Heaven, Hell or Universalism - A Pilgrim’s Dilemma
Lucy entered the gates. Inside, the man who was always smiling beckoned to her. This was more than any man, however. He had a glow, an aura, an emanation of peace and joy that filled the space between her and him and filled Lucy with an undying sense of being valued by this incredibly captivating being. “Welcome!” said the man, beaming with delight at her presence. “I’m so glad you are here. I have prepared a great feast for you!” With that he brought out the most beautiful dress Lucy had ever seen, paired with diamond encrusted shoes, bracelets and rings. “For you, my beautiful daughter. Come, join the party!” Lucy was taken aback by the extravagant gift. “What is this? No one has ever given me anything like this. Please, I cannot accept it. It is too much.”
“Don’t be silly,” the man said with a knowing smile. “We have delighted over you for all eternity. You are worth far more than any adornment. Please enjoy the gift and relax in the joy we feel at your presence. We have sung songs of your coming since the dawn of creation.” Lucy was blown away by the lavish expression of love. She could not resist any longer and allowed herself to be captivated by the value that this man saw in her. She put on the clothes and followed him to a great hall, filled with tables, music and revelry. “This must be what heaven is like,” she thought to herself as the man showed her to her seat.
Everyone was dressed in the most exquisite finery. The tables filled her senses with the most intricate of delicacies. Lucy’s mouth was watering from the moment she crossed the threshold. The music was a treasure to her ears, and Lucy found herself wanting to hold on to each beautiful note forever, only to have it eclipsed by each more captivating melody that followed. Lucy sat at the table, and looked around her. To her delight, she was surrounded by her loved ones! Her mother and father, husband and children were all at the table with her.
“Mummy!” her daughter squealed, delighted that Lucy had made it to the party. “You look beautiful!”
“So do you my dear.” Lucy smiled, admiring the outfit her little girl was wearing.
As Lucy sat and ate, talked and laughed with her family, a thought captured her attention. There was no animosity in this place. Every lingering hurt that she had felt from her relationships was gone. Lucy noticed that there was no longer any ill will between her and her mother, despite her rebellious responses to her mother’s overbearing ways in times past. Her mother and father had even appeared to have patched things up and were enjoying each other’s presence again, even after their messy divorce. There was a deep, and yet somehow light feeling of peace that rested over everything and everyone in this place.
All of this delight and revelry was suddenly broken, as Lucy looked up at the person who approached the empty seat directly opposite her. It was Susannah, that bitch who had made her life a living hell in high school. Susannah’s bullying and abuse had left Lucy with eating disorders, the rejection of her friends, suicidal thoughts and long periods of isolation, anxiety and depression. It had taken countless hours of therapy over many years for Lucy to feel able to function socially again and rebuild her life. She had hoped to never have anything to do with this cow of a woman ever again. And yet here she was, being led by the heavenly man to the empty seat directly opposite Lucy. All of the joy drained from Lucy’s countenance. She was no longer having a good time. Susannah’s own delighted smile also quickly transformed into a gnarled scowl. “What are you doing here?” Susannah snarled, and Lucy quickly returned the glare. “Are you kidding me? Is this some kind of joke?” Lucy spat at her host, refusing to even look at her adversary any longer. Hatred filled her heart, and her eyes burned with rage. All of the joy that she had presently experienced was forgotten in an instant. Self-righteousness, anger and condemnation ate her up inside and consumed her heart and mind, transforming the wonderful world that she had been experiencing into a place of terrific torment. The man smiled lovingly, yet with sadness in his eyes. “The love I have for you will never change. It runs deeper than any hidden hurt or shame. It is unending and true. It is my love that has invited you to this table, not any pity you could imagine I would have for your miserable state, or pleading for mercy on your part. It is my love that has reunited you with your family and redeemed your fractured relationships. It is my love that sees you as beautiful and worthy, even in your present incarnation.” Lucy felt ashamed, imagining the twisted revulsion on her face. “But this love,” the man continued, “is not just for you. How could it be? No amount of pleading or pity could surpass the depths of love and longing I already have for you. The same goes for Susannah, and for all my children. As much as it hurts me that two of my beloved daughters are living in bitterness and unforgiveness, I cannot help but love you both. I want nothing more than the very best for each of you. I have brought you both to this heavenly feast. But it is your actions that will determine whether you enjoy the fullness of what I have set before you, or whether you will continue to put yourselves and each other through hell for all eternity.”
Lucy looked at the holes in her saviour’s hands. If he was able to let go of the pain of betrayal and the bitterness of vindication in order to reach out to her and offer forgiveness, maybe she could too. She looked across at Susannah and saw the look softening on her face as well. Lucy felt love washing over her, healing her own wounds and spilling into her darkness. She felt this love grow into a fire inside of her, burning away all the hatred and bitterness she had harboured for so long. It was painful, feeling her pride and pain being destroyed, but she allowed it to pass, letting go of any desire to hang on to judgment for this woman. All that was left was the foundation of love with which she had been begotten. Having shed the rage, Lucy looked at her adversary with new eyes. Eyes of grace. She felt a desire welling up inside to get to know this woman opposite. Her parents smiled at her, and Lucy knew that they had gone through the same trial as she had and found restoration. Susannah looked back at her with regret, and with hope. Lucy knew that what had been meant for evil had been redeemed and was now being worked into something good. Her hell was being transformed so that she could enjoy heaven – life in all its fullness. Lucy looked back at the table, her eyes rediscovering the delights laid out before them. She picked up a plate of desserts and offered them to Susannah, excited by the thought of getting to know her new friend. They were accepted by hands of love, desire and hope, as the two strangers acknowledged their oneness and settled in to a beautiful, long evening of getting to know each other like never before.
Russell Croft has a heart for community and reaching out to the marginalised and forgotten. He is getting to know the God of infinite goodness and is living a joy-filled life with his wife Belinda and three children in South-East Queensland, Australia. See all previous articles by Russell Croft