An excerpt from The Gospel of Thomas (the Younger)
Now home from his recent wanderings, Jesus is speaking with his young nephew, Thomas, telling about his experiences:
“At that time,” he said, “I was always pondering a particular question. It haunted me night and day. So finally I decided I would go out into the scrub hills on my own, with no distractions, and not come back until I had an answer.”
“If I could have or do anything in the world I wanted, what would that be?”
We were sitting in the shade behind the house. He leaned back against the wall and grinned at me.
“Have you ever asked yourself that?”
I shrugged. That was often my response at that age. He laughed.
“Well, I wanted to answer that question. So, I sat and thought. After a few days, I became really hungry. It was hard not to think about food. So I started thinking — what if I could look at those stones and turn them into loaves of bread? And those over there, I could turn into fish. And that one there, a jug of wine. Being able to do that, is that what I would wish for?
“Then I thought, well, if I always had all the food I wanted, I would probably get fat and lazy. I would never have to think about anything again. In a way, my life would become more limited. And besides, is food all there is to life? Maybe I am thinking too small.
“Maybe instead of worrying about starving to death, I should just wish for immortality. That way, not only would I not starve, nothing could kill me. I could go to Jerusalem, climb up on the highest pinnacle of the temple, jump, and I would not die. Nothing could harm me.
“But then after thinking about that for awhile, I started wondering if I was still thinking too small. It is one thing to be safe from harm yourself, but the world would go on, with all various things happening we do not like — the Romans would still be in charge, pushing us around. People would still be hateful to one another. Be greedy. Hurt each other. Kill each other.
“People like my father, like your father and brother and mother would die. Maybe if I am going to wish for something, I should just wish to be in control of everything. Then I would not be hungry, nothing could hurt me, and nothing I did not want to happen could happen. I imagined myself on the top of the highest mountain, looking down on the world, and knowing I had control of everything.
“And then it struck me. What a burden that would be. What if I was suddenly responsible for the well-being of everybody, of everything? And what if I intervened over here to help someone, and by doing so, something bad happened as a result? Could I go back and undo the first thing? But then the original problem would not be solved.
“And suddenly, I started to feel very sorry for God. He has to watch all this unfold. Maybe he can intervene, but every time the Scriptures say he has done so, that did not put an end to suffering or reorder the world in a final and perfect way. Wars keep happening. Famines. The hearts of men stay selfish and sometimes become wantonly cruel. What is the point?
“After thinking this way for a while, I went back to my original question, but instead of trying to answer it, I just looked at the nature of the question itself. What good does it do to imagine getting what you might want? Doesn’t that just lead to you to wanting what you cannot have? Why not accept things the way they are?
“Surely, more suffering has come from unfulfilled desires, or even fulfilled ones, than from the simple gratitude for what is. We have this life. We have this world. What a miracle that is!
“Why doesn’t it all fall apart? Why doesn’t everything — the trees, buildings, you, me, everyone, the greatest mountains, the earth itself — why doesn’t it all suddenly dissolve into dust?”
It was a terrifying thought. I stared at him, waiting for his answer.
“It doesn’t. I guess because God wills it. And we should be grateful He does. We would probably find more happiness in that gratitude than in all the granted and denied wishes we could imagine. In fact, if we could live every moment in that gratitude, and forget all else, that would be the ultimate. We could live continuously in God’s presence, rather than in the mundane world of our own petty desires.
“When I came to that conclusion, I felt I had answered my question. And it was time to leave the desert. And get something to eat.”
He laughed again, this time, as if to say — “What an idiot I was, sitting out there in the desert, starving!”
By then, it was getting cooler. We decided to go into the house and see what was for supper.
He left the next day to continue his wandering. I did not see him for another year.
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