What if it's all true?
Nancy Arant Williams
I’ve never believed in heaven or hell. Thought that stuff was all a bunch of hogwash. I mean that book--the Bible is thousands of years old. How could it possibly be relevant to me today?
I mean--that stuff with Adam and Eve and the apple? How could one bite of fruit have cursed the entire human race? I’ve given this subject a great deal of thought, and it just doesn’t seem fair. So I decided it wasn’t so.
I grew up in a fine, upstanding Christian home. My dad is even a preacher of the gospel, so of course I’ve heard the preaching over and over until I’m sick of it. Because he’s a preacher people have always looked at me differently, sort of inspecting my life, under a microscope, and I’ve never met their expectations. I could see it by the looks in their eyes. From the get-go it made me mad, and I decided I hated the whole deal. Hey, I was just a kid, and kids aren’t supposed to be perfect, are they?
I was born in Linden, Nebraska, a medium-sized town, nothing to rave about, but it was home. My two older sisters, Meg and Linda were born a long time before me, and because of the difference in our ages, they just saw me as that irritating little bro who wouldn’t give them any peace.
I just wanted their attention--to be part of their lives. My parents were always so busy that I rarely saw them. Oh, we lived in a beautiful home and had no wants. But for as long as I can recall Dad was gone, either preaching, visiting sick people in the hospital, writing books or studying for his Sunday sermons and speaking engagements. That was back in the days of church on Sunday morning and evenings as well as Wednesday night prayer meetings, all of which meant he studied every spare moment. And because Mom was his secretary all her time and attention were focused on him. Unfortunately that left me out in the cold.
I hate to admit it but I did lots of stuff to get their attention. I ran in front of cars daring them to hit me, like cocky little boys often do. I climbed trees and repeatedly fell out, breaking my arm three different times. But did they see it as a cry for help—nope. They saw it as one more interruption to their true mission—saving the world. I had only one question. What about me?
I checked out this God-thing myself. I really did. I read the Book. I mean, if it was so important to my folks I had to know what was in it. I think I was twelve when I sat down and began to read, wondering what the big deal was.
I read every word, well, except for the begats where they list generation after generation of names I couldn’t even begin to pronounce. I skipped those sections—there didn’t seem to be any point.
Now I can tell you, I’m smart, got great grades on my achievement tests every year and high marks in school. But I couldn’t make heads or tails out of the Bible. The stories were intriguing, but how did it all fit together?
I even told my parents I was reading my Bible. Of course, that wasn’t until I was almost finished, but I was surprised by their reactions. Dad just nodded and smiled as if taking credit for my good judgment. Then he adjusted his glasses on his nose and turned his attention back to his sermon notes. My mom smiled, patted my shoulder and leaned down to kiss me on the cheek.
“That’s nice, honey.” Then she returned to chopping tomatoes for salad. Hadn’t she heard a word I said? I read that whole doggone Book, thousands of pages, just to get inside my parents’ heads, and I still knew nothing about what they thought or felt about anything except their mission to save the world.
I kept wondering: Is that what people do who are so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good? I’d heard that phrase somewhere and loved it, because it seemed to fit so perfectly.
I had always walked a fine line at school, never really mixing with the fast crowd, yet never exactly in the out-crowd either. I just didn’t let any of it taint or affect me one way or the other.
But by my sixteenth birthday I had girls hanging all over me. They wanted my number. To be perfectly blunt, they wanted my body.
At that point I recalled reading Proverbs, where it spoke to the young man about how to keep his ways pure. One of the ways was to keep his eyes from looking at girls with lust. But would it really make any difference?
I had been pondering this subject because one particular girl, by the name of Wendy had caught my attention. She was beautiful, a little shy, but wow, what a package. So I decided to broach the subject of chastity with my parents.
After supper that night I went into my dad’s office, where I could always find him, and I said, “Dad, do you have a minute? I’d like to ask you a question.”
