I read the following original short story last month in a writing group I attend and thought it would be a good time to highlight it here on the blog. Like “A (Stereo)typical Interviews with Three Millenarians,” it is a satirical piece that gave me a new angle with which to address theological arguments and craft counter-arguments during an informal debate on eschatology I had with a friend over a year ago. Essay is me telling readers “see, this argument doesn’t hold water,” satire is me beckoning readers to exclaim, “this argument doesn’t hold water!”
I Left Heaven For This??
Adam blinked and rubbed his eyes. “Where am I now?” He took a deep breath then gagged. “What is that smell?” Adam pinched the collar of his robe over his nose while he gazed at the landscape around him.
“The best and the worst of things always happen while I’m asleep.” Adam mumbled. The ground rumbled with the voice and despot of thunder. Dark clouds hid the celestial tyrant’s face. A pair of hulking black vultures circled in the grey sky above then landed on the the scorched branch of a nearby tree–what was left of a tree anyway.
The vultures were watching something. Adam followed the direction of their beady stare, across the flat and barren terrain, apparently burned by a great fire, to a spot of earth where six buzzards sat huddled on the blackened and crusty ground. They seemed to be fighting over a–“ugh”–Adam gagged again and this time lost his breakfast.
It was a half-decayed human body. “No wonder”. Adam wiped his mouth, pressed the silky fabric of his collar closer to his nose, and left his regurgitated angel’s bread far behind. Now he saw that corpses were everywhere. Adam lifted the hem of his white robe in disgust.
“Welcome back to earth, Adam,” a familiar voice boomed behind him.
Adam turned to see a radiant, winged figure of about seven feet high walking across the desert to him. “Michael!” Adam exclaimed then shook his head in answer to his friend’s greeting, “Looks a little too much like I remember it. –What happened here?”
The archangel beamed, “The Lord returned and slew all his enemies that had gathered against Him.” He added with a chuckle, “well, not all of them–there have to be some of the wretches left to rule over.” Michael gave Adam a wink.
“Not all?” Adam’s brow contracted in thought. “But didn’t the prophecy say all the Lord’s enemies?”
Michael’s eyes narrowed as he searched Adam’s face warily. “Who have you been talking to?”
“Well…” Adam’s gaze dropped to the ground and he kicked up a plume of soot with his bare foot. “I’ve been hanging out with the new guys in heaven because rumor had it, they’d discovered the right way to interpret prophesies unlike the combined theologians of the previous nineteen-hundred years of orthodox church history.”
“Oh,” Michael said looking relieved. “Well, good for you.” It was not an easy job explaining to 1,900 years-worth of saints that everything they thought they knew about the end times was wrong and outdated. Even an archangel can only do so much.
Adam looked relieved too. The eschatological factions were getting increasingly tense in heaven and the new guys had him up in knots that he would choose the wrong view and miss his flight to the New Earth. “Well, anyway,” Adam continued, “in their last cloud-group meeting they talked about the importance of taking every word of the Bible literally. –They even used me as an example. People who don’t take the Bible literally, think that I didn’t really exist!–that I was just a metaphor for mankind and the fall! Imagine that!”
“No surprise, really.” The angel clucked his tongue.
“Though strangely,” Adam added, staring past Michael, “I met some of the folk they were talking about–the folk that talk about scripture having different ‘genres’ and utilizing lots of metaphors–and most of them took my account of creation seriously and even went so far as to criticize the ridiculous ‘gap theory’ and ‘day-age theory’ proposed by others of the new guys.” Adam shook his head. “It’s all very baffling. But to return to my original question, if the Bible is absolutely literal, how dare we say ‘all is not all’?”
Michael laid a large hand, flawless, smooth, and very white, on Adam’s shoulder. “There are some figures of speech in the Bible. Just not where you expect to find them.”
“So…a thousand year reign is literal even though it sounds figurative and is surrounded by figurative language but ‘all enemies slain’ is figurative even though it sounds literal? Now I’m even more confused.” Adam sighed.
Michael passed this off with a wave of his hand. “Don’t trouble yourself about it, Adam. That’s why the new guys established seminaries to train an elite group of experts to keep the laymen up to date on the newest research breakthroughs.”
“Oh.” Adam said, blushing. After an awkward pause he asked, “What was that you said about ruling?” A lightning bolt split the sky, cutting the vultures’ outline in bold relief.
“Yes, rule,” Michael’s wings expanded. “All of the people will bring their squabbles and complaints to you–sometimes their complaints will be ABOUT you.” Michael’s wings fluttered as he chuckled.
