!” snapped Erica, then turned back to Ana. “So God says there’s a blockage between whatever and whatever, and you say okay, and then what? You’ve wasted your question. Me, I’d ask the Explicit Name. And then have the power to rebuild the universe according to my will. You got to admit that sounds useful.”
“Blockage between whatever and whatever is only boring because you don’t actually know what you’re talking about,” said Ana. “Like, if God said that, I’d ask – why would an infinitely good God allow the passage between whatever and whatever to be blocked? At some point, there’s got to be a meaningful answer.”
“Why?” I asked, though I felt bad about it.
“BECAUSE THAT’S THE WAY I WOULD DO IT IF I WERE GOD,” said Ana.
“Maybe even God can’t answer,” suggested Erica. “It’s like, you know how Evil can’t possibly comprehend Good? Maybe Good can’t comprehend Evil either.”
“Evil is mostly made of fallen angels,” I said. “Who used to be regular angels. I am pretty sure Evil can comprehend good just fine.”
“Evil can’t possibly comprehend Aramaic,” Ana suggested.
“Better,” I said.
“You guys are making fun of me,” said Erica, “but I stick to what I said. Even if God gives some kind of supremely satisfying answer that explains everything about the existence of evil, in the end all you’re going to do is go ‘Huh’, but there’ll still be as much evil as ever. It’s like Marx said. The kabbalists are only trying to understand the world. The point is to change it.”
“I am pretty sure Marx didn’t mean ‘literally shatter it to pieces, then remake it in your own image'” said Ana.
“Actually,” I said, “that was kind of Marx’s thing.”
“But if I could ask God anything,” Erica continued despite us, “I wouldn’t waste it on philosophy stuff. In fact, I think that would be morally abhorrent. If you stumble across ultimate power, you’ve got a duty to use it for good. If I got the Explicit Name, you can bet things would be a lot different around here.”
“Erica,” I said, “you couldn’t use the Explicit Name. It shatters the world and rebuilds it according to the desires of the speaker. Are you one hundred percent sure that you have a clear, consistent set of desires about the world detailed enough to serve as a blueprint?”
“I just want people to be free,” said Erica.
“Boom,” I said. “Everyone’s living on a separate planet. Now they’re free. Is that what you want?”
“The Name isn’t going to be some kind of evil genie that twists your words to trick you.”
“The Name wasn’t meant to be used by humans! And the quatrain that turned out to be kabbalistically equivalent starts out ‘O Love, could thou and I with Him conspire / to grasp the sorry scheme of things entire.’ It very clearly says that visualizing the structure of the entire universe is a prerequisite.”
“And,” said Ana, “that’s why I would ask God about the problem of evil. Unless you know why God added evil in the first place, it’s irresponsible to try to recreate the universe without any. What if something bad happens?”
“By definition, it wouldn’t,” I said.
“You know what I mean!” said Ana. “And if you’re so smart, what would you ask God?”
“Um,” I thought for a second, then was gratified to be able to give a clear answer. “What is the ordered pair whose first value is the best possible question that I could ask you, and whose second value is your answer to it?”
“You are so annoying,” said Erica.
“The ordered pair would be ‘the question you just asked me’, and ‘this answer right here’,” said Ana. “Then God would laugh, and all your worldly wisdom would be to no avail.”
“No,” I corrected. “Jonah whale. Noah ark. I thought we already had this discussion.”
Ana stuck out her tongue.
“If God ever met either of you, He would smite you before you even got a chance to even open your mouth,” said Erica. “And if He was too busy, I’d do it for Him. With a smile.”
She flashed an exaggerated smile at both of us, and held it just a little too long. It was kind of creepy.
“Whereas He’d be totally okay with you asking Him for the keys to the World-Destroying-Machine because you wanted to make a couple little adjustments, right?” I retorted.
“I know what I want,” said Erica. “I spent my whole life trying to fix this stupid world, I’m not about to stop just because I’m in front of the Throne of Glory. And if God ever offers me a question, it’ll be because He knows what He’s getting into.”
“And I spent my entire life trying to figure out the problem of evil, and God knows exactly what He’s getting into with me too,” said Ana.
“And I,” I concluded, “spent my entire life coming up with weird munchkin-style responses to serious situations, and God – ”
“Shut it,” said Erica.
“You act like I’m being more annoying than you are,” I said. “But seriously. God, please tell me your Name so I can destroy everything and remake it according to whichever form of Marxism was recommended in the latest book I read. God, please give me a clear answer to the fundamental paradox of the universe in one hundred words or less, single-spaced. At least I’m honest about how ridiculous I am!”
