Friday, January 04, 2008

"Father God and the Angel of Death"

This is a Haitian folk story, ever so slightly edited, taken from Edwidge Danticat's magnificent memoir, Brother, I'm Dying:

Father God and the Angel of Death were strolling together in a neighborhood in a crowded city. During their walk, the Angel of Death would stop in front of many houses and say, "A man died here last month. I took him." Then as they continued down the street, the Angel of Death added, "I removed a grandmother from this house yesterday."

"I make people and you take them," said Father God. That's why they like me more than they like you."

"You think so?" asked the Angel of Death.

"I certainly do," said Father God.

"If you're so sure," said the Angel of Death, "why don't we both stop here on this street and each ask the same woman for a drink of water and see what happens?"

So Father God rapped on the nearest door and when the lady of the house opened it said, "Madame, can I trouble you for some water?"

"Non," the woman answered, irate. "I don't have any water to spare."

"Please," said Father God. "I'm parched."

"Sorry," said the woman, "but I can't spare any water. The public tap has been dry for days and I have to buy water by the bucket from the water woman, who's doubled the price. So I only have enough water for myself and my family."

"I'm sure you'd give me some water if you knew who I was," said Father God.

"I don't care who you are," said the woman. "The only one I'd give water to right now is the Angel of Death."

"But I'm God," insisted Father God. "Why would you give water to the Angel of Death and not to me?"

"Because," the woman said, "the Angel of Death doesn't play favorites. He takes us all, lame and stout, young and old, rich and poor, ugly and beautiful. You, however, give some people peace and put some in war zones. You give some enough food to stuff themselves, while others starve. You make some powerful and others defenseless. You make some healthy and let some get sick. You give some all the water they need while some of us have very little."

Bowing his head in shame, Father God walked away from the woman, who, when the Angel of Death came to her door, gave him all the water she had in the house. Because of this, the Angel of Death did not visit this particular woman again for a very long time.

While many of us in and around the academy get our theology through the relatively abstract reasoning of dry texts, much of the world wrestles with the nature of God and relationship between the human and the divine through songs and stories. This is true, of course, in the Global South and the Two-Thirds world, but it is also true even in most religious communities in the United States and elsewhere in the so-called "developed world." Our stories communicate our understanding of the fundamental truths of the universe. They help us share our values, our highest ideals. And they help us wrestle with deep mysteries, even and especially the mysteries of evil, suffering, and death.

This folk story is as powerful a way to wrestle with the problem of evil as any philosophical treatise, any theodicy or any rational attack on an understanding of God, as I've encountered.

What do you make of it?

1 comment:

Tom said...

I have some trouble with the woman's view that death does not play favorites. While it is true that death takes everyone, it is also true that life is given to all, though, as the woman points out, not equally in quality and location. The same is true for death, however. Some die in peace, surrounded by loved ones. Others die suffering and alone. Some die far too young. Others die long after their bodies have deteriorated. Some die with their minds intact and their thoughts lucid. Others are ravaged by mental illness and senility. All deaths are no more equal than all lives.