Once upon a time, long, long ago, in a country not far from here, there lived a sculptor. By making statues, he supported himself and his wife comfortably. He had very few problems with his neighbors, a small community of people whose grandfathers and great-grandfathers had eaten at the same tables; and the town was nice, located in the deepest part of a valley with large, noble mountains on all sides.
He had one problem with his wife, however: she wished that he could love God the way she loved God. He was lukewarm about Church and religion in general, and couldn’t understand what she meant when she talked about it with him. She eventually gave up talking to him and relied upon prayer, spending countless hours in the Church pleading with God for her husband’s heart. He rarely prayed, because in his opinion talking with people you couldn’t see was only one step removed from hearing people you couldn’t see. This state of affairs lasted for many years. After some time a daughter was born to them, and these were his three treasures in life: his sculpting, his wife, and his daughter.
His wife made arrangements with the town priest to have her daughter baptized. A date was set some weeks away, to allow time for preparations for a celebration.
But one day the sculptor returned to his home after business to find that his wife had fallen very ill. After several days of illness and suffering, she died. He grieved deeply, and shut himself in his studio. The business he had been arranging that day was a contract for two statues of early church saints, and he devoted himself to his work with a passion. He came out only to eat, and to hold his baby daughter and talk to her. This went on for some time, and eventually the priest came to see him.
The priest was concerned because the time for the baptism had come and gone, with no sign from the sculptor. When he questioned the sculptor about this, the sculptor replied that he would not have his daughter baptized. The priest, rightly confused, asked for his reasons. The sculptor said that he could not baptize his daughter into a religion he no longer believed. He explained, “If there really were an all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing God, He would have desired to prevent my wife’s death, He would have had the power to prevent my wife’s death, and He would have known how to prevent my wife’s death. He either didn’t or couldn’t prevent it, so there must be no such God. And I prayed! I prayed that He would keep her alive, and she is dead. Dead. My prayer was not answered; and why? Because there was no one to answer it. How could I baptize my daughter, when this God is a figment of the imagination? You ask for faith in a God who isn’t there, for trust in a cruel dream.”
The priest, stumbling for words, replied that faith is not necessary to believe that God exists: this much can be proven by reason. “Very well,” replied the sculptor, “prove it to me.” The priest replied that he could not.
“It can be done,” said the priest, “but I can’t do it. You will have to find someone far more intelligent than I. Why don’t you go see the old man on the mountain? He knows these things, and can show you God in the world.”
At the priest’s insistence, the sculptor agreed to see the old man on the mountain, but he still refused to have his daughter baptized.
It was a spectacular day when the sculptor set out to see the old man on the mountain. The sun was staring down from his noon day perch, and the air had that crisp summer taste that makes a man feel his lungs will burst from drinking in the sweetness. He travelled until mid-afternoon, at last coming to the side of the mountain where the old man was reputed to live. After casting about for a while, he spied a clearing with a house in it. Approaching the house, he saw a wrinkled old man reading from a manuscript on the porch.
“Hello!” he yelled to the man on the porch. “Are you the old man on the mountain?”
“Well,” replied the old man, “I’m an old man, and this is a mountain beneath me. What can I do for you?”
The sculptor came up onto the porch and sat down in the seat the old man indicated. He decided to get straight to the point. “The priest sent me to you. You see, I don’t think that there really is a God, and he said that you could prove it to me. He wants to baptize my daughter, but he can’t do it as long as I won’t let him, and I won’t let him because I don’t think that God is really out there.”
“Oh, I see.” The old man folded his manuscript and leaned back in his chair. “I’m afraid I can do nothing for you right now. You are simply not ready for me to help you.”
“What’s that?” the sculptor asked, startled. “How am I not ready?”
“You’re not willing to have faith.” the old man replied. “Until you’re willing to receive the gift of faith, no argument no matter how sound will persuade you.”
“But if it’s really a logical proof,” objected the sculptor, “then faith isn’t needed!”
“I didn’t say that faith is needed. You don’t have to have faith to accept the arguments; but you must be willing to accept faith. You needn’t have it; but you must be open to having it.”
