Laughing At Nemesis

A look at the World to come, from the perspective of a slightly unorthodox Fundamentalist.

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Location: Houston, Texas

We make nothing of our own, even our greatest deeds are only loaned to us for our time. The sounds and glory of even the smallest storm belong to the Creator and to no man. We know only Stolen Thunder.


Laughing At Nemesis

A lot of people have strong opinions, on the matter of how God will handle Judgment Day. Among the interesting comments which come up when this topic is raised, is the assumption that this group or that will be in a bad way, because they didn’t sign up with the right group.

I am a fundamentalist Christian (a name which has sparked its own debate, primarily on the lines of whether I get to say what I am, or whether I must cede the name ‘fundamentalist’ to the nether regions of social approbation), which in my small mind means that I hold to certain key definitions and rules when considering God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and myself (who does not, of course, belong is such lofty company, but I have a long history of getting into things where I don’t belong). It seems to me, that a simple consideration may illuminate the matter, and I mean to explore this question in this story, named according to my mood and métier.

I also hope to make it entertaining.

Chapter One: Waking Up

It began with a sense of hope. I felt as though I was waking up, the way you come out of a deep sleep when you are called, not yet able to move, yet slowing realizing where you are and feeling life return to cold limbs. Not comfortable, yet there was purpose and mission, if I couldn't tell yet what those were. As I came to realization, I found myself laying on the ground, which strangely was not as cold as my body. The ground was rough but even, no grass yet not dirty or muddy. Because it felt strange to lie down and be aware, I rose and stood. I found myself standing in a fog, between two places which faintly glowed as cities do from a distance. Somehow, I sensed that one of the two was a welcome place, bright and glad, and the other dark and foreboding, so I walked to the first, drawn by the hope which had revived me from my rest. As I walked, I tried to recall where I had been and what I had been doing. My clothes yielded no clue, just common pants and shirt, socks and shoes, and there was nothing in my pockets. Looking back where I had lain, it was as if I had simply appeared there; there were no signs of anything around me, except for light footprints in the dirt where I walked.

I saw a crowd of people ahead, and I joined them, as they waited expectantly at the high gates surrounding some place too far or too shrouded in mist to see. There was an air of expectation, a mix of happy hope and dread.

Behind me, I heard a distant noise, as of old rusty gates opening, followed by a distant but growing howling, a threat as yet unseen yet recognized by nearly all of us present. I became very anxious that the brighter gates before us should open, before that approaching terror should seize us from behind.

I suddenly recalled the darker warnings of the 25th Chapter of Matthew, as if a portent sent too late. Those who claimed to be Christians, but who had no love for others, especially those who would not do anything to help people in need, or to be gentle when their brother was in pain, or to be kind when explaining something, or otherwise to bear any sort of fruit in true imitation of Christ, are snatched away by the angels, and hurled into a lake of fire in the midst of the pits of Hell. At that moment, something plucked at me, and my heart jumped, but it was just Wohali, pulling my leg. Wohali was an old friend and in another place, I would have begun to catch up on old times and events passed since we last met. Here, I stood silent while Wohali snickered at his jest. I began to notice a few more details in our surroundings.The place where we were was vast. What had seemed to be a park or meadow outside the gates of Heaven, was revealed to be a great plain, with Heaven's gates near to us, and Hell's domain far from us, but faintly visible.At first, I had also thought the terrain was simply empty, but as my eyes adjusted ( to the light, actually), I began to realize that a mist was covering the ground, and was now beginning to recede in some places. I also realized we were not on the Earth. I could see our globe floating off to my left, and even at this great distance, it looked tired and spent. I wondered how it could be restored.

The terror passed in an instant, and when it was gone, so were many who had stood with us, and I realized that my fears were sound, yet I had been spared, if only for the moment. Also, as the mist began to recede, I began to notice other things about this place. First, I was able to recognize people at greater distances, and I was surpised to find some still in our group, whom from my experience I would have expected to be in the joyous company of our Lord Jesus Christ, and others whom I would have thought surely would be regretting their sins as they roasted. I rebuked myself for judging the second group, but all the same, it seemed strange.I also began to see little cracks in the ground, which I was certain had not been there when we arrived. Maybe the weight of 18 Billion people, give or take, was getting to be a problem. I wondered, if we were already dead, would this be something I should worry about? As time passed, further details emerged, some fascinating, others not very encouraging.I had thought, since the frightening angels who had seized the damned (were they through already?), were no longer around us, that the angels were no longer active, but I began to realize that the colorful streaks of light and thunder were not weather, but passing angels, impossibly fast. I confirmed this when one of those bolts of light suddenly appeared at my side, as a smiling man slowly walking, but then he approached Wohali, spoke quietly to him, and without anything more, they turned and left me, but not before Wohali stopped, smiled quirkily and assured me "it'll be alright - really". Then, in a flash, he and the man were gone, and it was only in that instant, that I somehow realized Wohali's angel was Comanche. I puzzled for another while, trying to recall how it was I could tell tribes by sight. I realized as I watched, that everybody seemed to have someone coming to see them, and not everybody was happy with that fact.Then I started suddenly, as I realized another angel was coming, this time to me. I started again, when I realized I knew her.Yes, I knew her. And suddenly, I was afraid, not of danger or some evil, but of how I must seem to her.Because the woman approaching me had been a girl with whom I was once deeply infatuated [note: no real names, just in case some of you are wondering later]. Beth Allison had looked like the perfect girl to me then, and frankly, she still did. It wasn't just the way she looked, but how she acted, always pleasant to everyone, always able to like everybody, to see the good when no one else could. Tall, willowy, always gentle, always kind, she had seemed unattainable when I knew her in school, and my heart did a skip every time I saw that face. I still trembled to see her, but somehow the reason was different now.And as she approached, I suddenly realized that she had been in that first group which had entered Heaven. If she was coming out to see me, I figured I was going to be a real disappointment, which I desperately did not want to be. "Hello Dan" she said, and smiled as if she had been looking forward to meeting me for a long time. In that moment, I wanted to rush up and hug her, but I didn't dare. For one thing, I suddenly realized she had changed from the girl I knew. It's not that Beth was old; somehow, we were all in pretty good condition, though some of the people were children, some adults, and some you just couldn't be sure. Beth had that Audrey-Hepburn purity to her, that added a dimension of charm to any age, but that wasn't it. I suddenly realized, for example, that if I was my normal height, Beth was now a good 6 and a half feet tall! I mean, she had been tall in High School, maybe 5 eleven, but never 6'6"! And she was proportional to her height, like a bigger-than-life scale model. I also realiuzed she was in all-white clothes, but a dazzling white like I couldn't imagine, but there she was. I felt dirty, like my clothes were too old, like I was too... too... too something, but less than acceptable, and it wasn't a good feeling. But Beth took my hand, and we started walking. When we stopped after a few steps, we were in a completely different place, still outside the gates of Heaven, but there were a lot less people.Maybe I'm not as pure as Wohali, because I still wasn't sure things were going to be all right.Beth smiled, grinned actually, and laughed "Oh, it's good to see you again, Dan. Isn't this great?"She must have caught my worries from my look, so she said "OK. I bet you have lots of questions. Go ahead""I'm not in Heaven." I observed. "Does that mean I'm going to Hell?"

"You mean the Lake of Fire? Probably not."I wasn't really comforted by 'probably', so Beth went on.

"Look, Dan. You know we are judged by God alone, and He judges us on one of two measures: Grace or Justice.

"As a Christian, you know that God has chosen to extend His Grace to whom it pleases Him to receive it; that's Pre-Destination, and for all the human arguments, that's always been up to God."

"But" I interrupted her, "If not everyone receives Grace, isn't that unfair?"

Beth shook her head."No, and you should know that, Dan. Nobody deserves Grace, so it's no unfair if you get Justice instead. It's not as if anyone will be punished or rewarded for something they didn't do if they receive Justice from the perfect Lord instead of Grace.

"But you have to think about why someone will not receive Grace." Back in Genesis and Exodus, we see two different Pharoahs, remember? The first Pharoah received God's favor, His Grace if you will, while in Exodus we read that God hardened Pharoah's heart against the Hebrews, so we can say that Pharoah did not receive God's Grace. [ Exodus 4:21 ]

"But notice how Pharoah was, before this happened. He held the Hebrews as slaves for no cause [ Exodus 1:8-11 ], he tried to kill all the male Hebrew infants [ Exodus 1:22 ], and his son was just like him. By the time Moses spoke with God through the Burning Bush, Pharoah had quite made up his mind. God did not harden Pharoah's heart unjustly; Pharoah chose the course, and God simply locked in the direction Pharoah had already decided.

"Compare that to the first Pharoah in Genesis. He cared enough about his people to dream about his responsibility [ Genesis 41:1-8 ], even though he would be fed and comfortable, no matter what happened. He sought an answer, not only to the mystery, but to finding a solution [ Genesis 41:33-40 ] which would take care of his people and reward honest men. So, it is hardly surprising that God looked with favor on Pharoah. On the one hand, yes, Pharoah did not deserve God's Grace to know ahead about the coming famine, or to have a capable, trustworthy man made available to him, but his acts showed his heart. Like the other Pharoah, this Pharoah chose his course, of duty and love, and God encouraged his choice.

