Chapter Two: Gates
"You saw when that villain lowered his pants, he was, well, missing something he expected to still be there. That is just one of the changes here.
"People live their time on Earth, and everybody says this or that isn't really important, but it's so easy to get caught up in things which are not important. People say they don't care about money, but worry all the time about having enough. They say looks don't matter, but people have trashed their marriages and reputations, just to chase a pretty someone. They say everyone is equal and they respect diversity, then surround themselves with people who are just like them, only they make sure that a certain percentage of them say how great they are on a regular basis.
"So they don't like it, when they get to Heaven, and they find out there's no money here, there's no sex, there's no claims that one person is better than another-"
"Wait a minute" I interrupted. Look at you, and look at me. Of course you're better than I am, and God Himself said so. Isn't that right?"
Beth laughed for a long time, and grabbed my arm to calm me down and keep me from stomping off.
"Dan, I'm sorry, I'm not laughing at you. Really. What you see here is how you perceive me, and really, you are controlling that. It's flattering, but it doesn't really change what's so.
"Yes, I've received favor from God, but that makes me fortunate, not better. It may be, that later on you will be as great or greater than I am or will be.
"Besides, look at the angels. There are Cherubim, Seraphim, Guardians, the ArcAngels, all sorts. Do any of them seem unhappy or feel resentful because they are not another sort?
"No, each serves as they were made to be. In fulfillment of God's will, we will be exactly what He means for us to become, and there is very great joy in that.
"Yes, I have been to the King already, and by the Grace of My Lord I have found favor from Him. But look at me closely, and I will show you a secret."
Well, to be honest, looking at Beth had never been something I wanted to avoid, so I looked at her, and after a few seconds, something occurred to me.
I had already known that Beth was especially good with children suffering from Down's Syndrome, but as I watched her, I was now able to feel her joy at meeting each one of them, back when she first began, her compassion for the families, and her determination to make a difference for the better.
Looking deeper, I realized I could explore her life, and I could see all her experiences - except there were places where it seemed something should be there, but instead there was a separation, like a seam between two parts which had been joined together after something between them had been removed. So I asked Beth about those.
She blushed and looked at the ground for an instant.
"Those were my sins, Dan. Jesus removed them, so they are not there anymore, but I have to always remember that those were also places where I could have done the good thing, chosen a better way, but did not."
It shocked me to think that Beth had ever committed any sort of sin, and I almost made a joke about how easy and simple it must have been for Christ to forgive her one or two trivial sins, when the rest of us had done so much, but I caught myself. Whatever Beth had done, it was significant to her.
Then I wondered what she had seen when she looked at me, and I couldn't look her in the face. Beth's reaction suggested she knew my thoughts:
"Don't be afraid, Dan. Because I have been freed from sin, I also do not see yours."
"So," I asked, "I have had a lot of people ask, so I want to know:
"Is forgiveness of sins only from Jesus?"
"Yes, Daniel" answered Beth, "but He makes that forgiveness available to anyone who will accept it."
"You mean everyone will accept Him as Lord, right? So what happens to the non-Christians?" I asked.
Beth shook her head again.
"That depends on what you mean by 'non-Christian'" she said.
"Remember the Bible: "I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin." [ Mark 3:28-29, cf Matthew 12:31, Luke 12:10 ]
"God wants us to live. I mean, think about it. Everybody who is born goes through a long and detailed process for months, and it is difficult and painful for the mother. And even after you are born, your parents have a lot of work and effort to keep you healthy and growing. You only become an adult if you have folks you care about you, and that begins with God.
"Everybody knows John 3:16, but how many people read the line right after it: "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him [ John 3:17 ]."
"OK" I replied, "but it still sounds like you gotta be Christian to enjoy that salvation. I mean, what did Peter mean when he said "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under Heaven given to men by which we must be saved" [ Acts 4:12 ]?"
"Jesus is our only Savior, Daniel" explained Beth, "but He came to save everyone."
"So now I'm confused again" I said. "We need the Grace of God to enter Heaven, as well as the Salvation from Christ to hope, but if we don't have to be Christian, why worry about it?
"And if we don't need to be Christian, then what are all these evangelists going on about, and why did the disciples make such a big deal about it? Couldn't they have just told everybody 'Don't worry, we'll all be fine'?"
Beth sadly shook her head again.
"There's a lot more than that to it, Daniel" she said. "To begin with, different people have different needs. Some are trying their whole lives to do right, and they need very little poking to want to find God. But others need something to remind them daily, and still others are in very real rebellion against God, and will not turn from their sin, even to save themselves, without something very special presented to them.