Adam grimaced, “so…I guess the Lord hasn’t gotten rid of the sin problem yet.”
“Not yet,” Michael said, continuing triumphant and undaunted, “but He will after a thousand years!”
“A thousand years!” Adam gaped. “But what for?! Do you expect them to be saved during that time?”
“Possibly!” An eager flap of the angel’s wings flung dust and soot onto Adam’s bare feet. “God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor His ways, our ways, it could be that God intends–”
“But God already said–” Adam interrupted, “–that when He returns, there will no longer be opportunity for repentance. ‘There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’–”
“Oh, Adam, Adam, we just went through this.” Michael shook his head in pity. “Remember, there are some figures of speech in the Bible, just not where you expect to find them.”
“That’s a pretty elaborate metaphor.” Adam mumbled.
“What was that?”
“Oh, nothing. I was just wondering whether the fact that I’m feeling pretty cross about the situation is an indication that I’ve gone backwards and resumed my sinful nature again–now that I’ve left Heaven.”
“Don’t worry,” the angelic messenger replied with gusto–albeit feeling a little piqued that the angles who went to Bethlehem got to share the “good tidings that will be great joy for all people” while he got stuck with the announcement of “bad tidings that will be great sorrow for all people.” “Don’t worry,” he said, “You won’t have sin–just most of the people you will be interacting with.”
“Oh,” Adam rolled his eyes, “that makes things better.” Adam paused and rolled his tongue across the roof of his mouth. “I won’t have to die again, will I?”
“Die?” Michael’s wings ruffled and he forced a chuckle. “This is the Golden Age, remember?” No, you won’t have to die again.”
“Well that’s good,” Adam tilted his head from side to side in thought, “living here will be bad enough.”
“And the lifespans will be generously extended–” Michael grinned, not hearing the last thing Adam said, “–the sinner that dies at a hundred will be accursed!”
Adam raised his eyebrows, “so I guess you don’t recommend glorified saints making friends with mortals.”
“Huh?” Michael looked at him sideways, “come again?”
“Even with hundred-year lifespans that’s still as many as ten generations I will have to watch die.”
“Oh.” The angel bit his lip as he tugged at a cowlick feather in his left wing, “I hadn’t thought of it like that.”
“Yeah, and, so..how long do we have to deal with…with this-” Adam gestured to the rotting corpses. A vulture screeched, as if in protest.
“Oh, we’ll get this place cleaned up soon . (I’m in charge of the cleanup crew by the way.) We’ll have the desert blossoming in no time.”
Adam brightened. “So does that mean there will be no more thorns and briars, no more mosquitos–”
“Umm…” Adam’s question caught the well-scripted messenger off guard. “I don’t remember that being mentioned in the brochures we handed out…I-um…” the proud angel’s wings sunk three inches as he thought. “I-I think there will still be mosquitos but…but, they’ll be less of them-” Michael’s wings lifted again as his victorious timbre returned “and the wolf will lay down with the lamb and-”
“Just wonderful,” Adam grumbled, cutting the eulogy short, “I couldn’t care less about what the wolves eat.”
“Now Adam…” the angel chided. “Remember, ‘Blest are those who partake in the first resurrection’…”
Adam harrumphed, “well this is one ‘blessing’ I could’ve done without. Eve and Cain were bad enough to deal with back the first time I was here–now I’ve got a whole world full of sinners to deal with–I know, I know, it’s all my fault and it’s no more than I deserve but if you ask me–hey, wait a minute, maybe I can ask Jesus to put me to sleep like he did that time in the garden. I could just sleep through the millennium, ha!” Adam laughed to himself.
“I…don’t think He’ll go for that,” Michael said. “But at least you’ll get to rule with a rod of iron-”
“‘Rod of iron’ my foot! Are you tell’n me that I left heaven for this??”
Michael sighed. “That’s what all the saints are saying, everyone from Noah to John Calvin to George Eldon Ladd.”
“Can I just go back?” Adam pleaded, “I’ll give my ‘blessing’ to someone else…Hey, you know there was this guy that was always getting on my nerves on earth maybe he-”
Michael shook his head, his broad shoulders slumped, “It doesn’t work that way, Adam.”
“But there must be some mistake,” Adam insisted, “I must have just taken a wrong step and fell through a cloud or something-”
Michael’s gaze wandered to the vicious huddle of feasting buzzards, his own drooping wings now scraping the scorched, blood-stained, earth. “Maybe so…perhaps…I misunderstood Him.”
“Let’s sure hope so,” Adam said, watching as another buzzard joined the feast.