"I can't promise you will go to Heaven, Daniel, because I cannot see your heart. You have made your choice by now, and God will have established the consequences according to His wisdom and mercy. I do not condemn you to Hell, for the same reason."I can remind you, however, that God is good, that His will is perfect and shall be done. If you hold to God's will, then everything will be alright."

All this I digested, and Beth sat with me while I tried to find consolation. I believe in Jesus Christ, of course, but when you are up against the matter, it becomes easy to doubt and worry. As I was trying to decide what to say next, a disturbance caught our attention.A group of men had surrounded a pair of young women, and their intent was unpleasantly obvious. Apparently, some people had quickly overcome their awe of angels, especially given the delay in deific presence.I rose to intervene, but Beth grabbed my hand and said, "No, it'll be OK. Wait and see."

I realized pretty soon after that, what she meant. When the men tried to grab the women, their hands passed through the women, as if the girls were only holograms. What's more, when one of them lowered his trousers, the equipment he apparently intended to show off or use, was not there!His resulting scream of fear and embarrassment was the first real comic relief I had enjoyed since arriving, and presently everyone but the attackers was laughing at their inability to do any harm.The men were angry now, and it seemed they hadn't quite caught on that this place had ways to prevent evil, and for a moment my worry returned.But Beth put her fingers to her lips, and blew what I thought was a silent whistle. After a few moments, however, the baying of hounds became clear, and everyone was immediately aware that a pack of dogs was on the way, and space cleared quickly around the men. For an instant, I was concerned about whether the approaching hounds would be able to tell the bad guys from the good ones. I became intently aware that there were no trees available to climb.

Suddenly, there were more than a hundred hounds, big powerful monsters, and they were somehow well aware of who their targets were. The men ran off at top speed, with the canines in pursuit. I glanced at Beth, half expecting a satisfied grin or relaxed relief, but now she seemed concerned, although she had not been worried when the girls seemed in danger. Beth looked over at me, and said,"When they can act like that here, I do wonder how they will give an account of their words and deeds?"

I shrugged. Then a question came to me.

"If we're outside both Heaven and Hell, where are we right now?" She smiled faintly.

"If you were Catholic, I might tell you this is Limbo."But to be serious, this is a sort of way-station.

"As you've noticed, the ground is not really stable here. That's because this place is going away, once everyone has had their judgment. But for now, it's a place for preparation, for waiting, for rest, and for decision."


Chapter Two: Gates

Beth continued:
"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."

Robert shrugged.

"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."

Chapter Three: Decisions

“But what about the non-Christians?” I pressed. “How can a Muslim or a Sikh, or a Pagan or a Hindu properly choose after a lifetime of the world they knew?”

Robert laughed.

“Look, Dan.” he said. “All the people you saw so far, have you seen any who was Jewish, or Muslim, or Hindu, or Pagan, or Sikh?
“Everyone will be judged properly. Do you think God is a trickster, that He would allow Satan to take away His loved ones? I mean, even the animals will be judged according to the plan He has for them.”

“So every road leads to God, after all?” I asked. “Or are you saying that we will all be segregated? Hey, I have friends who aren’t Christian, you know!”

“No, Dan, not every road leads to God, and they all have to go through Jesus Christ.

“But when you see them again, and you will, understanding will also be there for you to find.”

Robert smiled and waved me to follow. I muttered to myself as we set out, “Suuuure, real plain and straight!”

But I watched the Earth as we walked, and I began to notice a shiny lump on it, and I added it to my long list of things to ask about.But for now, we were getting closer to Hell, or Milwaukee. I could tell by the smell.

I wanted to know more about what Robert meant about being judged “properly”, so I asked

“Robert, you still haven’t explained how it’s just for people who never knew Christ, to be judged by Him”

“Well, Dan” answered Robert, ”What do you think Judgment is for?
“God doesn’t need anything to be holy and pure, right? And He is not hurt or diminished by even all the evils ever done by any one and everyone everywhere, for all time. So, the consequences, the rewards, the wages, if you will, all happen because He chooses to make them so.
“And since God is good and loving, He does all this for our benefit. He made us because He loves us, we live our first life on earth, so we can learn before we commit to eternity, He sent His own Son to live among us, to teach us, even to die on our behalf, and then to rise again for our hope and solace.
“So each of us lives in the life granted by God, and we grow as we will, choosing this or that for our values and works. Even the Hindu meets and acts in relation to someone who was Christian or like Christ. Even the Muslim who is taught the Bible is twisted away from Allah, learns right and wrong, and decides what pleases his heart. Even the name is varied. You know, Jesus never said a word of English, nor Latin, so much we attribute to Him, even where it is true, is not true insofar as we have changed the language, and sometimes meaning is lost in that translation.
“So it is, that people who do not believe in the Christ pronounced by a denomination, or the Annoying Screaming Preacher Network, yet have the opportunity to know Him, and to have Him in their lives, as they choose.
“Everything we do, say, and think counts, you know. And the good all counts to reward and growth. None of it is lost. A lot of people do good all the time, and never think twice about all the treasure they could be storing up.”

“That all sounds great” I said, “but if it was that wonderful, why did Jesus say that some have received their reward in full, and why is anyone in Hell?”

Robert stopped and shook his head.

“Dan, you know how 401k’s worked? You put your money in, and as you saved it built up. But if someone takes out the money they put in, it’s gone, OK? The principal is gone because you used it, and you can’t grow interest where there is nothing to build from.“It’s the same thing here, but much more important. If someone does a good deed, then brags about it, he’s getting his good right back so he can enjoy it, right? So, he good he did is consumed by his desire to please himself, and so he has already received his reward.
“As for Hell, that’s a sad thing, but we can’t make people choose well or against their heart.”

“That sounds awfully pat for eternal damnation” I retorted.

“Aha.” Said Robert “The light dawns.“You think everybody sent to Hell is there forever, huh?”

I answered him with Scripture:“Matthew 25:46 – ‘Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life”

Robert smiled“Are you worried, Dan?

“OK, how about this: Isaiah 25:8 “He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces”

“Sound like God’s confused, or maybe we can talk about it?”

I shrugged, and we plodded on.

I looked over at Robert in some annoyance.

“What, now you’re a psychologist? I’m sure you don’t mean God got confused!” I said.

Robert grinned.

“OK, Dan” answered Robert, ”You know the Bible pretty well. Let’s review about punishment, since we’re headed that way.“You’re right about that line saying ‘eternal punishment’, but that doesn’t mean ‘torture’, necessarily. If your daughter acted up when she was little, what did you do?”

“Usually, she got a ‘time-out’ or no dessert” I answered.

Robert nodded.

“Right. And that was punishment for misbehaving, and intended to teach her a lesson, right?”

“OK” I interrupted, “but I didn’t give her ‘time-out’ for forever. What’s the lesson in “eternal” punishment? You know, that was a real problem for a lot of people I knew, the idea that a limited sin, even a mistake, could result in being punished forever.”

“Ixnay” said Robert.

“Excuse me?” I asked.

“I mean think about it, and don’t forget we have to take some things on faith, Dan” answered Robert.

”In the first place, God is good and just, and He’s not going to send anybody to eternal punishment just for an honest error. But there’s more. I can’t tell you why a thing may merit a permanent punishment, although I would guess it’s because some folks just can’t bring themselves to let go of their sin. Remember those guys you and Beth saw, chasing those women?”

Startled, I just nodded.

“Think about their problems, now. They lusted so much and so deeply, they can’t stop, even when the physical tools are gone, even when there is no satisfaction for them, no matter what they try.” said Robert.

“These poor souls are just like the rich people who can’t get over the fact that no one uses money here, or the politicians who are just now beginning to see that they have no power over any other person. If you can’t make yourself let go of the old wicked ways, you can’t begin to get ready for the greater life.”

I nodded and laughed.

“And it gets you chased by a pack of big, angry hounds, too” I said.

We paused, and I pointed out the shiny bump on Earth. “By the way, Robert” I asked, “What is that?”

Robert smiled and said ”New digs, my friend. The shiny part is New Jerusalem, about 1400 miles across if I remember, with walls and streets of gold”

“So who’s building it?” I asked.

”Angels” replied Robert.

”did you see all the blurry traffic? Gabriel is waaaaay busy, these days.”

“Huh” I replied, a snappier answer refusing to present itself.

“OK, I think I understand more about punishment, Robert” I said after some time. “We get what we deserve, huh?”“Maybe” answered Robert. ”Remember Mercy, always remember Mercy. If we don’t get Mercy, we get Justice, but God said ‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.’

“And to answer your earlier question about non-Christians, it’s kind of like pulling over a car and finding a child at the wheel. You don’t ignore what he did, but you don’t forget it’s a kid, not an adult who has taken the test and knows the law.
“Christians enjoy a special relationship with God, through Jesus Christ. But the Christian can’t keep sinning, or they haven’t really accepted Christ at all.
“And as you may have noticed, we have work to do here as well. If you accept the place with Christ, you accept his will and command as well.”

“So anyone who isn’t Christian is like a little child?” I asked.Robert smiled.“We all are, if we’re going to enter the kingdom of Heaven.”

“I’m confused again” I admitted. “It sounds like there’s no difference in being a Christian or not, after all.”

“Oh, there is!” Robert assured me.

