Monday, September 23, 2013

The Throne of Judgment - A Short Story

This is a short story I wrote to attempt to illustrate some of the truths I was trying to communicate in my "Checkmate for Hell" series.

The Throne of Judgment
Before the white throne of judgment stood three men - Matt, Chris, and John.  The figure sitting on the throne was veiled in glory - light shone from His face with such brightness that one could not distinguish any features, nor sustain one's gaze for very long. 

First to be called to the throne was Matt.  A voice rang out - a deep, powerful voice that carried the weight of authority: "Matthew, you stand before the throne of God on judgment day!  What do you have to say for yourself, and the life you have led?"  Matt humbly bowed and said "Lord, Lord, I know I am a sinner in need of grace.  But I had faith in your son Jesus, whom you sent, and in his blood.  I prayed the sinner's prayer when I was a child, and I invited Jesus into my heart, and for the rest of my life I went to church every Sunday and sang your praises, and listened to words of wisdom about you, and prayed to you each week." 

The voice boomed out again: "Well done, my good and faithful servant!  You have done well - what reward is your wish?"  Matt spoke once again: "Lord, I ask that I be rewarded with entrance into Heaven!" 

The voice boomed forth one more time: "And what say you to the fate of your brother, Christopher?"  At this, Matt teared up, and said: "Lord, it saddens me to know that Chris never accepted your son into his heart.  I wish he had converted to Christianity.  I tried and I tried - many nights we argued over evolution, over the historical proof that your son lived and died for him, and many other things.  But I was never able to convince him!  I tried so hard to warn him that this day would come, and it breaks my heart to know his fate.  But I know that you are just, and I know that your love will heal me, and will wipe away my tears." 

The voice from the figure on the throne boomed forth once more: "What you have requested is granted to you!"  And a large, golden gate appeared, guarded by angels, who swung open the gates just for Matt.  Matt ran through them to find everything he had ever wanted - riches, fame, people who admired him, wonderful food, and anything else his heart desired.  As soon as the gates closed, they disappeared. 

Chris was left standing before the throne - his head bowed, his gaze averted from the throne..  Tears had begun to stream down his cheeks.  But they were not tears of shame, or tears of sadness.  They were tears of anger.  "WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO SAY FOR YOURSELF?", the voice from the throne boomed out accusingly. Chris looked up, gazing at the light even though it hurt his eyes, and shouted with anger and defiance: "GO AHEAD!  DO YOUR WORST!  YOU NEVER CARED FOR ME!  YOU NEVER DID ANYTHING TO HELP ME!  YOU LEFT ME TO DIE!  EVERYONE LEFT ME, AND NONE OF YOUR FOLLOWERS EVER DID ANYTHING TO HELP ME OUT OF MY PAIN AND MISERY!  I WOULDN'T WANT TO BE IN YOUR HEAVEN IF YOU OFFERED IT TO ME!  SO DO YOUR WORST!"

John ran towards the throne, and fell to his knees in front of Chris in tears.  He shouted out: "LORD!  Do not send Chris away to torment!  I cannot bear the thought of the endless pain and misery he will go through!"  The voice boomed forth: "John, I know all things, and I know that you also said the sinner's prayer and invited Jesus into your heart.  I cannot send you to Hell.  Likewise, I know that Christopher did not accept the love of my son, and therefore, he must face judgment."  John ran to Chris, embracing him, and shouted: "LORD!  I will not abandon Chris!  He doesn't deserve this!  If anyone deserves such a fate, it is me!"  At this, Chris' anger softened.  His muscles, tense up until this point, relaxed, and he began to weep.  He said: "NO!  John, you don't even know me!  You can't do this!  You don't know what I've done!  You don't know that for years I struggled with drug addictions.  You don't know that I stole from my mother and my brother to pay for my habit!  You don't know the things I've done to get my daily fix!" 

John wept, and said: "Chris, I don't know you as well as I should.  But I remember you now.  I remember now that I ran into you twice during my lifetime on earth.  The first time was when we were teenagers - we went to the same church then.  I didn't know you well, and we never hung out.  But I remember that your parents were going through a divorce, and I remember hearing that your father was abusive.  I remember now that your mother was trying to get custody, and your father used his friendships with some of the elders of the church to get your mother excommunicated.  I didn't see you for a long time after that, and the next time I saw you I didn't recognize you.  But now I see clearly, and I realize that I did see you a second time." 

"The second time I saw you, you came into my church one week in tattered clothes and smelling quite awful, looking broken and alone.  I was an usher that week.  A couple of the members complained about your presence, and I gave you a twenty dollar bill and asked you to leave.  I was rich then, though I didn't realize it.  I see clearly now, though - I didn't think of myself as rich, but now I realize what a great number of people were struggling when I was not.  I was a vice president in my company, and I could have easily put you up somewhere for a few months and taken care of you until you could get on your feet again.  I could have changed your life, but instead I asked you to leave my church because your appearance made some people uncomfortable.  My conscience bothered me that day, but I didn't want to offend my 'friends', and so I gave you a measely $20 and asked you to leave."  John turned to the throne once again and shouted: "LORD!  I could have changed this man's life!  And I didn't!  He wasn't rejecting you, he was rejecting the false image of you that the elders of the church who excommunicated his mother portrayed, and the false image of you that I portrayed when I sent him away years later!  Do not send him to torment!  Send me instead!  I deserve it, because I could have changed his life and saved him from this fate!"

