The Mighty Charles

by Robert Hampton Burt
 

     A man was having a hard time, so he prayed, asking God to help him. The man's name was Charles.
     
“Heavenly Father,” he said, “I'm having a hard time. Please help me.”
     
There was no reply, because that is not how God works.
     
But next morning the doorbell rang, and Charles opened it. A man in a business suit was standing on
the porch, holding an expensive-looking briefcase. "Are you Charles? The man who's having a hard time?"
     
“Yes, but what is that to you?”
     
“God sent me to answer your prayer. My name is Ralph. I'm an angel. Maybe you've heard of me.”
     
“Hmm,” Charles said, and he led the angel into the living room. He sat himself in the grandest chair and
made Ralph sit on the couch.
     
Ralph opened his briefcase and took out a small notebook and a thin mechanical pencil which appeared
to be made of gold. Then Charles noticed that the wire binding on the notebook was also gold. The
notebook's pages glowed slightly.
     
“Throughout your life you've prayed often,” Ralph said, “and nothing ever came of it. Isn't that true?”
     "Yes. That is exactly true," Charles replied. "I have worshiped God for as long as I can remember. I have
prayed to him practically daily, seeking His wisdom and mercy.”
     
“There has been a change of policy," Ralph said. During the past few thousand years, God's Incoming
Prayer Box has been so full, on account of everyone praying to Him all the time, that He never had time to
answer all of them. It has become such a problem that now all He can do is read only a few of them."
     
"My preacher says that God answers every prayer," Charles replied.
     
"Well of course your preacher would say that, because his living depends on it. He wouldn't admit that
your prayers are mostly just you verbalizing your own thoughts so that you yourself can hear them and feel
good. People would stop putting their money in his collection plate. Humans are capable of imagining all
sorts of things. But I can tell you truthfully that God doesn't really care about your prayers very much, if at
all. And so, to lighten up His workload, He has decided to answer some, in the way that He thinks best, and
he has chosen yours as one of these. Of course you can't expect God to do everything all by Himself.
Therefore, He has assigned His assistants the chore of answering these prayers for Him. That's my job. Many
other angels are all over the world doing the same thing right now, even as you and I are speaking.” Ralph
smiled at Charles agreeably and waited for his response.
     
“Oh, thank you,” Charles said. “It's wonderful that you're going to help me.”
     
“Wait until you know what the answers to your prayers are,” Ralph advised him. Then he asked, “You've
been fired, haven't you?”
     
“Yes.”
     
Ralph ruffled through the pages of another small book until he found a section dealing with job loss.
     “Here it is.” He looked at Charles with complete innocence. “We must follow procedures. Otherwise
things will fall apart, figuratively speaking. First, tell me why you think God should help you.”
     
Charles sat forward on the edge of his big chair, and he held his spine straight, squared his shoulders,
and said, “I am a very decent man. I have worshiped God all of my life. I have always prayed to Him about
everything that ever mattered to me. I was taught that by my parents, whom I have always loved and
honored, which is what our preachers have always said we should do, because that is what society believes
is good and right.”
     
“Ah,” The angel said. “That might be one of your problems. But please go on. I'll try not to interrupt
you again.”
     “I go to church twice on Sunday, with a smile on my face each time, no matter what. I keep only the
best thoughts in my mind, always do only what God approves of, and I had hoped that everything would
turn out all right, and it hasn't turned out all right.”
     
“What makes you think you know what God approves of?"
     
"It's in the Bible. Everyone knows that God wrote the Bible."
     
"Some humans do believe that He did. But that doesn't make it true. What God actually wrote was the
Telephone Directory. That's why you can rely on the Telephone Directory almost one hundred percent. But
that's a different subject. Can you give me an example of something you prayed about that didn't turn out
all right?”
     “Yes. I worked and worked, tried hard to please my boss and tried to do a good job, and he fired me. I
prayed about it in advance, but I got fired anyway.”
     
“Go on.”
     
“Well, God didn't give me what I prayed for.”
     “What in particular did you want God to do?”
     “I specifically asked God not to let my boss fire me.”
     “How did you want God to achieve that?”
     “How should I know? I'm not God. God is very smart. He's the one who knows about these things. I
thought it best to leave the details to Him.”
     “Yes, of course, God does know everything. And one thing He knows is that He never would have gotten
himself into your situation. Besides, it's impossible, even for God, to fix a situation that He's not in, and
anything that He does, relative to a situation, puts Him into the situation, in some sense. The problem
in your case, if I understand it correctly, is that your boss had decided his company could no longer afford to
pay your salary.”
     
“Why not?”
     “I don't know.”
     
“Well why don't you know?”
     
“I don't know everything. I'm just an angel.”
     “But God does know everything, doesn't He? He shouldn't send an angel to do a God's job.”
     
“Oh, but you wouldn't want God to come here. He'd burn a hole in your carpet. And besides, you were
the person who was in the job. So the problem was yours."
     
“That's the most idiotic line of reasoning I've ever heard in my life. God is in charge of the whole 
universe. He created everything. He knows everything that can possibly be known. How is it that He
couldn't prevent me being fired?”
     “Why should He care whether you are fired?”
     
“WHAT?” Charles was becoming upset. “I'll tell you why he should care! I'm one of His creatures! He
made me! And now I'm in this terrible mess where I don't have a job, and I have no money, and I can't buy
food to feed myself and my family. That's why God should care.”
     “You have made an error. Your premise is incorrect. You believe that your creator should help you solve
your personal problems.”
     
