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Chapter 5: The Gloom
I came to and opened my eyes. I found myself staring mindlessly at my arm. Finally, it registered that I had lost my “suntan.” I was a little disappointed about that, to be honest, but I was happier to discover that I had my watch and usual clothes back. I lazily felt for my wallet and noted that I had it. What use is that in a foreign place? Then my mind leapt. What if I’ve arrived somewhere where I can use it? I excitedly looked around, only to feel myself slump more than ever. Wherever I was, it was not earth. The vegetation and what I presumed to be giant fungi were undeniably alien. Not only was the sky brown, there were two moons in it. One of them looked about one and a half times the size of earth’s moon and the other was about a third the size of the larger. Having no idea how distant they were, it was pointless trying to speculate about their real size. They seemed to contribute to the light – everything had three vague shadows – but the result was better called gloom than light.
In an alien environment I could only resort to a wild guess, but to me the place seemed degraded. Parts seemed overgrown and yet there were also bare patches. Some bushes seemed stripped of leaves. Some trees looked dead.
Plain-colored blurs, quickly vanishing along the ground, and screeches that might have been from birds, indicated that animal life existed, but everything seemed terrified of me. Does this mean there are predators here? My heart thumped. Could I end up on their menu?
There was a creepy feel to the place. The contrast made me appreciate even more the forest I had earlier visited. An insect bit me. I instinctively slapped it. It had drawn blood and I had killed it. I felt no remorse, only revulsion at the blood-sucking bug. Other hideous, insect-like creatures began annoying me.
I felt cold. I tried to keep moving in an attempt to warm up, but moving was difficult. Some of the plants had thorns. Could some prickles not only rip my skin but be poisonous? Maybe I was being paranoid again, but this was certainly no paradise.
I thought I heard voices. Having no better plan, I headed towards the sound. I had only taken a few steps when I fell. Wondering what had tripped me, I looked down and was shocked to see a vine twisting around my leg. Suddenly, small, leech-like creatures emerged from the base of the plant, about ten feet from my leg. They began swarming towards me like ants on the attack. Is this some deadly symbiotic relationship? Does the plant catch and the swarm kill? Does the swarm get the blood and the plant get the carcass as fertilizer? I wasn’t keen to find out.
To my alarm, however, my leg refused to budge. Thankfully, the vine had already extended as far as it could, so it could not twist higher up my body. I tried to unwrap the vine, but it was digging so deeply into my flesh that I could not get a grip on it. Conscious of the slow but relentless march of the swarm, I frantically looked around for a suitable rock. Finding one, I began pounding that murderous vine, hoping to hack through it at a point just below my leg. To my dismay, all I seemed to be doing was hammering that part of the stem deeper into the ground. I desperately needed an anvil. There were plenty of bones – I didn’t care to wonder why there were so many – but none were hard enough. A quick glance at the slowly approaching swarm increased my alarm. Finally I spied a rock that might be just within reach, but the swarm was almost up to it. I had to risk it. I stretched full length and still could not reach it.
Not only was the elusive rock dangerously close to the swarm, I was about to discover I had foolishly overlooked the implications of it also being closer to the base of the plant. A movement caught my eye. Another branch of the vine was creeping towards me! I guessed it to be about six seconds away from reaching my neck, but my estimate was based on the hope that it did not have the ability to creep within striking range and then pounce.
I quickly grabbed an old bone to extend my reach. I still couldn’t reach the rock. I found a longer bone and at last managed to drag the rock towards me, just before the swarm reached it.
Rock in hand, I quickly slithered as far away from the swarm and that creeping branch as my trapped leg would allow. I was now at a different angle to where the swarm had been heading. A chill swept me as I watched them immediately change direction so that once again they were heading straight for me.
What are they honing in on? Body heat? Smell? How can I confuse them? I had ideas, but every one required materials I did not have. I was as stripped of physical resources as a wild animal – except for my clothes. Hey! Clothes . . . smell! There is something I can do! I dived into my pocket, grabbed my hanky and quickly rubbed it on both my armpits. Then, in panic-driven stupidity I threw it towards the swarm. Not surprisingly, it was too light to go the distance, and even if it worked it would only draw them closer to me. To my relief, the throw was so pathetic that the hanky was still within easy reach. I retrieved it, tied it to a bone and deliberately stopped for a precious second to consider the best place to lob it. My throw was astray, but near enough. My smelly hanky seemed to distract a few of the swarm, but most continued their march towards me.
