I read an article once, in The Onion
, about a man who had outlived Jesus. He was quite proud of this, and I think justifiably so: any time one can best Holy God at something seems a strong personal moment. He was speaking at great length (greater than was perhaps needed, to be honest) about his accomplishment, and the significance of having outlived his personal savior.
This man, I will note, admitted right upfront and with admirable honesty that he had for the most part fallen short of the high-water mark set by Jesus. Undoubtedly, he had not resisted his temptations, pale though they must have been beside the ones Jesus was shown by Satan in the desert. Like most of us, I'm sure he had lied, desecrated himself and others, probably all manner of other things not fit for print. But, goddammit, he'd outlived the bastard. (And I mean bastard seriously: to the best of my knowledge, God never did actually enter into holy matrimony with Mary. This is hardly a mark against Him, however; His own laws would seem to forbid it. If two guys can't get hitched, imagine the problems of a person and a deity.)
So this all got me to thinking: if people could outlive Jesus without that much effort -- and hell, I was 29, I was due to accomplish this myself in but a few years -- what else could he be beaten at? Was Jesus a shrewd poker player, or would he fall for every bluff? How would he do at football? or hockey?
I hope you don't think I'm blasphemous, now. Far from it, I still have the utmost respect for my Lord. It seems reasonable, though, to inject a bit of reality into one's worship, does it not? I certainly should hope that God intended us to use the reasoning and wondering facilities which He most graciously provided for us. To that end, I kicked off the covers, cold air be damned. I rolled myself out of bed and knelt down on my knees (I had been lying in bed thinking all this, you see) and I began to pray for wisdom, there in the dark.
"Oh Lord," I spoke. "Do please answer my humble questions, of which I am sure You are already aware in Your infinite capacity for knowledge. Of Your abilities in the body of Christ, what faults did You there possess? Please tell me that I might worship You with understanding." I paused for a moment -- had I forgotten anything? -- and then with an Amen and a quick nod, I got back into bed, snuggled under my warm blanket, and waited for my prayers to be answered.
I have kept a dream journal since I was 17. I don't dream often, but when I do it is always vivid and beautiful. This night I dreamed. I was walking on a long beach on a cloudy night. I was by myself and saw no one around, but I knew in that dream way that I was not alone there. The waves crashed and the sand glittered and the sand was stars. The clouds rolled back to show the man in the moon grinning down at me, wolfishly pleased, as the stars all began to explode. I hid in the ocean, but I knew whoever I had been sharing the beach with was now dead.
I woke with bright sun flooding my eyes and thought I had not escaped my exploding stars. A bloodless moment later, I shook off the dream and sat up. It was a warm day. A long tail of cloud was dragging across the velvety blue sky. The sun winked at me as the cloud slid across it, and shone down through my window in a beautiful perfect beam of light, illuminating a dancing column of joyful dust motes, falling across a white square of paper laying in the middle of my carpet. This was unusual. I bent to retrieve it. It was pure white, with a subtly embossed flower design rippled across it. I turned it over; it was exactly the same except for a message written across the back in swirling ornate script. I had trouble making out the letters at first, trying to follow curls and ornaments that ran into each other across the words. I closed my eyes for a second, held the card up at arm's length, and read:
I am not amused by your insolent questions, asshole.
With perfect love,
Your Holy Lord of all Hosts
Well. I'd known my questions were a bit impudent, perhaps cheeky, but this seemed uncalled for. I was mortified to have so upset Him, but I couldn't help grinning all the same. I thought that here the matter would lie. I had asked my foolish question, and God responded more personably than I had any reason to hope for. I felt satisfied, all things considered, despite having seemingly pissed off my Lord something fierce. I did not realize, though, just how much I had incurred His most righteously pugnacious wrath.
I set the postcard down on my dresser, under my glass aleph paperweight, beside the fluted vase of Buddhist monk ashes, a birthday gift from a years ago friend. I had tried meditating on the ashes for a few months, but never got much out of the effort. Most likely, i was simply not doing it right; my mind would always chatter along brightly in the background, keeping me company as I tried to focus. It was so bright outside, the sort of day where it didn't even seem like light was coming from the sun. It was of everything, spilling out, vibrating warmth. This was not a day to act, but I was awake and work had to be done. I decided to bring the postcard with me, to show it off to my colleagues. They will all be jealous: no one else at the bank has ever gotten a postcard from God.