He took his glasses off and laid them aside then turned to face me. “I think I can spare a moment for my son.”
Noticing some new wrinkles around his eyes that I hadn’t seen before, I sank into the plaid overstuffed chair beside his desk. “Well, I have a question about chastity.”
His eyebrows shot upward in question as he tilted his head. “What do you want to know?”
“Does it make any difference whether a guy sleeps around?”
He lowered his chin and frowned. “You have to ask that question? Haven’t you heard a single word of my sermons?”
“Sure, I have. But I want to know what you think.”
“Well, I think it’s a bad idea.”
“Because God demands purity. That’s why.”
His ears were getting red and I could see the vein sticking out, throbbing in his left temple. His blood pressure was a problem these days, so my questions were probably not helpful.
I shrugged and stood then headed toward the door. “Okay. Whatever…” I was waiting for him to call me to sit down so we could really talk, but that didn’t happen. I was nearly out the door of his study when I turned to see him resume his work.
Under my breath I muttered, “Just forget it. Forget I said anything at all. I’ll just disappear and leave you alone, so you don’t have to deal with me.” Clearly that’s what he wanted.
“Hey, Wendy. Want to do lunch? I’m buying.”
She turned her brown-eyed gaze on me. “Hmm…okay. I guess so. Where do you want to meet?”
“At the cafeteria door at noon?”
I still had two classes before lunch, and during that time my conscience nailed me to the wall, like a tiny voice in my head that demanded, “What do you think you’re you doing?” I had read Proverbs and was trying to ignore it, but somehow it wouldn’t let me go. Though I had given some thought to sex I hadn’t even done anything yet. Why was I so upset?
I did take Wendy to lunch, and it was over tacos that I found out she was a Christian. Oh, good. Another one.
I can’t get away from them.
I liked her right off the bat. She was smart, beautiful, classy, and she loved Jesus. Maybe I could talk to her about the things that bugged me about the gospel.
She had too much homework to talk the first night, but the night after that she said she could talk for fifteen minutes before she had to get her younger brother and sister ready for bed. We made small talk for those few precious minutes, and I hated to hang up, but she promised we’d talk later. And we did. We talked every spare moment she could muster, and we talked about God and Jesus, and life and death and other things that mattered.
The next day, however, she wasn’t in school. Puzzled I called her on my cell at nine, but no one answered. I missed her something awful, and realized she had already knitted herself into a tiny place right under my heart. I had a niggling feeling something was up, and knew I wouldn’t stop worrying until I heard her voice again.
During my second period class Miss Higgins, my government teacher, snapped her fingers in my face. “I’m speaking to you, Mr. Howard.”
“Oh, sorry.” I turned to face her.
“I need your homework.”
I dug it out of my notebook and handed her my report.
“You’re awfully preoccupied today. Are you all right?”
It was out of character of her to ask. I shrugged. “I’m okay.”
She resumed collecting homework and soon the hour ended, but not soon enough for me. I called Wendy’s cell again, and got her voicemail.
I couldn’t stand it any longer. For the first time in my life I cut class and ran to my car. Something was very wrong. I could feel it in my gut.
At Wendy’s house I saw her father’s logo-ridden truck in the driveway, and wondered why a construction worker would be home in the daytime.
At the door I rang the bell, but there was no answer. A driven man, I ran around to the back of the house and rang the back doorbell, but again there was no answer. Studying the house I saw a sliding glass door that I assumed led to a family room, so I headed in that direction with my heart pounding so hard I thought it would explode.
At the sliding glass door I peered in and could see the family room in terrible disarray. The door wasn’t locked so I opened the door, and I knew instantly by the smell of blood that permeated the space that someone was dead. Wendy?
I blinked trying to think. Before I took another step I called my dad’s cell, and miracle of miracles, he answered.
“Why are you calling me from school?” he asked sounding faintly annoyed.
“I’m at Wendy’s house, Dad, and there’s something wrong. I can smell blood. Please come quick!”