I sighed, then remembered that I now had a second rock. Placing the flatter rock under the vine stem, I furiously pounded on top of it with the other rock. This was far more effective, but progress was still agonizingly slow. Wow! Is this stem tough! I guess it has to be if it is going to trap animals that would otherwise bite through it. In fact, what stops them from biting through? Is it poisonous? The swarm’s march was relentless. It might have been slow by most standards, but the distance it had to cover was terrifyingly short and, most disturbing of all, it was a speeding, unstoppable freight train, relative to my actions. As I pounded with even greater desperation I grew surprisingly short of breath. I put it down to sheer terror. My arms were tiring but the thought of what that swarm might do to me spurred me to pound and hack and scrape even more feverishly. I was trying to focus my efforts on just one point of the stem. Finally I had pulverized that section until nothing was left but stringy, fibrous material. The swarm was almost on me. I pulled as hard as I could. The fibers refused to snap.
I kept pounding. Then the rock broke. Oh, no! I looked with fear at the swarm. It was now just seconds from me. I threw bones at the swarm, but this tactic had no effect. I looked back at the shattered rock. Wait! Maybe the break has created a sharp edge! It hadn’t. I tried sawing with it anyway. I pulled hard on the vine. It might as well have been steel.
I looked at the pulverized section of the stem below my leg. The part around my leg must surely be lifeless by now. At last the obvious hit me. In a flash I decided it was time to change tactics. Starting from the lower part of the vine, I began untwisting it from my leg. To my relief it was working but some of the swarm was already on me. The instant I was free I flipped in a backward summersault to get as far from the swarm as quickly as I could. I ran a few paces and examined my legs. A few of the leech-like things were still clinging to me. Some were beginning to bite. I flicked some off, ran a few more steps and examined my legs again.
As soon as I felt safe, I flopped to the ground; chest heaving, heart pounding.
Deeply shaken, a part of me had lost all desire to investigate the distant voices that I could still vaguely hear. Rationally, however, I knew that in such a dangerous environment, I needed help. If there were intelligent life here, they would know better than me how to survive. Even if I just stayed out of sight but close to them, I would probably be safer.
The unpleasant environment had lowered my confidence that I would find innocence anywhere in this world. So I considered it wise to sneak up to whatever was making those sounds, and size them up before deciding my next move.
Progress was slow. While eying with suspicion every plant as a potential death trap, I found myself flaying at flying, insect-like critters that were taking an unwelcome interest in my blood, and yet feeling the need to proceed as noiselessly as possible. When I had crept close enough, I peered through the weird-looking leaves and spied them. To my immense relief, they were angels. I didn’t recognize the few that I could see clearly but that was not surprising. There were countless thousands of angels in the endless palace and these here were as beautiful as any I’ve ever seen. It was safe to show myself. I stood up.
“We don’t want them getting any crazy ideas about Christ being God. I’ll tolerate a few thinking he’s a great teacher – maybe even a prophet – but nothing more. You got that?”
Eh? Did I hear right? I panicked. What’s going on? I quickly ducked behind the strange bushes again. Have I been wrong about Jesus? They are angels, aren’t they? I sneaked another look. They were angels all right. Then I recalled the apostle Paul writing something about if even an angel preaches a different gospel, let him be accursed. My mind was reeling. The beautiful angel continued.
“As usual, we want as many lies out there as we can get. That’s the beauty of lying – you can have a million lies for every boring truth. What endless scope for ingenious creativity! Aren’t love and truth sickeningly dull! Where’s the challenge and excitement in such dreary predictability?”
“But wouldn’t it be better to have one really good lie that all of us reinforce?” asked one of the listeners, timidly.
“No, it wouldn’t, you insubordinate heap of trash!” bellowed the first angel. “Do you want another beating?”