We reached a place where rocks were arranged, almost like a sofa, so we sat.“You see, Dan” said Robert, ”we were all made for a purpose, and God knew early on how we would respond to His will. So He knew the choices we would make, and he planned His work around them, so that everything would work out to accomplish good.
“That has several effects. One is, even if we succeed brilliantly in what we do, it’s only because it suited God to favor us; we have no business getting a big head, because we didn’t deserve the success. On the other hand, if we fail, it was never going to work anyway, since it lacked His approval.”

I frowned and asked “So, why even try?”

“Exactly!” cried Robert. ”What matters is we try. We cannot change God’s will, and we cannot hope to control the course of His work, but we do decide our own course, and how we try, and what we do within our own hearts, is allowed us by God. “God judges us by our choices in such conditions, whether we enjoy good times or suffer bad, whether we have advantage of position or are dispossessed.
“Ultimately, there is a range of choices and decisions we make, and the end result of them determines our reconciliation with God. He is Sovereign, yet we enjoy free will.”

“So how” I asked “does all this work into the Christian/non-Christian thing? There are some people who say you must accept Jesus Christ, or you go to hell. Others say we all go to Heaven, there is no hell. Still others… well, you get the idea. What’s the story?”

“Christ came to save the whole world” said Robert. ”He brought forgiveness for all sins, save one, by His death in our place on the cross. Heaven is real, and so is Hell. Frankly, what gets lost in all of this, is that the Gospel is “Good News”, precisely because it not only saves us from Hell if we will have it, it gives us the “abundant life” of living in love and freedom from the old hard ways of laws and penalties. Most of all, it makes any good thing possible for us, if we willl have it.
“Now, you know that after His resurrection, Jesus ascended into Heaven to stand by God the Father. The reason He didn’t start His kingdom right away, is the same reason He sent disciples out to preach the Gospel while He was still among us:
“We are meant to be involved in God’s work. And the role for Christians is, we lead the way for others to follow. If we do it right, we receive all manner of reward, not the kind men know, like money or rank, but we are given authority by God according to the fruit we bear.“Everyone gets that choice, no matter where they come from. And anyone who thinks, for example, that more Christians will come from “Christian” nations, well, they don’t see how it balances out. America, for instance, allows freer worship by Christians than, say, Iran, but you also have a lot more distractions, like churches which call themselves “Christian”, but love money, or all sorts of sinful temptations. In the end, the decision is made against similar, if not exactly the same, difficulties and obstacles.”

I thought about that.

“So, are you saying the Christians get better rewards than the non-Christians?” I asked.

Robert chuckled.“Depends on what you call ‘better’ “ he answered. ”Christians are part of the family of God, and like the older son in the parable of the Prodigal Son, some aren’t real happy to see who will be forgiven, after all their deeds are known.

“And like the Centurion, some people will be surprises to everyone but Christ.”

“By the way, Robert” I asked, having thought of a question nagging at me, “Beth told me I would see Mikki later, but not now. How come?”

Robert smiled.

“Don’t worry, Dan” he said, ”You’ll see her when it’s time, but this is not the place.“Don’t you see how barren it is here?” Robert said, waving his arm around so I would notice the dirt and rocks, the utter absence of plants or people around us.
“After all, you don’t see Bruce with me right now, do you?”

“I meant to ask you” I said, “He “made it” too, huh?”

“Yep” answered Robert, ”and his assignment now is tougher than mine.

“He’s talking things over with our old boss, Mr. Willden.”

“The guy who wanted me to fire you for wearing a pink suit?” I laughed.

“The same” laughed Robert. “I know now, though, that he was under a lot of pressure from the Head Office.”

“Still…” I said.

“Yeah, he did yell a lot” admitted Robert.

”Later, I’ll see how that went, and maybe I can fill you in later.”

We must have been getting closer. I could now make out the distinct smells of sweat, urine, beer, and sulfur as we proceeded through the renewed mist.

As we got closer, and the stench of Hell was joined by the ugly apparition of the place, as if a city had been made of a landfill, then drenched with sewage and defecation, with all semblance of artiface and beauty stripped from it, so that one could look anywhere and see the same dismal view. Every sense recoiled from the place. As we grew near to the great city of filth, I saw movement amongst the debris, and realized the place was teeming with vermin and insects.We stopped and gaped. Well, I gaped. Robert produced a sack from somewhere, and removed two sets of rubber-like overalls, and bandanna-like masks to cover our mouths and noses.“Whew! Yeah, we’ll need waders!”A funny think happened, then. Both sets of ‘waders’ and their masks, were a nondescript grey, but when Robert stepped into his and pulled them up, they became the same crisp, clean white that his suit was, although his waders also sported a silver trim along the seams. I checked my waders. Still drab and grey. I shrugged and followed Robert into the mire.As we entered the ring of mud and trash which surrounded Hell, I noticed a sudden increase in the volume of shouts, cries, a funny grinding noise, and shrieks of pain. I looked around for little guys with pitchforks, or big guys with cloven hooves, but so far it was just me and Robert. While I could smell sulfur, it didn’t seem to be connected with anything like burning. In fact, so far the place seemed cold, dank, sullen.

“This, uh, doesn’t seem like the stories make it out” I commented.

“No” answered Robert, ”but it’s as depressing and ugly as I expected.”The ground sloped downward as we walked further, and the sky seemed to darken.Up ahead, we saw our first denizen of Hell, a small (very small, actually) man covered in mud and filth. He seemed to be stuck up to his shins in the muck, and we was waving frantically at us.

“Hello! Hello! Come here!” he cried.

“How can we help you, friend?” asked Robert, as we stepped carefully through the mire.“Help me get to where I belong” replied the man. As we came closer, I could see that his clothes, before they had become so soiled, had been of fine quality and high price. His glasses, still stuck in a chest pocket of his suit jacket, were gold-rimmed and obviously custom-made. His high forehead suggested an intellectual lean, and suddenly I recognized him.

“Bishop Dake!” I cried

“Ah. It’s good to be recognized” responded the Bishop, as Robert and I reached down to pull him up form his muddy hole. Then I remembered something else about Bishop Dake: Despite a large, urban, progressive ministry, Bishop Dakes had no tolerance for gays. I remembered an old newspaper photo, which showed Dakes yelling at the partner of a murdered gay man, during the funeral, no less. I looked over at Robert, but his quick nod told me he knew who this was, but was going to help anyway. But pulling Dakes out of his hole was harder than we thought

“Sir, you seem to be stuck on something” observed Robert. ”Are there any branches or obstructions below the surface?”

Dakes shook his head. “No, I don’t know of any”

So we pulled harder, and very slowly, Dakes began to come up.As he did, I suddenly realized that one of Dakes’ arms had been down in the mud. Robert had been pulling on his shoulder, while I had his other arm. As we raised Dakes further, we saw why.Very slowly, as we raised the minister, we saw a small reptile, like a gecko, clinging to Dakes’ arm. Another, still below the mud, also held his hand. As the first one’s head cleared the mud, it peered at us with bright red eyes (OK, now it didn’t look like a gecko anymore!), and it scurried up Dakes’ arm, and quickly whispered something into his ear. Dakes looked at me, then Robert, and went pale, then red with anger

"Unhand me!” he demanded, and he shook his arm loose from me. I heard a chuckle from one of the lizards still under the mud.

“I thought you wanted out” I said.

“Not to be with men like you two” retorted Dakes. Robert rolled his eyes behind Dakes, and grinned at me, like ‘I’ve-heard-this-before’, but he didn’t let go, as Dakes wrestled from below.

“But you’re stuck in a mudhole in Hell” I replied. “Don’t you want to get out?”

“Monsters!” boomed Dakes, “I know what you are. You think you can take me where you want, so you two can do what you want, make me just like you. Well, I’m a man, not a freak!
“Let me go!”

“OK, sir” said Robert, and he let Dakes go – - plop –back into the mud. The little lizards or whatever chucked as the man sank back into his hole. There sure sounded like Dakes had a lot of them in there with him.

“You do know where you are, right?” I asked Dakes.

“You go to hell” rebutted the minister, which told me enough.Robert and I trudged on, down, and further into the dark.

We stomped along in the dismal pallor of Hell, and I watched with fascination, as the muck from the mudhole simply began to disappear from Robert. I glanced down, and saw that my muck was still there. Well, at least the mask was good for keeping out the smell.

“Is everybody we meet down here going to be that much fun?” I asked Robert.“Oh yeah, remember how some people say all the really interesting people are all down here.”Robert stopped suddenly, and laughed loudly for a few seconds.

“Private joke?” I asked.

”I’m sorry.” said Robert. ”But I just remembered how my first girlfriend told me she just knew, that on Judgment Day I’d go to Hell. I bet she didn’t mean it this way, is all.”

I laughed at that, too.

Ahead in the distance, we saw three men arguing. They appeared to be quite agitated about something. Given the difficulty we’d had with a man pinned by mud, I wondered how we would handle these fellows, if we couldn’t reason with them.As we came closer, I realized that the three men were each being assailed by tiny insects. But somehow, the men couldn’t see the insects, and were blaming each other for the bites and cuts they suffered, adding blows and insults to the damage. I also realized, as we came closer, that the men were so beaten and injured by their blows, that they could not hurt us much, though they could suffer. In any case, like Dakes, they also were smaller than I expected, as if they had shrunk when they arrived in Hell. Robert stepped forward, swatting away insects and calling for the men to

”Stop! You don’t need to do this.”The first man, bleeding from a hundred cuts and bites, turned to Robert and yelled

“As if you knew anything!“This one” – he pointed at the man to his left, who obligingly tried to bite his finger and snarled at us when he missed – “has tormented me for years, and now I finally have forced him to stand and take it, he brings his friend here-”

“Friend!” interrupted the second man, who appeared to have broken or bruised most, if not all, of his bones, “I don’t even know this guy. You two set on me like a pair of muggers-“

“Muggers!” yelled the third, whose body seemed to have been burned by a thousand tiny hot needles in every place, “First old wheezer here stalks me like his whole world revolves on doin’ me in. Now you think that just because you show up, you’re the show?!?”