“Well,” the sculptor said, “tell me the argument anyway. I think I’m ready, whatever you think, and I would like to hear it. I’m curious to see what you say.”
“Very well,” the old man said, “but it will do you no good.”
He raised himself slowly from his chair and strolled out into the yard. The sculptor followed, and together they looked around on the beautiful day. “There are many arguments to pick from. See, here is one right at our feet.” He pointed to a daffodil that poked up from between the weeds. “It’s a beautiful flower, and I am glad that it’s here; but I ask myself: why does it exist? What explanation is there for its existence? The flower doesn’t tell me. It doesn’t contain within itself the answer to my question. To explain the flower I have to seek the answer in the ground, and in other flowers, and in the spring rains, and in honeybees, and many other places. I turn to these things, and I ask the honeybees, ‘Why do you exist? What explanation is there for your existence?’ But the honeybees have no answer to my question. I must seek beyond them, and look to other honeybees, and to the hollow rock they nest in, and to blooming trees and flowers, and many other things. So I ask the rock my question, but the rock does not contain the answer to my question. Nothing seems to have within itself the answer to my question. Always I have to seek beyond the thing to explain the thing’s existence. The entire world seems made of these things that cannot answer my question. If I had to keep asking my question forever, though, I would never find an answer. To find an answer, to explain the existence of the daffodil, I must finally come to something that contains within itself the answer to my question: the explanation of its own existence. This is what I call God: the One Who contains within Himself the explanation of His own existence, and so contains the explanation of the honeybee’s existence, and so can tell me how and why the Daffodil is.”
There was a pause as the sculptor digested this. The old man, meanwhile, knelt down to pull weeds from around the flower and cut off a broken stem. At length the sculptor replied, “I don’t see quite how all your logic holds together. Isn’t it asking a little much of a flower to tell us that God exists? Why should we ask why the flower exists? Why should we want to know? I can’t agree with your argument, because I don’t see any reason for asking those questions.”
“As you wish,” said the old man, not looking up from the daffodil. “I said that you are not ready. Go back to your home and wait. Perhaps after a while you will be open to having faith. Go back and wait.” He stood up and walked with the sculptor to the path leading away from the house. “God bless you, my son, even if you ignore Him for the time being. Come back and see me when you have time for an old man who doesn’t see many people.”
“I will,” replied the sculptor, “and thank you.”
Several months passed, in which the sculptor dedicated himself with renewed vigor to crafting the statues and caring for his daughter. He was more cheerful and easier to get along with since he had seen the old man, but he still refused to have his daughter baptized.
The statues were coming along nicely. He had finished all but one hand on one of them, and all but the eyes on the other.
Then one day, a very strange thing happened. The two statues came alive! They were still stone, but they moved their hands about and talked, and the one which had eyes looked at the sculptor for some time. The statues talked about this and that, and joked and laughed. Then the one with eyes said to the one without eyes, “Stephen, look at that over there! Oh, that’s right, I’m sorry. I forgot.” The sculptor decided to remedy that little problem, and began sculpting eyes onto the stony face.
Stephen reacted in pain, “John, something is eating my face! What is it? Stop it!” The statue buried his face in his hands. The sculptor stopped momentarily.
“Stephen,” said the other, “the pain you felt comes from a very wise sculptor, who makes statues like us. It hurts, but he’s helping you, making you complete.”
“It doesn’t feel like it’s helping,” said Stephen. “Maybe if you were the one being ‘helped’ you would know what I mean. This is no sculptor; if it were such a sculptor, it would know how to help me without hurting me.”
“Take your hands away,” said John, “so he can give you eyes. He’s really there, trust me. It’s not a blind force of nature, or anything like that: it’s the statue maker with his sharp tool.”
“If I take away my hands, it will ruin my face!” said Stephen.
“No, if you don’t take away your hands then you’ll never have a face.” replied John. “He has stopped chiseling for now, because to get to your eyes he would have to break your hands, which would ruin his work of art. Take your hands down.”
