By John McNeil
How can a loving God allow such suffering in the world? A high-powered business executive argues that there can't be a God, or He would not stand back and just watch it happen.
Gordon Struthers - the CEO of a major timber corporation.
Natalie - his daughter.
(The Struthers home. Natalie is trying to have a discussion with her father, but he can't put his work to one side.)
Father: (Talking on cell phone) I don't care what it takes, just move them out of there, before the TV cameras arrive. (Pause) For crying out loud, Maurice...we shift a million cubic metres of timber a day around this globe and you tell me you can't shift half a dozen beardies and weirdies from out of a tree. (Pause) Just do it, Maurice, that's all. Just do it! (Slams phone shut, shakes his head.) I don't believe that man.
(Turns to daughter) Sorry, honey, I do want to hear what you've been trying to say. Shoot.
Daughter: I'd know you really wanted to listen if you turned that thing off.
Father: If I could trust those incompetents to do a simple job, I would. But look, I'm all ears.
Daughter: (With resignation, hesitant) This is very hard to come out with cold.
Father: Hey, has there ever been anything we couldn't talk about?
Daughter: (Quietly) There's talking and talking. (Decides to leap on in) Dad, what do you think about God?
Father: (Startled) God!?
Daughter: Yes, God. What do you think about him?
Father: Well...I leave him alone and he leaves me alone. Seems to be a mutually satisfactory arrangement on both sides.
Daughter: No, but what do you....
(Phone rings, father picks it up)
Father: Struthers. (Puts hand over mouthpiece - to daughter) Won't be a moment, honey. (To phone) What is it, Brian? (Pause) Bush fire!? Good God, where? (Pause) The Kalimantan estate! That's all Koyla in there. How long's it been going? (Pause) Two days!! How come you've only just heard? (Pause) But we upped their wages to 5 pesos a day only six months ago. (Pause) Well, commandeer the army - get them doing some useful work for a change. Call up Frank in Brisbane, get him to send up half a dozen helicopters with monsoon buckets. Look, you know the drill. Just move quickly, or this'll be a disaster. (Slams phone shut. Pauses a moment.) You can't rely on those Filipinos. There's no fire fighting water because they diverted a batch of pipes to feed their village. And they've downed tools because denghue fever has broken out, and they want us to fly in a medical team.
Daughter: Why don't you?
Father: We're a business, not a benevolent society. We already pay them more than any other corporation.
Daughter: But if they need a proper water supply and they're sick...
Father: ...and lazy, and wait for everything to fall into their laps, and it seems to be a day for bad news, and what was it you asked me before this latest thing blew in?
Daughter: (sighs) What do you think of God?
Father: You come up with the darndest questions. Last week it was vegetarianism. Before that it was Greenpeace (suddenly suspicious) - did you join them, by the way? (Natalie looks defiantly at him, without answering) Have your fad, but if I ever find you giving them confidential information .... And now it's religion.
Daughter: You're avoiding the question.
Father: Well, I'll ask you one. If there is a God, how can he stand by and just let all the things happen that we see in the world? He's supposed to be all-loving, all-powerful, right? Well, it's a strange sort of power that just stands by and lets people starve in Ethiopia, or lets the Serbs slaughter the Kosovars. Come to think of it, aren't they supposed to be Christians, those Serbs? If that's the sort of God they serve, no wonder people don't want a bar of him any more.
And what about all those poor Jews killed by the Nazis. Where was God for them? Women, children, it didn't make any difference. And what about ... (he is interrupted again by the phone).
Father: Struthers. (Pause) Ah, buenas dias, Miguel. ¿Como esta? (pause) Muy bien, gracias. ¿Y Maria y sus hijos? (Pause) Bien.
Miguel, those stats for the inter-governmental conference in Santiago next week, where are they? (Pause) Well, why hasn't Juanita got them finished? (Pause) Oh, good grief, what a time to do that. You're not responsible, are you? (Pause) At least that's one less complication. What are you going to do? (Pause) Let me give you a suggestion, then. If she's that indispensable, you have my authorisation to pay for a pregnancy termination. (Pause) I know Chile is a Catholic country, but sufficient money in the right quarters will overcome the problem. (Pause) Just do it, Miguel. (Closes phone) Now where were we?
Daughter: Playing at God.
Father: At least when I see a problem, I'm not afraid to act. Do you think I've just been inhumane? Perhaps you had better come with me to Santiago. See the slums and squatter areas where people breed because there's nothing else to do. The church doesn't lift a finger, won't even sanction birth control, so it reinforces the poverty. If God cares, how come his church doesn't? At least I provide jobs for those people.
Daughter: And that keeps your conscience salved?!
Father: It's something practical. Give them a job and you give them power to control their lives. Then they can do something about the sickness, the droughts, the floods, the cyclones, the earthquakes, the fires, the famines ... all the disasters your loving God visits on them. When you think about it, I'm giving them the power to fight God. That's an irony, isn't it.
Daughter: That's a twisted way of looking at it.
Father: (Phone rings) At least it's humanitarian. (Answers phone). Struthers. (Pause) You've got a bad line, Greg. Did you say the Valparaiso has run aground? (Pause) Hit a reef. Okay. Was it carrying much? (Pause) That's a relief - I've had enough bad news today, you wouldn't believe. (Pause) Spilling oil?! That's bad, but at least it's not our problem. (Pause) Hang on, Greg, we sold that vessel last month - it's the new owner's responsibility. (Pause) They can't pin that on us. They saw the reports. If it wasn't seaworthy, they should never have sailed it. (Pause) I don't care how many rare banded dotterels are in danger from the oil slick. It's not our responsibility. (Pause) No, I'm not. (Pause) Greg, no one is going to tell me what to do!
© John McNeil 1999
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