Following the directions of the pastor to the nearest fraudulent church, I came at last to a shoreline, across the isthmus of which stood a low island crowned with what appeared to be a church building. It was constructed of the same dull stuff that made up the rest of Hell, but the crude steeple and buttresses clearly marked it as a church building.
Unfortunately, there was no means of crossing over to the island, for while there were boats, they all appeared to be tied up on the island side. None were to be found along the shore.
As I stood pondering how to cross, I noticed that one of the boats, which I assumed was securely moored to the far side, was not quite in the same spot it had been in when I had glanced previously. I watched more carefully and saw that it was true. It was slowly moving to my left, and I could see that if it kept on its same slow course it would eventually come in contact with my shore, which curved outward around the island.
I walked slowly, pacing the boat, for a long time - though again, I could not tell how long - and eventually the small craft drifted close to the shore. I hated stepping foot into the fluid - for I hesitate to call this dull substance "water" - but I put such thoughts out of my mind and waded into the bay and was able to catch the line tied to the prow of the boat.
I dragged it back toward the island and when I was at the closest point, stepped into the boat. To see the water - or whatever it was - through the hull, and to realize I had to entrust myself to this see-through craft was disconcerting, but I had endured such trouble to catch the boat that I felt obliged to make use of it.
I crossed over without incident - though one paddle had drifted away and I had to very clumsily make do with a single oar - tied the boat at the other side and climbed the dusty gray hill towards the church.
The massive door stood silent before me, and I lifted and dropped the knocker, which made a disappointing sound for so large a device. More like a click than a clang, I thought. Repeatedly, at intervals, I dropped the knocker against its strike plate and had about concluded that the building was deserted, when dimly in the distance through the door, I percieved someone approaching at a sedate and unhurried pace.
A small window in the door opened and a gaunt clergyman gazed out, obviously pained by the light of Heaven. He looked me silently up and down, and said, "What is it that you want?"
"Pardon me. Might I speak to the leader of this church?"
"I am the minister of this church. What do you want?"
"I am a visitor from Heaven, and wish to understand why there are churches in Hell."
"I have but little time to entertain you," replied the minister, still speaking through the window. "Prayers and Bible readings begin shortly."
"Do you pray to God?"
"Of course we pray to God! If you've no better questions to ask than these, then kindly be on your way."
"I don't mean to be rude, but I don't understand why you are in Hell if you love God."
"Love God..." he repeated slowly, as if it had awoken some distant memory. Then, returning to the present, said, "We obey God! We have a strict schedule of prayers, meditations and Bible readings. We do not drink wine, we have separated ourselves on this island to avoid being polluted by the people of the world, and we have built a church on a hill, as a testimony to those around us."
"Praying and keeping yourself unpolluted by the world seem admirable things to do, so I don't understand why you are in Hell. Could you tell me, please?"
"You were at the judgement, were you not?" he asked.
"Uh, yes. I was."
"Then perhaps you saw the many who walked lightheartedly into Heaven after lives spent carelessly? Didn't you see them? Teary-eyed, blubbering their thanks so shamelessly? And their whoops of joy. Didn't you hear them carry on: 'Dear Jesus! Lord Jesus! Gracious God!' and all that after lives of corruption? Didn't you see Him turn a blind eye to all their sin and welcome them?"
"Well, yes. I did," I said, forgetting myself as my mind went back to that delightful moment. "In fact, I guess you might say I was one of them. I committed a fair number of sins on earth, though I tried not to - well, sometimes I tried not to. And if it wasn't for my wonderful Lord Jesus," I bubbled, "I would, well... uh..."
He had been looking at me coldly during this brief recollection, and even after I finished speaking he remainded gazing at me silently, as if to ask, "Are you quite done?"
"I see," he said at last. "Well, while you were sinning, we were not. We followed the rules. I read my Bible twice a day. I attended church every Sunday at 11 o'clock. I did not smoke or drink or view questionable movies or magazines, and I did not associate with those who did. Have I made myself clear?"
"It sounds as if you were very careful not to involve yourself in any sin. That seems very admirable, so I am all the more confused that you are here and not in Heaven."
His face wrinkled. "My very plain words appear to be completely opaque to you, so let me try to be even plainer, if such a thing is possible: I was good. They were bad. They were rewarded. This is not fair. Now do you understand me?"
"I believe I do. You feel it is unfair that others were admitted to Heaven when they had not lived as strictly as you."
"Not only do I feel it is unfair. It is unfair."
"But what does it matter?" I asked, again becomming bubbly. "If you're in Heaven, you're in Heaven, right? So who cares if someone who didn't work as hard as you is there too? After all, isn't the work just an expression of love for God?"
"I care!" he said. "I wouldn't have let one of them polish my shoes on earth, and then I'm supposed to spend eternity with them? I think not!"
"But none of us was righteous!" I protested. "None of us was worthy to polish Jesus' shoes. I wasn't. You weren't. We all needed His forgiveness. How can you say you're unwilling to spend eternity with others who weren't perfect when you aren't perfect either?"
"I was much more worthy of Heaven than they!" he shouted.
"But you didn't love them. Did you love Jesus?"
"I obeyed. Isn't that enough? I spent my whole life following the rules. And then I find that those other people are welcomed and I am not. God didn't want me and I didn't want Him. I was glad to be thrown out of His presence!"
"Actually," I said, "I think that you did not obey. For you appear to have forgotten that love was commanded and pride was forbidden. You were scrupulous but you never loved God - or anybody else."
He remained silent for a moment.
"The time I have allotted for entertaining you has passed," he said. "You will forgive me, but my prayer time has arrived." And with that he shut the window firmly and - as I could make out through the door - walked away down the hall.
And I wondered to whom he really prayed.Previous | Next
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