I opened my front door just in time to see the first fireball fall slowly and flatten onto my lawn, rippling up bubbles and plumes of grass and dirt. I shuddered, either by fear or shockwave, and clutched the doorframe. Paint bubbled down hot over my hand. More fire came down; it seemed centered over my house, but some bursts shattered the street and neighboring homes. People rushed out to stare blankly at the scene: hell reversed, sheets of flame coming down over our heads. People were screaming. Across the street, a house collapsed inward as the point of the roof was pierced.
I fell to my knees and shouted hoarsely. "Oh Jesus, I take it all back! Oh please, I won't question, I won't wonder! You are my perfect blanket! Stop this!" My eyes were squeezed shut. I reasoned that as long as I could not see, nothing would happen. I could only keep this up for a few moments though, before the screams and the heat and the shuddering got to me. I slowly peered out into the light, the bright day that had gone red with smoke, and saw an arrow of flame shatter through my car. The windshield burst out, sending shards of glass twinkling across the burning grass; the pleather seats twisted and huddled together in the blistering heat; the gas tank burst and sent one tire through the front of my house, off to my left. Another tire came directly at me, moving faster than I saw it. If I had still been standing, it would have taken off my arm. Instead, kneeling in the doorway of my burning home, a tire shattered my skull. Rubber tread and bone splinter obliterated my mind.
I did not wake up down here so much as become aware of having been down here already for some length of time. I have, I think understandably, a bit of a headache that never really goes away. Hell is nice, all the same. It may be a cliché, but it really is good company down here. Such fascinating people: intrigue, romance, adventure. It's really not that bad at all, no fire and brimstone and eternal torment. That wasn't rumor, precisely, more like outdated. In the early days, so they tell me, it was basically like I had always imagined. The standard tortures: stretched on a rack, burned, stabbed, prodded, bones ground to dust and buried under ice. Demons, beasts, slobbering things with teeth clattering like a misaligned typewriter. Some of the things I have been told are truly horrid; I don't like even to think about them. After the first millennia or so -- I get the feeling no one down here really has a firm grasp on the passing of time -- it all sort of got old. The creatures were bored with being horrific, no one was keeping the fires lit, pitchforks would get dull and racks would rust. It all went to hell, if you'll excuse the pun; things wound down and no one really cared enough to fix it. So now we all are just left down here, hanging about on the huge slabs of splintered rock that this place seems to be built from like a jigsaw. It's pretty crowded now, what with the end of the world and all. We all just showed up one day in a heap, I am told, dazed and blistered.
The demons are still around. I see them sometimes, skipping in shadows, twirling through walls. There is an odd hum that seems to follow them, a toy car with used-up batteries. I suppose there is always the chance that they will come back, decide to resume their duties, but it is not something anyone gives much thought to. We wander about, find ways to amuse ourselves in a desolate wasteland. There are walls, farther out than anyone has ever walked, and what looks like a glass ceiling perpetually hidden by smoky rolling clouds. I had always been told as a child that the worst torture of Hell was the pain of being denied the sight of God. I would call it more of an annoyance than a torment; I am blastedly curious. Despite our being created in His image, I'm sure He's not an old man on a throne. I had always pictured him as some vague ball of light, glowing and spinning and emanating peaceful love. The others I've talked to all wonder, like me, but none of us are scarred by the lack of an answer. Sometimes I consider asking for another postcard, but that seems unwise. There isn't anywhere else He could send us, after all; who knows what would happen. Perhaps He will remake an Earth one of these days, like after the flood, tweak the model and let things all play out again.
I went down to the furnace room once, out of curiosity and boredom. It is clearly not built to be tended by humans, and that is all I can think to say on the subject. Oh, there is one other thing. Spiny cages circle the room, filled with birds and small rodents. All the cage doors face the center of the room, and I can only suppose they were the fuel. The sins of a pigeon are surely beyond me.
On the subject of sin, I have been speaking with some of my fellows. We all discuss our sins, why we were consigned to the pit. They all have such stories. There are murderers, lovers, heretics, revolutionaries. All the great heroes, all the great minds. God, I feel more clearly than ever how boring my life was. How boring I am! Perhaps I would have fit in, up in Heaven, spending all my time eating grapes and singing hymns, or whatever goes on up there. I can see them peeping down at us sometimes, when the clouds blow clear, and they look so stark. I never see God though, just a touch of his brilliance glinting off their halos, casting bent shadows across their faces like windowpanes. I wonder if I should have learned something.