God (appearing in the form of George Burns, with cigar)
The tribe (later called the People)
House lights go down; stage lights come up. The characters are scattered around the stage in small groups, talking quietly. After a minute or two the Narrator enters and begins to introduce the characters to the audience. As their names are called, each of them bows to the audience and then walks slowly into the wings. When the Narrator is alone, he begins to tell the story.
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Once upon a time, a very long time ago, there was a small tribe of herdsmen who lived in the valleys of Mesopotamia. One day, a god named God spoke to their leader Abraham and told him to lead the tribe southward, into the land of Canaan. Abraham was so frightened and awestruck by being in God's presence that he wasn't sure he remembered all the details of the instructions, but he remembered the main thing, and being obedient, he soon led the tribe south, out of Mesopotamia.
Once the tribe had settled in the land of Canaan, they sometimes found themselves having difficulties with the Neighbors. One of the worst times was their enslavement, when they went to Egypt during a famine. After a long time, God helped Moses, the current leader, to free the tribes (for by now there were many) and to lead them over the desert and back to the land of Canaan. In the middle of the trip, God asked Moses if he had ever heard the tribal elders say anything about a possible Agreement between the tribes and Himself. Moses said that, while it did sound a little familiar, he really didn't know anything about it. So God told Moses to have a seat, and He explained the concept of the Agreement to him and read him a draft. Moses said it sounded good to him, so God told him to bring all the tribes into the negotiations.
The Agreement went something like this: the People, as they were now to be called, would belong to God, and He would ask them to do special tasks for Him. He would help them when they needed help, and they would follow the new rules He had given them. The two sides approved the Agreement, God representing Himself and Moses representing the People. After that, the People finished their journey back to the land of Canaan and began their new life.
Very soon after the implementation of the Agreement, the People discovered a Question that was hidden in the Agreement: "But why? Why? Why would you make us suffer? We are loyal to you, and conscientious in serving you, and we haven't done anything wrong. And besides, how could our suffering be part of the Agreement?"
Immediately, the People began to press God for an Answer to the Question. But no matter how often God explained it, the People never seemed to remember the Answer for long. God was patient, though; this was the most loyal People He had ever had an agreement with, and He was getting to love them.
Finally, as an efficiency measure, God whispered the story of Job into someone's ear, and that someone wrote it down just as God had told it to him. From then on, every time God heard, "But why. . . ?" coming at Him he would refer the People to the Book of Job. In this book, both the Question and the Answer were discussed in detail (exhaustive detail).
For some reason (perhaps the exhaustive detail) the People often forgot where to find the Answer. Something bad would happen, and they'd fall down on the ground and roll around screaming, "But why? Why?" To God it sometimes sounded as if the People were making no progress at all. Little by little, though, two steps forward and one step back, the People gathered strength and understanding. They became more and more ready to do what God said, sometimes even without an explanation. God was pleased. They were His People, and He loved them as much as He could love a People. So what if they were annoying sometimes. He hardly noticed it, except when they asked, "But why? Why?"
Once the Agreement had become effective, although you wouldn't expect it, the periods of difficulty with the Neighbors continued as before the Agreement was approved. Some periods were better than others, but sooner or later--and usually sooner than you might imagine--things with the Neighbors got bad again. And always, always, the reason was that the Neighbors had misunderstood the Agreement, and sometimes they had even misunderstood the god named God. And always, always, the People cried out, "But why? Why?" And God fielded the Question as well as he could, given the People's built-in limitations, which were a result of how He had made them. The Answer was still His best bet, and the People accepted it most of the time. Still, He sometimes wondered if the Answer would always be enough.
And sure enough, something finally happened in the life of the People that had never happened before. There was no story in their lore that came close to the Great Disaster, as it came to be known. God understood why it was part of the Agreement, but the People had only the Answer for guidance. For some, this was enough, and they were able to do what God asked of them, with no explanations.
But the Great Disaster overwhelmed many of the People. They dressed in sack cloth and put ashes on their heads, and tried to understand what had happened to them. God saw this, and he asked them together for a meeting.
As they gathered, the People were not their usual friendly selves. Some sat listlessly on the ground and didn't care about God or the meeting or anything else, while others muttered angrily to each other. An unusually large number didn't show up at all. But God could see them where they were hiding, and He could see the ugly new scars on their souls, and He forgave them for not being there.
When God looked at the People spread out before Him, His Heart was filled with pity. They looked so unhappy, and they were so thin that He could hear their bones rattle. And over on one side there was a large empty area on the grass; so many of them had died in the Great Disaster that for them it was as if countless stars had fallen from the sky.
"But why? Why?" the People cried. "Surely this time there can be no Answer."
God loved this People, and He wanted to answer the Question in a way that would give them comfort. "My poor People," He said. "The Answer is still the answer, but this time it is not enough. I realize that the Great Disaster has been your most painful task under the terms of the Agreement. Only because there was no better way did I permit you to suffer so greatly. The best consolation I can give you is that the time has come, as I promised Abraham, that your name will be called a blessing to all peoples."
[whispering among the People]
"Now, you must listen carefully to what I'm going to say next. It was for this that I brought Abraham out of Mesopotamia, and for this that I shaped your destiny. The Agreement has been fulfilled. [surprised sounds from the People] It is time for us to declare it so, and for you to go on to what comes next.
"We won't go back to the old ways of the Agreement. From now on, the Agreement will be between each one of you and Me. [Frightened whispering] Of course, the Agreement will be entirely voluntary for each of you. So go home and think about it, and when you've decided what you want to do, let Me know."
The frightened whispering got louder and louder, and the People shouted with one voice, "But how will we know You've heard us?!" And God replied, "For now, you'll have to take My Word for it, but soon I'll speak to your hearts, and that's where you'll hear My Voice."
There was a stunned silence, and then some of the People shouted, "That's ridiculous!" to which God replied, "Have I ever lied to you?"
The People had no more questions or comments, so they began packing up to leave. But then God spoke again.
"Just a minute. Here's one more thing I want to tell you." The People turned to face him. "You are the most loyal People I have ever had an Agreement with, and I love you even more than you can understand, in spite of your irritating ways that sometimes annoy Me. Now go out into the world and live."
And so, they did.
[All but God and the Narrator leave the stage]
We don't know whether or not the People lived happily ever after, because after many, many, a great many, years had passed, they had mixed so thoroughly with the Neighbors that it was impossible to tell who were the People and who were the Neighbors. The People as an identified group had disappeared. All that remained of the old life were the stories they had told and written about the god named God and their Agreement with Him.
The Neighbors loved these stories; they read them, and talked about them, and learned from them, and as time went by they made them their own
[Turns to God] Is that happily ever after?
Well, happily ever after I can't be sure of, but it is success. Yes, if that's not success, I don't know what is.
[He smiles and knocks the ash off His cigar, then exits with the Narrator]
The stage goes dark, house lights come up.
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