You Can’t Make Me

God and I are listening to Bonnie Raitt on Youtube. “I can’t make you love me if you don’t,” she croons, her voice resigned, gentle. The lyrics were inspired by an article about a man who’d shot up his girlfriend’s car. During sentencing, the judge asked the offender if he’d learned anything. He replied, “Yes, I did, Your Honor. You can’t make a woman love you if she don’t.”

“Well, that’s true,” God says. “But don’t extrapolate. She’s singing about eros–an attraction that’s sensuous, artistic, and spontaneous.” God gave me a chummy wink. “It may not have been that wise, but I put eros slightly out of your direct control. And I’ll admit, I get a kick out of watching eros make fools of you all occasionally.”

My mind drifts to some of my youthful escapades that may or may not have been fueled by eros. I keep silent. God laughs.

“I hid it in the genes; biology and all that,” God says, but quickly adds, “I also gave you a modicum of willpower and common sense. You can channel eros in some very nice ways.” God smiles. “It’s a source of energy.”

“Yeah,” I say. My mind drifts to the notion of loving my enemies; definitely not a source of energy.

“Ah,” God says. “Let me clear that up for you. It’s a problem with language. I never command eros. It’s there or it isn’t. My first–and actually only–commandment is this: Have compassion. Choose self-sacrifice. Act for the common good. I don’t just hope you love each other in this sense of love. It’s a full-on mandate.” God pushes back in the recliner, watching me squirm.

“Penny for your thoughts,” she says. And I say, “You already know what I’m thinking, But fine, I’ll say it. I’m thinking about mandates. I don’t like seatbelts. They make me itch and feel claustrophobic. There are mandates I hate.”

“Yup,” God says. “I know that.”

“But on the other hand, I detest second-hand smoke, and drunk drivers terrify me.”

“I know that, too.”

The song continues. “Morning will come, and I’ll do what’s right. Just give me ‘til then to give up this fight.”  The longing in her voice, the beautiful, ultimately loving surrender always chokes me up. Such a heart-wrenching choice.

“Now, about those seatbelts,” God says. “You realize that in a crash, your untethered body becomes a bludgeon, right? It’s a mandate for the common good, not your comfort.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” I say. “That’s why I wear the damn things.”

But sometimes, I finish my half-beer in the car when I’m not driving. I haven’t shot up any vehicles, but I admit I still have some work to do.

“Oh, most of you have quite a bit of work to do,” God says. “And not to rush you, but like the song says, morning will come.”

Bad God

Here’s how it started: I spotted God strolling in the fading garden at sunrise and shouted, “Okay, God. Get in here right now. You’re in serious trouble, old man. Serious.” If God had a middle name, I would have used it. Like, “God Henry, I mean it.”

God heard me and waved. God heard me and pointed at the sky. God heard me and heard me and heard me because I didn’t stop yelling until I had dissolved in a coughing fit from over-exertion. It was only then God approached, slapped me on the back, and helped me catch my breathe.

“Pretty upset, huh?” God said.

“Oh, don’t try that Carl Rogers stuff on me,” I said. “You know damn well you’ve got to do something about your fake followers. Have you seen them, enshrining cruelty? Greed? Millions dancing at the thought of women forced to carry unwanted fetuses to term as if that’s what you want, rejoicing about your amazing creation being endlessly “developed”? Have you noticed the air quality? The hurricanes? The fires? The poor?”

“Slow down, partner,” God said. “Last day of good weather for a while. And it looks like you’ll have your first female Vice President, and she’s from Indian and Black parentage, and she’s smart. There’s that.” To my surprise, there were tears in God’s eyes. I mellowed a little, but the image of my neighbors wearing those detestable red hats with insulting slogans didn’t fade enough. I live in a beautiful place that voters have placed in the hands of the rich and morally corrupt. I live among people unwilling to pay taxes to care for the sick, the widowed, the poor, the broken. Unwilling to even pay their fair share for the common good.

God saw my despair. “Well, honey. You all have a long road ahead. I’ll give you that. Let’s try something, O.K.?”

I nodded. With God, a nod is a dangerous thing but not as dangerous as saying no.

“Pick a neighbor with a red hat. And get the image of the face clear in your mind’s eye.”

I complied, but there was a low guttural sound in my throat.

“Now, take the face gently into your hands and let your eyes speak love. Let your pain show. Let the truth generate a kind of holy light around you both.”

My hands clenched. My eyes burned. “I can’t do this,” I said to God. “I just want to snap the neck and be done with it.”

“I know,” God said. “But then who’d pay the taxes?” He laughed at his own bad joke, extended his elbow to my imagined neighbor, and they walked arm in arm back to the garden. God offered my neighbor some carrots. My carrots. My garden. My Bad God, out there loving my damaged, vicious neighbor, sharing my harvest.

I remained outraged, but I didn’t dare summons Bad God a second time. Who knows what else he’d give away? I just watched and sipped my beer.