The angel who had asked the question cowered. I had never seen an angel look like that. In fact, as I looked from face to face, they had the unmistakable fearsome appearance of angels but even the bully somehow seemed to lack an element of nobility and confidence that I had come to expect in angelic facial expressions and body language.
“While these suckers are skirting around some lies, priding themselves in avoiding them, they’ll fall for another lie and never know it. Let them see through some lies and they’ll think they’re smart enough to see through all lies without reliance upon God. Works every time!”
“Please, sir . . .” said one, feebly.
“Well, almost every time!” snapped the first angel, showing obvious annoyance.
“Please, sir . . .” he repeated.
“What is it, you pathetic blob of dirt!”
“These people are not like pagans, they know the Scriptures.”
“Ha! Why do you think I keep getting you to study those despicable writings? You haven’t been slacking off, have you? Because if you have . . .”
“Oh, no, sir! I’ve studied hard.”
“Well, why do you think I’ve been hounding you about this? Know your enemy, vacuum head, know your enemy. Know their Scriptures better than they do. Confuse them. Keep whispering wrong interpretations into their minds – interpretations that will inflate their egos, making them think they’re ever so clever, or interpretations that appeal to their lust or greed or laziness or whatever.”
“Excuse me, sir,” said another, “but some of them sincerely pray to God for understanding of the Scriptures.”
“Okay, we’ve got a problem there, but they are only a tiny minority. We’ll have to keep telling them how good they are at understanding deep scriptural truths.”
“Please, sir . . .”
“What, now?” he snapped.
“Won’t that just encourage them?”
“Oh, why do I waste my time with you! No, bug brain, it won’t encourage them! It will fill them with self-confidence. Before long they’ll think they can slacken off in seeking God for understanding of his Word.”
“Brilliant, sir, just brilliant!”
“Of course it’s brilliant! That’s why I’m me and you’re you!”
I’d seen enough. If these powerful angels were quaking before the slightly bigger one, he’d make ground beef out of me. But could I retreat without snapping a twig or doing something to give myself away?
The bossy one continued: “Exploit all their weaknesses. Take, for example, their prejudices. Play on the fact that Christ was brought up in a despised village. Hush up the fact that he was actually born elsewhere – in the prophesied location. Exploit the leaders’ fear of a popular uprising and of the occupying army’s response. Keep whispering in their ears that he might instigate such violence. Make the leaders jealous of his popularity. Keep praising their traditions, whenever these traditions deviate from the spirit of God’s law. Take full advantage of every way in which Christ’s behavior differs from these traditions. Keep them so focused on nitpicking the letter of the law that they never realize they have drifted from real love.”
“Sir . . . ,” began an angel. He might have been slightly smaller than his instructor, but he was still massively built, perhaps eight-foot tall, with spectacular looks. “Their weaknesses that we should exploit are hate, prejudice, fear, greed, jealousy, selfishness, prayerlessness, trusting themselves rather than God, and so on, right?”
“Yes, you slime ball! Haven’t you got that into your head yet?”
It was pathetic to see this magnificent being cringing as he tried to complete his question. “Then, please, sir, if these are their weaknesses, how come all of us live like that?”
I once told some friends about this and they burst into laughter. I envy them. The smaller angel was about to be tortured. Even now, the haunting memory of the terror on his face sends shudders ripping through me, ruining all chance of me scrounging any amusement out of this incident. The memory remains like a horror movie in which a corpse is dumped beneath murky waters. No matter how much I want it to stay hidden, it inevitably ends up floating to the surface when least expected, chilling me once again.
The bully’s face distorted with rage so terrifying as to make a snarling wolf look like a church mouse.
“No, no! Please, your highness, sir, I am just trying to learn.”
The distraction seemed the ideal time for me to get away, but I think I was running more in terror than out of careful planning, especially as the smaller angel’s blood-curdling cries began. Yes, I still have nightmares about those tormented screeches.
I kept running, crashing through undergrowth. I looked back one last time to ensure I was not being followed. It was then that I must have slammed into the massive angel. Don’t argue with me over whether angels are physical. Maybe I hit his forcefield or something. All I know is that I was on the ground, groveling at the feet of a nine-foot angel, whose face was clouded with hate. His evil presence was so overwhelming that I longed to shrink, transmute into a cockroach, then slither under the nearest rock in shame-faced defeat.
