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Jack: I get it, Bishop. The story of that quarrel between your children — I don't suppose it was really about knocking down blocks or hitting your sister. Or about what a patient father you are.
Bishop: I need to ask you the same question I asked my kids. And I think you came to me so you could answer that question.
J: You asked them both, "What did you do?"
B: They wanted to tell me how they felt. What they were thinking. Why they did what they did. But the beginning of everything is: What did you do?
J: I had an inappropriate relationship.
B: I think I have to insist, Jack. Not what did you have. What did you do?
J: I slept with a woman who wasn't my wife.
B: Thanks. Now we can start talking.
J: What is there to say? I didn't plan for it. It just happened.
B: You tripped, and suddenly …
J: That's how it felt.
B: Like you were just watching it happen.
B: I get it. This woman was a co-worker at your old job. You're talking, face to face, you're telling her how bleak things are. How you can't find a job, you feel like a failure, how your wife is nagging you, how lonely you are. And sometime during the conversation, she reaches over and puts her hand on your hand. Is that how it happened?
J: More or less.
B: But her hand didn't go there accidentally, Jack. And it wasn't an accident when you turned your hand over and took hold of her fingers. It was a decision.
J: It felt natural.
B: We have most of the same DNA as chimpanzees. It's natural for chimps to take every opportunity to mate.
J:?I'm not a chimp.
B: We're all chimps, Jack. But we're also rational humans. If your wife had been there, the other woman wouldn't have put her hand on yours, and you wouldn't have turned your hand over and taken hers.
J: That would have been insane.
B: But nobody was watching, so you let the chimp do that one little thing.
J: It felt so harmless.
B: And it felt good. A little bit exciting. And even when the rational man was saying, Don't do this —
J: It was actually saying, "Don't do this, you idiot" —
B: But the chimp kept saying, Feels good. Feels natural. Feels right. Until the chimp was satisfied. Then the rational man has to deal with things.
J: Rational, that's the thing. I realized that I didn't believe in the commandments. In God, in Joseph Smith, the whole thing. I never did.
B: So if there's no "Thou shalt not commit adultery," what's left?
J: The mess that used to be my life.
B: With or without religion, civilization still depends on the rational man being able to keep the chimp under control. You made a contract with your wife. Did she break it?
J: I did.
B: You also led your children to believe they could count on you.
J: I've got to have room for some happiness of my own, don't I?
B: Oh. I didn't realize you were happy.
J: I'm not.
B: Suppose you make a new contract with this other woman. She knows you're the kind of man who breaks that contract. And you know she's the kind of woman who sets out to steal what belongs to someone else.
J: You don't know her, you can't judge —
B: She knew you were married with children and she didn't care. That's how children acquire wicked stepmothers. How long before she tries to maneuver you into spending less and less time with your kids by your first marriage?
J: I've already promised my kids …
B: Jack, what do they think your promises are worth? You say you never believed in the gospel. That means you lied to your wife in the temple. You lied to get the temple recommend. You lied the whole time you were on your mission. In every calling you've held in the ward, you were lying. Isn't that what you told me?
J: I didn't lie. I was fooling myself. I thought?I believed.
B: Jack, believing that you believe is what believing is.
J: I wasn't sure of anything.
B: You were sure enough to make solemn covenants with your wife, and bring children into the world on the strength of those vows. The two of you were building something together, and you began it in the name of God. You only turned it into a lie afterward, when you acted as if there were no God.
J: I know what I feel!
B:?It's my experience that people leaving the church never believed in the gospel, but when they repent and come back, they knew it was true all along. You were no liar when you started, Jack. You meant what you said to your wife in the temple, what you said to investigators on your mission. Now you deny God in the hope that it will ease your pain. It isn't working, though, is it?
B: I wonder why an unbeliever came to talk to the bishop.
J:?My wife wanted me to.
B: And you want your life back. Trouble is, your wife and children can never trust the rational man, because he became a slave to the chimp. Only the child of God can earn their trust and forgiveness. Even if you don't believe right now that God exists, don't you hope that he does?
J: If he does, he must hate me.
B: He knows you, Jack, and he loves you. So do your wife and kids. You broke their hearts. Now it's time for your heart to break.
J: You think it isn't broken already?5 comments on this story
B: Not yet. The defiant spirit still has to make way for the contrite one. But you've made a start, and I have hope for you and your family.
J: I don't.
B: Then lean on the faith and hope of your children and your wife. And mine, too. Then reach for the love of Christ. He's the only way back to the life you lost.
Orson Scott Card is a writer of nonfiction and fiction, from LDS works to popular fiction. Leave feedback for Card at www.nauvoo.com/contact_desnews.html.