John buried his head in Chris' shoulder and wept - "I'm sorry!  I'm so sorry!", he kept repeating.  Chris tried to push John away and said "No!  John, you can't take this punishment!  I can't let you!  LORD, do not accept John's offer!  You can't send him in my place!"

There they stood - John refusing to let go of Chris, weeping, and Chris trying as best he could to push John away, weeping as well.

The figure on the throne sat there in silence, watching.  But something strange began to happen - the light streaming from the figure's face began to dim.  Or maybe John and Chris' eyes were becoming accustomed to it; it was hard to tell.  Actually, it seemed almost as if John and Chris had begun to shine as well.  They began to see more clearly - whereas before, all they had noticed was the throne, and the darkness around it, now they began to notice the beautiful landscape around them.  They were in a beautiful field, covered with flowers, with lush, green mountains around.  Trees bearing all kinds of fruit were planted all around as well.

Suddenly, Chris gasped.  John looked at him to see what was wrong, and saw that Chris was looking directly in the direction of the figure on the throne.  He looked too and saw something unbelievable.

The figure had risen from his throne and begun to walk towards them.  What John and Chris beheld was something unbelievable, yet comforting.  The figure's features were at once both strange and familiar - it was as if they recognized their mothers', their fathers', their sisters', and their brothers' features in this figure, but at the same time the figure looked unfamiliar.  They could discern no sex, as the figure seemed at once to be both male and female, but this was not strange to them, at least not in a way that made them uncomfortable - rather, it was something wonderful and new.  The figure had no discernible nationality, but at the same time seemed to represent all nationalities.  He/She looked at once both young as an innocent child, and weathered and wise as an elder.  And His/Her eyes...those eyes drew them in with their gentle, peaceful, loving gaze.  Tears of joy were streaming down this figure's face, and when He/She reached them, He/She reached up and began to wipe the tears from their faces, and then joined in the embrace, seeming to completely envelop them in love with His arms.

The figure spoke - actually, it almost seemed as if He/She were singing.  Not just with one voice, but with multiple voices, in a beautiful, rich harmony.  But this was not strange to John and Chris, but instead it was the most comforting thing they had ever experienced - tension, sadness, and pain melted away with each note.  The figure spoke/sang "Welcome, John and Chris!  I have missed you so much!"  John and Chris looked quite confused at this - and John spoke first: "what do you mean, you've missed us?  We just arrived, and neither of us had ever met you before!"

The figure spoke again: "John, Chris - I've been with you every moment of your life!  I watched in eager anticipation as you grew in your mothers' wombs!  When she used to rub her belly, waiting for your arrival, marveling at the miracle of you when she felt your tiny, but powerful kicks - I was there, marveling and waiting in excitement for the miracle of your birth!  When you took your first breath, and cried out after having left the warmth of her womb, and she cuddled you up tightly and kissed your messy face and poured out her love on you - I was there!  When your father took you for the first time with an overwhelmed look on his face - when the love in his heart overcame the fear that he didn't have it within himself to handle this great responsibility, that was me!  I whispered into his heart the secret of your importance that gave him the will to overcome his fear!  When you smiled for the first time, I was there marveling at your beauty as if I'd never seen a smile before, and I whispered that joy and wonder into your parents' hearts!  As you grew, I watched with pride when you took your first steps, and I moved in your parents, inspiring them to tell everyone about it as if no one before you had ever taken a step - as if you were the ones who had invented the technique of putting one foot in front of the other!  When you skinned your knees for the first time, my heart burst over the pain you felt, and I moved in your mother, telling her to clean your wounds and bandage you up and wrap you in her arms and comfort you!"

"Oh, we've been through some tough times, too.  I was there when you felt alone - like there was no point to life.  And I gave you the strength to keep going even though it made no sense.  I gave you the hope that went against reason - the hope that some day it would be better.  I shouted into the hearts of those around you!  'Don't you see this child?!', I shouted at them!  'Help him!', I cried into their hearts!  Some of them had hardened their hearts so much that they didn't hear anything but a faint whisper, and some of them felt awful for the rest of their day because they had heard me. 

"John, when you were struggling to start your career, and every week you weren't sure if you'd be able to pay your bills, it was me who gave you the strength to keep going, and the illogical hope that it would get better!  And when your career began to take off, I wept that the difficulty of that journey had convinced you that it would be folly to be generous to those less fortunate.  I whispered into your heart every day, trying to tell you that I had always been watching over you, and that I had other children who needed your help."