“Gentlemen” began Robert, ”I think my friend and I can help you resolve all this, and-“

The three men interrupted Robert with cackling laughs. “Oh yeah, biiiiiiig guys gonna help us out, huh?”
“What if we tell you to go beat it, huh? Think we can’t take you two?”
“Hey, nobody asked you, alright”

“I don’t think you understand, guys.” I said. “You don’t see everything that’s going-“

The men started in on their cackling laugh and taunts again, as Robert and I realized that they were enjoying their feuds, and didn’t want our help.“Is this whole place going to be like this?” I asked Robert, as we moved on. Robert shrugged.“I hope not, but I don’t know.”

As we walked along, the light got dimmer, the ground more slippery, and the smell even stronger. Robert seemed to be having about as much fun as I was, although his immaculate appearance kept him easy to follow.

“Tell me again why we’re here?” I asked Robert.

“Well, you wanted to know how a person could end up in Hell.” replied Robert, “Getting any good lessons?”“I guess” I said. “Hey, I just realized everyone I’ve met so far has been American, whether saint, or, uh, these guys. Why is that?”

Robert shrugged.“I’m not controlling it, so I don’t know. But I guess it’s a communication thing; you see what you can recognize, you meet people you can talk with.
“We’re here to help you, you know.”

I stopped, looked at Robert for a few seconds, then started again towards a group of boys I saw sitting in the mud.

As we approached the boys, a few foul-smelling drops of warm liquid fell on my shoulders, and I pulled my hood up just before a shower of vile something began to fall, making the ground even slicker, and the smell worse than before. For some reason, the five boys just sat in the mire, getting wet with what I now realized was a rain of something like vomit and urine mixed together. I was careful not to look up; I wasn’t sure what was delivering the ‘rain’.The boys, as we reached them, turned out to be much older, full-grown men, but they were so small in size and build, that I had taken them for boys. They sat in a small pond of slimy muck, surrounded by things which swam just below the surface. I remembered the red-eyed reptiles and shuddered.

“Hello, do you need help?” I asked the men. But they just sat there, although one slowly turned his head towards me. As he did I saw an insect of some kind, like a scorpion with teeth, which was chewing on his face just below his eye. I tried not to stare.Robert looked pale.

“Does that hurt?” he asked the man.

“Yeah” responded the man.

“Would you like me to remove the thing?” asked Robert.

”Naah. S’Okay.” Replied the man. “It just comes back anyway.”

I was amazed at the apathy of these men.“Do you need help?” I asked one of them.“No” he said, without moving a muscle.

“I’m good.”

“Don’t you want to get up?” I asked. “You could leave her for a better place”

“Naah” two others replied. “Why bother?”

Robert and I looked at the men, then each other, and we left them to their inanimate rest.We walked for a while with nothing to say. Then Robert stopped, and said“I think I know what that was all about. But let’s wait until we see the next group.”

Puzzled, smeared with mire and stench, we pressed on.


Chapter Four: Walking

I became a little confused as we made our way ahead and down. I had gotten used to the growing darkness and stench, but as we headed towards the next group, there seemed to be a brassy glow ahead, and the smell changed, though not for the better. Now, we became unpleasantly aware of more human odors, sweat and excrement. I wondered if Robert was as sensitive to the smell as I was, but when I saw him uncomfortably adjust his mask, I realized, with some comfort, that he was also aware of the change in olfactory presence.I was getting used to “little” people in hell, so I was not surprised to see that the children I expected, were in fact small adults. But I was surprised by what they were doing.The group of seven were haggling over piles of feces and pools of urine, bargaining loudly over how much their pile was “worth”. I stopped and my jaw dropped.One among the group turned, saw us, and chuckled.

“Yeah, pretty impressive, isn’t it?” he asked. “Took me awhile to put it together, but there it is.”I just turned and looked at Robert, who shrugged.

“Uhhhh, mister” I began, “you do know you’re building a pile of crap, don’t you?”

“Yes indeed, you catch on quick” remarked the man. “Or do you?”

“You see” said the man, “We here were all very prominent financial experts, so we got together to see what we could make of the place.
“We’ve laid claim to a hundred acres around here, and of course, we needed a currency reserve, so we thought to ourselves, ‘what can we produce, that will do the job?’, and here we are.”

Robert grimaced.“Nobody wants to buy feces!” he cried.

The man grinned.

“Not now, sure” he said, “but later, when folks realize that’s all there is here, and when they realize that we’ve laid claim to the property, they’ll do business with us.
“Besides, we found a use –“ the man winked - “for the stuff, as well”

“But if you already have a pile of crap, what will you be selling, and what will you be buying?” I asked.

“Services, for now” said the man. “Then we’ll see.

“Hey, there’s still time to get in, on the ground floor, if you have the vision to see a great chance” offered the man.Somehow, the opportunity to build a financial empire from feces and urine didn’t excite me, so Robert and I just shook our heads and moved on.

The light went away again as we left the west bankers behind, but so did the smell, so it was a trade-off. But the further we went, the harder it was to see where we were headed ahead, and I was very glad to have Robert nearby.

Naturallly, that’s when he surprised me with bad news:

“Dan, I have to leave now” he said, “Another is coming to lead you where you are going.” I was able to discern a murky movement – away .

“Wait! Robert! Don’t leave me here!”“Don’t worry, it will be all right” called back Robert, and then somehow, I knew he was gone.I was getting real tired of hearing how everything was going to be all right. I also realized that if I didn’t get some help, I had no idea how to get out of hell. For just a moment, panic seized me and danced over me, as I wondered if God might have decided to just let me sit where I was. After all, hadn’t I chosen to go to hell? The irony of my own words coming back to condemn me was chilling.

Sitting in the dark alone, with cold wet winds of urine raining down on you, is depressing enough by itself, but to be abandoned by your friend, with no way home, and the uncomfortable feeling that you belonged in your misery, was almost beyond bearing.But after a long time of sitting in the fetid mud of waste and my self-pity, I decided I had to move on. The dark had grown, and I was not entirely certain which way I was going, although I wasn’t sure it mattered, either. I stumbled ahead, reasonably sure I was continuing as I had before, and aware that the ground continued to descend, a fact which I like not at all just now.After a while, my eyes began to adjust to the dark, enough to make out murky shapes in the dank and dreary domain. I thought I could make out some movement, and maybe just a bit more light off to my left, so I made my way in that direction. Partly from habit, I muttered a short prayer, asking God to watch over me and protect me from harm. I could have sworn I heard a quiet chuckle off in the distance when I concluded with “In Jesus’ name, Amen”. I stopped, and listened for a few seconds, but there was nothing more.As I walked, I heard what sounded very much like a party! This was different enough, that I decided I should check it out. At that moment I felt a breeze in my ear, like someone had blown in it, but there was no one there. I shivered for a moment, then moved ahead.I was sure that I had heard people’s voices, and as I approached I saw forms like humans and their shadows, but as I entered a cave and left the rain of stench and feces behind, I could not find the guests.As I moved about the cave, I felt hands caress me in private places, and quick snatches of words I could almost, but not quite, understand. A vague unease crept over me, and I decided there was something very wrong about this place, and my best course would be to leave. At that moment, as I stepped towards the mouth of the cave, I felt my feet yanked out from beneath me, and I hit the floor of the cave, face-first, and was stunned by the blow.The foul smell of some kind of animal filled my nose, and those unseen hands began to pull away at my clothes, as those voices spoke again, and tried to soothe me into compliance. In a panic and sure things were getting seriously bad, I resisted the hands, but was slowly losing the fight.From the back of the cave, I became aware of a man. He was naked, and realizing his intent I was glad from my memory of the plains before Heaven’s Gate, that his equipment was no longer there. But this fellow had put something in its place, somehow grafting something where his genitals used to be, and his intent filled me with horror. As he grew closer, the hands tightened their grip upon me, and I realized I could not escape. I also realized that the dark thing at his crotch was alive, and as he approached, it chuckled and showed me sharp teeth.I recoiled in horror, or tried to, as the man and that thing laughed...

A Word was spoken.

I don’t know how else to describe it. A simple word was heard in that place, which I cannot repeat now, and with it a bright flash of light filled the room. There was no force like heat or an explosion, yet everyone fell to the floor.I was not stunned like the others, although the light was hard to bear. Looking away from its source, I saw that the forms which had held me could now be seen, shadowlike but visible now, and they trembled in terror. I felt pity for them for just an instant, then I remembered what they had been trying to do, and I stepped away from them quickly.

The bright one spoke to me, and I knew her voice:“Dan, are you OK?”

It was my sister, Jean, although taller and stronger than I had ever seen her, and she shone like a potassium flare, though with a beauty and power no mortal creation could match. As the light faded or my eyes adjusted, I could now see that she was dressed mainly in white, in something like a bio-suit (appropriate to our location), but with green trim and in her fashion from years before, decorated to look like a Hereford cow. I chuckled in spite of myself.

