Chapter 3: Eavesdropping

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As I walked, my mind lazily crept back to my ejection from that palace, when suddenly a new concern ripped my peace to shreds. What if there are different levels of heaven? (I knew the Bible spoke of a third heaven. I had also heard of a seventh heaven but could not recall whether that was in the Bible.) What if I had been found unworthy of a higher level of heaven and was now confined to a lower level?

I was about to console myself with the fact that this place was still endearing when an alarming thought shattered any complacency. If I had somehow failed one test and been evicted, could I now face another test with the possibility of being banished from here as well? What if I am being subjected to a series of tests that starts at the top and keeps me going down and down until I eventually find the level at which I will remain for all eternity? How far could I fall? Could part of the consequences of failing be that I will have to spend forever remembering the glories of the places of which I was deemed unworthy?

Is this heresy? I asked myself. The details are certainly extra-biblical. That was a little comforting. I knew, however, that the Bible seems to indicate varying degrees of reward in the next life.

You must think I have the brains of an intelligent cucumber but permit me a moment to explain why clear thinking quickly muddies in a unforeseeable situation. I had come to this place, convinced that although it is too late after death to change one’s eternal destiny, those who are still on earth can always repent and receive God’s forgiveness, no matter how far gone they seem. But I was no longer on earth!

I beg your forgiveness for going further into what might be construed as a brief departure from this account. I have been scolded for getting bogged down in details. Never again do I want to be accused of that crime. I guess the unflattering truth, however, is that I fear if I do not adequately explain my perspective (and that might require some detail), you might count me worthy of a straitjacket.

I feel I should be tougher. Try as I might, however, being dismissed as a crackpot fails to climb high on my list of favorite things to do. In fact, though I am ashamed to admit it, I might as well come clean: I would be crushed if you rejected me. When I manage to push aside my feelings for long enough to think rationally, however, what I lose sleep over is that rejecting me would probably lead to you rejecting this account.

So I am trying desperately to avoid pestering you with details. What makes this such a battle, however, is my worry that the more I keep details from you, the less you are likely to understand the depth and intensity of what drives me. And the less you understand me – I do not even want to think about where that could lead.

My opposing fear is that although I would like you to like me, I cannot imagine that happening and the more I reveal about myself the more I will turn you off. A new variation of that fear just surfaced: perhaps letting you into my mind will claw at you like fingernails on a chalk board. And now another worry has emerged: perhaps my attempt to explain and justify interrupting this account has itself degenerated into yet another bothersome interruption that needs explaining and justifying. Everything keeps compounding.

Enough of this madness. I am trying to explain why a matter that was once settled in my mind was now unravelling. I start with explaining why, before leaving earth, I had been so sure that anyone at any moment could receive divine acceptance.

I might know less than I think I do but if there is one thing the Bible stresses over and over it is that, compared with most of us, God is far more compassionate towards those we denounce as despicably evil, and is far less impressed than us by those who think themselves righteous. He is eager to forgive those who anger him, and quick to accept those we would have thought he had given up on. Self-righteous goodie-goodies might turn his stomach but the very people they despise have a special place in God’s heart.

I had once deliberately embarked on a biblical exploration that uncovered many instances when people had seemed utterly dammed by God and yet God still relented when they repented. For example, not only was Rahab a prostitute, she belonged to a tribe that was so corrupt that the Lord insisted that every member of it must be eradicated (e.g. Deuteronomy 7:1-2). She was not only spared but, like Mary, divinely chosen for the honor of being an ancestress of the Messiah. Ruth, David’s great-grandmother, became another of God’s chosen in the Messiah’s family tree. She was a Moabite – despite the Law of God saying no “Moabite or any of their descendants, even to the tenth generation, shall enter the assembly of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 23:3). Yet another acclaimed by the gospel (Matthew 1:3) as Christ’s ancestress pretended to be a prostitute in order to conceive through her father-in-law (of all people) the baby who ended up in Jesus’ genealogy.

Would a further example be excessive? If so, ignore the next sentence. Another conceived an ancestor of the Messiah only because the father committed adultery with her and then arranged her husband’s murder to try to cover up his atrocious sin (Matthew 1:6; 2 Samuel 11:3-12:24). In stark contrast to all the attempted cover-ups, the Bible exposes everything.

This is just an inkling of the astonishing, profoundly moving discoveries awaiting those willing to dig deep enough into the boring parts of the Bible.

