The other night I got a picture in my head of a man, staring at a shining city in disgust.
There it stood, gleaming in its wickedness and immorality. That unholy city had a kind of sick beauty to it; aglow, day and night with its vile promiscuity.
Of course it was gold – gilded with the sins of those who lived there. They talked a good game about “love, love, love,” but holiness? No. Righteousness? No.
Out here in the twilight, I leaned on my shovel and stared at the ungodly abomination.
Inside, it was called by another name, but I preferred the name the Bible gave it: Babylon.
The kings would be coming soon. Bringing tribute, no doubt. Tribute and trading goods.
For almost as long as I had lived here, in the shadow of the city that never goes dark, I had lived with righteous anger against it.
I scarcely remember a time when I have not been waiting for God’s righteous judgment on that foul city.
Maybe it was the beginning of the first day I found myself here. I thought it was heaven. I thought I had finally made it. A city filled with brilliant light. They welcomed me in, gave me a place to stay. They told me how glad they were that I had come.
I have not done the work required to justify this story, and I have no way of knowing for sure what heaven is like, but the Bible verse at the end makes me think there might be some truth in it.
A rich man died.
After a long walk through the valley of the shadow of death, he found himself at the gates of heaven.
He was surprised to find at the gates not Saint Peter or Jesus or an old man with a beard, but the Black woman who used to be the gatekeeper at the parking garage he had parked in every day for the past twenty years. She didn’t look tired anymore.
“Who vouches for you?” she asked.
“Jesus?” He had been in church almost every Sunday of his life, and he had donated a large sum of money to the building project a few years ago, so he figured Jesus would recognize him.
“Jesus is busy,” she said. He thought about asking if maybe she could get Jesus on the phone, but she didn’t seem to be in the mood. “Got anybody else?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Who’s here?”
“Lots of people.”
He thought for a moment.
“You knew me, right?”
“I recognize your face, but I can’t say I know you.”
“Well,” he said, “maybe I’ll just wait for Jesus to not be busy.”
“Up to you,” she said. “I hear there’s a war down on earth and he’s awful busy.”
So he sat down on the bench beside the gate.
All day long, Jesus never came. A whole bunch of other people came by, though. People who had been hurt by war and famine and disease were ushered right in. A few others were told to wait until somebody could vouch for them. It seemed that the lower one’s station in life, the quicker one got in.
One day, the ragamuffin who had begged on the street corner approached the attendant. She checked her clipboard and let him in. “Your place is waiting.”
“Wait a minute!” said the rich man. “I know the person you just let in.”
“Hold on, kid,” she said. “Can you vouch for this guy?”
The ragamuffin looked him up and down. “I think I saw him once in a suit maybe, but he never gave me anything.” The rich man was not allowed in.
More time passed.
A few weeks later, an old homeless man walked up to the gates. The attendant recognized checked her clipboard. “Jacob. Welcome home. Your place is waiting.” But the homeless man just stood there looking at the rich man, who by now had begun to despair of ever getting in.
“Is something wrong?” asked the attendant.
“I know this guy!” said the homeless man. “He used to be my friend before I dropped out of college. One time he paid to get my car fixed when I just didn’t have the money.”
“Are you vouching for him?” she asked. “That means he lives with you.”
“Of course,” said the homeless man. “If he don’t deserve to get in, nobody does.”
The woman swung the gate open wide and they walked in together.
And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
The news flashed across the screen like a thunderstorm.
No. More like a tsunami.
Kids killed in a school shooting. Kids killed by terrorists. Kids killed by American soldiers. God, too many kids killed.
In the year since she’d moved in with Jane and Alice, Jessica’s life had changed drastically. At home she didn’t watch TV much. Nevermind that; here was home now, and here felt safer than “home” ever had. But the news was enough to break anybody’s heart, let alone a new mother’s.
Her baby Steven lay in her lap, contentedly sucking at his thumb. She looked down at him and then up at the television. What horrible world would she be sending Steven into? She held him closer, as if to protect him from the guns and bombs and darkness that crept from every corner and ravaged at the light.