"Oh, Chris, I have wept so many times for you.  Those people who cast you out in my name?  They were not me.  And their hearts accused them daily with their judgment - the judges that they had set up in their hearts to accuse you only turned around and accused themselves each day, and they tried so hard to deny it.  And all the while, I was shouting in their hearts to love you - telling them of the freedom they could have if they would just give - but all they heard was a whisper, and they kept answering that whisper: 'what can I do?  It's not up to me.  Am I my brother's keeper?  Besides, I have my own needs to take care of.  I have a family to provide for.'  But they didn't see that by only taking care of themselves, they were empty - without meaning and purpose in their lives.  They were the world's true poor, and I was trying to lead them to true riches!  Oh, Chris, how I cried for you!  I always wanted you to see me as I truly was, and when John stood up for you, that was it!  That was me!  I told him to do that!  I love you so much, Chris!"

"Oh, John - you've had some good days and bad days, too!  I've been there the whole time, loving you!  You were involved in a daily struggle between your own desires and mine.  Some days you ignored my cries, and I was so sad to see how you tried so hard to fill your heart with the emptiness of the world's riches.  But you had a good heart, and though the world had fooled you into thinking you had to play by their rules, some days you would perform the most extravagantly generous acts, and on those days I would leap up and down inside of your heart for joy!  You felt it, too!  You'd say to yourself 'wow, this was great!  I feel so good!  I wish I could do this every day!'  And I would keep that feeling of joy going for a few days as I whispered 'come on, do it again!'  I always knew you would come through in the end like you did for Chris!  I love you so much, John!"

The three stood there in a warm embrace for a long time, weeping tears of joy.  It was like meeting for the first time, and it was like a family reunion.  John and Chris felt a peace they had never felt before, and all their bad memories started to feel as if they belonged - they were no longer wounds, but scars of victory.  Here they were, wrapped in love - healed.  But then John and Chris remembered Matt.  "Father", they both spoke in unison - they had dropped the "LORD" bit, as it no longer seemed a natural name to call this being, who had been their best friend for their whole lives even when they didn't know it.  "What about Matt?  Where did he really go?"  The Heavenly Father's face fell as He looked downward and a tear began to form.  "And why the throne of judgement, with the bright light streaming from your face - why not appear to us like this from the start?", Chris added.

"Oh, my beautiful sons", the figure sang/spoke, now with a bittersweet sadness in His song.  "What you heard before was not me, but your false images of me.  The images you had made of me obscured my true nature from you.  I do not judge - I told you that in my Word!  When you stood before the throne, listening to the judgment your own selves pronounced through the false image you had created, I was weeping for you, but I never lost hope - I hope in all circumstances!  Matthew had convinced himself that I was a tyrant, and he believed he had found the way to win the game he had invented in my name.  I wept as he went away.  Behold - there he is!"

John and Chris looked, and a long way off they saw that Matt was running and laughing in the field.  But John and Chris now saw with a new kind of vision.  It was as if they saw in multiple layers all at once.  They saw that Matt was in the same beautiful field they were in, but it was also as if they could see through Matt's eyes, and what Matt saw was not the field.  Matt was seeing a burgeoning city of concrete, filled with large and ornate chapels and churches, and with prosperous businesses.  The church services in this place were long, filled with hymn after hymn after hymn, and followed by praise song after praise song, and in Matt's church he was looked up to and admired - people would compliment him on his ability to quote chapter and verse, and no one ever questioned him.  He had been granted wealth and fame, and he was surrounded by people who seemed to worship him, but really only wanted his wealth for themselves.  At the same time that John and Chris saw these two layers - the layer of Matt's false perception of where he was, and the layer of the truth of the beautiful field around him - it was as if they could also see two layers of time: the present, and the future.  They saw that all this stuff that Matt thought was bringing him comfort was only going to decay into ashes and dust, and they saw that what he thought was happiness was only going to bring misery.  The church Matt attended in this false Heaven looked beautiful now, but no one in the congregation served, and over time this place would be filled with dirt and would start to fall apart, and no one truly loved each other as there was no sacrifice.  And the great wealth that Matt possessed was only mere pieces of paper, which would slowly turn to ash, and even the clothing on his back would be as rags to him.

But John and Chris saw with the eyes of Perfect Love, as well, and they hoped in all circumstances, as their Father did.  They saw that just when Matt had fully realized the depth of his own emptiness, he would cry out.  They saw that Matt would remember his brother, and would feel a great sadness at the memories of Chris.  They saw that Matt would remember the good times he had enjoyed with Chris - the times they laughed; the times they had stayed up late into the night whispering even after their mother had scolded them and told them to go to sleep; the pranks they had pulled together when they were in High School; the times that Matt had stood up for his younger brother because he knew the pain Chris felt.  They saw that Matt would remember that hurt, and would release the false judgment he had pronounced on Chris, and would feel this uneasy feeling: wondering if maybe Chris' circumstances had wounded him so much that he couldn't see clearly.  They saw that Matt would begin to ache for his brother, and to wish that he had simply loved him as best he could rather than judging him for "leaving the faith."  They saw that after thinking these thoughts, Matt would forsake his false wealth and would cry out to His father to take it all away for one more moment with his brother, and his eyes would be opened, and he would see.  So John and Chris and their Father were One, and they upheld each other as they watched in patience and waited for that great day of apocalypse when Matt's world would be destroyed, and all things would be made new.

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