They take place at two different times – the first, a hundred and fifty years ago and the second, less than a decade ago – and at two different places – almost on opposite sides of the globe. The men follow different religions. Their lifestyles are poles apart. Their circumstances are incomparable. But if we look deeper, there is something that connects them. The protagonists of these tales are thrown into the worst possible situation – that of a slave’s life (Indeed, what suffering can nature inflict that is worse than what we do to each other?) – and they survive merely because of the strength of their faith. One prays to Jesus, the other to Allah. At the end, their suffering is over – the one finds peace in death, and the other returns to a life of freedom.
Both stories are not ‘real’ in the true sense of the word; but based on real people and real incidents, as the authors have explained elsewhere.
I was struck by the common theme that seemed to prevail – every time something happened (in every page, things only got worse, never better), the protagonist said to himself, It is God’s wish. And that gave him the strength to endure it. Every time he waited for the suffering to end, he said to himself, God will end it when it is time. One read his Bible, the other knelt and prayed.
Every day they wait for a miracle. However, nothing throughout the story – nothing – happens, which could be termed an intervention from God. He does not move a leaf or give a sign to these people to show that He is with them. On those days when their hearts weaken, they look up to the indifferent sky and wonder, How many more days?
They firmly believe that this suffering has a purpose, and that it will end some day. That God had some plan for them. That we are all travellers tossed into the tumultuous ocean, having to fight our way to the surface day after day. That even in the midst of such torture, if they could lend a hand to one other person, their life has attained some meaning. When they look around, they see other victims, and in their tiniest way, they try to be kind.
Finally, when deliverance does come, it comes of their own efforts, through a chain of events that they themselves had set into motion.
If we change those stories, and remove the suggestion of God from it, say, we make the protagonists atheists, then what would happen? Would they be able to survive the hardships? Probably, yes. Merely by the strength of their will. But the chances are high that they would have given up, long ago.
The Human Will is powerful as well as creative; just look around to see its infinite capabilities. But it is also lazy; we have enough evidence of that around us, too. It would rather be idle than create. It needs to be awakened. It needs to be called.
Which is why, I think, we need God. We need the idea that someone higher than us has the power to change our miserable lives. That there is a purpose to this suffering. If we are told that there is no one up there giving a damn about us, that every thing we do and endure in this life has no meaning whatsoever; we have nothing to struggle for. Not all of us are made with a will of steel. The moment our boats begin to rock, we give up and surrender to our fate. There will be no struggle, no effort to save ourselves. Most of us would perish within no time. If we have faith, we can convince ourselves that He is watching. He will help us. He will save us.
Which brings us to the conclusion that wise men have arrived at, long ago. There is no God but the one that resides in ourselves. God is the thread that we invoke to find the strength that is already within. When we are afraid, we chant God’s name, and wake up the courage that was dormant inside us. Did God do something? Yes, and No. Might I even go so far as to suggest that the notion of God developed as an evolutionary requirement to make the species strong enough to survive? I suppose God and Science aren’t on opposite sides, after all. One could very well be the by-product of the other, a tool to ensure survival.
Which is also why it is meaningless to go seeking God, or to argue whether He exists, or to fight over Him.