The following is a revised version of a story I wrote awhile ago on this blog. The story has been revised to focus more narrowly on its intended themes. The label "theology in story" is the only one I've applied so that the reader might more easily discover the story's theme as they read. It was actually revised awhile ago--thanks to my friend Corban Monger who helped me with some typo/grammar-review and editing, and to my parents, and Austin, for giving some helpful critiques of the first story. I thought since I didn't have much else germinating in my mind, this would be a good thing to post this week.
There were once two Christians. Each knew his doctrine quite well—what it was at least, and between them they could prove it from the Bible. They both attended Jerusalem Community Church, in a small nonexistent town in the northwest somewhere. In this town most people were Calvinists, Catholics, or Calvinists who really were Catholics, except for belief in the perseverance of the saints.
These two men lived their respective lives and died their respective deaths. On the day of judgment, it seemed God's good pleasure that these two be brought in side-by-side to give an account of themselves. The Judge was dressed like Death, but he appeared the opposite of a skeleton, and underneath his hood was not darkness, but a cool light.
The first stepped forward. He was sad and wasted: A piece of modern art composed entirely of skin and bones. He looked at once hopeless and repentant, and barely made eye contact with the Judge as he spoke. “Sir. It is with great regret that I inform you that I am almost certainly damned. It is God's teaching that those who are not among the elect shall have no experiences of conversion, that they shall not be affected whatsoever by taking communion, or by their baptism.
“I know, then, that I am not among the elect. I have always felt a rush of emotion when old friends came to visit, and always felt ecstatic just to see a bee resting on a flower. But I did not feel anything at my baptism, and I never felt a thing on taking the bread and juice. Even when I first came to believe that Jesus Christ was Lord of my Life, I—I felt nothing. If Your hands are not truly bound by the Scripture You laid down, I ask you to have mercy on me, though I don't deserve it and have no right to expect it.”
The Judge nodded somberly and then turned to face the other man. He had aged well. He looked peaceful, at least mostly, and was well-dressed. The Judge motioned for him to speak. “Sir,” he said, “It is with joy that I stand before you in the hope of rising again. Like the other man, I know Your teachings. I can the rush of joy when I came to believe in Jesus Christ, and how ecstatic I was when I was baptized. I can recall how when I first took communion I felt not damned, but assured that I would persevere, because I had realized I was a sinner.
“So I ask You, O Lord, to please have mercy on me as well, though I also have no right to expect it and, certainly, do not deserve it.” The Judge again nodded somberly, the same curious nod as before. He looked back and forth between the two and then lifted up his hand, making a gesture with his fingers—what terrible fingers! And in walked an angel.
The angel was many-winged, many-eyed and otherwise incomprehensible. He looked at the two men, his many eyes making contact with each of them at once before announcing, “I am Gabriel.” He had been the messenger to a poor woman who had been the container for the Lord. But now he had a sadder job. He turned first to the well-aged man. “I have some bad news. The first is that you will not be entering Heaven—well, not right now, anyway. You see, you in your assured salvation didn't do much of anything at all for the church, except serve as an usher and sing on the worship team from time to time. That might seem like a lot, but how much time did you really spend seeking Truth, and seeking to live it out outside the building? Who in hell do you think you were to avoid this? Your pastor didn't use this lofty language, but he kept telling you to read the Scriptures for the truth or falsity of his words. He preached from James about the haughty rich, always exhorting the congregation to practice what was being preached in all Scripture. You almost always failed to actually serve God in what you did. Or need I remind you of all the female co-workers whose backsides you carefully examined, or the homeless people outside of your office building who you ignored, not just financially, but also when they said 'good morning'? As you did unto the least of these!
“Yes, your sins are many, and like this other man's they would under an unmerciful God disqualify you from the Promised Land. But if anything disqualifies you it is your overarching sin. You did not seek to love and serve the Lord.”
The Assured man gulped. “There is good news, however. The pastor of Jerusalem Community was quite wrong about Purgatory. It does exist. You were assured of salvation; this much is true. But it was too much fun for you, on earth, for it to be all that much fun afterward, and so you must be saved by passing through the flames. When your time is complete, you may join the other Elect in heaven.”
Upon this note a trap-door opened underneath the Elect man, and he disappeared down the hole before he could say “thank you.” Then Gabriel turned to face the damned man. “As for you. You are saved, though you are quite an idiot.”
The face of skin and bones brightened.
“You served the Lord your God with all the heart, soul and mind and strength you could possibly muster, though you believed He had almost certainly condemned you to an eternity in hell. But your life witnessed anyway—to the poor, to the rich, to the businessmen who were trying to push past you to get lunch at the burrito stand. You were there visiting Him in prison, handing Him breakfast on the sidewalk, by the grace of God. You served them all as if they were The Lord, and served them well—you took the Pastor's mandate of Love literally. You've done well, good and faithful servant. In your life, there were around three-hundred souls that you led directly to God, and around thirty-thousand souls in which you prepared the way of the Lord.
“You were, however, an idiot. You thought conversion experience meant conversion feeling. I fully admit that we up here have been trying to get the message to Christians for years that they ought to stop talking about conversion experiences and start talking about conversion history. But you still could've done your part, and realized that perhaps even though you felt nothing on taking communion, nothing on baptism, and nothing on realization that Jesus Christ was Lord, you were saved. Loving and serving the Lord day in and day out as you did, though you had no hope of Resurrection yourself, must have meant you actually did have hope. Therefore, you did still propagate the untruthof the 'conversion experience,' wherever you went even as you propagated the Truth of Christ. You propagated the lie that you yourself were unsaved, though you were. But it seems it is God's good pleasure to strike this particular blemish out of you without the pain of being put into that special class of Elect to which your Elect friend now belongs. Congratulations, and well done, good and faithful servant!”
At this point a trap-spring below the idiot sprung, propelling the mess of skin and bones upward to his reward, before he either could say “Thanks.” The angel shifted his eyes to the Judge. “I swear—well, I don't swear, but I do wonder, Father. Will they ever get it, really?”