“I’m calling 911 and I’m on my way.”
I breathed a sigh of relief and headed to my car, then sat in the driver’s seat trying to breathe normally. Somehow I already knew Wendy was dead.
As it turned out her father had been a known drug dealer after his construction business failed a year earlier. Local law enforcement had had their eye on him for quite some time. He had claimed to be a Christian early on, but things went south when he couldn’t find a job to support his family. Wendy had hinted only briefly about things at home, but I had no clue things were so iffy.
That day her father had evidently sold meth to the wrong man, and the guy just went ballistic, cutting down anything that moved, including Wendy, her parents and her two younger siblings.
Apparently the shooter’s prints were everywhere, smeared in blood as he rummaged around for things to sell. I couldn’t imagine the carnage in that house and was grateful that I hadn’t strayed past the family room door.
My world crashed that day. We had hit it off like kindred spirits, according to Wendy, who was fond of the Anne of Green Gables book series. And I couldn’t imagine my life without her. I had even dreamed of marrying her, and I wasn’t even seventeen years old.
The next Tuesday the funeral was a sad affair at the Baptist Church with five shiny, white caskets lined up in a row in the front of the sanctuary. I had never met any of her family, but just like the others her framed smiling photo was sitting on top of her casket. Relatives who I didn’t know made the arrangements, and I only went to pay my respects to the girl I loved. I left before it was over after sitting quietly alone in the back row, not hearing a single word of the message, but letting the tears fall for my absent love.
Life seemed strange after that. Nothing looked the same. School seemed like a foreign place. People seemed distant and untouchable, and I was a stranger in my own skin.
I still had questions about God, about the gospel message, and now, about where Wendy had gone. I knew she loved Jesus with all her heart, so I studied the Bible passages that talked about heaven, just so I could picture her there.
Two days after the funeral I felt depressed and couldn’t seem to shake it. I was only going through the motions of my days, never connecting to reality—in a half world at best, where it was twilight all the time. Cold and empty like the inside of my very soul.
I shook myself. I had to get a handle on this thing. I couldn’t go through life wishing for what I couldn’t have. And I couldn’t die just to get close to Wendy. I had my whole life in front of me. But how did one go about getting it back?
I opened my Bible again and thumbed to the place where it talked about streets of gold and love, and being with Jesus. It was all in there, but what did that have to do with me?
For the next several weeks I wandered around, asking myself questions with no answers. My appetite was nil; my interests too, were gone. I couldn’t watch the Nicks play ball on television. I couldn’t even hit a bucket of balls at the golf course. Nothing made any difference anymore. I no longer knew who I was. It was as if Wendy’s death had changed me irreversibly, and I needed answers just to get back to square one.
But how did one find answers? Who had answers? My parents had answers, but they were the “my way or the highway kind,” and I had little use for those. My Bible seemed authoritative, but for some reason I just couldn’t seem to connect the dots.
Couldn’t anyone tell me the truth? Was anything absolute? Was there loving intimacy anywhere? Did anyone really care if I lived or died?
One day I found myself driving as if to tempt fate. I took a curve at fifty and nearly flew off an embankment filled with trees. A reality check; I couldn’t go on like this or I would die, too.
All the way home I prayed, “God, I need answers, but I can’t find them. Could you just talk to me?”
And I cried. I cried until I couldn’t cry any more. I knew the Bible said the Lord draws near to the brokenhearted, and I could only hope He heard me crying out in desperation.
That evening I once again made small talk that I couldn’t recall, ate a meal I didn’t taste, and did homework that I can’t remember. I went to bed at nine, simply because I had nothing better to do with my time.
And the minute my head hit the pillow, as odd as it sounds, I began dreaming. Suddenly I was falling, falling into thick, black darkness, where feelings of fear and dread abruptly consumed me. My heart beat faster and my hands were clammy. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Was I dying? It felt like it. The smell was like sulfur, nasty, gut-wrenching rotten eggs, and the heat and smoke and smell of death were everywhere. I couldn’t take a deep breath to save my soul. It was as if all the oxygen had been sucked right out of the air. What on earth was going on?