And what do you make of Jonah? The Word of God calls him not an evangelist but a prophet (2 Kings 14:25; Matthew 12:39). Scripture records his entireGod-given prophesy as being, “In forty days Nineveh will be destroyed” (Jonah 3:4). What happened to God’s prophecy? God let his own prophesy be ruined. As Jonah had feared, the Almighty refused to execute justice on the enemy of God’s people, just because they repented. It infuriated the prophet. But it delighted God.

I could go on and on, as well as explaining how even the unpardonable sin remains unforgiveable only until the offender changes his assessment of Jesus. (How could anyone be saved while believing his Savior is of the devil?) Consider Paul doing his darnedest to exterminate the entire church in its vulnerable infancy and forever eradicate Christianity from the entire planet. Christians would have voted him the person they least liked and least likely to be acclaimed as the greatest-ever apostle. But God thought differently. Could this possibly illustrate the gulf separating God’s heart from how most Christians see things? Of particular note, however, is what when persecuting Christians, this divinely chosen apostle must surely have accepted the standard pharisaical line about Jesus being of the devil. Many would have written him off as eternally damned. But not God.

As much as I would like to keep on raving about one of my pet subjects, this is not the place. The point is that on earth I had so many solid reasons for confidence in God’s forgiveness no matter how appalling my sins. Since leaving my home planet (even as I write all these months later it still feels weird to put it that way) I was thrust into situations I had never considered preparing myself for. Suddenly everything that until then had kept me grounded was crumbling.

A major reason for this is that as emphatic as the Bible is that divine acceptance is readily available to everyone living on earth, it is equally adamant that after death, everything changes. (A full list of Scriptures confirming this would be huge and over-the-top but for any doubters, here is a tiny sample of references: Proverbs 1:23-31; Matthew 25:10-13; Mark 13:35-37; Luke 16:22-26; 2 Corinthians 6:2; Hebrews 2:3; 3:13-19; 9:27; 2 Peter 3:3-14.)

Let’s start with a little logic. Forgiveness comes at a humongous cost. An offender might be relieved that he has been able to get away with inflicting pain and suffering on others by lying, cheating, gossiping, slandering, robbing, and so on until finally seeing the error of his ways. But what about the victims? It would hardly be paradise if this situation continued after death. Who would want an eternity filled with people who can inflict evil, with all of its inescapable suffering, on each other?

For heaven to be heaven, there must be an end to being able to sin. Since forgiveness means being able to get away with sin, the time for forgiveness must end for heaven to begin.

Sin is selfishness and it inevitably ends up hurting people. We would all like to excuse our version of selfishness and label the hurt we inflict as minor, while condemning someone else’s version. A holy judge, no matter how loving, can be partner to no such hypocrisy.

Once death hits, no-one will ever again rail at God for tolerating evil and not executing justice. Then, evil and all of its associated suffering will be eliminated. Our quandary is that, relative to the perfect God, all of us are evil.

We shrug our shoulders, mumble, “No-one’s perfect,” and try to shift the spotlight off our guilty conscience by pointing an accusing finger at other people’s sins; trying to tell ourselves that they are worse than our own. We might fool ourselves, but never the all-knowing Holy One.

All who think themselves a cut above the rest either detest the Bible or live in denial of its insistence that it takes just one slip from perfection to render us spiritual dead. No-one can get any deader than dead. No-one – no matter how much you look down on him – can be in a worse predicament than you. It is a soberingly level playing field if, as the Bible says, “All have sinned and fallen short . . .” (Romans 3:23).

Since “no-one’s perfect,” we all stand equally in need of God’s pardon but if we die having refused it and wanting to go it alone then our choice will last for all eternity.

All of us teeter little more than a heartbeat from Judgment Day. Then all evil will indeed be eradicated, including everyone who has not sought God’s pardon before that cataclysmic day. If you miss the last rescue plane, the result is the same whether or not you see yourself as respectable, and whether you miss by milliseconds or by years.

For all the reasons I have cited and for so many more I’m too scared of boring you to cite, I was certain of all of this. My new dilemma, however, was that if I were, as preposterous as it seemed, actually in some variant of heaven, would certain principles that apply only to the period of grace before death work here? Part of me wanted to scream that they could not. On the other hand, they might still apply if I haven’t yet died and will return to living on earth before the Final Judgment. Adding to that confusion was having no idea whether I was in heaven or not, nor if I would ever resume life on earth. Figuring out what applies in this predicament is migraine material!

I was quite perplexed as to whether this wild theory about tests had the slightest merit. Instead of prayerfully puzzling over it or, better still, seeking to spiritually prepare for any possible test, I recklessly tried to thrust it from my mind and let myself be distracted by my fascinatingly beautiful surroundings. I now shudder to realize that I took that course while having no idea if doing so was safe or whether this was the most critical moment in my existence and that my entire eternity hinged on my preparation.