“You don’t know how happy I am to see you, sister” I said, and we hugged.

Jean grinned at me. “This your idea of a party?” she asked, ”These your buddies?”

“Not hardly” I answered, “Let’s go”

And we moved on, although I was depressed to see we were still descending

Is this trip really necessary?” I muttered to myself, as we walked, but Jean overheard me.

“Yes, of course” she answered, ”and I’m gonna be nice, and not ask what you were up to with your buddies, there.”

“Oh, come on!” I shouted “I’m glad you broke in there and stopped it, but that’s not even funny!”

Jean grinned. "I thought it was pretty funny” she said. ”Besides, didn’t you read the sign?” , pointing to a small wooden sign I didn’t recall seeing before.

I hunched down and peered at it. I recognized the letter style, but not the words.“It’s Greek to me” I said.

Jean laughed.“Not knowing your classic languages has always gotten you into trouble, Dan.”

I muttered my response, but made sure it was sotto voce, to prevent further rejoinder.

As we made our way, the ground seemed to become a little more level, and it was dry in places, but as the smell changed again, becoming worse if not stronger, I saw Jean stop for a moment, look around, then point to a pass between two ranges of mud range.“This way”I followed. She seemed to know what she was doing, and since she was still glowing somewhat, it was easy to follow her, and I was afraid of the dark now, for good reason. Looking back, I could also tell that things were following us, to what purpose and consequence I did not know.

The right mud range moved, and I expected a mudslide, so I wasn’t surprised when Jean yelled “Run!”In the twilight murk of this netherworld, something rose up where I had thought a hillside lay, and I realized it was a man. A grotesquely fat man, not unusually tall, but so wide in girth, that his belly had spilled out onto the ground, covering nearly a quarter-acre of ground. In its middle, the man waded through his own skin and fat, dragging the greater portion of his own body behind him.As I regarded this grotesque spectacle, I suddenly realized he was not alone, and we were being approached on all sides by similar creatures.I ran again, hoping that we would make it.As we ran, I wondered at this strange chase. None of the creatures was moving with any speed, and I was sure if it were a few, we would easily lose them.But there were so many of them, and their size made it easy for them to block escape by simply getting into our way, that I began to worry.

We caught a break, however, when the things which had been chasing us came into view.Scurrying little reptiles and insects, I found them repulsive, but the sluglike dwellers of this place quickly fell on them and began to scoop them whole into their massive mouths, which seemed far too large for any human face.But we were able to escape from them by this diversion, and found ourselves quickly in the dismal but familiar piss rain and feces shower.

Jean grinned at me.“Having fun yet, Dan?”

I had the bizarre feeling she was enjoying all of this.

In spite of Jean’s glowing appearance, the world around us remained dark and dreary, and the contracts was making it hard for me to see what was out there. I wasn’t curious, but I also worried that not knowing would invite unpleasant surprises. Jean, however, continued to enjoy the jaunt, fairly jogging through the slop as we progressed.

“C’mon, Dan” she called out from ahead of me, ”only one more stop we have to make on this level.”

‘On this level?’ I thought to myself. I really didn’t like making this venture any longer than it had to be, and I really didn’t like the idea of other levels. Somehow, I knew the other ones would be in the wrong direction. Jean caught my mood, and grinned again.

“Don’t worry, Dan” she said, ”I’ll make sure you’re okay.”

Since my sister was now eight feet tall, and looked like she could take out Arnold on his best day, I didn’t argue. I did envy her spotless suit, while mine – let’s just say I wanted to find a hose. Soon.

“Just so I don’t have to repeat this lesson later” I said, “how about clueing me on what I’m supposed to be learning?”

“OK” said Jean, ”Just remember, it’s supposed to be you learning, not you cribbing off my observations, alright?”

I nodded, and she explained.“So far here in HappyLand, we have seen people in a variety of situations, all Americans so far, since that’s our cultural reference. Have you noticed what they have in common?”“Their fashion sense, their common appreciation of freedom from any need for hygiene?” I suggested.

“No points, especially for that kind of humor” Jean answered, ”Seriously, what did you notice?”

I stopped and pondered.“Well, they aren’t exactly happy” I said, “but the people here aren’t really being tormented, like I’d expect.”

“Partly, that’s because they just started” said Jean, ”And it will get much worse later, especially when this rain stops, and the fire starts.”

The way she said “fire” made me shiver, and it had nothing to being cold. I had not thought that this rain of urine and crap could be considered a good thing, but I realized that it might be holding off something very ugly.

“OK, what else?” prodded Jean.“Well, everybody here seems to be short” I commented.

Jean nodded.”Yes, they are diminished by their sin. Some further on are so weighed down, you have to watch your step, so you don’t step on any of them”

“So, by your logic” I quipped, “Lilliput was a very evil place!”

“Ha ha.” deadpanned Jean. "Just remember, Dan, a judgmental attitude stunts your growth”

And with that, we both fell silent for a time, as we trudged into the murk and mire.

It’s a very strange thing, to walk in a place where all around you people are suffering, but you are not, and to not be able to identify with them the way you normally would in the human world. I wondered about why I wasn’t more moved, as we passed people rooted in their own indifference, apathy, hate, lust, envy, gluttony, and every other wrong but human deficiency, and I stopped, wondering how I could not feel the compassion I believed I should in such a case.Spying one fellow off by himself, and seeming particularly more miserable than the rest, I decided I was going to try. Behind me, I heard Jean call out to me:“Dan! Where are you going? It’s this way!”

“I’m going to help, if I can” I replied, “Come with me or not, as you want.”

Like everyone else here, the man appeared smaller than normal, and I could see him shiver in the cold rain. I approached the man, and put my arm around his shoulders to shield him somewhat from the rain. Surprised, the man rounded on me and shoved me away.

“What are you doing?” he demanded.

“Sorry, just trying to help” I answered. “You looked cold and tired, that’s all”

The man sneered at me.“Ohhhh, I’m not strong like you, I’m not able to take care of myself, is that it?” he demanded. Before I could answer, he continued;“I can do very well, thank you. It’s people like you that have always been such a pain!
“You think you have all the answers, you have all the ideas, and folks like me should just do what you say, eh?”

“Actually, no, nothing like that” I said. Then an idea hit me. ”But I think I know how we can leave this place.” In that moment, I realized that I could leave, and so could this guy, if he would come with me. But I could see in his face, that instead of hope, he had found rage.

“Nothing like that?” he asked. “Then you tell me to come with you, if I want to get out. Yeah, right!”

“Really, I can help” I said, but the man had turned his back on me, and as he did, I saw him sink a foot or so into the mire. I suddenly realized, that things for this guy were going to get worse if he didn’t move.

“You really need to leave here” I said, but the man became very angry.

“Maybe I like it here, OK?” he demanded. “Maybe you can just go off and -“and the man named several unpleasant acts most people would find offensive.

Jean came up on us then.

“Who’s the glowstick?” asked the man.

“My sister” I replied. “If you won’t listen to me, maybe she-“The man cut me off with an expletive, involving placement of a lightbulb into an orifice, and I finally gave up.As Jean and I walked away, the man continued with a torrent of words and insults. Jean looked at me, and seemed to read my thoughts, as she answered.

“Dan, no one is here unjustly, even the ones who think so. Does that help?”

“But why don’t I feel compassion for them?” I asked. “There’s something wrong in that”

Jean shook her head.”No, Dan, there’s nothing wrong with you in that.” she said. ”If you could have done any good, you would have known before you tried. But these have rejected hope, some just for now, some forever. Unless they turn, you cannot make them.”

We walked on, and the dark grew deeper.

As we walked, I wondered what lay ahead. It seemed a useless effort indeed, to come to a place where you could do no good, to see people suffering. Some by their own choice, some in denial of their own pain, others in denial of their chance for relief and healing. I shook my head.Jean turned to me, and we stopped.

“Dan, in a little bit, I’m going to have to go, but not before your next guide arrives.” she said. ”I want you to understand, you’re going to come back here, but not before you are better-equipped. For now, I want you to remember what you saw here, and think about what purpose may be served, even yet.”

As she turned and I followed her, my thought just then, was that Jean had never been so firm and authoritive before, when we had been siblings in the old world. I also wondered just how dark and messy this place was going to be. Certainly, this place had no landmarks or architecture to see where you were. I wondered, idly, if GPS would do any good here.In the distance, I saw a glow, but remembering the last glow I had followed, I waited until Jean started that way, and I wondered what lay ahead. To my surprise and pleasure, the ground gradually became firmer, drier, and little by little, the smell receded, until I realized that I stank more than my surroundings.

Given everything I had encountered up to that point, this made me suspicious as all get-out.We were approaching a shining figure in the distance, a really big guy. I realized this was another being sent from Heaven, but bigger and brighter than anyone I had seen so far. Maybe ten feet tall! I began to wonder if Heaven was into Basketball, and where the nets might be placed.As we approached, the light became so bright, it hurt my eyes, and I couldn’t look at the shining being directly. I averted my eyes, and noticed that his feet seemed to be floating motionless about a couple inches from the ground.

Jean ran up to the being and hugged him. As they did, I saw his wings for the first time.“He’s an angel!” I exclaimed.

Jean laughed.“Yes! I’m glad you two can meet. Daniel, say hello to-" A Word was spoken, and I fell face-first into the muck from the force of it.