“There is an answer,” said Ana. “There has to be. William Blake said that God appears and God is light to those who dwell in realms of night, but God can human form display to those who dwell in realms of day. All of these things like ‘it’s an ineffable paradox’ and ‘God works in mysterious ways’ – they’re just light. Vague, fuzzy, warm, reassuring. But our minds were created in the image of God. Things God can understand, we can understand. Maybe not actually. I can’t understand quantum chromodynamics. But it’s the sort of thing I could understand, if I were smarter. There are a lot of things beyond my intelligence. But I don’t know if there are things beyond my ken. I want to think that there aren’t.”
I made an expansive gesture that was supposed to indicate something like “Look at the universe”, but this was hard, and I ended up just making a really big arm movement. Luckily Ana got my point anyway, because telepathy.
“Look,” she said, “you know the story of Rabbi Joshua and Elijah, right? Joshua asks to accompany Elijah on his journeys, Elijah agrees as long as Joshua doesn’t ask questions. The first night they stay with a family who are desperately poor and own only a single cow; still, they take the two travelers in and share what little they have. The next morning, before leaving, Elijah kills their cow. The second night, they stay with a rich man who condescends to them and tells them they can stay in the barn with the cows, because beggars deserve no better. The next morning, before leaving, Elijah magically repairs a wall of his mansion which was about to fall. Joshua says he can’t keep it in any longer, he knows he’s not supposed to ask questions, but what is Elijah doing? Elijah says that the first man’s wife was destined to die the next day, but he prayed to God to accept the death of the cow instead. The second man was going to repair the crumbling wall of his mansion and discover buried treasure hidden underneath; he fixed it so this wouldn’t happen. And I feel like if we’re supposed to draw any conclusion at all from this story, it’s that even seemingly unjust actions have hidden reasons that we can understand, if only someone will explain them.”
“So,” I asked, you think the reason there’s evil in the world is a series of post hoc adjustments for implausible coincidences, some of which involved buried treasure?”
“It’s a metaphor! I think the reason there’s evil in the world is something that will make at least as much sense when I hear it as Elijah’s explanation did to Rabbi Joshua.”
“Elijah’s explanation only makes sense because he passes the buck. Okay, the virtuous woman was going to die, and Elijah has to kill the cow to prevent that. Fine. How come the virtuous woman was going to die young in the first place? How come Elijah doesn’t answer that?”
“It’s a metaphor!”
“Of course it’s a metaphor! Kabbalah says that everything is a metaphor for God, the only thing that’s not a metaphor for God is God Himself. That doesn’t mean you can just dismiss things as metaphors and fail to explain how they correspond.”
“Look, I’m just saying, there has to be a reason. And one day, I’m going to figure out what it is.”
In the sea off Fire Island in New York, on a ship with seven sails, Ana Thurmond thought and remembered. Then she told the Captain: “My question is: why would a perfectly good God create a universe filled with so much that is evil?”
Then God spoke to Ana out of the whirlwind, and He said:
“THE REASON EVIL EXISTS IS TO MAXIMIZE THE WHOLE COSMOS’ TOTAL SUM GOODNESS. SUPPOSE WE RANK POSSIBLE WORLDS FROM BEST TO WORST. EVEN AFTER CREATING THE BEST, ONE SHOULD CREATE THE SECOND-BEST, BECAUSE IT STILL CONTAINS SOME BEAUTY AND HAPPINESS. THEN CONTINUE THROUGH THE SERIES, CREATING EACH UNTIL REACHING THOSE WHERE WICKEDNESS AND SUFFERING OUTWEIGH GOOD. SOME WORLDS WILL INCLUDE MUCH INIQUITY BUT STILL BE GOOD ON NET. THIS IS ONE SUCH.”
And before Ana could answer, the whirlwind intensified, and caught her in its maelstrom, and she fell into a vision.
Job asked: “God, why would You, who are perfect, create a universe filled with so much that is evil?”
Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the whirlwind, saying “WOULD YOU PREFER I HAD NOT CREATED YOUR UNIVERSE, EVIL AS IT IS? WOULD YOU PREFER TO BE VOID AND EMPTINESS?”
“No!” said Job. “I would prefer to live in a universe that was perfect and just!”
“I CREATED SUCH A UNIVERSE,” said God. “IN THAT UNIVERSE, THERE IS NO SPACE, FOR SPACE TAKES THE FORM OF SEPARATION FROM THINGS YOU DESIRE. THERE IS NO TIME, FOR TIME MEANS CHANGE AND DECAY, YET THERE MUST BE NO CHANGE FROM ITS MAXIMALLY BLISSFUL STATE. THE BEINGS WHO INHABIT THIS UNIVERSE ARE WITHOUT BODIES, AND DO NOT HUNGER OR THIRST OR LABOR OR LUST. THEY SIT UPON GOLDEN THRONES AND CONTEMPLATE THE PERFECTION OF ALL THINGS.