Not only don’t I know why I let myself do it, I don’t even know how it was possible to push that worry out of my head. I don’t like to boast but worrying is usually something I excel at. You might even call me an over-achiever.

I guess it is the lamest of excuses but it is as if I were lulled into complacency by the wonder and beauty of this place. Despite me having no certainty that it was not deceptive, this otherworldly forest seemed to radiate a warm coziness and security that I had never imagined any wilderness could have. Even harder to explain – and avoid confinement in a psychiatric ward – is that I seemed to sense something peculiar about this forest. What I sensed was so far beyond the purely rational that I can only try my pathetic but best attempt to put it into words and hide in shame. Here it is: the entire place seemed to have an aura of innocence about it. You might understand a little about how the friendliness and cuteness of all the animals might be slightly suggestive of this but somehow even the rocks and vegetation seemed to add to it.

I now recall a quote from Emerson I had read years before: “One of the illusions of life is that the present hour is not the critical, decisive hour.” Amazingly, all memory of this invaluable warning had eluded me at the time.

I should have been focusing on what test I might, even at that very moment, be facing. Instead, I began to pay attention to the light. There was something peculiar about it that I couldn’t quite figure. Even underneath the dense foliage of those ancient trees, flowers grew. A thought hit me. I looked on the ground behind me, then turned full circle, scanning the ground. I even looked under my feet. That’s strange. In a flash of panic I touched my stomach, chest and face. “Seems solid enough,” I said aloud in relief. But what if even my hand isn’t solid? What if that’s just the feel of two non-solid objects touching? Surely not!

I hunted for a rock and lifted it just a little. It was comforting to be able to lift something solid but that was not my purpose. I looked underneath it, relieved. It was not just my body that was not casting shadows. But this raised more questions. The light is bright and yet there are no shadows! Not multiple shadows, not vague shadows – nothing! I looked at all the open sky I could find. I glanced under bushes; in trees. Where is the light coming from? I pondered the problem for a couple of seconds. Is the light in the air? Is everything its own light source? What is this place?

Just then a breeze sprang up, but what a breeze! It swirled and twirled and almost seemed alive. It seemed almost to be playing, or maybe dancing, and the leaves of the trees seemed to respond as if they were enjoying it – as if they were being massaged or lightly tickled. I nearly expected them to giggle in delight.

I reprimanded myself. Pull yourself together! Who’d have thought you’d be guilty of anthropomorphism! Ah, anthropomorphism – attributing human characteristics to nonhumans. My mind flashed through the years to the Behavioral Science lecture in which I was first introduced to that word and to the silliness that unscientific people fall into. Now the very word seemed comforting. Of course! That’s it! I’m in an alien environment. Things are different here. I had momentarily lost my objectivity but now I’m back on track! Hey . . . ‘track . . !’ I finally remembered how I had arrived at this part of the forest. I looked along the path, and sure enough, the little animal was still there. Its head cocked to one side, it stared at me through its big eyes. It appeared to be waiting for me.

Is it my imagination, or are animals more intelligent here? I wasn’t silly enough to expect one to talk to me, or solve a mathematical problem. They just seemed somehow more perceptive. Was I fooling myself or did they actually have a greater awareness of my emotions than I would ever expect of an animal? Is it merely something about their features that gives an illusion of intelligence? I asked myself.

I was coming up with few answers, but stretching my mind in this way was reassuring. I seemed to be acting a little saner.

I was about to follow the creature, when I noticed the rock I had moved. Everything around seemed so perfectly ordered that a single rock moved a fraction from its original position seemed oddly out of place. I felt compelled to go to that rock and almost guiltily return it to the exact place where it had originally been before I had lifted it. The surprising thing is that I am the most untidy person I know. You should see my house!

(Just as an aside to those who accuse me of being obsessive: my housekeeping is proof that I’m not. Others might obsess about keeping things in order. Not me. I’ll never waste precious time by trying to be tidy. In fact, I’m obsessive about it. Let’s move on before I think too much about that.)

Having completed my out-of-character act, I left the rock and headed for the creature. That cute little animal was certainly acting as if it wanted me to follow. Even putting aside that foolish interpretation of animal behavior, what wild creature would know what would interest a human anyway? Nevertheless, not having a better plan, I continued to follow it.