The Angel picked me up, and I trembled.“Do not be afraid” he instructed. ”For here, you may call me Asena. It won’t set off any after-effects like my true name.“I will be your guide for the next stage. I hope you will enjoy this next part, but please tell me if you become weak, and I shall minister to you.”

I suddenly realized the angel had strengthened me when he picked me up.Asena turned to Jean.“Cherished friend, the Master also sent me to tell you the City needs your skill and attention”Jean nodded, smiled at me.“Bye Dan, be good.”

She blinked and disappeared, and I had visions, just for a moment, of an old television show.

Asena looked down at me, covered in filth and grime as I was, and smiled.

“Daniel, are you ready to meet the Master?” he asked.

Chapter Five: Discussions

Asena waited politely, while I tried to think of a good answer. On the one hand, as a Christian, I knew I should be thrilled to go home to the Father. On the other, having so recently seen hell, I could not help but wonder, how much of what I had done deserved such punishment or worse.

“Uh, I don’t know that I’m fit to…” I stalled, and stopped in mid-sentence, as I saw Asena smile broadly, like there was a big joke I was missing.

“Daniel, you are ready, if you choose to be” said the angel.

I didn’t say anything, but I thought that sounded rather ‘zen’ for an angel of God. I nodded anyway, and followed Asena ahead, and we were back in the dark mists again. I looked down, and far below I saw the ground opened into wide cracks, more than a foot across now. I also saw why we were several feet above the ground; we were flying quickly across the terrain with each step, and in the distance I could see heads turn to watch us as we sped by, faster and faster, until we became a blur. In a few moments, we were standing in a foyer of what appeared to be blue jade.I turned and looked behind me, and in the distance, I saw the twinkle of the reflection of what might have been a tall, golden fence. I looked at Asena, and he chuckled.

“No rebound this time, Daniel” he said. ”It must be time.

“ See you later, maybe”And he was gone.

I remembered visits to various people in my life. Sometimes I had looked forward eagerly to the experience, other times I was caught up in the work of the moment, and didn’t realize how significant the person was. And sometimes, I was plain intimidated by the personage I was to see. But this was in a class all by itself. I thought about how God had appeared in the Bible; the wrathful Deity who had wiped Sodom and Gomorrah off the face of the planet, the Burning Bush to Moses, the God of Glory Who filled All of Heaven when Ezekiel saw Him, the raging wind and still small voice to Elijah, the Messiah, true but unaccepted, to Israel in the person of Christ Jesus.Thinking about the pattern of good people and the angel I had seen, I figured Jesus would be a 40-foot shining figure, sort of like Daniel described him, or John in Revelation. I wondered what His horse’s name was.Curiosity finally got the better of me, and ever so slowly I stuck my nose, then my face, past the wall into the main hall ahead. Glancing up, I realized that unless God has painted the ceiling to look like sky, there was no ceiling, and God-as-NBA-champ gained support in my mind. In the distance, about a quarter mile ahead, a massive throne, sort of like Lincoln’s memorial to a ridiculous scale, towered above a ring of what seemed to be smaller thrones, but still much bigger than any human I had ever met. But no people were here.

Surrounding the thrones was a plaza of white stone, and around it a blue sea, but calm and quiet, like glass. Rainbows cascaded around the entire great hall, reflected from where I could not tell, and there was a faint music in the air, too quiet to make out exactly, but distinct enough to recognize as music and not mere random sound.

“Like it?” I heard behind me, and I whirled, expecting to see some holy Superman. Instead, I looked into the face of a man about my age, about my height, dressed simply in a beige shirt and slacks, of a style and age I couldn’t decide. No belt, no buttons, the fabric plain but comfortable.As I looked at this man, I suddenly realized I had met him before. I started, as I realized that I had seen this man many times, in many places. I had nodded to him as he held the door open for me, he was the fireman who had pulled me from my wrecked car once, he was the friend who had kept me out of a fight once, but I also realized he was the homeless man I had decided to walk past, he was the employee I had to counsel for drug abuse, he was the friend whose affair I knew about but had not prevented, he was the stranger who had been robbed, who I helped once.I was at once awed, dismayed, encouraged, confused, worried, pleased, and contrite.

“My Lord and my God” I said, fully understanding Thomas for the first real time.

“Hello Daniel” said Jesus, and He was gentle. ”Let’s go sit down and talk”

Jesus led me to a small room to the side, with two armchairs and a low table with three books on it. We sat, and with one hand, He picked up the first book, which lay on top of the other two, a big, heavy, legal-looking thing. As He opened it, I leaned forward, expecting to hear Him speak-And instead found myself experiencing the events of my life, all the bad ones. Everything I had ever done, said, or thought, and all the pain, loss, and suffering it had caused. I saw a lie I had told my parents when I was very young, and I heard angels cry in dismay, as my integrity took its first hit. I recalled an old bully, who had hurt me many times in school, and wondered to see, later, how I had hurt him worse, by refusing to speak to him years later, when he had changed, and wished to make amends. I saw times I stole, even when I excused my actions as ‘no big deal’ or ‘someone will take it if I don’t’. I saw lust in my heart a thousand times over, with women I could have been a good friend to, but instead I never saw past the surface. I saw blasphemies against God Himself, in all the times I had prayed for selfish things, or hurt someone’s faith in order to look feel important, and all the times God called on me to help and I turned my back instead. So many wrongs, so many evils, and these were all things I had never seen as the evil they were! I suddenly realized, that these did not include any sin which I had repented of; everything for which I had asked forgiveness for with a contrite heart, was gone from this list, and yet there were many evils, so many I was weeping openly and did not care who saw, to see how much hurt and wrong I had been and done. It seemed to go on for years, as how mean and selfish and small and cruel I had been was broadcast for any and all to hear. I was appalled that I could have been like this, and worse, stunned and dismayed that I had been so hard in my heart, that I could do such things, and not only not repent, but not recognize them. Finally there was silence, and at last I raised my eyes to see Jesus looking back at me. I expected to see His fury there, for being such a hypocrite, for ignoring so much of His word, for calling myself His follower while doing such evil. I expected to meet His wrath, and knew I deserved whatever punishment was to come. But in His eyes I saw compassion, and a great grief, and much pain. And I knew, in that instant, that as my sins and wrongs were recounted, He bore all of them, every one. I could see the marks of the Crown of Thorns on His head, and blood dripped from his hands, and I knew that my deeds had placed those pains there. I lowered my eyes in humiliation and remorse.As I did, I saw the last pages of the first book fade and disappear from His hands, as if they had never been. And I realized that as each event had been recounted, it had disappeared from the book.At last Jesus spoke, lifting my chin with His hand, to look me square in the eye.

”These are forgiven, and are no more.

“Do not return to your sin.”

I trembled and wept again at such mercy, knowing that I deserved none of it.

My attention was drawn back to the two remaining books. I wondered what they contained, and a dread crept over me, as I wondered if one of them contain sins for which I would not be forgiven. Since I had not been consciously aware of all these sins Jesus had forgiven, I began to worry about what else might be lurking in my history.Jesus opened the second book, which also looked formal and significant, but somehow it was not as foreboding as the first. He flipped through several pages, looking for something, and I realized this one was not just about me. I became very curious about reading that book, but knew that wasn’t possible for me, at least not right now. As my mind was wont to do in such times, as Jesus thumbed through pages, I wondered idly who published the books of Heaven, but Jesus reached what He was looking for, and He faced me directly, and His voice became stern:

”This is the Book of Life. No man may enter Heaven, whose name is not written here.”

I blanched. I believed in Jesus as my Savior, but I also knew, especially after the reminder of the first book, that I did not deserve to have my name in that book. Faith and Reason wrestled with each other as Jesus put his hand on my shoulder and looked again straight into my very soul, and said:

“You did not write your name in this book.

“However, I wrote your name here, by My Right.”

I was in awe, and for several moments, He said nothing and I tried to comprehend what had been said. Then Jesus made a motion, and the second book vanished.

“There is one book left” He said, and I knew my trail was not over.

Jesus picked up the third book and opened it.This one was thinner than the other two, and seemed less severe, somehow. As Jesus began to read aloud, I heard accounts of my life, from the perspective of other people. These were not all compliments, some indeed were harsh denouncements and insults, but I noticed Jesus was smiling, the first time He had smiled since we sat down.As I listened, I realized why Jesus was happy to read these words. Whether the words came from someone who was happy with me, or angry with me, they all involved those few times where I had said or done something to help a person, or otherwise pursued what was good and right. There weren’t nearly as many of these as there had been sins from the first book, but they were there, and many surprised me, things I had done because I knew it was right, or because I wanted to help, or because I care about the person I was helping. I noticed, as He went on, that every time I had helped someone in order to look good, they were not mentioned here. Just as well; I would not want even those few good things I had done in the right spirit, to be sullied by the times I was selfish and proud.As Jesus spoke, I felt changes within me, as well, and I realized that just as I had been changed by everything I had done in life, now these things further changed me, and for the better. I realized a purpose to them all, not only to glorify God, as they should, and to help my fellow person, as I hoped, but also to complete me, to make me more than I had been before. As Jesus finished reading, I finally felt, as never before, like the new creature He had promised.Jesus reached somewhere and produced a white stone, which He handed to me. On it was written a name, which I knew was my own, to be known by no one but me, my perfect name as granted by God.