I wasn’t on earth anymore, that much was clearly obvious. I landed hard on barren ground in a dim nether world and knew instantly that God was not here. Love was not here; compassion and sympathy were absent as in a long-forgotten dream.
Looking around me I
saw what looked like a post-apocalypse world, where fires smoldered and
burned and the smell of burning flesh made me gag and choke. The sounds
were other-worldly, stunningly terrible with src
Where was this place? Then I knew.
I am in hell.
“Why am I here?” I asked. “I’m not dead. I couldn’t be in hell.” But no one answered my questions. I began to walk and noticed immediately that I was naked and the heat, which was hotter than any heat I’d ever felt, seemed to burn my skin. Thirst like I’d never known parched my throat and I coughed trying to clear away the smoke I had breathed in.
There were others there, but no one seemed to notice anyone else, alone as they were in their abject misery. Well, so much for partying with the gang in hell as I’ve often heard others say in jest.
Everyone here was clearly alone, with only memories of better days. What had happened to those times?
Then I saw two massive creatures slithering toward me. I was at first fascinated then terrified by the looks on their scale-covered leather faces with hate-filled eyes bulging and bloodshot. They were every evil science fiction creature rolled into two, one taller than the other. One of them had an arm longer than the other, and his teeth were sharpened to pinpoints reminding me briefly of a piranha fish, but he also had talons six inches long and very threatening as he clenched and unclenched his fists. Everything about both of these creatures was asymmetrical and heart stopping. The second was short, pudgy and had a long tail like an alligator, which he twitched back and forth tensely. I saw spiky protrusions all over his body. The word “ugly” seemed to be the understatement of the century as I kept an eye on that tail. Both stood stock still watching me. From the looks on their faces it was clear they wanted to destroy me, and I knew instantly that I was helpless to defend myself.
In desperation I cried, “Help me, Lord!”
Suddenly I was no longer alone. I was moving upward held by unseen hands and felt somehow comforted. As we passed through a vertical tunnel I saw for the first time that all around us were other terrible snarling creatures chained to the walls unable to move. I couldn’t wait to get out of there.
My heartbeat began to slow to normal when I realized that wasn’t my permanent home. I had to wonder: How often does someone get out of there? The answer came just as quickly. Never.
In no time I could breathe fresh, sweet air and see blue sky and fluffy white clouds all around me. Turning to my left I saw the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. A massive and powerful male angel, covered with white feathery wings and dazzling white robes had hold of me and was lifting me higher.
“Where are you taking me?” I asked.
He said, “The Master has summoned you.”
“The Master?” I repeated feeling confused.
He just smiled. “It will soon be perfectly clear.”
Momentarily we were very high up and I could see the earth receding in size below us. The view around me was much more splendid than photos could ever portray and I could scarcely take my eyes from it.
Shortly we stopped at an incredible, glistening door that looked like it was covered with mother-of-pearl paint. But as I touched it, I knew immediately that it was real pearl. Were these the pearly gates? Now the name made sense.
I heard amazing instrumental music as the massive doors opened slowly and I stood before a beautiful throne covered with every kind of gem, and facets in each of them flashed amazing colors around the brilliantly lit room.
I was suddenly aware of a person sitting on the throne, but due to the dazzling light I couldn’t focus to see who it was.
But I knew. It was God, and on His right hand, Jesus was seated smiling at me with deep affection. I knew Him instantly though I didn’t know how.
I fell to my knees and shook my head. “Oh, Jesus. I’ve just been to the most terrible place. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it.”
He laid his hand on my shoulder. “It will be all right. But you had to see it, so you could appreciate what you’ve been saved from. And you had to know what it would be like to be absent from the One who loved you so much that He died for you.”