“Well, well! What have we here?” he snarled. “It’s been ages since I had my very own prisoner.”
I was still panting uncontrollably from my run. There’s never an iron lung around when you need one, came the thought. Despite the distance and my continual puffing I could still hear the other angel’s tortured screams. If they do that to their own . . . If such a powerful angel is reduced to such . . . I couldn’t bear to think of the implications.
I slammed shut my eyes. God, HELP! Get me out of here! I opened my eyes to verify that I was now home or in some paradise. Nothing had happened! Again I shut my eyes. NOW! I peeked a look. I’d settle for any place other than at the feet of that ogre. I’m still here! I cried out to God. NOW, P-L-E-A-S-E! Still nothing. God, you got me into this, GET ME OUT!
“Kiss my feet!” demanded my captor.
His bare feet were plastered with mud and filth. He had obviously stepped in a variety of animal droppings over a long time. I doubt if he had washed for years. The stench made me want to vomit. What I was being asked to kiss must have been writhing with enough germs to kill an army. He used no force or threat. I knew what he was capable of. That was enough. I kissed his feet, in between gasps for breath.
“Now repeat after me,” he ordered, “I am the lowest scum in the universe.”
You are the lowest . . . I might have felt a rebel on the inside, but unspeakable horrors threatened like a knife to my throat. “I am – (gasp) – the lowest – (gasp) – scum in – (gasp) – the universe.”
“I exist only to serve my master.”
“I exist – (gasp) – only to – (gasp) – serve my – (gasp) –master.”
“I hate God for abandoning me.”
I couldn’t get the words out. I think it was more exhaustion than heroism.
“Doesn’t matter,” he snapped, “God’s no use to you here!”
“Get on your feet!” said the tyrant who was my new slavemaster, “You’re coming with me, plaything!”
What can I do? There’s no way I can outrun him. I don’t know if I’ll ever stop puffing from my last run! At my best I couldn’t outfight even the weakest angel I’ve seen, let alone this brute!
Yes, I knew all the theory. In Jesus’ name, demons should be subject to me. I had thought of demons as nasty little critters that I might have a fighting chance with, if only I could somehow muster enough faith – and energy – to shout loud enough to bluff them. But these demented beasts were monsters! They were totally out of my league.
I staggered to my feet and meekly followed.
He brought me to the other angels. “Look what I’ve got!” he proudly exclaimed.
The others seemed envious. Some came up and handled me. I felt dirtier than I’ve felt in my entire life.
“Where does he come from?” asked one of them.
“Dunno. Haven’t interrogated him yet.”
“Where are you from?” demanded one of them. The intensity and violence in his stare made me wonder how close I was to heart failure.
“E-earth,” I stammered. Their faces filled with skepticism. I knew I was about to be beaten.
“I want the time-space coordinates NOW,” he snapped.
Yeah, . . . right! “Er – um – ahh . . .”
“Don’t mess with me,” screamed the angel, in hate-crazed fury.
I panicked. “Please,” I begged, “I don’t know what’s been happening to me. I’ve been taken from world to world against my will. I’ve been here less than an hour. I don’t even know where I am. Is this hell?”
At the mention of hell the angels looked uncomfortable.
“He really must be confused,” said one.
“No, this isn’t hell,” growled my new master, “but when we end up there, be assured that you’ll be keeping us company. We’ll make sure you get every bit of torment that’s dished out to us.”
The others laughed, nervously.
You mean it’s going to get worse? I thought I was a Christian! What went wrong? Why didn’t God protect me?
Hadn’t my master – hate using that word – said that God is no use to me here? Was he bluffing? He certainly seemed confident.
“Where did you say you are from?” asked my master incredulously.
“Planet Earth,” I said, worrying about where this would lead.
“Earth? As in dirt?”
I nodded meekly.
“You’ve got to be kidding! Who in their right mind would call their own planet, ‘Dirt?’ ”
“Well . . .” I’d never had to answer such a question before.