“How do you know this sculptor is real?” asked Stephen. “What proof do you have that there is such a thing? Any argument, any evidence?”
“No,” replied John, “I have no argument or proof: I simply see him.”
“Well, what do you rest this ‘sight’ upon?” asked Stephen. “Surely you have some reasoning that your sight depends on. How else do you know that it tells you the truth?”
“Sight doesn’t rest upon anything at all,” replied the other statue. “I just see. If you take your hands down, the sculptor will give you eyes so you can see, and then you’ll know the same way I do.”
“So I have to believe you to take my hands down, and I have to take my hands down to believe you,” said Stephen. “What will I do? Is there no other way to know that the sculptor exists than to see him?”
“There is another way. You could reach out with your hands and touch him. This doesn’t require the gift of sight; but to reach out, you must remove your hand from your face. You don’t have to have sight to know that the sculptor is really there, but you have to be willing to receive sight.”
“Ah, what a choice!” cried the other statue.
At this point the sculptor was overcome by compassion. “Here I am!” he said, and grabbed the statue by the arm. “I am the sculptor. I am the one who caused you all that pain.”
Stephen took his hands from his face and asked, “Then you are there? Can you give me sight?”
The sculptor carved eyes as quickly as he could, while the statue clenched his fists in pain. The statue at first could see nothing, because the light was too intense. Then as his eyes adjusted, the statue looked down and saw itself for the first time, then saw John, then looked at the sculptor. A look of indescribable joy came over his face, and all at once both statues ceased to live. They were simply statues. Long after, when they were in the house of the man who bought them, people would walk by and comment, “Look at the expression on this one’s face! What happiness!” In fact, these two statues made quite a reputation for the sculptor because they were so life-like.
Shaken, the sculptor returned that very afternoon to the old man on the mountain. He found the old man at the same porch, pouring over a manuscript. After the two exchanged greetings, the sculptor related the strange incident which had taken place earlier that day. The old man listened with great interest.
“What should I do?” asked the sculptor. “I don’t know how to explain it or how to react.”
“What has happened to you is a miracle.” The old man leaned forward. “You should react by thanking God for sending you a parable. You should return home and think on it, and see if you cannot discern the meaning.”
The sculptor left, pausing for a few moments to stare at the daffodil. He followed the long, winding road down the mountainside, his mind in a chaos of competing thoughts. As he walked, he looked around at the trees and shrubs, and thought of flowers and honeybees. Coming at last to the bottom of the mountain, he passed between large stones, and thought of statues and parables. Just as the sun was easing below the horizon, he set out on the flat, bumpy road that stretched gently downhill toward the town. He watched the final blaze of color retreat; and he thought of the old man’s question, and asked the sun, “Why do you exist? What explanation is there for your existence?” The sun gave no reply. He looked among the stars that gathered strength with every passing minute, and he asked, “Why do you exist?” The stars were silent. He wondered how John would have answered the question. As the moon came into her full splendor, he reached his workshop.
There he sat on the porch and stared into the sky, as if by piercing the darkness with his eyes he could pierce the painful confusion that had fallen over his mind. He stood and shouted at the mountains, “Why do you exist?!”
This time there was a reply, and the mountains shouted dimly back at him in his own voice, “Why do you exist?”
He sat down abruptly, taken aback. He spoke slowly. “Why do I exist? Do I not know even this? How will I live a meaningful life, if I do not know what my own purpose for being is?” So on as the moon climbed he battled with himself, losing on both sides. At last he sank into blessed unconsciousness, and dreamed of statues reading manuscripts on the mountain.
Early the next morning, as the sun peered over the earth’s rim, the sculptor went to the town priest and requested that his daughter’s baptism be rescheduled.
“Why did you change your mind?” asked the priest.
The sculptor smiled and flushed a little. “The Lord God grabbed me by the arm and gave me eyes. Blessed be the Lord.”
There is only room here for the beginning of the story. Some other time, perhaps, will be told the story of how his eyes slowly adjusted to the light. Then next maybe will be told the story of how he grew old in his faith and died. The story after that—well, it will have to wait until that day when all stories will be told.