The daily news lineup heralded another young black man, killed by white people who were probably just afraid. Jessica comforted herself by touching Steven’s perfect white skin, then felt guilty at her relief that her child would never be arrested, frisked, or shot for “walking while black.”
And then there was a story about prison. As the announcer talked about a new law that was putting more people in jail, the old TV flickered, and the picture disappeared into a black hole that opened in the middle and then closed.
“It’s bad for your soul,” Alice said from behind the couch. “It’s good to be informed, but if you watch tragedy too much, it’ll eat you alive.”
“You’re right, Aunt Alice.” Jessica had taken to calling Alice and Jane her aunts, though sometimes they acted more like mothers.
“Are you coming to church tomorrow?” asked Alice.
“I think so. If this little guy lets me sleep.”
Alice smiled. “May I hold him?”
Jessica lifted her baby into Alice’s arms.
“Aren’t you a beautifuw wittwe boy?” Alice asked, exchanging her l’s for w’s the way everyone does when they talk to babies. Steven, unaffected, continued sucking his thumb.
“Do you mind if I get ready for bed while you’re holding him?”
“Of course, go ahead.” Alice returned to her baby-talk, and Jessica brushed her teeth.
Steven, properly nursed, promptly, mercifully, and miraculously fell asleep as soon as his sleeper hit the sheets in the crib. His mother did likewise, except in her pajamas.
Jessica hid. Her dad was angry because she was pregnant. Hiding didn’t work. He found her. How dare she corrupt Peter? And living with lesbians? What was she thinking? She cowered under his words.
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
“But they’ve been kind to me!”
“Whoever causes a child to stumble, it would be better if they had a millstone tied around their neck and were drowned in the sea.”
Steven was in her arms. Her father reached for him. “No!” She held on tight, but her arms just weren’t strong enough, as they never are in our dreams. She tried to get Steven back, but she couldn’t.
“I will protect him from you and your wicked ways,” her father said. The room slipped away, and Alice and Jane appeared with her. A tall devil with a pitchfork approached, and flames surrounded her. “The sexually immoral will not inherit the Kingdom of God,” he said. He sounded exactly like her father.
A man with a gun was there. He was pointing it at Steven. Steven had black skin. Steven cried.
She woke up, breathing hard. She found herself back in the room with the leaf wallpaper.
A dream. It was a dream.
She shot up from the bed to check the crib. Relief. Steven was still in his crib, and insisting loudly upon being fed. She picked him up and held him close. “God?” she asked, looking out the window toward the dark sky. “Are you still there?”
The rest of the night passed uneventfully.
A warm light crept across the floor to herald the morning and gently awaken Jessica. The light competed for the latter privilege with the smell of bacon wafting in from the kitchen. Jane enjoyed cooking for Jessica. She said Jessica was like the daughter she’d never had.
The dream had mostly faded, but it held on with white fingers at the corners of Jessica’s mind as she got ready for church. She was comfortable wearing jeans everywhere else, but it still somehow seemed strange to wear them to church, even though Jane and Alice usually did.
The Sunday paper was sprawled out on the table, and Alice was skimming it with her reading glasses. There was some headline about riots for something or other, but Alice quickly folded it up and put it away.
“Good morning, Jessica. Sleep well?”
“Fine,” she said. Alice knew this was code for not-even-remotely-fine, and Jessica knew Alice knew, but Alice let it go. Jessica was relieved. She didn’t want to tell Alice and Jane about the dream. They worried about her enough already.
Breakfast was delicious. Jessica, Steven, and their semi-adopted family wrapped themselves up to face the bitter chill of northern Minnesota and walked out the door. Fifteen seconds later, Alice hurried back in, grabbed a worn leather-bound Bible, and left again.
Jessica had become accustomed to the Episcopal liturgy, but everything had been a blur the previous Christmas. Now she paid attention.
A small child lit a purple candle.
“On this the first Sunday of Advent,” said Father Richard, “We light this purple candle. It represents hope.”
She held it together until the reading from the Older Testament. It included this phrase:
He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
Her heart turned the words over and over again. He shall judge between the nations. Beat their swords into plowshares. Neither shall they learn war any more.
The sermon was a blur. It was about hope, of course, the hope of Jesus coming back. Father Richard had apparently seen the same newscasts Jessica had, because she thought she caught a few references.