My master started poking at a gadget he held in his hand. I’d never noticed it before. “Ah, here we are! ‘Stilas, third planet from the star Seutone 462, known by its most advanced life forms as Earth.’ He looked at me, “Earth? What an unimaginative name! Surely symptomatic of a dull, inferior breed. You do breed don’t you?” He stared hard at me with eyes that seemed like cold blades of steel.
Words continued to elude me.
“Let’s see . . .” he fiddled with his gadget again. “Yes . . formed by sexual reproduction . . . gestation period approx 4.65 quintones or 270 revolutions of their planet.”
He looked up. “Well!” he announced cheerfully, “We’re going to have such fun together, aren’t we?”
I said nothing.
“Now what are we going to feed you, my pet?” he said with mock affection. He thought for a moment or two. “I know! You’d love a nice meal of slugs, wouldn’t you!”
Oh, no! Does he mean real, live slugs?
“Ooooo! You’re so evil,” gushed one of the underlings. Apparently, that was high praise. How I hated those sickeningly beautiful sadists!
“Oh, and don’t be concerned if you have difficulty keeping the little critters down,” my master said sweetly, “If that happens, you’ll enjoy the double treat of eating your own vomit.”
I was sent off to look under rocks for slugs and bring them back to the group, presumably so that they could all enjoy seeing me eat them alive. No one followed me. The power of these beings! They’re not even bothering to guard me. I bow to their every wish. Though superficially beautiful, each of them seemed like a dozen giant crocodiles, cobras and grizzlies melded into one terrifying mass, pumped with superhuman intelligence and propelled by unspeakable evil.
Over and over, my new master’s words ran through my head, “God’s no use to you here.” Suddenly I stopped. Hang on! God is God. There can be no place in the universe where God isn’t. Wherever I am, God must be here, too.
I could never blame God for abandoning me. Only a conceited, self-infatuated fool would think he deserves anything from God, after the way we’ve each treated him. But hasn’t God promised never to forsake us? Didn’t I once, in the blasé state of not being in a crisis, say that God has staked the integrity of his character on that promise? If only such a naïve view of life worked here!
A saying I had once composed came to mind. “The only difference between the valley and the mountaintop is how far you can see. You should walk through the valley according to what you saw from the mountaintop.” Is that the empty platitude it now seems? Or is it my only link to reality? Bah! I prayed for deliverance and nothing happened. Can anything be more real than those demonic beasts that towered over me?
It seemed an eternity ago, but I could still vaguely remember those “sparklers”. Right now, that weird event seems more a delusion than a mountaintop experience, but if it held any truth at all, it’s that spiritual life is never a question of what anyone deserves. It is solely a matter of what Jesus has done for every single human being. According to the theory, all that any of us need do is to let God have his way in our lives – let him forgive us and set us free. Ah, free – I could sure use some of that right now! Anyhow, it seems the wildest theory in the universe right now. Santa Claus is more believable.
I’ve told others to trust God and ignore their feelings, but I’m not grappling with feelings here. I’m face to face with the grimmest of realities. The theory is that God is too loving and faithful to have abandoned me. Then why am I in this mess? I didn’t ask to be here! I didn’t turn my back on God. The brain-numbing reality is that I prayed and nothing happened.
I recalled what someone once told me. His assertion was that God loves us so much that, as a father wants his favorite son to become like him, so God wants us to become like him. I could swallow that bit. It was the rest that was harder. To be regal like God, the theory continues, we must exercise divine authority. (Even at the best of times that seemed to me too much like hard work.) The Almighty has given us that authority, but it won’t make us behave even slightly God-like if, through fear, ignorance, or whatever, we never use it. So, claimed this guy, to help us grow up and take upon ourselves the dignity God wants us to enjoy, he lets us get into situations he knows we can get out of, when we use the authority he has given us. Then, goes the assertion, God restrains himself from delivering us, waiting for us to learn how to be God-like.
Another beautiful theory! I sarcastically told myself, as I found a slug under a rock.
Face it! I chided myself, The theory might seem as real as Mary Poppins right now, but it’s your one and only hope. I shuddered to think what would be involved in being that tyrant’s plaything. What if it’s up to me whether I remain enslaved? What if I could have remained free if only I hadn’t given in to intimidation?