"Christ did not die on the cross, because a bloodthirsty god demanded human sacrifice, and would only be satisfied with a divine price. He died because it was necessary, in many respects, for Him to pay that price, for our satisfaction. He died to show He was willing to bear everything we had to bear, that He was fully involved with us, not only to die in payment of our debt, but to be able to show His power, even over the sum total of all sin and death.
"Some even still doubt what he did today, as if resurrection made death by crucifixion a thing of no great pain or loss, as if God somehow deserved to suffer for what we ourselves did.
"So He endured a life of poverty and deprivation, that we would understand the power of humility and a poor spirit.
"He endured persecution for telling the truth, to show us how it was worth doing, even at the cost of your life.
"He endured loss and pain without cause, to show us the courage and valor of those who bear such cost among us.
"And He taught us His way, that we could not only be saved from destruction, but become greater than we imagined possible."
I sat and thought about what Beth said for a while.
"Beth", I finally asked, "Are you saying we are all saved?"
"No, Dan, I am not" replied Beth. "You saw yourself, how some have already been compelled to Hell.
"And there will be more. Many people will refuse to be reconciled with God, for whatever reason.
"Some blame Him for everything they wanted to be different.
"Some rebel against Him, because they want to be their own god.
"Some cannot let go of the things of the old world, even though they are poison to their own soul.
"But God has made provision for anyone who will accept it. God knows what choice we have made, even before we are born, so while it seems strange, unfair even, in truth no one will be judged unfairly here."
Beth got up, and as she walked away, I realized she was leaving me.
"Where are you going, Beth?" I asked.
"It is time for me to go" she answered. "Another is coming."
"But I still have questions. For one thing, where is my wife, Mikki?" I cried to her departing form.
"Don't worry" answered Beth, from what seemed a great distance. "All the questions will be answered, which need one. And your wife is not here, because it is not the time for you to be together again, not yet.
"But don't worry. It will all be all right."
And with that, she disappeared into the mists, which seemed to have risen again.
I stood there alone, wondering about questions I had suddenly thought of, and where the people I knew had gone, and where those dogs might be now.
As I stood there, I became bored, which surprised me a little. I mean, I was standing at the end of the universe, with no confirmation that I would have an existence beyond the next short piece of time, and yet I was bored.
So I took a walk.
At first, I worried about the dogs, or meeting up with a gang or something like that, but after some thought, I decided Beth was right, and whatever was waiting for me in Judgment, a short walk to stretch my legs wasn't going to be a risk.
There were two glows visible in the mist. One was red and the other golden, and it wasn't hard to figure which was which, so I strolled over to the Gates of Heaven to see what was up.
The first thing I noticed, was that there were people trying to climb the fence. Not smart, I concluded, as I observed that every fence pole which had a climber nearby, was increasing in height as the person shimmied up. I quickly realized no one was going to be able to climb over the fence. I also observed that no one was going to dig under it, either. Anyone digging down, simply found that the poles went down farther than they could dig.
I peered more closely at the Gates themselves. They were open, and while the space was only big enough for a couple people to go through at a time, they were open, and there was nothing like a guard there, so St. Peter, nada.
So, I decided to stroll on in and see what Heaven was like. I figured, if I wasn't supposed to be there, I'd find out soon enough. I walked up casually to the gateway and right on-
I woke up sometime later, flat on my back, the gates some 50 paces ahead of me. They were still open, but something had happened. I thought for a while, and decided I had lacked the element of surprise, so the second time, I walked along the fenceline, nodding to people as I approached the gateway, casually, casually, - NOW-
Again, I woke up sometime later, flat on my back, the gates some 50 paces ahead of me. They were still open, but nobody was going in or out. Obviously, stealth wasn't going to work, so I chewed on the problem for a little while, and then I had another idea.
I walked away from the gates until I was a good 200 feet from them, then tore towards the gates at full speed, hoping that my velocity would-
Once Again, I woke up sometime later, flat on my back, the gates some 50 paces ahead of me. I had learned my lesson by now, and the back of my head was letting me know how foolish I had been.
I decided to be a good little boy, and just lie there for a while.
After some time, I heard a voice call out "Hello, Daniel. I brought you some medicine."
The voice belonged to an old acquaintance of mine, Robert Pallon. But Robert had been a little guy when I knew him, maybe 125 pounds and all of 5'3". This guy, with the same quiet voice, had to be 6'8" and 290. I mean, this guy looked like he could stop Shaq. And he was wearing the uniform of the day, that blinding white suit that looked like Armani got together with Mr. Clean.
"Sorry about the thing with the gates. We didn't realize you would get curious so soon, so we forgot to tell you. How do you feel?"
I began to feel like I was living Dicken's "A Christmas Carol" without a script.