YET I ALSO CREATED YOUR UNIVERSE, THAT YOU MIGHT LIVE. TELL ME, JOB, IF I UNCREATED YOUR WORLD, WOULD YOU BE HAPPIER? OR WOULD YOU BE DEAD, WHILE FAR AWAY IN A DIFFERENT UNIVERSE INCORPOREAL BEINGS SAT ON THEIR GOLDEN THRONES REGARDLESS?”
“I would prefer to be one of those perfect beings on their golden thrones.”
“WHAT WOULD IT MEAN FOR YOU TO BE SUCH A BEING? THEY HAVE NO BODIES, NO EMOTIONS, NO DESIRES, NO LANGUAGE. WHAT WOULD IT MEAN FOR ME TO CREATE A VERSION OF YOU WITHOUT BODY EMOTION DESIRE OR LANGUAGE, VERSUS TO CREATE SUCH A BEING BUT NOT HAVE IT BE YOU AT ALL? IS A VERSION OF YOU WHO IS INFINITELY WISE STILL YOU? A VERSION OF YOU WHO IS A WICKED IDOLATOR? A VERSION OF YOU WHO IS EXACTLY LIKE NOAH, IN EVERY WAY? THERE IS NO OBJECTIVE COSMIC UNEMPLOYMENT RATE.”
“THERE IS NO OBJECTIVE ANSWER TO THE QUESTION OF HOW MANY UNIVERSES HAVE A JOB. THERE ARE VARIOUS CREATURES MORE OR LESS LIKE YOU. IF I UNCREATED YOU AND YOUR WORLD OF SUFFERING, THEY WOULD REMAIN, AND YOU WOULD DIE. WOULD THIS BE A FAVOR TO YOU?”
“I still don’t understand. Certainly I, who exist, want to continue existing. But instead of creating one perfect universe and some flawed universes, couldn’t you just have created many perfect universes?”
“TELL ME, JOB, WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN YOUR RIGHT AND LEFT HANDS?”
“Uh…one is on my right, and the other is on my left. And they’re mirror images of each other.”
“I AM BEYOND SPACE. TO ME THERE IS NEITHER LEFT NOR RIGHT NOR MIRRORED REFLECTION. IF TWO THINGS ARE THE SAME, THEY ARE ONE THING. IF I CREATED TWO PERFECT UNIVERSES, I WOULD ONLY HAVE CREATED ONE UNIVERSE. IN ORDER TO DIFFERENTIATE A UNIVERSE FROM THE PERFECT UNIVERSE, IT MUST BE DIFFERENT IN ITS SEED, ITS SECRET UNDERLYING STRUCTURE.”
“Then create one perfect universe, and some universes whose structures have tiny flaws that no one will ever notice.”
“I DID. I CREATED MYRIADS OF SUCH UNIVERSES. WHEN I HAD EXHAUSTED ALL POSSIBLE UNIVERSES WITH ONE FLAW, I MOVED ON TO UNIVERSES WITH TWO FLAWS, THEN UNIVERSES WITH THREE FLAWS, THEN SO ON, AN ENTIRE GARDEN OF FLAWED UNIVERSES GROWING ALONGSIDE ONE ANOTHER.”
“YOUR WORLD IS AT THE FARTHEST EDGES OF MY GARDEN,” God admitted, “FAR FROM THE BRIGHT CENTER WHERE EVERYTHING IS PERFECT AND SIMPLE. THERE IS A WORLD MADE OF NOTHING BUT BLISS, WITH A GIANT ALEPH IN THE CENTER. THERE IS ANOTHER WORLD MADE OF NOTHING BUT BLISS WITH A GIANT BET IN THE CENTER. AND SO ON, BUT MAKE A MILLION MILLION WORLDS LIKE THOSE, AND YOU START NEEDING TO BECOME MORE CREATIVE. YOU NEED MORE AND MORE STRATAGEMS TO SEPARATE WORLDS FROM ONE ANOTHER. WORLDS WHERE INCREDIBLY BIZARRE THINGS HAPPEN AS A MATTER OF COURSE. WORLDS WHERE RANDOM COMBINATIONS OF SYLLABLES INVOKE DIVINE POWERS. AND THE MORE SUCH THINGS I ADD, THE MORE CHANCE THAT THEY TEND TOWARD EVIL. YOUR WORLD IS VERY FAR FROM THE CENTER INDEED. IT IS IN THE MIDDLE OF A VAST WASTE, WHERE NOTHING ELSE GROWS. ALL OF THE WORLDS THAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN PLANTED THERE WOULD HAVE BEEN ABOMINATIONS OF WICKEDNESS. BUT BY COINCIDENCE PILED UPON COINCIDENCE, YOURS WAS NOT. YOURS WILL GROW INTO A THING OF BEAUTY THAT WILL GLORIFY MY HOLY NAME.”