No human is a match for these crazed beasts! I argued with myself. They’re so vicious and unpredictable that they’re even afraid of each other!
Then came the counter-argument: If the Almighty were to fight on my behalf, the size of the foe would be irrelevant. But is God on my side? I thought for a moment, then carefully rehearsed the theory to myself in a way least likely to devastate my flimsy faith. Any suggestion that God’s acceptance depended on me would scuttle me. The theory is that God chose to be on my side, not because I’m good or desirable, but because he’s so good and loving that the Son of God has gone to the extreme of sacrificing his life to make it possible.
This was just making enough sense to be half convincing when another crushing thought came thundering through my brain. What if the era I’m now in is some time prior to Jesus’ sacrifice? I pondered the dilemma and hoped it didn’t matter. Never had I needed so desperately those peculiar Scriptures about Jesus being slain before the foundation of the earth. I felt mildly confident about it because for years I had been convinced that Jesus offered his sacrifice as much for the generations who lived and died before he came to earth, as he did for those who were born after he returned to Heaven. That seems to fit snugly with the full teaching of Scripture. I recalled a key verse from somewhere in Hebrews that says that if Jesus’ single death had not been sufficient for all generations, he would have had to suffer over and over since the dawn of human history. Of necessity, the destiny-determining death and resurrection of Christ occurred in a specific point in time and space, but it was an act of the Eternal Lord.
Drawing comfort from the words, “Eternal Lord,” I tried to convince myself that with an eternal God, timing was not an issue. If I could somehow bounce from era to era, surely the Almighty could.
Besides, I assured myself, Jesus and his disciples cast out demons before his death and resurrection. Remembering the disciples had the unfortunate effect of reminding me of at least one instance in which they had failed to cast out a demon and Jesus had to rescue them. I tried to push this aside and spur myself on, I must do my utmost to exercise my Christ-bought authority. There’s no other option! I can’t outrun them. I can’t imagine myself outsmarting them. And even if I escaped, where would I go? I’d still be in this God-forsaken . . . In my delicate state of mind, “God-forsaken” was an unfortunate choice of words.
I lifted a sizable rock and recoiled in horror. Under it was a hideous centipede-like creature. Its every leg was the size of the centipedes I was used to on earth. When I felt I was a safe distance away and my heart finally began to return to its normal rhythm, I reverted to my mental wrestling. But for this to have the slimmest chance of working I need faith! On a scale of one to ten, my faith must be around minus 100 right now. I’m afraid even to utter a word in their presence.
Then the Scripture came to haunt me: “Faith comes by hearing . . . the word of Christ.” Fat lot of good that is – cut off from the Bible and from all preachers!
A mere four chapters a day gets you through the Bible in a year. I had at least the memory of a few Scriptures and over my life I had read through the entire Bible many times, but it seemed easier to give up in despair than to try to dredge Scripture up from the murky depths of my memory and then try to build up faith with the fragments. Being a defeatist is about the only thing I’m good at! My faith has always been pathetic. I’ve never had any experience with demons. Over all my life I’ve had little success with answered prayer. If I was like that in the times when I had so much going for me, it’s ridiculous to think I could do better now that things are a thousand times harder.
Then I returned to the inescapable reality: If my chance of successfully using my faith to get out of here is only one in a thousand, it is still my only chance. I might as well focus all my efforts on that one, solitary chance.
I recalled Paul writing that absolutely nothing could separate us from God’s love. Did he include demons in his list? Can’t remember. I think it was something along those lines.
“ . . . in God I trust; I will not be afraid.” That fragment of the Bible was just beginning to pump a little faith into me when a bolt of panic shot through me. Hey, doesn’t the psalmist go on to indicate he’s referring to fearing mortal man? I strained to remember. I was only eighty percent sure, but that was all it took to swamp me with despair. If only I had the luxury of being overpowered by mere humans! A chill of terror swept over me, smashing my tiny jar of faith. All my faith drained out like water. I angrily fought off more of those insect-like flying blood-suckers.