Robert helped me sit up, and produced a small flask. Whatever was in the flask was strong but not unpleasant, sort of like syrup with a kick, like Formula 44 before they took out the chloroform.
I looked over at Robert, who grinned at me. I noticed that although I was dirty from my fall (er, falls) into the dirt, he was still immaculate, even in a white suit. Dirt didn't stick to him! I also noticed he had a small pink carnation stuck in his lapel buttonhole.
"Medicine? I didn't think they had medicine in Heaven."
"They don't need it in Heaven, but you're not the first guy to try to get through the gates like that, and it takes a lot out of you.
"Feel a little better?"
"Yeah" I said and I started brushing dirt off me, as I got up. I also noticed the cracks on the ground had gotten a lot bigger, and not just where I landed; they were more than half an inch wide now. I made a mental note to watch my step, or I could trip.
I cocked my head at Robert.
"So, looking at you, I guess you've been in to see Jesus."
Robert smiled broadly.
"Yes I have, Dan."
"What's He like?" I asked.
"You're the Bible reader, Dan. Don't you know?" asked Robert.
"OK" I said, "So He's big and shiny and very clean. What is He like as a person?
"And why is it every time I see someone who's been in to see the Boss, they're all about 7 feet tall and wearing white?
"Nice carnation, by the way."
"Thanks" replied Robert, "But you should know He's gentle and kind and compassionate. And as for us, well anyone who stands in the presence of God, grows by the experience, and He has removed all our iniquities. Even our appearance is made perfect."
"Uh-huh" I answered.
"So, why is there the big 'Smoking Section' over there?" I asked Robert, pointing my thumb over at the distant red glow as I shook dirt out of my sneakers.
"It seems like not everybody enjoyed their little visit to the King."
Robert chuckled for a moment, then put his hand on my shoulder.
"I think I see the problem, Dan." said Robert. "Let's go to Hell and see for ourselves, OK?"
He laughed as I pulled away from him at that suggestion.
"It's OK, Dan, nobody gets sent to Hell just for taking a look." explained Robert. "Besides, I believe you have questions I can answer while we walk."
So, in a move I could only consider as foolish as anything I had ever done in my life, we turned and walked away from the promise of Heaven, heading towards the angry wrath of Hell.
Robert chuckled as we plodded along.
"So, what's on your mind?" he asked.
"OK, for starters, why are we going to Hell?"
"Well, Dan" answered Robert, "You asked who was going to Hell, and I can just see in your eyes, you're concerned about someone you know and love ending up there. I could just tell you it's all going to be fine, but even if you believed it, it wouldn't really tell you what's going on, which is your real worry, right?"
I stopped and looked at Robert for a while. He stood there, a faint smile on his lips, but patient.
"Ok, Robert" I said. "I talked with another friend of mine a while back, and her answers were kind of hard to make sense of. Are you going to tell me straight?"
"I'll do my best, Dan" answered Robert.
"OK" I replied. "So, first thing: I thought everybody was going to get judged at the same time, but all I've seen are the first-teamers like you, and the guys who are probably doing great impressions of charcoal bricquets right now.
"Why didn't everybody get judged?"
"They will, Dan" answered Robert, "But not everybody is ready yet. In fact, some won't be ready for a long time.
"Have you ever heard of the Millenium?"
"Sure" I answered, "That's where Jesus reigns on Earth for a thousand years, and it's all good, and then Satan is released for a little while to trick a few, and then it's all over for Earth as we know her."
"Well, that's partly right" said Robert, "You see, lots of Christians read bout ruling with Christ, but I wonder if they have ever thought about who will reign, and over whom? And why?
"In Heaven, God reigns, so it's very clear. Why would a human reign, when God could? It's not about ego, or God forgetting, or anything most people have thought about. You know that Jesus accomplished Salvation for everyone, right?"
"Of course" I answered immediately.
"And you know that everyone must accept Christ to be saved, right?" asked Robert.
"Yes, but -" I said
"But what?" asked Robert
"That messes with my head" I said. "First I hear how everybody is saved by Christ, now I hear how you have to accept Him. I heard all my life how that made Him sound petty, and I think I understand. I mean, what about the people who grew up before Christ? What about the people who grew up in a part of the world where Christianity is suppressed? What about the people who only knew the false Christ taught by liars and money-hungry false prophets?"
Robert smiled again, and shook his head. "Dan, you know God is good, don't you? That He is just, that He has a plan for each and every one of us, do you know that?"
He paused as I just nodded.
"Fine. So you also know, He has provided the way for everyone who will take it. And part of that is the Millenium. The chance to see God as He is, to know Christians without fakery or false illusions, like pride or greed or lust to foul the picture.
"Everyone will be able to choose mercy or justice, as they will."