”I always like this part” said Jesus. ”But remember, while you are free from temptation for a thousand years, there will be yet one final choice, one final decision. Do not forget your brothers who yet need to be reached.”

I thought about what had been said before, and nodded.

“Shall I leave now?” I asked, “Or may I ask you a few questions?”

Jesus grinned, as we stood, and pointed towards the Great Hall.

“You can ask, but how I may answer is my province.” He said.

“Okay” I began, “I see you here with me now, much like any man, except for what lies within the body. Is that the real you?”

Jesus shrugged, as we walked along.

“To some degree, only as you may perceive Me.“Perhaps you were expecting this?”

A brilliant flash blinded me for a moment, and when I could see again, I looked at where Jesus had been, and saw – a set of very large toes in the biggest sandal ever made, leading up to a brilliant shining figure fit to put the Rio’s Jesus to shame just for size.

“ – but I didn’t want to over-awe you, Daniel” said Jesus, using my old name.

“Thanks” I replied. “By the way, about the new name, since you still call me ‘Daniel’, when and how would I use the new one?”

Jesus smiled.“Daniel, remember in hell, how certain words had very, special effects? Be careful to use your name only when you are alone with Me. For the rest of the time, you’ll figure it out, but be careful to remember how you use our language.”- And I realized that now, I could understand and speak the language of Heaven. I also understood the explosive power it would have on anyone not ready for it, shining and pure as even the smallest word was.

“Are only Christians here in Heaven? What about atheists, and pagans, and jews who don’t believe in You, and animals, and, and, you know…”

Jesus laughed with amusement

“Everything in Heaven and earth has been given to My authority, Daniel.

“Be assured that I will not forget My own, however they are dispersed and however the enemy has tried to deceive them.

“Come and see!”

And He led me from the Great Hall, across the glassy sea and into a field of unimaginable beauty.I saw every sort of animal which I had known from earth, and quite a few species I could not be sure of, and so many people, I could not begin to guess the size of the place.I could tell from the people, that the people came, as the Bible promised, from every nation under Heaven. And now, they were here, some enjoying a place they obviously had expected, while still others wandered around, as if this place had been nothing more than a myth to them, yet they were here.When people saw that Jesus was here, they pretty much mobbed Him in joy, although here He had no difficulty keeping from getting crushed. We all spent about a half-hour in the all-time biggest group hug, until Jesus shooed most away to go play some more, while I and a few others were allowed to walk with Jesus. I knew, somehow, that I didn’t really deserve to be with this group, but Jesus had promised to let me ask questions, and He wasn’t going to cut me off just now.

Jesus gestured for me to continue.

“One thing I don’t understand is, how can we have Free Will, but You remain Sovereign?”

“Well Daniel” answered Jesus, ”Have you read a book, which you had read before?”

“Well, yes” I answered.“You know what is going to happen, but are you forcing the characters to act in any way differently? No, you simply know what is going to happen.

“So, in my case, I have that same knowledge, only I know all of Reality because I have known it beforehand. It’s part of omniscience. I can do anything, but I can plan my actions, my words and my works, in such a way, that I can work everything according to my Will, yet allow each person their choice and decision. I am present in everything, but I am seen very seldom, only when I choose to reveal my hand.”

I thought for a moment.

“Then, why do we suffer? Do you want us to be in pain?”

Jesus shook His head sadly.

“That is a difficult matter. If I did not allow you pain, then I could not truly be allowing you choice. Instead, I used the pain you made for yourselves, providing ways for you to learn from it, to grow, to share your experience with others in pain, that they might be able to learn and grow and not be victim again.

“It is why I came to you, as one of you, to bear what you bear, to share what you suffer, to be fully man as well as fully God.

“It is why I made Heaven, also, that the life of pain and worry and weariness and suffering might end, to be replaced with the greater life of hope and wonder.”

I hesitated, but continued:“Then why is there hell?”

Jesus looked at me directly.

“Many reasons” He said. “In the first place, people choose their course, and while I love you all, if I compelled everyone to enter Heaven, then I would have to either force you all to be pure and good, or else so control you in other ways, that you would be but slaves, and have no voice or heart of your own.

“That I will not do, for I am Sovereign, not Tyrant.”

“But why would anyone go to hell, knowing the truth as we see it here?” I asked.

“Daniel” replied the Christ,

”There are those who saw Me in my face, when I walked on the earth before, and they knew that I was the Messiah, yet they hated Me.

“There were, and are, those who hate and reject anything which does not put them first. They cannot accept any God, under any circumstances.“There are those who will not let go of their evils, some even who heard and believed the Gospel, but believed in their sin even more. Remember the Rich Young Ruler?”

I nodded.

“How can we enjoy Heaven, knowing that our brothers and sisters suffer in hell?” I asked next.

Jesus frowned.

“Well, in the first place, no one goes to hell unjustly. All who are mine, are joyful that justice is done unless mercy be had in its place.

“Further, not everyone is there forever. Remember Detention? Some will be punished far less than others, each according to what they deserve, what they choose, and whether they ultimately choose God or their sin.

“Finally, Heaven is all to the good. It is difficult to explain in human words, how it is that God, who loves all His creation, can see humans go to hell, yet be glad, but Heaven is pure and good, and there is no pain or trouble which may enter here.

“I know how that sounds, and how some may be confused, but Heaven is not about joy in the ignorance of suffering, but the reconciliation of men with God, to the resolution of all conflict.”

“Beth told me” I said “that You are the only way to Salvation.

“But the muslims, the hindus, all these other faiths, people believe them fully and follow them as they can. Are they condemned for that?”

Jesus pursed His lips, and peered at me for a moment.“You’ve been My follower all these years, and you don’t know?” He asked.

Then He smiled again, and I relaxed.

“I know, that old rhetoric thing.” said Jesus, and I nodded.“OK. You never learned Aramaic, or Greek, or Hebrew, Daniel. So, by some reasoning, you could never have called upon Me for salvation, since you only spoke modern languages.

“But, here you are with Me in Heaven. And you know why…

“I will not be fooled by a man who says ‘Lord, Lord’ with his lips, but will not have Me in his heart. Nor will I be denied when someone loves Me well.

“Think upon this:“The greatest commandment, you know, is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind and might. But how does someone do that?

“The man who does the will of God is the one who loves Him. And there is no justice apart from Me, no peace which I did not make, no freedom which I did not author, no honor which I did not bestow. Therefore, no man may be honorable who does not know Me, no man may insure freedom who does not recognize Me, no man may make peace who does not love Me, no man may pursue justice, who does not call upon Me.

“By their work and loves, I know My children. And the deceiver has not gained a single soul at My cost.

“Not one is lost, whose heart is like Mine, not one is forgotten who chooses what is good.”With that, we walked across the field and approached a great cliff.

The view from the cliff was impressive. A great expanse of countryside lay before us, and the light shone upon vale and hill, as though the sun was rising behind us and shining onto the land ahead and below.Jesus laughed, cocked His head at me and said:

“You know, we had some good conversations, Daniel, sometimes when you didn’t know it was Me.”I had thought Hew meant by prayer, but His last comment brought me up short.

“Huh? I don’t understand” I said.Jesus smiled and looked into the distance.

“Online chat can be an amazing thing.

“One problem, though, is I was never able to use my own name on-line.”

“Not subtle enough?” I ventured.

“Never available” Jesus answered. ”All sorts of people wanted to be ‘Jesus_Christ’ on-line, so I had to settle for some other choices.”

“Such as” I prompted.

Jesus shook His head.

“Nope. I might still want to go online, and folks are a lot more open, when they forget the Boss might be looking in on them.

“I hear what they are really saying anyway, but this way, folks are more comfortable being honest.”Jesus looked around, then motioned to the other men. They approached the cliff, and as Jesus put His arm around my shoulder, He asked, “Ever read anything by Douglas Adams? He had a pretty good idea, and we’ve sort of put it into a new version of sky-diving.”

And with that, Jesus pushed me off the cliff.

Perhaps it was faith in my Lord, that I did not cry out in fear as I fell, or perhaps I had simply encountered enough strange things, that this new event was not all that unusual. For the moment, I let my body fall and I enjoyed the warm breeze. After a moment, I heard Jesus call to me from my side, as He too plunged:

“It’s simple, really. See where the ground is? Just don’t go there!”

I stretched out my arms, and aimed ahead, and in a moment I was aware of forward motion. I can’t tell you if it was my own motive force, or the response of something else, but in any case, I was now flying, without fear or worry. Jesus drew alongside, did a neat barrel roll, and winked at me.

“So, next question?” He asked, as we sped over a flock of sheep and past slower birds.

“I guess the big one really is, why were there so many religions and faiths on earth? And wasn’t it confusing for so many competing ways of life?”

Jesus rolled onto His side, and propped His head on His hand, and looked at me closely.

“OK, Daniel” He said, ”I see you are trying to answer other people’s doubts.

“How would you like a world with only one or two flavors of food, or only black and white, no colors, and a life of extremes, burning hot or freezing cold, silence or a deafening roar?

“Abba made a world for billions of individual people, all designed and made, one by one, according to His plan and purpose. And because people are individuals, truth and the Way, though it must come through Me, is revealed in many signs and places, so that a seeker will know the path.

“In many “Christian” countries, it is difficult to be faithful, because there are many temptations and distractions. In other places, believers are persecuted, but they can easily see where I am, and the choice is simple. And those who are willing to search their hearts, will always find Me waiting at the door.