For Jessica, the Lord’s Prayer had always been rote, something you said without really thinking about it. Since coming here, it occasionally had meant something. The words started to mean something.
Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. God’s will. God’s kingdom. Maybe when that kingdom came, there wouldn’t be any more kids killed. Maybe bombs would get beaten into tractors. Maybe God’s will wasn’t for parents to throw their kids out.
She reflected on her time with Jane and Alice. Maybe that was what God’s kingdom coming looked like. Maybe that was God’s will being done. Lesbians enacting God’s kingdom and doing God’s will. A year ago she never would’ve imagined such a thing.
The world outside continued to be broken, but something in Jessica had changed. Alice and Jane’s obedience had given her hope. Hope that had been commended to her by a purple candle and a rote prayer.
She made a mental note to hug her “aunts” extra-tight when they got home.
“Amen,” repeated the grocery store clerk whose name Darren didn’t know. Wait. He looked at the name tag. Craig.
“Craig, all of heaven is rejoicing right now,” said Darren. “Luke 15:10 says that “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.”
Craig brushed a tear away. “Darren, I’m so glad you came in today. I could be on my way to Hell, but now I’m on my way to heaven.”
“Amen, brother. Do you know any churches around here, Craig?”
“I think there’s a Presbyterian church a few blocks from my house.”
“Here’s the card for the church I go to, Craig. I hope to see you there on Sunday.”
“I’ll be there.” Darren shook Craig’s hand and slipped him a pocket New Testament. When Darren skipped away with his two cans of tuna, the five people behind Darren in line all breathed sighs of relief and pushed their carts forward.
When he reached his car, Darren picked up his Scofield Study Bible from the passenger’s seat and his knife from the glove compartment. He carved a notch in the spine.
Warning: Not for the faint of heart, faint of stomach, or easily offended. This is horrible, disgusting, and offensive.
When Rusty Thorne woke up on Saturday, January 22nd, he had no idea the sort of day that would befall him – or that it would be his last. He had not the least idea of the significance of the two men in suits purchased from the thrift store who appeared at his door at 12:23 PM. If he had, he would never have answered it.
“Mister Thorne,” said the one on the right, “We would like to invite you to believe.”
“No thank you,” said Rusty. “I’m a good Catholic, and I have no interest in joining another religion.” He began to close the door, but the man in the ill-fitting suit on the left shoved his foot in the door and continued.
“Mister Thorne, hear us out.” Rusty shook his head, but the foot was still in the door, so he had no choice. “We belong to a group called The Taloc. It is a small and ancient group. First, do you know what sin is?”
“Of course,” Rusty replied. “It’s a breaking of God’s law.”
“Not quite,” said the one on the left. “Sin is a breaking of the moral order. All sin must be punished. For ever.”
“That’s lovely,” said Rusty. “I’m a good Catholic. I believe in grace.”
“You believe in the wrong God, Rusty,” Left Guy said. “Wrong beliefs have consequences.”
“That’s lovely,” said Rusty, “but this is America. I agree that wrong beliefs have consequences. Your wrong belief, for example, that I want to hear what you have to say, is going to have the consequence of getting my front door slammed in your face.”
With that, Rusty kicked Left Guy’s foot out of the door and slammed it. He double-locked it for good measure.
It was January, of course, and Rusty, like any good Catholic, was doing his taxes early so that he could spend his refund as early as possible. Little did Rusty know that the men who appeared at his door had been his last chance to make a decision that would affect him for all eternity.
Like any good American, Rusty filled in his income tax return with a few fudges. He didn’t report money he’d spent online, and he conveniently left out a few hundred dollars he’d made under the table. Little did Rusty know that this decision would haunt him for all eternity.
Rusty strolled off to the post office, whistling a song from the radio, having forgotten all about the weirdos who had appeared at his door earlier. He checked the Saturday pickup time, dropped his income tax return in the blue mailbox, and turned around to go back home. That was his mistake.
The next two things Rusty saw came in quick sequence: He saw a black van driving right toward him, and then he saw bright stars on a background that quickly turned to black.
