A devout, Christian man was told that he was going to be given an opportunity of a lifetime: he was going to get the chance to see God.
He did everything he could to prepare for the occasion. He spent extra time in prayer. He fasted and meditated on the scriptures. He sang songs of worship daily.
The man was led to a massive and beautiful gate. Its bars, impenetrable, were made of gold and precious silver. Diamonds and other gems adorned the gate in intricate patterns.
As he arrived at the entrance, he was awestruck as he looked and saw a light so brilliant, many times more beautiful than the most stunning beach sunset. As the man squinted and looked into the light, he could vaguely make out a figure from whom the light was emanating. The man stood, frozen in place, in utter amazement. He couldn’t take his eyes off the brilliance. “Could this be it?” the devout man asked. “Am I really seeing God?”
The figure in light extended what looked like an arm out in one direction, pointing the man’s gaze toward a massive table that was piled full of every kind of bread. The man had never seen so much bounty, and the aroma was enough to make his mouth water. A booming voice, whose fullness and volume almost knocked the man off his feet said, “It’s all yours.”
The man approached the seemingly endless table of bread, almost in a trance. Without even thinking, he began to eat. The bread was so delicious he didn’t know if he would be able to stop. He didn’t notice that he had been followed by a frail woman who was trying to direct his attention to something else. The woman was weak, covered in dirt and scars, and her voice was raspy. She tapped the man on the shoulder, saying, “Excuse me, sir,” gently and politely trying to get his attention. He turned only briefly enough to see how she looked and what she was pointing at. In the distance was a dark and dirty scene. There were rundown buildings and trash on the streets. There were people — people who looked similar to the woman — eating scraps and begging for food. “Sir, please look.”
The man peeked again but quickly dismissed it. ‘I’m here in the light of God,’ the man thought. ‘How could I even try to pull my attention away?’ He walked away from the woman.
Again the figure in light seemed to point towards something. This time the man’s eyes were drawn to various scenes that were playing like images on a TV. As he drew closer he eventually realized that each scene showed people doing things that humans have long wanted the power to do. In one scene, people were healing themselves of diseases. In another, people were stopping or reversing time. In still another, people were infinitely wealthy and could attain whatever their hearts desired. The booming voice spoke again: “I can give you any power you choose.”
The man’s mind barely had a chance to entertain doubts and questions. He was captivated by thoughts of the possibilities and power. As he stood there gazing at the scenes, the frail woman approached again. She placed her hand on his shoulder and said, “Please, sir. Come and look.” The man turned, more out of annoyance than anything, hoping the woman would go away if he gave her a moment. She was pointing to the same dark and dirty scene off in the distance. This time, there were people everywhere with all kinds of infirmities: some with injuries struggling to walk, some with confusion not knowing where to turn, some with deep depression, hiding from the world.
The man had let himself look at the scene long enough that he was struck with pity, and felt a momentary guilt at the contrast between the powers he had been offered in comparison to the world in the distance. But soon the man’s attention turned again to the brilliance, and he said to the woman, “Please let me be. I have been given this chance to see God, and I must not turn away. I have waiting my whole life for this.” The frail woman’s face was downcast, but she did not walk away.
The man turned back to the figure of light. It seemed brighter and more brilliant than ever. He chided himself for allowing his attention to be turned to anything else other than the radiance of God. Once more, the figure motioned. This time, the man turned to see scenes of some of the most beautiful places on earth: sprawling forests, snow-capped mountains, and waterfalls. The man saw places he had always wanted to visit but never had the chance. Once more, the booming voice spoke. “It can all be yours.”
The man was overcome with emotion. He spontaneously began to sing to God, shouting and dancing with words of thanks and praise for all that God had done for him, and all the ways that he was blessed.
But as he danced and sang, he nearly fell when he felt something at his feet. Catching himself, he looked down to see the frail woman again, this time with her hands clasped at his feet, her face and voice increasingly desperate. “Please look, please come,” she pleaded.
She was impossible to ignore. Though deeply frustrated, the man felt something inside of him spark that would not let him shake his pity and desire to know who this woman was and why she was there. They made eye contact. The woman pointed once more to the dark and dirty scene. The man finally took a longer moment to look. This time he saw, among and behind the hungry and infirm people, all kinds of machinery and factories. He saw them scorching the earth, poisoning what was left of the people’s air, food, and water supply. He also saw people that looked like giants walking among the others, yelling at them for being in the way, and taking from them what little they had.
As the man looked on, he felt his eyes widen. He felt his chest tighten. He felt his anger grow. He realized that the dark scene he was beholding was his own world, his own home, though they were not the things he had chosen to see. He looked again at the woman at his feet. Her eyes were locked on his.
After a long pause, the man turned to the figure of light, his eyes filled with tears. “I’m sorry, God. Thank you for this experience, but I just don’t see how I can be here in this perfect place when so many are suffering. I don’t know what this means but I feel that I have to go.”
As the man got up and started to walk away, suddenly there was a loud noise. The gate made of precious metal and gems broke apart and fell. All of the brilliant light that had filled the space suddenly vanished. The bread, the scenery, everything was gone. The man turned, and standing in the place where the figure of light had been was a man in a suit. He was neat and kempt, but looked angry and threatening. As he gritted his teeth, he face almost bore the resemblance of a serpent. He looked at the devout man and menacingly whispered, “I almost had you,” and walked away.
The man who had come to see God turned to the frail woman, in shock. The woman slowly stood up and took his hand. “Now,” the woman said, as they both looked into the world of need, “if you’re ready, we can go; and as promised, you can see the face of God.”
“If I ever become a saint, I will surely be one of ‘darkness.’ I will continually be absent from Heaven — to light the light of those in darkness on earth.” — Mother Teresa
See Psalm 34:18; Isaiah 58:5-9; Amos 5:21-24; Matthew 4:1-11, 25:31-46.