The story I want to tell you today is about three brothers who embark on a pilgrimage to meet their god. It doesn’t have to be the Christian God. It’s a fictional god.
Each pilgrim who makes the trip gets to ask his god one question that god must answer.
Eager to leave, the brothers say goodbye to their families and leave their small village behind.
They cross a thick forest, which takes them a week. They travel past a lake so wide it takes them two weeks to clear it. They venture through sandy dunes for three weeks straight. It takes them a whole month to hike through a series of mountains and valleys.
When they finally reach a small cave by the sea, guarded by seagulls, the thought of being able to speak to their god makes them forget about their fatigue.
The first brother can’t wait. He goes into the cave and carefully crawls his way toward a flickering light coming from a small fire.
He immediately knows he is in the presence of his god. The pilgrim bows before the light, and asks his question:
“God? How does one get rich quick?”
The cave starts to rumble. And then god answers the question:
“Pilgrim, the quickest way to get rich is with patience. You must plant a thousand olive trees and wait for thirty years for them to flourish. Then, when you sell all the fruits, you shall be a rich man.”
But the pilgrim looks up in disbelief. He’s not satisfied with this answer at all. Thirty years! That’s a long time to wait to get rich. That’s not quick at all!
The first pilgrim, angered, marches out the cave, and as he reaches the exit, he kicks a seagull in the chest. He pumps his fist at the clouds and curses his god.
But god is still listening, and sends a bolt of lightning at the pilgrim, striking him on his head. Within seconds, there is nothing left of the pilgrim but the smell of burning flesh.
His two brothers, still waiting outside, watch their brother burn. They are terrified. What happened? What had their brother done to deserve the scorn of god?
Despite his fear, the second brother decides to go into the cave anyway. He wants to ask his question. A humble man, he crawls through the cave toward the flickering light. And like his brother before him, he knows he is now in the presence of his god.
The second pilgrim asks his question:
“God? How does one win the prettiest wife?”
The cave beings to rumble. And then god answers the question:
“Pilgrim, the prettiest wife is won with patience. You must become the best man you can be and then, one day, the woman who deserves you shall find you, and you shall have the prettiest wife.”
But the second pilgrim also looks up in disbelief at the burning fire. He’s not satisfied with this answer at all. Patience! That way, it could take half a lifetime to find the pretty wife. He can’t wait any longer. He wants the prettiest wife right now!
The brother, angered, marches out the cave, and as he reaches the exit, he, too, kicks a seagull in the chest. He pumps his fist at the earth and curses his god.
But god is still listening, and parts the earth below the pilgrim’s feet, sending him down into a fiery pit. Within seconds, there is nothing left of the pilgrim but the smell of burning flesh.
The last brother can barely stop shaking from the nerve. Should he run from this angry god? He decides to go into the cave anyway. And like his brothers before him, he humbly stumbles toward the flickering light.
He bows down, but the fear has gotten to him. He can’t remember his question anymore. So, the pilgrim begins to speak:
“God, I’ve been building a house. I built a house without running water, so I’ll have to go outside each morning and each evening to fetch water from the well I dug myself, with the buckets I made myself.
I built a house without central heating. So each afternoon, I wander into the nearby forest to cut down wood with the axe I sharpened myself.
I built a house without electricity. I spend my days outside in the light, but at night, I sit quietly by the candles that I made myself.
I built a house with a roof that requires regular maintenance. After each storm passes by, I wait for the roof to dry, and I go to inspect it and repair it where needed, using nothing but the tools I made myself.
I have a house full of needy children. So I work the land to provide for them using the plough I maintain myself.
I have a house with an imperfect wife. She needs to be pleased now and then. So I travel to town and buy her a gift with the money I made myself.”
Now the pilgrim falls silent and the cave begins to rumble. But God doesn’t answer, for no question has been asked yet.
“God,” asks the pilgrim, “When I’ve done all these things, I put my children to bed and they tell me they believe in you. When my wife goes over to kiss the children goodnight, she tells them she believes in them. And when she goes to rest, I tell her, I believe in her.”
The pilgrim chokes on his fears, and can barely utter his question:
“God? When I’ve done all of these things, for you, Do you believe in me?”
God answers the question.
“Pilgrim, have a good look at your hands. For when you return to your home and haul water from the well you dug yourself, with the buckets you made yourself, after you fixed the roof with the tools you made yourself, and fed your needy children by working the plough you maintained yourself, and you gathered firewood with the axe your sharpened yourself, and pleased your imperfect wife with the gift you bought with the money you made yourself, and when you have put your children to bed, and they told you they believe in me, and your wife told your children she believes in them, and you told your wife you believe in her, when you are resting at night, by the light from the candles you made yourself, I want you to have another good look at your hands,
For your hands are just like mine
And I believe in you.