“That's true. I do most certainly believe that He should.”
     
“But that's not right,” Ralph said. “And besides, who are you to decide such a matter? In the first place,
God made you capable of avoiding situations. Those which are unavoidable, He made you capable of
resolving, if you try. And those which you are incapable of avoiding or resolving, He made you capable of
enduring, which you are currently doing well enough. Even so, of those problems which you are not
capable of avoiding, resolving, or enduring, why think that your creator is responsible?”
     
“BECAUSE HE CREATED ME! ... Look.... If I create something, and if it doesn't fulfill the purpose I
intended, it's my fault. Therefore, if I suffer on account of some incapacity, it's because my creator didn't
make me the way I should have been made.”
     
“That's not true,” the angel said. “Here's how it really works: God made you a unique individual creature,
with a character and personality all your own, potentially capable of avoiding, resolving, or enduring; He
didn't guarantee that you would do so. That's up to you. And consider this. You said that if somebody creates
something and it doesn't fulfill the purpose they intended, that the fault is theirs. That may be true, if what
they make is a chair, and it falls apart when sat upon, or if they design a woman's shoe, and it doesn't fit
anyone's foot. But you are not a chair or a shoe. You're a human being, a package of capabilities brought to
life in a workable form.”
     “You're not being much help,” Charles said.
     
“But I didn't come here to help you by solving your problem for you,” Ralph replied. “I came here to get
you to do something for yourself so that you will stop bothering God with your petty requests.”
     
Petty requests? It's not my fault that I've failed.”
     “Of course it is. If you had done the best thing, you would would have gotten a better job to begin with.
Instead, you relied on someone other than yourself, you wanted God to do it for you."
     
"God loves to answer prayers. Pastor Wilhelm says so."
     
"Well, Pastor Wilhelm won't say that much longer, because God has sent the Angel Sally to talk to him,
and she is probably doing that right now."
     
For once Charles didn't know what to say, so Ralph continued. "Actually, you have an advantage over God,
because you are in your situation and God is not.”
     
“That isn't fair.”
     
“Yes it is. It's very fair. In fact nothing else would be. That is why it's God's attitude. You don't want to
accept reality, but He understands it very well. You have children, don't you?"
     
"I am the father of a boy and a girl. Nancy is thirty, and Mark is thirty-two and married.”
     
“Do you want them coming to you all of their lives, asking you to solve all of their problems for them?”
     
“No. They are old enough to take care of themselves."
     
“That's the way God feels about you. You're fully grown. He doesn't want you to come crying to Him,
begging for every little damn thing. Or even for big damn things. Grow up. Get a life. Do something to help
yourself. Leave God out of it. The world is not against you. What you want is out there somewhere. Go get it.
And if you don't find what you want, then make it. Nobody said it would be easy. But try harder. It insults God
that you ask Him to help you all the time. It makes people think that He didn't create you properly.”
     
“Well maybe He didn't. In fact I am pretty sure that He didn't. He made a mistake when He made me. 
I don't have what it takes to be a success. He should give me a refund or something.”
     
Ralph nodded his head understandingly. He took out a small piece of paper from his briefcase and handed it
to Charles. “In that case, sign here, and all of your problems will be over.”
     
Charles took the note in his hand. “What is this?”
     
“It's a Recall Order. It says that God made a mistake in your case. Just sign it, and I'll snap my fingers, and
you'll cease to exist. For you everything will end.”
     
“Wait a minute. I don't want to cease to exist. I just don't want to suffer.”
     
“Why should you be different from everyone else? Suffering is a condition of life. Everyone suffers. Don't
you know that? How you deal with it is your responsibility. That is your job, and it's also your privilege,
because, when you solve it, you experience triumph. How would you like it, if every time you had a problem
God came down here and twirled his finger and it went away? You would never experience the satisfaction of
solving anything. That is what being grown up is all about. If you yourself cannot figure out what you need to
do, you are nothing more than merely an unrealized fragment of God's dream of creation.”
     
“Well, I'm not going to sign that piece of paper.”
     “That's a step in the right direction.”
     
“But what can I do about my situation?”
     “I haven't got the slightest idea. It's your problem, not mine. I'm just an angel. I'm not Charles, the Man in
the Circumstance, the Mighty Charles, Charles the Man Capable of Solving His Own Problems.”
     
Charles muttered, sheepishly, “I guess I'll have to try harder.”
     “That's the spirit. Anyway, God isn't going to help you. And when you've succeeded, don't thank Him for it.
It will be your doing, not His. That's what He wants. He wants you to succeed on your own. But remember, it's
not necessarily easy.”
     
“And He sent you down here just to tell me this?”
     “At least now you know why He never answered any of your prayers.”
     For some reason t
ears did not come to Charles' eyes. Instead, rather maturely, he deliberately avoided saying,
"Thank you for answering my prayer," and said, simply, “Thank you for taking the time to come talk with me.”
     
“You're welcome,” Ralph said. Then he added, “But it's only for this one time. I will never visit you again.”
And he put the Recall Order back into the little notebook, put the notebook into the briefcase, closed it, stood
up, walked to the front door, went outside, let the screen door slam shut behind himself, and where he went
nobody knows.
     
And Charles? The Mighty Charles? The Man Capable of Solving His Own Problems, what happened to Charles?
     
I am not telling. And you don't need to know.
 


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