Perhaps this is Hell. I am watching a beautiful feast - in a shining city filled with glorious light. The Holy Angels are singing hymns of liquid praise, and some of these Sons of God are serving the wedding guests angel food. I am on the outside looking in through a gossamer fence of finest gold, solid yet transparent. I desperately want to taste the angel food, to eat the fruit of the tree of life, to drink the living waters. Only one thing keeps me from joining the laughing radiant guests; only one thing keeps me from joining my Grandmother Grace, my Uncle Judah, and various other friends, neighbors, and coworkers that I have known throughout the years. Even Dreadlock John that dirty panhandler that I would give money to is seated at the table. But now he isn't dirty. Now he smiles and shines with a mysterious glow, and he is dressed in robes of purest white.
Dreadlock John must have been a prophet, for once he told me - when the rain was pouring down and I, feeling sorry for him, put a ten spot in his hand as I hurried on my way to the office -
“Just confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus Christ is Lord, and the gates will open wide,” he said quietly in an unusual display of sobriety.
I realize that this - right now - is what he was talking about. There are real gates here, and they look like pearls. But I had been annoyed beyond belief at his comment. I had thought “How dare Dreadlock John give instructions to me?”
What I really believe is that I am my own God. I am the arbitrator of what is right and what is wrong. I suppose this makes me an existentialist, for I have never been one to accept easy answers. I have been searching desperately for another entrance into the feast. I have walked as if forever looking for a secret passage, a forbidden ladder hanging down over the wall. So far, the only way I see to enter is by the gate. Occasionally I see others outside the walls in even worse shape than I. Once I saw a woman pounding on the door howling in grief and rage.
“Lord, Lord,” she screamed. “Let me in. Let me in.” I wondered what was her sin? And as soon as I thought it, I heard the answer. “Disbelief.”
Once again I stand outside the gate, once again I see a magnificent being in white holding a flaming sword. He speaks to me. It is like he can read the secret thoughts of my heart.
“You are created.” he said with a voice like thunder. “He is Creator. He is Almighty - you are not.” But I was given a raw deal in life. Memories flood my mind of the cruelty of others, of broken relationships and bitter disappointments. Where was God when I needed him? Where was God when my wife died of breast cancer? Then there were my little lusts and desires: things I had to have even though my conscience said “Stop.” Sure I did some bad things -I am not perfect after all! The silly young girls who couldn’t say “no” to me. The money. The lies to get the money to get the things to get the status to get the silly young girls. It seems like my whole life was one brief affair with one lust after another. Yet on the whole, I was not a bad person. I worked hard, I volunteered, I gave to charity - but now I stand outside the pearly gates dressed in filthy rags. Ten times filthier than the clothes Dreadlock John ever had to wear. I don’t understand. Why am I out here, and he is inside? In my heart, there is still this stubborn disbelief. I still can’t actually see this Lord. Does he even exist? Maybe this golden feast is a facade. And if he does exist, who does this Jesus think he is to tell me what to do and how to live? What human being can possibly live up to his standards of perfection and righteousness?
So I turn away from the shining party. In the distance, in the dark is a campfire where I see someone dancing or jumping like on hot coals. “I will have my own party,” I tell myself, “my own food, my own drinks, my own companions.” I walk away from this piercing light which reveals way too many stains on my rags feeling desperate - feeling very very alone. And I hear wailing in the distance.
“For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast.”