As I did, I found myself rapt in joyous wonder. Almost every step revealed still more flora, fauna and vistas captivatingly different from anything on earth. Despite this continual distraction, however, my mind began to drift back to the endless Palace. As unforgettable and astounding as the sensory pleasures had been, my thoughts my kept returning, like flies to stench, to my inglorious expulsion from what had almost felt like a sacred place. Even in the pristine world I was now privileged to be enjoying, the gloom of failure hung over me, soiling what should have been perfection. Still more disturbing was not knowing what I had done that was apparently so offensive.

I thought of the G-forces and motion sickness that astronauts endure. There is simply no alternative if they are to leave earth. Maybe I have done nothing wrong. Perhaps that abrupt end and scary ride out of there was the only way to be transported to this exquisite place. I longed to convince myself but no matter how much I tried, it still felt disconcertingly like failure. It seemed all I could do was to keep trying to boot that nerve-racking event out of my hard-to-control mind.

I turned a bend in the trail and froze. A man, looking rather like an Arabian in traditional dress was sitting on the ground under a tree. “I don’t know . . .” the man sighed dejectedly.

I was still engaged in an animated internal debate about making myself known when I spotted a nonhuman lifeform approaching us. I ducked behind the mercifully thick vegetation and sneaked a glance. Should I warn the man? As the alien kept closing in, I grew increasingly sure that he was of the species I had seen in the Palace.

Looking up, the man noticed the approaching being and slowly stood to greet him. To my shock, as he rose to his feet he began to grow taller and bulkier. Somehow his clothing kept up with the growth and began to change in appearance. A chill shot through me as this lifeform continued to mutate. His beard faded until it disappeared while the hair on his head changed and his facial features grew increasingly alien. I stared goggle-eyed as his skin turned golden and began to glow. This can’t be real! What is happening to me?

But how could it possibly not be real? my mind countered. The notion of these recent episodes experiences being some type of illusion raised far more impossibilities than it offered the slightest explanation. It was not remotely like any dream I have ever had. I have no idea what drugs are capable of. Maybe under their influence, unreality could seem this real but time and again what I have experienced since supposedly leaving earth far exceeds my powers of imagination. And when could I have been drugged?

My mind scanned my last day on earth, hunting for the slightest possibility. It had been such a lazy day that I never left the house. No one had any opportunity to slip drugs into anything I had consumed. I had eaten no mushrooms, nor any food that might have passed its use-by date. I had not felt the slightest unwell – no fever, no fall or knock on the head, no headache, no event when my skin could have been punctured. There is no family history of mental disorders.

Perhaps what I next did was ridiculous but I knocked my knuckles on a rock. It not only hurt; I bled. It certainly felt and looked real.

I turned my analysis to the time since apparently leaving earth. Other than feeling groggy upon first arriving here, my mind has seemed quite sharp. Of course there was the spider bite but I was seeing bizarre things long before the bite. The spider itself was bizarre before it even bit me!

Running out of options, I felt forced to just one conclusion. This has to be real!

I was not yet confident I could accurately distinguish between the extraterrestrials I had so far seen. In the endless Palace I had glanced at countless thousands of them. Nevertheless, every one that I had so far studied close up – as much as I dared – was quite distinctive in appearance. Even relative to the others, the transformed being in front of me was particularly tall and muscular, with a nose a little broader and forehead a little higher than most. His eyes were like flaming arrows. It was my guess that the magnificent lifeform that the man had somehow transmuted into was Chebon.

The other alien of superhuman proportions continued to walk towards us. “What’s wrong, Chebon?” he asked.

So it is Chebon! I congratulated myself.

“I’ve just returned from an earth mission,” Chebon replied, still sounding dejected.

His voice was richer, more majestic and less human than before his transformation. Even though he was complaining, the very nobility and nonhuman aspects of his voice commanded such respect that I think even if I were blind, just hearing these beings’ voices would give me goosebumps.

The words earth mission galvanized my attention. My own pounding heart made it obvious why they would disguise themselves when visiting earth. People could literally die in the stampede of fleeing humans.

“Have you ever been there?” he asked?

“No,” responded the newcomer. His voice seemed tinged with slight regret, but who can be sure with nonhumans? “I’ve never left this dimension.” Then his eyes lighted up. “Powering through the dimensional interphase must be sensational!”

“Powering through the dimensional interphase?” What’s he talking about? Is there more to skipping between worlds than I realized? What had I missed by losing consciousness when flitting from world to world? This realm had me bubbling with questions like a little child, but no one was giving me answers. Everyone seemed to treat me as if I wasn’t even there. The only consolation was that in the presence of these fearsome beings, I preferred to be ignored.

