Why is it we never recognize God working in our lives until we look back?

(I initially wrote this blog post in 2009 about my experience working with the mentally ill in state prison.  I recently re-read it and decided it could be written more clearly.  So I am reposting it today, although I no longer work in a state prison).

I had a talk with God today. At first I didn’t recognize God because God was revealed in the form of one of my clients. I first met God in person about six months ago during a previous visit to the prison where I work as a correctional counselor (for those not familiar with prisons, that's kind of like a parole agent who works inside prisons, part cop part guidance counselor).  But I didn’t recognize God then either. I’m not sure what I expected God to look like, but now I know. God is a 5 foot 6 inch, 285 pound, 56 year-old Tongan man with long graying hair in an Albert Einstein-like hairdo. I knew him then as Mr. M., a sometimes inmate on my caseload. I visited him today because he’ll be leaving our facility soon.

The conversation started like this: “Good morning Mr. M. I’m Mr. Gibbs. Do you remember me from your last visit?" He smiles at me knowingly, as he sits on his bed, but doesn't say anything. “We need to fill out some paperwork today” I say. “Is that Okay?” Mr. M. just smiles warmly at me. “We need to start making plans for where you’re going to live after you leave us. Where’s your home?” “I live in the holy land.” Last time I saw him he told me he owns the Hilton Hotel in Concord and usually lives there, so I was somewhat skeptical. “Oh, really…..” I say. “Where exactly is the holy land?” Mr. M. answers that the holy land is in Concord. “When you say Concord, do you mean Concord, California, like in Contra Costa County?” Mr. M clarifies, “It used to be Concord, but I renamed it the holy land.”

“So…..where do you stay when you’re in the holy land?” Mr. M says “I stay in the Royal Hotel.” I tell him that I don’t remember a Royal Hotel in Concord. Actually, I don’t know anything about hotels in Concord, but at this point I’m betting that there is none called the Royal Hotel. Again Mr. M. clarifies, “It used to be called Hotel 6.” “Wait, I’m thinking that you renamed the Hilton Hotel also, right?” “I own all the Hotel 6s, Hilton Hotels, Best Western Hotels and the Disney Hotel. I renamed them all to the Royal Hotel.” “Hmmmm” I answer. I think he senses my skepticism because he continues, “I own all the hotels in the world.”

Just when I think I’m beginning to understand him, he shows me that he is one step ahead. “Well, what if you can’t stay in the Royal Hotel, where do you stay?” “Why wouldn’t I be able to stay in my own hotel?” he laughs at the absurdity of my question. “But sometimes I stay in King City.” I ask, “Like King City down by Monterey?” “No. Of course not. King City used to be Oakland, before I renamed it.”

I decide to move on to the next topic. “Your records say you were born in Tonga but you told me before that you are a U.S. citizen. Do you claim dual U.S. and Tongan citizenship?  Mr. M. laughs heartily. “I can’t be a Tongan citizen because Tonga doesn’t exist.” I am fairly confident regarding my knowledge of world geography, so I say “I distinctly recall seeing a country named Tonga on a map of the South Pacific Ocean.” Mr. M. speaks slowing, using that patient voice one reserves for people who are a little slow mentally. “I moved all the people from Tonga to the holy land, so Tonga doesn’t exist any more.” For no particular reason I feel I need to affirm my reality, “Well, I think that Tonga still exists, even if there are no people there anymore. I mean, there’s still an island called Tonga...." Beginning to see the absurdity of continuing this line of questioning I divert, "Unless of course … well, you didn’t make the island disappear, did you?” Clearly disappointed in me, he answers “No. I don’t do that kind of thing anymore.”

“Oh, I think I’m beginning to understand. You are God. Only the old testament God would make a country disappear.” Clearly pleased that I am starting to understant his message,“Yes, you do understand.” Still a bit skeptical I ask,  “Why didn’t you tell me this when you were here last time?” God states the obvious, “I did tell you, but you forgot.”  Still  not ready to accept his answers, “I think I would have remembered meeting God.” God tells me, “You remembered, but people always forget everything as soon as I leave. You will get some papers when you leave that will explain everything about me, then you will know.” Trying to test him I ask, “Why don’t you give me the papers now, so I can read them here?” He smiles and chuckles at me, “That is what my angels are for, to deliver my messages.”

I think about this for a little while. “You know, this kind of makes sense to me now. It explains why everybody thinks you’re … well, they don’t know you’re God. People always forget about God as soon as they don't need you anymore.  So they just keep God locked away where they don't have to think about you." He nods his head knowingly.

Still a little puzzled I ask "But since you’re God, you could leave here any time you want. So why do you stay here?” God just looked around his room and shrugged his shoulders, as if to say "Where else should I be but in a prison," and  smiled.


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