“GENESIS 1:31. I LOOKED AT THE WORLD, AND I SAW THAT IT WAS GOOD. I BEHELD ADAM KADMON, THE SEED OF YOUR WORLD, AND SAW THAT IT WAS A GOOD SEED. THAT IT WOULD GROW INTO MORE GOOD THAN EVIL. THAT IT DESERVED A PLACE IN MY GARDEN, BESIDE THE MILLION MILLION OTHER SEEDS THAT WOULD GROW INTO OTHER WORDS, SO THAT AS MUCH GOODNESS AS POSSIBLE COULD BE INSTANTIATED IN THE COSMOS.”
“God,” said Job, “what about me?”
“WHAT ABOUT YOU?”
“All my children are dead. All my wealth is gone. I’m covered in boils. And you’re telling me, basically, that the reason I’m covered in boils is so that you can have one universe where I’m covered in boils, and another universe where I’m not covered in boils, and then you’ll have one more universe than if you committed to not covering me in boils?”
“NOT EXACTLY. I DO NOT SPECIFICALLY MAKE EVERY DECISION ABOUT BOILS. I CREATE THE SEEDS OF UNIVERSES, WHICH GROW ACCORDING TO THEIR SECRET STRUCTURE. BUT IT IS TRUE THAT I COULD HAVE LIMITED MYSELF TO CREATING UNIVERSES WHERE NO ONE EVER BECAME COVERED IN BOILS, AND I DID NOT DO SO. FOR THE UNIVERSES WHERE SOME PEOPLE GET COVERED IN BOILS ALSO HAVE MYRIADS OF WONDERS, AND JOYS, AND SAINTS, AND I WILL NOT DENY THEM EXISTENCE FOR THE SAKE OF THOSE COVERED IN BOILS.”
“How many wonders and joys and saints is one case of boils worth, God?”
“BE CAREFUL, JOB. I HAD THIS CONVERSATION WITH ABRAHAM BEFORE YOU. HE ASKED WHETHER I WOULD SPARE MY JUDGMENT ON SODOM LEST FIFTY RIGHTEOUS MEN SHOULD SUFFER. WHEN I AGREED, HE PLED FOR FORTY, THIRTY, TWENTY, AND TEN. BUT BELOW TEN HE DID NOT GO, SO I DESTROYED THE CITY. AND IF I WOULD NOT RESTRAIN MYSELF FROM DESTROYING FOR THE SAKE OF A HANDFUL OF RIGHTEOUS MEN SUFFERING, HOW MUCH LESS I SHOULD RESTRAIN MYSELF FROM CREATING.”
“So I should just sit here and suffer quietly?”
“UNTIL YOU DIE, AND YOUR SOUL IS REMOVED FROM THE WORLD, AND I CAN GRANT IT ETERNAL BLISS WITHOUT HAVING TO WORRY ABOUT ANY OF THIS.”
“That’s not a fucking lot of consolation, God.”
Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the whirlwind, saying: “HAVE YOU BEHELD THE FOUNDATIONS OF THE EARTH? SEEN ITS FOOTINGS AND ITS CORNERSTONE? WATCHED AS THE SONS OF GOD ALL SANG TOGETHER AND THE MORNING STARS SHOUTED FOR JOY? HAVE YOU SEEN THE DOORS OF THE SEA? THE CHAINS OF THE PLEIADES AND ORION’S BELT? THE LIONS, THE RAVENS, THE YOUNG OF THE DOE AND BEAR? BEHOLD THE BEHEMOTH, WHICH I MADE BESIDE YOU, AND THE LEVIATHAN WHO RESIDES IN THE SEA. CAN YOU SAY THAT ALL THESE WONDERS SHOULD NOT BE, SO THAT YOU COULD AVOID A CASE OF BOILS? SHALL I SMITE THEM FOR YOU? SPEAK, AND I SHALL END THE WORLD WITH A WORD.”
And as He spoke, the whirlwind took form, and Job saw all of these things, the boundaries of the Earth and the gateways of the Heavens, the myriad animals from Leviathan down to the smallest microbe, the glory of the lightning and the gloom of the deepest caves, the pyramids of Egypt and the pagodas of China. And he knew more surely than he had ever known anything before that God could end all of them with a word, and he knew that the existence of all of them, every single one, depended on the same seed that had given him a case of boils.