As usual, the aliens’ lip movements did not correspond with the words I was hearing. If my sound shell theory is correct, is there some form of invisible barrier around me through which the sound of aliens speaking in their native tongue does not penetrate? Could this same barrier act a little like a one way mirror, allowing me to see through it but rendering me invisible? But the animals could see me. Then again, they said nothing that needed translating. I found myself alternating between viewing my unanswered questions as fascinating mysteries and exasperating – even potentially dangerous – ignorance.

As I puzzled over being treated as if I were not there, I began to wonder what would happen if I jumped in the path of a moving alien. Would he walk right through me as if one of us – I’m not sure which – were a ghost. That was one experiment I wasn’t keen to perform.

Oblivious to my questions, the conversation continued. “It’s spectacular alright,” agreed Chebon. “And the galaxies aren’t bad, but the moment you touch down on that sin-infested planet – Ooooo.” He seemed to shudder in revulsion.

“Tell me about it!” begged the other alien excitedly.

“The human race is so perverse,” said Chebon, “You know, besides the heavenly sun, not one person on the entire planet is morally perfect!”

“ . . . the heavenly sun . . . person . . . morally perfect”? My mind raced. They can’t be talking about the sun! They must mean the son! But that raised more questions than ever. Who’s the son? Christians might think of Jesus, the Son of God, but they were referring to someone who is on earth right now. Who could that be?

“No one else on the entire plant is perfect?” repeated the newcomer. “I know that’s what they say, but it’s so hard to grasp. None?

If you soon find yourself wanting to ditch this book, you have an inkling of how furious I grew as this conversation unfolded. To allay your concerns now, however, would sabotage the drama. I can only ask you to endure this with me until things improve.

“Unbelievable isn’t it!” responded Chebon. I’ll tell you how dreadful things are. Imagine two earthlings hate someone. Both wish the person were dead. One would never dare commit murder, merely because he’s afraid of his society’s punishment for that crime. The other one is brave enough to ignore the penalty and commits murder. Most earthlings would regard the one fearing punishment as quite respectable and the fearless one as depraved.”

“Surely not!” There was what I guessed to a stunned look on his face. “Both passionately wish the person were dead and one is considered more moral because he’s a bigger coward?”

To hear them referring to us as earthlings made my blood boil. Right then, I did not understand why I reacted so strongly. Later, when I was less riled and I overheard other extraterrestrials using the word, I was finally able to identify a couple of reasons. The term made me feel like an invisible extra in a B-grade sci-fi movie. That detonated an unwanted assortment of negative feelings. Additionally, the word felt to me seemed somewhat condescending. I despised the way their very appearance made me feel inferior. That predisposed me to react against the slightest hint that they might think of themselves as being superior in any other way.

Only as I write this, however, do I think I have found the key reason for detesting the word: my mind was playing tricks on me. I now think my exaggerated annoyance at a single word was my mind’s attempt to excuse the inexplicable intensity of my emotional reaction – or to divert my attention from how irrational my anger was – over what they were saying about human morality. It is one thing for me to give lip service to a Christian doctrine or to acknowledge human failings; it is quite another to hear otherworldly aliens – irreconcilably different beings with no emotional or genetic ties to us – slandering the entire human race. If we criticize our race we are, of necessity, including ourselves in our comments. They were not.

As they continued it was annoyingly hard to refute their logic but it was maddening – no, it was more than that, it hurt – to hear aliens criticizing my own species. It was not so much that I vehemently disagreed with their assessment but it made it ten times harder to hear when it came from someone who has never had to walk in our shoes.

“Disgusting, isn’t it!” replied Chebon. “Their morality is so crude – it makes my skin creep.”

Hmmm . . . “makes my skin creep” . . . I’d have expected that to be a human expression. I tried to convince myself I needed to determine just how adapted to my linguistic preferences the translation I was being subjected could be. Unlike focusing on the word earthling, however, I was at least partially aware of what I think was my real motive. This time it was not an unconscious attempt to make my fury feel justified. On the contrary, so offensive was what I was hearing that I was trying to keep my cool by distracting myself.

“Do you understand sexuality?” continued Chebon.

The other alien’s eyes seemed to light up even more than usual, “Oh, yes! I’ve studied it. Fascinating!” He was almost whispering. “I know all about the peculiar reproductive powers of earthly creatures. It’s astounding – sharing in divine creativity not by using one’s mind, but one’s body, while at the same time achieving a sort of sacred, mystical union with another creature. It’s kind of like creating a new song and yet it’s a living being! There was awe and excitement in his voice. “Creating life! Can you imagine it? What a mind-balking, fearful task! And for humans the being that emerges is in the very image of the Stupendous Lord of Beauty! The result does not just honor God, but is in the very imagine a God! What a sacred, privileged responsibility!