When he came to, he was laying on a bed of nails or hot coals, he couldn’t tell which one. There was a horrible burning sensation in his eyes, and he couldn’t see a thing. But he could hear. And what he heard horrified him. It was screaming. Not just any screaming, mind you, but the screaming of dozens of tormented human beings – the screaming of human beings who are being brutally and horrifically tortured and burned, having lost all hope of ever being saved.
“Welcome to Hell, Rusty Thorne,” came a kind voice.
“Who’s there?” Rusty demanded. “What have you done to me?”
“I am Huey,” replied the voice. “I am the god of the world. You should have listened to my servants when they visited you earlier today.”
“The two religious nut-jobs who showed up at my door today?” Horrible pain shot up and down Rusty’s body.
“Do not speak evil of the lord’s elect, Rusty,” Huey replied softly. He paused. “Do you know why you are here?”
“Because I didn’t listen to your insane people?”
“No, Rusty,” replied Huey, still speaking kindly. “You are here because you sin often, and I decided that your time to continue in sin was over.”
“What did I do?”
“You cheated on your tax return,” Huey replied. “That was enough. Now you will suffer for all eternity.”
Rusty laughed – a sad, bitter laugh. “You can’t do that,” he said. “I’m a citizen.”
“You were,” replied Huey. “But now I own your soul.”
“No,” replied Huey. “I’m just. If you break the moral code at all, you’re guilty of breaking the whole thing. You cheated on your taxes. You might as well be a murderer. If you break the law, you break the law, and there’s one single penalty for all who break the law: Eternal torture.” Somehow, Huey managed to sound kind while he was saying this.
“Listen, Huey – ” Rusty tried to interrupt.
“No, Rusty,” said Huey. “You made your decision. And you didn’t listen to my servants and accept the gift I was going to offer you — a full pardon.”
“If I had known those wackos were telling the truth, I would’ve — “
“But you didn’t, Rusty. Now you’re mine, for all eternity.”
“You keep saying that! I could die.”
“No, you couldn’t, Rusty. My torturers are skilled. They will torment you everywhere until the pain becomes unbearable, but not until you lose consciousness. You will be in horrible agony every instant of every second of every day. Oh, and as for days, there is only one day: This one. Today will start in five minutes, and due to some quantum physics you can’t even begin to understand, after your torture begins, the hell you are living in will loop. Forever.”
“This isn’t fair!” Rusty screamed. “I didn’t know! I didn’t know!” His cries slowly descended into sobs. “I didn’t know.”
“I’m sorry, Rusty. I love you… but I am fair. I gave you your chance. Now you must be tortured, in sheerest of sheer agony, for all eternity. Perhaps your life can serve as an example to others.”
“Others!” Rusty screamed. “My family! What will — “
“My servants will go to your home. They will tell them that you are dead. For all intents and purposes, you will be. My servants will tell them that you are suffering eternally and invite your family to accept the truth.”
“You’re a sicko!” screamed Rusty.
“No, I’m fair,” said Huey. “I even killed my own son so that you wouldn’t have to end up here, but you didn’t listen to my servants and accept the life I offered. I can only ever do right. I am the judge of the world. I love you, Rusty, but you rejected me. Take him away.”
And then the pain that he endured. I say endured because he could not do otherwise. They wouldn’t kill him. He felt that his entire body was in flames all day, and his nerves never dulled, and the pain never slowed. His fingers were contorted. The unimaginable torture continued day and night, though he couldn’t see day or night. He sensed when the days were looping, a little, though he was never sure. At first, he hoped that it was not true.
But it was.
He gave up all hope after years of that same day repeating itself. Though every day, if possible, the pain got worse. He never got used to it. It never stopped hurting. It never stopped burning. And the police and his family never found him. They never found him because he was stuck in a time loop on Saturday, January 23rd, for all eternity.
And so it was that a decent man who had sinned in one small way found himself tortured and tormented by a righteous man for all of eternity.
“To say on the authority of the Bible that God does a thing no honourable man would do, is to lie against God; to say that it is therefore right, is to lie against the very spirit of God. To uphold a lie for God’s sake is to be against God, not for him. God cannot be lied for.” -George MacDonald, “Justice”
Question: Setting aside the fact that Huey is a wicked, horrible person, possibly the only character ever invented deserving of eternal suffering, is what Rusty gets just?
