God, Harvey, Goat

Poor Harvey was bedevilled by his art. I remember walking into his studio one morning and finding a large canvas whose center was dominated by the image of a goat wearing a prayer shawl and phylacteries. So nu Harvey? What was that?

“It’s my rage against God, can’t you see?” he answered as we were drinking our first cup of coffee.

“You mean the goat?”

“Yeah, you know what distinguishes Jews from everyone else is that the Jew intuitively knows he can cut a deal with God.”

“How do you cut a deal with God?” I was the straight man, a role I had perfected as a journalist.

“It’s like you say, ‘Look God, if you do this, I’ll do this, and if you can give me some slack here, I’ll admire you here’, and so on. It never ends,” he leaned back in his swivel chair and stroked his bushy salt and pepper beard.

“So why do you rage against God?”

“Because everything is so patently absurd and pointless, because there’s so much needless suffering in the world. If God was good, he wouldn’t allow bad things to happen. A good God is supposed to take care of things like that. As you needn’t be reminded, Jews are the craziest people to believe in God considering what He’s done to them through the ages. Wouldn’t it have been easier for Moses to say to God, ‘Thanks for the Ten Commandments, but on second thought, let the Celts have it’. No one but a masochist would have any faith in God after the Holocaust. If God was so merciful and all-knowing and all-loving, why were 12 million people incinerated, and why did He cause allow for an unfathomable diaspora for ethnics too numerous to name?

“This is God? No, this is the work of a fabulist, a meshugennah, and I don’t want to get mixed up with him. I rage against God because at least I can focus my rage on someone outside, because as long as there’s an external force I might have some hope of mediating my condition.

“It goes to reason if God’s going to take responsibility for the joy, why not the horror and misery he causes or the crimes committed in his name.”

“I dunno Harv, maybe He’s indifferent.”

“Exactly,” Harvey started pacing, sloshing the coffee over the rim of the cup. ” He’s indifferent because Man’s conception of God is indifferent. What’s the use of having God if He really doesn’t do anything? What’s the big deal about setting creation in motion and walking away? I rage against God because although He’s always butting in, He never gives me any pointers.”

We watched the flickering television set he always had on, silent images of tractor pulls from Greentown Republic. ESPN never had anything controversial just sports, anyway it was the only channel he got clearly because he didn’t pay for cable.

“If God really cared, he’d stick around after Creation to see how it worked out, not walk away,” muttered Harvey.

“People have been fighting over who created what for aeons, Harv.”

“Ah that’s just ledger balancing. The real problem is that each religion has this overwhelming desire to claim Creation for their God to the exclusion of all others. If God had a particular affiliation don’t you think He would have said something to someone about it?”

“Maybe not Harvey, maybe it pleases Him to be indefinite, maybe it makes Him feel important with so many people fighting over who created Him in their own image.”

“Ah grow up, kid, He’s nothing but an abstraction.”

“He’s got to be something more or else you wouldn’t put Him in all your paintings.”

“I don’t put Him into my paintings, he inserts Himself into them when I’m not looking, when I’m sketching. He’s always butting in.”

“So that’s why you rage against God?”

“Who else can I get mad at? He’s caused all the problems, or those who act in His name have. God was created for the convenience of man, and every government has God on their side. What other justification could they use for their arbitrary actions? But still, if there is a God and he’s listening, I have hope He’ll hear me, not that He’s going to specifically DO anything since I don’t really expect Him to DO anything, I just wish he’d get out of my paintings.”

I returned to my work downstairs and left Harvey to stare at his canvas, but as I left, I thought the goat winked at me.

from Eventual Time, an as-yet unpublished epistolary novel.

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