“It’s like effortlessly sculpturing a masterpiece, using material from your own body. It’s like fashioning a most intricate, ingenious work of art while you sleep. It’s two beings so delighting in each other that they fuse together for life and that very act produces life. Two become one and suddenly there is more than two. They die to individuality and from that death springs life. In fact, their love explodes until they teem with life.”

“You sound almost envious!” laughed Chebon. “I assure you, no one would envy what they have become! You know about the perversions?”

The alien’s face darkened – almost literally. “Yes,” he said soberly, “How could they do that to themselves? What could ever drive anyone to defile oneself and trash such a priceless gift?”

“I have no idea. I don’t think any of us will ever understand depravity,” commented Chebon. “They call rape a terrible crime . . .”

“Right . . .” replied the other one, as if wondering where this was leading.

“. . . and yet some have the audacity to call it ‘love’ to seduce – to entice someone to willingly engage in adultery or fornication!”

“That can’t be right!” He stared at Chebon as if expecting him to correct himself, but Chebon stared right back. “Trying to make someone a willing partner in defilement – threatening someone’s eternity by attempting the sealing of a lifelong bond without lifelong commitment, or violating someone’s marital union – they call that defilement love?

“Oh yes! It’s more prevalent in some societies than others but many humans who consider themselves moral actually get a buzz out of encouraging lust by the way they dress and behave. Many think it’s normal. Some even think it’s healthy! They’re blind to that evil and yet consider themselves moral just because they have an inkling of how hideous rape is.”

“How perverse!”

“Isn’t their behavior sickening!” said Chebon triumphantly. “Many seducers consider themselves better than rapists even though, as atrocious and emotionally wounding as rape is, it does not make the victim a willing participant in sin and so it leaves their spirit undefiled. I could spend earth-days listing their hypocrisies, Meurel.”

Meurel! So that’s his name! I felt as if I had fitted another part of the jigsaw. Okay, I admit it: I was trying to distract myself in an effort to constrain the anger churning within me. Their pompous, self-righteous conversation was tearing me apart. It is not that what they were saying was totally foreign to my belief system but hearing it from alien goodie-goodie two-shoes was infuriating.

“Most of them realize it’s wrong to break their country’s imperfect laws,” continued Chebon, “but they think it’s quite acceptable to break their Creator’s perfect laws. They might acknowledge it’s wrong to exploit another human, but they think it quite all right to exploit their Maker! They are constantly plundering the planet he made, breathing the air he created, eating the food he’s provided for them, living in bodies he’s given them, yet they snub him and consider themselves self-made people. Every good thing they have ever experienced comes from the One they selfishly ignore. Even the sleazy illusion of pleasure they feel when sinning is possible only because the Holy One gave them the capacity to experience pleasure. Yet they ignore their loving Creator and even have the audacity to blame him when such a lifestyle doesn’t work!”

My overburdened mind staggered to contemplate how alien their concept of God might be. They clearly believe in a loving Creator, I told myself.

“Corrupt to the core!” commented Meurel.

“Utterly. There’s no basic difference between them and Lucifer. Like the devil himself, each of them has violated the laws of the Righteous One,” continued Chebon.

My blood pressure rose. I was too scared even to reveal myself, let alone confront these intimidating beings but how do I force back the anger about to spew out of me? Those arrogant, oversized . . . To my annoyance, I couldn’t rummage around in my befuddled brain quick enough to find an appropriately insulting name. Finally, blurting out all I could manage at such short notice, I shrieked in my head . . . buffoons!.

“And among the most atrocious,” added Chebon, “are those who think themselves godly.”

“What?” I thought Meurel seemed a little incredulous, but hoping to interpret an alien’s non-verbal signals is a minefield. I might have been merely transferring to him my own feelings, because I was certainly ready to dismiss the entire conversation as conceited nonsense.

“Oh, yes! It is not pagans or criminals or common folk who will arrange their Messiah’s murder but devout Bible scholars and revered religious leaders.”

“ . . . their Messiah’s murder . . . devout Bible scholars . . . ” Is he talking about Jesus? I panicked. What if this isn’t the Twenty-First Century? Somehow that felt even scarier than being in another galaxy. Space travel is at least on the fringe of human technology – as if maybe I had the teeniest chance of returning home with some human help. Time travel is disturbingly different.

My mind was in overdrive. If they are talking about God and his Son (not sun) Jesus, could that Palace have been heaven after all? Could these superhumans actually be angels?