We think Huey is wicked because he tortured Rusty for all eternity just for cheating on his taxes. We think he’s a horrible, awful, wicked sicko. And we think that God is just in doing that.
Our response is simple: God is just, and God does that.
We challenge anyone who questions this by suggesting that they are heretics. Those who question the eternity of torment in hell are told that God is just, God torments some for eternity in hell, and therefore, that is just. And we accept this to be true, in spite of the niggling feeling in the backs of our minds that it doesn’t make sense. We overrule it by saying that God’s ways are not ours. But we never dare to question whether or not eternal torment makes sense because we have been told that God does it and God is just.
For that not to be the case, it must be that either (a) God is not just, or (b) God does not torment people for sins committed in a few short years for all eternity. God’s justice is shown forth throughout scripture. And eternal torment, though its followers have a long list of verses they insist prove eternal torment, has a number of verses that suggest its opposite.
There are those who believe that God is just, and, being a just God, could not possibly torture people in burning awfulness for all eternity for sins committed in time, and who do not question the Bible’s authority.
They simply question the conclusions drawn by other people who do not question the Bible’s authority.
Jessica shivered against the North Minnesota December cold. She replayed the scene from an hour ago for the hundredth time in her head.
Dad. Holding her positive pregnancy test. Why did she throw it away in the bathroom garbage can? What was she thinking? The Bible verses came in a stream of rage, one after another about adulteresses and adultery and being holy as God is holy. The lips of an adulteress drip honey. Jessica knew the verses. She had known them for as long as she could remember. She had read them at least once a month when she was reading Proverbs every day. It took ten minutes before he finally got around to asking what man she had corrupted with her sinful ways.
The story came out through the sobs. It started with Peter, the boy she was courting. They had been so in love. He hadn’t meant to pressure her, but they pushed past one boundary after another, each one more shameful than the last, each time more determined to stop and each time more certain that nobody could ever know what they had done. When they finally went all the way, nobody had bothered to tell either of them about birth control of any kind. When she missed her period, Peter had insisted on a test. When it came up positive, the relationship ended. His heartbroken lips forced out a few last words about purity that dug into her soul like a poison injected into her heart. A few moments later, he had said goodbye for the last time. Continue reading “And You Welcomed Me :: A Story For Advent”
When Samantha travelled north to visit her sister Taylor, she didn’t bother wearing long sleeves to hide the bruises. Taylor asked about them, and Samantha said they came from her husband Jerry. Taylor looked a little worried, but Sam assured her that Jerry knew what was best for her and that, though the hurt had come from his own hands, he had done it for her own good.
“He knows I don’t love him very well, so sometimes he punishes me when I look at other men. Sometimes he ties me up in the basement. I grew to love him so much more while I was there.”
“That’s terrible!” Taylor exclaimed.
“Oh, no,” said Samantha. “He does it because he loves me. He’s a jealous husband. I remember the time that he smashed my car windshield in with a sledgehammer because he thought I liked it more than I liked him. He did the right thing, of course. I really did have too much of an attachment to that vehicle.”
Taylor was silent, so Samantha continued. “One time he even broke my leg because he thought I was enjoying running more than I enjoyed being with him.
Taylor called the police.
“To say on the authority of the Bible that God does a thing no honourable man would do, is to lie against God; to say that it is therefore right, is to lie against the very spirit of God. To uphold a lie for God’s sake is to be against God, not for him. God cannot be lied for.” -George MacDonald, “Justice“
I was wandering around in a hotel on a Monday evening looking for the meeting room for the drug company I work for. It was one of those meetings that you go to because you have to go to them, and all of a sudden I saw a sign with the word Illuminati on it. I was instantly curious, because I’d had a conversation with a friend of mine named Toby a few nights ago where he tried to convince me that they were real but I told him he was crazy so it was pretty weird seeing a sign for an Illuminati meeting. I figured “what the heck?” and decided to skip my meeting. If this was the real deal it would be worth it – well, more worth it than going to some boring drug company meeting. I followed the signs. Continue reading “Illuminati: A Short Story”