Lucifer rested his elbows on the edge of the table and leaned forward with an earnest expression. “So the basic idea was this,” he explained. “There would be three parts to each human’s life: mortality, punishment, and reward. Life is the part you already did, with the whole birth and development business. You didn’t make it all the way through adolescence, of course, but it happens.”
Thanks for the sympathy, I thought. I didn’t dare say it aloud for fear of incurring Lucifer’s wrath over a simple sarcastic interruption.
“Stage two, punishment, is where you are now,” he went on. “Although you got a pretty good deal out of it because all the other dead people are subjected to stuff that is far less pleasant than being the devil.”
He paused, and for a few moments the only sounds we could hear other than “Kokomo” on the radio were the disgustingly loud chewing noises God was making as he went to town on the rest of his burger. God was a very messy eater. His behavior up to this point did not befit his status as a creator and an object of worship—and his table manners hadn’t done anything to break that pattern.
Hoping to keep Lucifer talking so I couldn’t hear the way God was inhaling his greasy sandwich, I said, “And the third stage?”
“The third stage is the reward. The idea is that in life, you operate blindly and hopefully learn the differences between right and wrong on your own, because it’s more meaningful that way. The second stage punishes you for what you’ve failed to learn, in varying degrees for varying offenses. And the third stage is where everybody lives happily ever after, with all the learning and the suffering behind them.”
God wiped his sleeve across his mouth and added, “As creators of this universe and all life within it, I care very much about what happens to each and every one of you.”
“We both care,” Lucifer cut in.
“And that’s why we have to fix the system,” the sweating overweight ruler of the infinite cosmos said. “Because no one is progressing from stage two to stage three. The punishment is eternal and the reward is nonexistent. That’s not what we wanted and that’s not what all of you deserve.”