For some reason, David and Goliath came to my mind. There was no point remembering that. Not only was his foe merely a giant human, I’d always regarded little David as a superhero whose boldness I could never come within a thousand miles of. Did he say to Goliath something like, “I come to you in the name of the Lord”? Somehow, I found that statement comforting. I might not have faith worth mentioning, but “the name of the Lord” somehow seemed simple and obtainable.
The word is near you, even in your lips (or was that “mouth”?) The quote might not be perfect, but it seemed near enough. That’s Romans 10 – or is it 9? – no, I think it’s 10. Oh, you idiot! Stop fretting about the reference! I continued struggling to haul up Scriptures along these lines, hoping to convince myself, not that God is powerful enough to deliver me – that was a no-brainer – but that he wanted to deliver me and that he had promised that if I took a stand, he wouldn’t let me crash to oblivion.
What if mentioning Jesus just makes them angry? The thought of dealing with an even more enraged demon was too much. That poor angel’s screams, though physically over, were still echoing in my head. But I’ve got no alternative! I’m going to have to go back there and somehow try to use Jesus’ name as if it were a loaded gun. I prayed feverishly.
With a few slimy slugs squirming in my hand, I made my way back to the angels with the enthusiasm of a naughty schoolboy sent to the principal’s office. The moment I saw one of them, I wanted to slink away again to try yet again to muster my elusive faith.
“Oh, there you are!” he whispered. It was the angel I had felt sorry for – the one who had received the horrendous beating. “Come with me! I can get you away to a safe place.”
Was this the answer to my prayers?
“Quickly!” he whispered, “Your only chance is this instant!”
I followed, wondering if I were making the mistake of my life. Who can trust a demon?
“Quietly!” he ordered, showing fear on his face. “Do you have any idea what will happen to you if you’re caught trying to escape?”
As we crept further away from where the others were, the speed picked up. I had great difficulty keeping up. I was gasping so much that I concluded that the atmosphere must have less oxygen than on earth. I kept pleading with him to slow down but he wasn’t interested.
Suddenly I stopped dead. I was face to face with what was obviously a giant carnivore. It towered over me, making me feel like a mouse staring at a tiger, except this creature had multiple rows of fangs, like a shark, all of which looked three times the length of the most vicious shark teeth. The angel had been leading the way. He ploughed on, oblivious to my dilemma. I found myself too petrified to call out. Suddenly there was a terrifying roar. The carnivore fled. I spun round in the direction of the roar, wondering what new terror I faced, and there stood the angel. Had he made that sound?
He turned and strode off. My brush with death confirmed that I now had little choice but follow. Not that I needed anything to make me feel even more miserable, but I was still fighting off nasty bee-sized critters. I still had not got around to counting their legs, but they were something like insects.
We had not walked far when a sudden growl broke the silence. I nearly jumped out of my skin, and then froze. “Come on!” ordered the angel, “it’s just fungus!”
“Fungus?” I asked in amazement. Fungus that growls like an animal? I puzzled over the enigma, finally concluding that the fungus must somehow imitate the sound of an animal of prey to keep grazing animals away. “How does it produce the sound?” I asked. The angel ignored my question. Yes, I found the notion of growling fungi intriguing, but I think I was desperate for a distraction from having to think about my predicament. Like a fool, I kept pestering the angel for an answer.
“Gas!” he finally blurted, in a way that convinced me that I dare not say another word. From that one word response I gathered that the fungus must produce gas that builds up in chambers within it until just the slightest vibration on the ground releases the gas, and the sudden release of gas produces the sound. But why doesn’t a mere breeze set it off? We passed another fungus of the same species and I noticed around it things along the ground that looked a little like rootlets. I guessed these must act like trip wires.
Finally the Scripture, “Set your minds on things above,” surfaced in the untamed wilderness that is my mind. That reminder resulted in me being annoyed at myself for squandering valuable time pursuing trivia when I was in a life-or-death situation. I remembered the disciples snoozing at the critical time in the Garden of Gethsemane – the very time when they should have been following Jesus’ lead by praying like him. So I resolved to silently pray for God’s help and for increased faith, even though, to my annoyance, my mind kept wandering, and God seemed a million miles from me.
We walked and walked and walked. I was nearing exhaustion when finally we came to the mouth of a cave. “Now you’re my slave! Get in there!”