“Now, we are all of us, the whole family of God, together. And the things which I have revealed to each man or woman who listened, may now be shared for the common gain and wealth of spirit.”

“What happens to the people who are atheists, or who blame you for every thing they did?” I asked next. Jesus chuckled:

“Well, about the atheists-“

“Oops, there aren’t any now” I laughed.

“Actually, yes, there are. Fewer, a lot fewer, but some have really convinced themselves that God doesn’t exist, so thoroughly that even direct contact with Me, or the Holy Spirit hasn’t convinced them. The Father would convince them, but they could not stand I His presence, since they have not let go of their sin.

“They are at once, most stubborn, and yet most honest, in their way.

“Now then, the ones who wanted to blame God for everything, they know the truth very well now, and there is none who may blame God for his own evil.”

Jesus fixed His gaze more sternly upon me.

“And that is part of the message I want you to deliver, Daniel.“You will speak to some who will otherwise never hear, but their hearts are hard, hard enough that only a strong word will break in, to be heard because there is no avoiding it or denying it.”As we sped across the plain, I felt a chill despite the warm air rushing by us.

I landed gently, and just stood there for a long time, staring at Jesus. Didn’t He know that I was particularly unqualified for this sort of mission?I must have stared for far too long, for Jesus grew to about 10 feet tall, looked down at me, and with his best DI voice, growled:

“Why are you eye-ballin’ me?”I coughed, looked at the ground, and shrugged. Jesus grew back to normal size, though his hair now had prayer curls like a Hasidic jew.

“Relax. You’ll do fine. Besides, if someone doesn’t accept the message I send with you, that’s on them, not you, okay?“And I’m sending a couple friends with you. We’ll meet up with them in a little bit, after we check out J-town.”

“J-town?” I inquired.Jesus laughed, and pointed to the earth floating the distance.

“Oh, yeah, Jerrrruuuuuuuuuuusalem, but bigger and better. Think of the best parts of London, NYC, LA, any town you want to think of, and then speed it up to something totally original, while still keeping its history and identity. Waay cool, everyone agrees.”

Jesus hopped into the air, and hovered, waiting for me to follow. Since we seemed to be alone, and this place was empty of everything but the yard-wide cracks in the ground, I stepped up and found myself floating with no apparent support. Jesus caught my look, and chuckled.

“Family benefit. Physics are optional for us. Wait until you really get used to your new options!”And Jesus flew off, and I found myself following. Ahead there seemed to be a group of people, and I realized some of them had been the men He had left behind when He first talked with me.One of them approached, and I realized she was a girl, a teenager form her face.

“Master” she asked, “We found Caiaphas, but he won’t come out. I think he might listen to you now, though.”

“Thank you, Bernadette” said the Christ.“Daniel, I need to take some for this task.” said Jesus. ” Bernie and the gang will take you on a tour of Jerusalem, and we can talk more when you get back here.”

And in a blink, He was gone, and I found myself amidst strangers and family, in the same people at once.

I took a look around, and was relieved to find that my new companions seemed to be comfortable with me. Strangely, they weren’t taller than me this time, although I realized that was because I had grown some. When I looked closer at the cracked ground, however, I realized that my increased height meant that the cracks were even larger.The man to my left, grabbed my elbow, and said “Hi Daniel. I’m Judas. Let’s get you over to Jerusalem. You won’t believe how beautiful it is!”

I stared at Judas, and he laughed.“I know, but no, I’m not that one. I’m Judas, son of James. Hey Dad!”

Another man came over, and it hit me that despite being from the 1st Century, they were wearing what looked like white polo shirts and jeans, and sneaks. With gold borders.

“James the son of Zebedee, or James the brother of Jesus?” I asked. James grinned.

“Welllllll, the brother of Jesus, but only the way you are, too. Otherwise, I’m just James, the father of Judas the often-misidentified disciple. And the rest of our gang…“Bernadette, sister from the Sudan”, and he gestured to the teenaged girl Jesus had introduced. She smiled, and pointed to another young man.

“And this is Gregor, from Ukraine. He was raised an atheist, but uhhhh, changed his mind.” The young man was silver haired, despite his youth, and his grin was infectious, as we all grinned back in response. Gregor pointed to another woman, who had been in the back.

"May I introduce Talese? She was a new age medium, but always listened to a voice that helped her love people, support charities, and do good at an amazing number of places. Would you believe she gave sixty gallons of blood during her lifetime? And you won’t meet a more humble person.”

Gregor stopped as Talese shot him a look.

“He knows I don’t need to hear all that yammer about how good this is or that, like I or you are anybody is better than some other person, just ‘cause we do what we should. Hmpf!” said the old lady, though a sparkle in her eye showed amusement at Gregor’s blush.

”Anyway, we’re going to take you on a tour of the rebuilt Jerusalem, though I hear” she peered closely at a man no one had identified yet ”when heaven and earth are made new, it will be even more amazing.

“And to finish up our introductions, though I hope you will take the time to get to know us better, as we hope to know you, these remaining members of our troop are Gail, Chao, Rilka, and Richard.” The three women and the man all nodded, though the man seemed uneasy, which somehow appealed to me. Talese peered at me for a moment

Richard is not allowed to talk to you right now” she said, and Richard looked at the ground, but said nothing, and I wondered what sort of trouble he was into here.“OK” announced Talese. “everyone ready for the jump?”

She looked at me and smiled a little.“You better not plan on things being all logical and scientific here. If you can get your mind open, it will be simple.”

I thought of all the things I had already seen which made no apparent sense, and nodded.

“Good man.” said Talese.“All right everyone, flex-“ and we all hunched down as if readying for a basketball game tipoff, I followed the lead of everyone else,“and jump!”Which we did, and I found us speeding headlong into space, as a memory from some old Science classes feebly protested that our actions were feasible only in comic books.

Flying through space takes some time, even in the alternate physics of this place. As the ten of us flew along, I had memories of old Saturday cartoons, where the heroes flew effortlessly through space, and I wondered if the authors of those shows had somehow glimpsed this future accomodation. I also noticed that we had already entered the skies of Earth, and our orbit was actually comparatively close to the ground, as I could see features in the towns and countries below. I looked over at Judas, who grinned at my unvoiced question.

“You’ll see, Daniel. Just watch.”I sudenly realized that we were flying over North America, and the city we were approaching was New York City. The great city of America’s East Coast seemed to shimmer as we approached, and in a moment, I realized why.As I focused on the city, I became aware at first of its original halls and homes, and in quick sequence I saw the city rise, until it became a fantastic center of light and life. Complete with the World Trade Center, as if September 11 had never happened. I looked over at Judas, and he winked.

“This is a new Earth, rebuilt as it was always meant to be, and as much the work of men as the will of God. “Heaven is all by the will of God, by this Earth, by the Grace of God, allows the hand of man to do good works as well.

“And nothing good is lost, here. All that is wrong and evil has been removed, and all that is good and noble is reclaimed and restored.”I felt like I was going to cry, it was so beautiful.Talese looked over sternly, but softened as she said:“Come, there is much more to see, and we must needs land first at New Jerusalem.”And with that, we flew on.

As we crossed the Atlantic Ocean, I was struck by the marvels of majestic kingdoms and cities we surveyed. As we approached the coast of England, a twinkle caught my from Cornwall, and Talese pulled alongside as I turned to ask;“Is that-”

“Camelot? Indeed, Daniel, it was real, and is again. The jeweled pinnacles of Tintagel are there for all to see, again.

“Off to your right, you can see Joyous Gard, as well, though Lance says he has no wish to set foot there again.”

We flew on to France, where a Paris untouched by war and famine stood, more the City of Light than it had ever been before. I was amazed, as much by the smell of chestnut trees as by the delicate architecture.

Abruptly, we turned South and sped up, and crossed the Mediterranean, and shortly a golden city came into view as we apprached Judea.

Gregor announced the obvious:“New Jerusalem, everyone. The true “City of Gold”, more pity for Cortez.”

We landed before the great gates, and stood in front of the largest city I had ever seen, and greater than I had imagined could exist. The walls alone rose into the skies out of our sight, well hidden by clouds before we could focus on their tops. The walls also streched off to the East and West as far as I could see. It was a finite space, I knew, only because I saw it so from space.

“Ummmm, excuse me” I asked “I sort of knew it would be this big, because I have read Revelation, but does anyone know why New Jerusalem is so huge?”

“Demand” replied Gregor. “This is the Holy City of Earth, and everyone who is able may enter, and so a place has been prepared for all.”

I looked up again at the vast space, and tried to calculate, but failed.“OK, thanks, Gregor” I said, “So, do you know why it’s gold? I mean, it’s pretty as all get-out, but won’t hot days be a big problem, just for one example?”

“Wellllll” replied Gregor, “It’s gold, yes, but it works different here. Here, I’ll show you what I mean. Look at the wall, here and try to see through it.”

I did as her said, and gradually the metal wall became opaque, and I could see the street on the other side. A little more staring, and I could see what was beyond that building as well.“Wow” I finally said.

“I notice that effect only works on the gold, not on the people. I’m rather glad about that, actually.”

Gregor laughed.“Yes, I am, as well.

"So, let’s tour!”As I began to ask how we entered, everyone moved forward, and I followed, as we walked through the walls of New Jerusalem into the city.