I had already rejected the notion but now I felt driven to revisit it. If they were really angels, I’m not too comfortable with applying the word to them. Regardless of what those of biblical notoriety actually looked like, depictions in art and how I imagined them to look had little similarity to the ethereal giants I was looking at. Calling them angels is almost as nondescript as calling a Tyrannosaurus rex a lizard and is made even more inane by one’s knowledge of such creatures coming only from books and not from the horror of actually being terrorized by one.

Despite seeming an almost meaningless term, luminaries or perhaps celestial beings somehow seems more appropriate for these otherworldly lifeforms. For ease of communication I might use the word angel, but any familiarity we might have with the word belies how heart-stopping these supernatural dignitaries were. Like such words as infinity, perfection and holiness, we bandy the word around until it has a deceptive ring of familiarity. We lull ourselves into the arrogance of forgetting we have nothing but the slightest conception of what we are talking about.

My mind was still wobbling. Hey! If they really are angels it’s no wonder that sexuality is such an issue with them. Jesus said angels aren’t sexual. It was only then that the uniqueness of each of these beings struck me as peculiar. Whereas sexual reproduction creates a natural variability, we all know that cloning produces more or less identical offspring. It was clear to me that these beings, although not created by sexual reproduction, are not clones in any sense that I am familiar with the term.

How were they created? Why did God go to all the effort to make every one of them unique? Surely we humans would have mass-produced them. I felt this must say something significant about how astoundingly superior to us God is, but I had to let the thought go because the conversation continued.

“It has always been, and will always be, that the ones most deceived and most hardened against the love and mercy of the forgiving Judge are those who arrogantly consider themselves better than others. These are the people who whitewash their own lust and want to stone homosexual perverts. By the hypocritical example they set, they send children to hell and then rage against abortionists who take innocent life. They defame the Flawless One by claiming to represent him while being filled with pride, selfishness and callousness. As the faithful Son says, they make their followers twice as fit for hell as they themselves are.”

I seethed. I’ve seen how convincingly Chebon had disguised himself. Could these beings actually be cunningly disguised demons sent to undermine my faith? I haven’t detected any deceit but maybe they are just insidiously skilled at it. Hey! Isn’t disguising themselves as a human a form of deceit? And if they’re so perfect what are they doing deceiving people into thinking they are human? I can’t trust these beings!

Another, even more disturbing but unlikely possibility was beginning to dawn: could my fury be masking a conscience that knew I was guilty of the vilest hypocrisy?

Chebon’s tirade was relentless. “Many speak continually of the Glorious One and yet seek not him but wealth, fame and human approval. They think themselves Godlike but in utter violation of his heart they hate their enemies and despise people who are not like them. They exalt themselves despite knowing the promise of the Faithful One that whoever does this will be brought low.”

Whether justified or not, my indignant fury kept compounding by the second.

“Even the few who pride themselves in condemning sexual perversion are still so perverted that if they trace back their family tree far enough, each of them is the product of lust or rape. Each human owes his or her very existence to perversion! And even without that hypocrisy and even disregarding all the times they themselves have lusted, they are not just sexual perverts but spiritual perverts. Every human is someone who is in the very image of the Holy One, acting like the devil himself. What could be more perverse? And the entire planet is infested with them!”

And I had thought I was angry earlier on! The volcano within me was ready to blow apart.

“That’s appalling!” commented Meurel. “And the irreligious are actually more righteous than the religious?”

“Oh, if only that were true, Meurel! Usually the irreligious self-righteously point the finger at the failings of the religious, only to try to turn the spotlight off their own dirty conscience and in a vain attempt to justify their own wickedness. Often, for example, they accuse religious leaders of being money-grubbing only because they are jealous. They want fame and riches themselves. Some even wish they could come up with their own scheme to rip people off. Hypocrites love deluding themselves into thinking they are taking the moral high ground. They accuse others of hypocrisy and of the very sins they commit in their hearts or wish they could get away with.”

With what might have been just the slightest hint of tenderness, Chebon added, “Nevertheless, there are non-believers who humbly acknowledge their wrong-doing and genuinely want to be righteous. Anyone acting this way is light-years ahead of those who accuse others.”

As Chebon’s tone softened, something appalling seized me. It was as if I looked in the mirror and for the first time in my life saw who I really was. And what I saw repulsed me.

I remembered back in the Palace my expectation of reward for my clean living, intensive Bible study and prolonged times of prayer, sacrificial tithing, witnessing and on and on I could go. From early childhood I had been devoted to Christ. I had kept myself pure – by my measure, not God’s. Not only was I still a virgin, I had never once tasted alcohol, smoked, sampled drugs, gambled or even sworn. Even among exemplary Christians, such a record is so rare these days that I feel tempted to tone it down here lest you think I am exaggerating.