I was afraid of such! At least he’s not quite as powerful as the other angel. I presume that’s an advantage.
“Hey!” I said with some alarm, as I peered into the cave, “could there be anything venomous in there?”
“Dunno! How to you expect me to know your susceptibility to venom?” He roughly thrust me towards the cave. “Get in!”
I have no explanation for the marked drop in temperature inside in that dark hole but it felt deathly cold. “Hey! I’ll freeze in here!”
Unconcerned, he began piling massive boulders over the mouth of the cave. The strength of that guy . . . !
“I’ll be back in a few days when the others give up looking for you.”
A few days! “What will I eat?”
“Who cares? Am I your nursemaid?”
Looks like I’ll have plenty of time for prayer. “I felt so sorry for you when you were beaten.”
“Oh, you’re such a good friend!” he gushed. “You’re going to make me feel sooooo much better. Do you know why?”
The mock friendliness in his voice convinced me that I didn’t want to know, but I felt the need to humor him. “Why?”
He continued in his sickly sweet tone, “Because from now on, whenever I’m hurt, I’m going to take it out on you.”
He had almost finished sealing off the entrance to the cave when I remembered I was going to have to breathe – for days. I was just about to complain when I heard a voice. “Here they are! Your two-timing slave came willingly! I saw it all!”
“Urg!” Unfortunately, I recognized the voices. It was one of the other angels talking to my former master. Oh, great! Just what I always wanted – a tell-tale demon. Things keep getting better and better! I peered out of the remaining crack in the entrance just in time to see my captor crumple to the ground in sheer terror. He looked like a trembling lump of jelly as he awaited his fate. His pathetic whimpering was not exactly encouraging.
“Move the rocks away,” ordered the tyrant who had come to repossess me.
They brought me out. I looked around. All of the angels were there. My master scowled at me. “Do you know what we do to two-timers like you?”
No, I didn’t and I certainly didn’t want to find out. Here’s my chance to discover why my former captor had screamed like nothing I’ve ever heard before just after I had fled in terror. Come to think of it, their pain threshold is probably far higher than mine.
It was obvious that at any split second my torture would commence. I began to lecture myself. Pull yourself together! You’ve got about two seconds to pluck faith from nowhere and try to exercise the authority that is meant to be yours as a child of God. “Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.” I was thankful for that Scripture surfacing from somewhere within, but I desperately tried not to dwell on the implications of that verse ending with “the world,” since wherever I was, it far from the world in which that Scripture was penned.
I cleared my throat, “Ah hum!” Oh, brilliant start!
“In the name of Jesus . . .” I said, with all the attention-grabbing power of a squashed flea.
“How do you spell that?” asked my master. He started spelling into the gadget he held in his hand. “G-E-E-Z-”
Oh, no! Don’t tell me he’s never even heard of Jesus! Hey, I’d heard them talking about him! My mind flashed back to the conversation I’d overheard. Alarmed, I couldn’t recall any mention of Jesus’ name. I’d assumed Jesus was the Christ they spoke of but what if that were some other person on some other planet?
“Jesus!” I squeaked. I had intended it to be a shout, hoping that volume would count for something. I spelt it out, “J-E-S-U-S!” He pointed his gadget at me as if trying to record what I was saying.
Peering intently at the gadget he muttered, “Oh, here we are! Jesus: one of the countless thousands of make-believe gods on a backward little planet in the Milky Way.”
“Liar!” I screamed, trying to sound far more sure than I felt. Then, in what I was sure was a flash of genius, I added, “And if earth’s so backward, how come you speak English!”
He erupted into the most terrifying laugh I’ve ever heard, “You pathetic little creature! You have no conception of my intellectual powers, have you! Don’t you think I can scan your brain and instantly lock in to your language system!”
My mind reeled at the implications. I tried to pull myself together. Was he bluffing about his ignorance of Jesus? I still had no alternative. I mustered every bit of voice I could find, “In the name of Jesus, be gone!”
Nothing happened. My faith – desperate wishful thinking? – slumped even lower. Then an angel staggered. He fell. And as he did, others began to stumble.
Suddenly everything vanished.
I was safe!
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