I wept. “Thank you, Jesus. Oh, thank you, Jesus.” I kept repeating the same phrase unable to get over the stark contrast between hell and heaven. This place was the epitome of love and companionship, intimacy and tender compassion. It felt like home.
He stood and took my arm. “I want to show you something,” He said as He opened another door. I tilted my head as we walked through it. And there she was—my beloved Wendy, laughing and playing tag in a colorful field of daisies with her brother and sister and many other little children. The colors were astounding, and the scent of flowers was like nothing I had ever smelled before. I could hardly take it all in.
“I wanted you to see Wendy and know she’s happy. You need to know that so you can recover and live your life for Me.”
“I never knew, Jesus. I even read your Book, and I didn’t understand.”
“But you were looking for Me. And you wanted to know the truth. You wanted to understand. And I never turn My back on those who seek Me.”
I shook my head. “But I don’t deserve this.”
“Because I loved mankind, I paid the purchase price to redeem them from sin and Satan when I died on the cross. I wanted fellowship and intimacy so much that even crucifixion wasn’t too great a price to pay.”
“So what can I do to show my gratitude?” I asked, astonished by the thought of such great love for unworthy creatures like me.
“Return to earth and live for Me with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and let My Holy Spirit use you to share the truth of My love with those who don’t know.”
“I will, Lord Jesus. I will, from this moment on.”
And that’s all I recall until I was back in my bed in Linden Nebraska, a changed man.
In the five years since then I finally understood what God was saying, finally had all my questions answered. Jesus is the answer to every question. It’s all about Him, not about us.
And unlike my parents I want to preach Jesus and Him crucified, letting people know He is never too busy to listen to your heart cries, and never too apathetic to answer your questions. He has plenty of time for each of us, and never hurries us, but listens with His complete attention. And He speaks not only through the Bible, but also to our spirits, so that we know that we know that we know it is Him speaking.
Each one of us is precious to God, and He weeps over our lost condition.
In a nutshell, the truth is that Adam and Eve had it all. And the sin had nothing to do with the fruit itself, but with a willful and rebellious spirit that said, “I will do what I want, no matter what God thinks about it.” And that decision shattered the incredibly close fellowship between God and man.
The thing is—and people don’t often get this--Satan’s most effective trap is that he offers us exactly what we want. He seduces us into doing whatever we like, exalting ourselves over God. And when we do that, thinking we’re doing our own thing, we are actually playing right into his hands, and selling our souls to the Devil, guaranteeing that we will be forever separated from the only One who really loves us. That’s the worst tragedy of them all.
Because God is holy He cannot just ignore sin or pretend it never happened. Even one little sin separates us from God, which is why the Bible says, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Romans 6:23 says: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
That’s why God created the system of sacrifices in the Old Testament, where a perfect lamb without spot or blemish had to be killed and its blood sprinkled over the mercy seat, to cover the sins of the people year after year. And that’s why, much later on, God’s perfect Son, Jesus, left heaven, to be born in a humble stable, raised by a virgin who was never accepted by the society of their day. In the greatest irony ever the very Son of God was looked upon as a bastard, rather than a deity.
That’s why He died a cruel death on a cross, to bear your sins and mine as the last and most perfect sacrifice of all, so that we could be reconciled, and once again enjoy perfect intimacy with God. That’s why He says we are to be His disciples and share the gospel with everyone who has ears to hear. Romans 8:1 says: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit.”
That’s why I had to write it all down and tell you that it’s all true. Everything the Bible says is true, and if you doubt it and refuse it, you’ll pay the price for that decision with your eternal soul, in a hell that burns forever. And worst of all, Jesus will not be there.
It’s all true. So let a word to the wise be sufficient and get your heart right with God, confessing your sin, and accepting His gift of salvation, before you die alone in your sin, with no chance to change your mind.
The heavens declare this is my true statement, and as God is my witness, I’m sharing this gospel with you. Amen.
Copyright© 2012, Nancy Arant Williams | Webpage by: Cheryl |