“What do you believe?” he asked.
“What do you want me to believe?” asked Alex, his voice feeble yet still retaining a spark of determination.
The preacher sighed. He opened the bible in his hands, not reading the page. “I want you to believe that God sent his Son to die for you. That He loves you and wants you to accept His gift of eternal life.” He met Alex’s eyes with difficulty. Exhaustion blended with a sense of urgency in the pastor’s chest. “Mr. Mortimer, you and I know there isn’t much time left.”
Alex let out a laugh that dissolved into a hacking cough halfway up his throat. “I’m well aware of that,” he remarked, a dry, ironic grin spreading across his face. “I’m also well aware of the pain God has seen fit to inflict on me for the past months.”
The minister sat quietly, praying for the right words, as Alex suffered another coughing fit. “Tell me, Mr. White, why did God want to see me in agony for so long? Is He too weak to heal me or is He just a sadist?” He choked on the last word, coughing into a tissue. A red stain was visible as he pulled it away.
Reverend White shook his head tiredly. “I’m sorry. I’m afraid don’t have all the answers. No one does.” He laid his hand on Alex’s arm, a pleading look in his eyes. “But I can tell you that everything is part of His plan. He moves in mysterious ways, with thoughts higher than our thoughts. We can’t understand his motives, or at least not completely.”
He shifted his gaze out the hospital window to the sprawling city beyond. “I know it’s difficult. Our desire for control dates all the way back to Adam. It’s not an instinct we can shake easily, but the most virtuous paths are often the most difficult. The way of the faithful is no exception.” He looked back to Alex’s expressionless face. “He wants to see you in heaven, Alex,” he stated gently. “And I want to see you there too.”
“You say He’s good,” murmured Alex, closing his eyes. “Then you say we can’t understand Him.”
His voice gained a bitter edge. “You say everything is part of His benevolent plan, and yet here I am coughing up my own blood. If I encounter fortune, God is love. If I encounter agony, God is mystery. If someone wins the lottery, God has blessed them. If someone dies a slow, torturous death, it’s because we can’t comprehend His intentions. I’m sure He means well as He stands idly by, listening to their futile screams for mercy.”
Alex opened his steel-gray eyes and stared out into the city. Its streets were bursting with vitality, welcoming the fading light of dusk. “It sounds as if you have no idea what God is, Mr. White.”
A single tear traced a path down his cheek. “But perhaps soon I will,” he whispered.