Now I felt disgusted by my foolish arrogance in thinking I deserved a reward. By divine standards – even, it seems, by angelic standards – I was as depraved as any other degenerate human. I had always acknowledged the theory that this applied to me before being born again, but what I had missed is that it applied to me right now. And thinking myself better than others made me even worse than any I looked down on. I loathed myself.

An incident in my youth began bobbing on the surface of my consciousness. Whenever I used to read in Isaiah, “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags,” I would picture in my mind a smelly, grease-covered rag you might find in a mechanic’s workshop. That was daft, of course. There was no engine grease in Bible Times. Eventually, I discovered that the English word “filthy,” rather than “dirty,” was very deliberately chosen to translate the Hebrew word because the original referred not simply to dirt but to disgusting bodily filth.

My thoughts zipped to the Apostle Paul saying he regarded his loftiest attempts at righteousness as dung. One of the first New Testament Greek lexicons I ever owned said the word Paul chose was used in his era for offal – the innards of dead animals. That’s not a pretty picture. No longer was this an object of academic curiosity, however. I writhed, knowing just how much it applied to me. To draw attention to my ‘good’ living is as disgusting as proudly displaying used toilet paper, saying, “Look what I’ve done!”

Chebon continued his tirade. “Of course, genuine believers don’t look down on people. Filled with the beauty of the One they adore, they are tender-hearted and forgiving and love their enemies. By continually humbling themselves before the Everlasting Lord and maintaining a childlike dependence upon him, they remain free from the love of money and other sins that blind and enslave.”

Those words hit me hard. For the first time ever, I no longer felt like a “genuine believer.”

Chebon kept going. “Nevertheless, believers or not, all humans keep breaking the Exalted One’s heart by acting contrary to his loving ways.”

I was still far from coming to terms with any of this when, though I suspect I was still physically present in the forest, I was somehow mentally transported back to the endless Palace. How this happened defies explanation. It was not a memory, nor imagination, and it seemed as real as if I were physically there.

Though shocked beyond words, I was nonetheless relieved, as it seemed I was being given another chance. There was no time to bask in that, however. A ‘sparkler’ hit and instantly I was sent hurtling back to the chaos of being over my head; swapped by a torrent of pleasures beyond human ability to endure. It felt as if I would explode with ecstasy. “God, help me!” I cried, almost in terror.

The palatial throng kept celebrating with wild gymnastics as though I did not exist.

Everything was the same as before, except for me. Now that I had at least a slight conception of my depravity, I felt as out of place in that sacred Palace as someone covered with the most repulsive filth being draped with exquisite million dollar clothes. “I don’t deserve this!” I screamed in horror.

I sensed, in the perfection of the sensations coursing through my body, a presence so mortifyingly holy that never before had I felt such shame. It was like the most powerful searchlight illuminating the dark corners of my life and exposing hideous filth I had never known was there. For me to be enjoying otherworldly pleasures felt as wrong as a sadistic torturer being honored above Mother Teresa; the most disgusting coward being ticker-taped as a hero; the laziest fool being rewarded with endless success; the stingiest, most selfish person being lauded as the greatest philanthropist.

Somehow words were fired into my brain: It isn’t right to give what is holy to dogs! Suddenly, it felt as if those words encapsulated a fundamental law of the universe; a basic principle upon which the entire fabric of creation was built. It seemed breaking this law would threaten the continued existence of everything. It felt as though the holy and the profane were such opposites that if, at any point in the universe, they were to touch, it would ignite a chain reaction so explosive that everything in every world would disintegrate. But for me to be delirious with pleasure made it seem worth the gravest of risks. I wanted to flee but I wanted to stay, even if it killed me and destroyed the entire cosmos as well. How depraved is that!

I was a stray mongrel, a flea-infested mutt, muddying the snow-white carpet of heaven. I knew I should slink away in utter humiliation. Instead, I mustered all my strength and determined to gorge myself in pleasures I didn’t deserve. “God, have mercy,” I screamed.

Another celestial ‘sparkler’ hit me. This one was vaguely reminiscent of luxuriating in the best warm shower you could ever imagine, only it made me tingle with joy in ways I have never known. Then followed one that felt more like the softest feathers but was delighting me far beyond that a million feathers could ever do. Another hit. This one reminded me of warm snowflakes, but left all earthly comparison far behind.

Nothing in me is Christlike, came the thought. I must back off immediately or I’ll fry like a single volt motor on a ten thousand volt power line. Another ‘sparkler’ hit. Would it kill me?

Everything went black.

Continued




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