And Job said “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes. But…why couldn’t you have told me this before? Why did I have to suffer in ignorance?”
“YOUR WORLD IS AT THE EDGES OF MY GARDEN. IF NOT FOR COINCIDENCE PILED UPON COINCIDENCE, IT WOULD NEVER BLOSSOM INTO GOODNESS, AND SO COULD NOT HAVE BEEN CREATED. YOUR IGNORANCE OF MY PURPOSE BEGINS A CHAIN OF COINCIDENCES WHICH WILL GROW AND GROW UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD, WHEN IT WILL COME TO FRUITION. THAT PURPOSE IS NOW COMPLETE. GO, AND REGAIN EVERYTHING YOU HAVE LOST, BUT TELL NOBODY WHAT I HAVE TOLD YOU.”
“But…I told everybody I was going to ask You about the purpose of evil. When they want to know what You answered, what should I tell them?”
“TELL THEM I SAID ‘GO FISH’.”
Ana beheld in the whirlwind the trials of Job, and the answer of the Lord, and the whole chain of being, and the Pleiades and Orion, and Leviathan and Behemoth, and all the wonders and joys and saints of the world, placed in dazzling array, God’s answer to the problem of evil spoken with a tornadic fury that stripped the universe to its roots.
“I don’t buy it,” said Ana Thurmond.
“YOU DON’T THINK IT IS WORTH IT?”
“I think you should have offered us the choice.”
“BEFORE THE WORLD, I SPOKE TO ADAM KADMON IN MY GARDEN. I OFFERED HIM THE CHOICE TO REMAIN IN THE PARADISE BEYOND EXISTENCE, OR TO TASTE OF GOOD AND EVIL, BE SEPARATED FROM ME, AND ATTAIN INDEPENDENT BEING. HE CHOSE THE LATTER.”
“No, what about us? Not the grand purpose of the cosmos, not Adam Kadmon before the world, us. What about me?”
The voice of God said out of the whirlwind, “YOU, WHO ONLY TWO DAYS AGO SOARED SO HIGH SHE ALMOST ESCAPED THE WORLD AND MERGED HER IDENTITY INTO THE JOY BEYOND ALL BEING, BEFORE SHE WAS RESCUED BY MY SHIP AND CREW? AND WHO SAID, AND I QUOTE, ‘OH GOD, I ALMOST FELT TRANSCENDENT JOY. IT WAS AWFUL'”.
“Then…” Ana was almost crying now. “What about Hell? What about everybody who lives their life and dies and ends up suffering eternally with no way to get out. Shouldn’t they have gotten the choice? You said that our world was good on net. Well, it isn’t. I don’t know what kind of calculus you use, or how you rank these things, but I don’t care. As long as there’s a Hell, whatever you saw in Genesis 1:31 that caused you to pronounce our world, and I quote, ‘good’, you were wrong. Yeah, I said it. My name is Ana Thurmond of San Jose, California, and I hereby accuse you of getting it wrong. As long as Hell exists and is eternal, you were wrong to create the world, you are wrong to sustain it, and I don’t care how awesome a fish you’ve got, you are wrong about the problem of evil.”
“YES,” said God. “WHICH IMPLIES THAT HELL MUST NOT BE ETERNAL. I DID NOT SAY, ANA THURMOND, THAT YOUR WORLD IS GOOD NOW. I SAID THAT ADAM KADMON, ITS SEED, WAS A GOOD SEED. THAT IT WILL UNFOLD, BIT BY BIT, RINGING CONCLUSION AFTER CONCLUSION FROM ITS PREMISES, UNTIL FINALLY ITS OWN INTERNAL LOGIC CULMINATES IN ITS SALVATION.”
“How?” asked Ana, begging, pleading, shouting.
“COME AND SEE,” said God.
Then the Leviathan wheeled around, opened its colossal maw, and engulfed the Not A Metaphor. The ship spent a single wild moment in its mouth before the monster closed its jaws and crushed all of them into tiny pieces.
The final chapter will be posted next week. I will be doing a dramatic reading of Chapter 72 in Berkeley, very tentatively at the CFAR office on the 7th floor of 2030 Addison St at 4:30 PM on Sunday May 14, but I need to double-check this will fit everybody. If you’re interested in coming, please fill out this RSVP and give me your email address so I can tell you about any changes. There will be other related events in NYC, Tel Aviv, Boston; and Austin; ask on the linked Facebook pages for details.