I have been working on this draft for a while now. What I hope for it is that it will be moving. I hope it is thought provoking. It is just a story, so try not to over think the theology in it. It is not primarily theological. This piece came from all the hubbub about Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins. So I thought I would do a little creative imagining of what “Salvation for All” might look like. As I said, it’s not Theological. It’s not even what C.S. Lewis or Rob Bell might say about salvation, but this piece is just something that I think contains the truth about the pain of what God did for us, possibly why he did it, and…probes the question “would he do it again? If he did, would he do it differently?”
I hope you enjoy something about the piece. It is just a first draft, although I did set it aside for a while to work on other things, so be gracious with my errors. Cheers!
When the green line faded from the darkness on the back of his eyelids and the continuous siren-like sound grew faint in his ears, Greg could feel his feet shaking on the ground beneath him. He was no longer laying supported in an uncomfortable bed, but instead he could feel the heaviness of his body and the achy burden in his neck from tilting his head awkwardly upward. He felt his hairs slowly starting to wake up on his arms and little bumps on his skin rise at the touch of a tickling warmth.
Greg opened his eyes to some sort of magical sunset; the colors and design resembled the pictures of galaxies and nebulas taken by the Hubble Space telescope. Except the sky was incredibly close, close enough so that he could reach out and touch it if he wanted. It was most clearly gold. The kind that glitters and moves like light dancing across the ocean. It made Greg believe that if he crossed his eyes he could see something inside the movement. Swirling in the sky were crimson clouds with purple streaks that crossed through one another, dotting the speckling the canvas.
Greg realized that he could hear voices—voices he knew, voices that were unfamiliar, languages that he couldn’t understand, languages that he tried to speak, accents that made him laugh and accents that turned him on.
He was surrounded by people. Every time Greg drew in a breath of air to marvel silently at the sunscape, his chest heaved just far enough to brush the back of whoever it was that was standing in front of him.
From his tiptoes he could see that the crowd was an endless sea. It was unknown to him why or how or when it had gathered. And so, Greg was convinced, rather, he could feel that this sea was the whole world and that he belonged to it. He squirmed around like a fish, trying to swim somewhere else. He flailed around and darted in between people, trying to work his way through the crowd.
He nudged one man slightly on his way through, not trying to be rude, but when he turned to make amends he was stopped in his tracks by the middle-aged black man’s face.
It was Bill Cosby; Greg knew at once. He looked just the same as he did when Greg would watch him on television when he was a kid. Bill was wearing the same smile and same haircut as he did years ago. His wool sweater still fit him, as did his beige pants. Time had done nothing to him, not to his posture, the skin on his hands or face, the coarse black hair that formed the short curly afro on his head, and it certainly did nothing to his eyes. They were still deep, brown, and friendly.
Greg resisted the urge to question him. He was curious as to why age had treated him so kindly. More than the question of why time had no effect, what Greg found truly wanting was how this man from his childhood seemed younger and brighter than the one he remembered.
He slowly retreated to a different part of the crowd, glancing back at Bill and then turning away, his confused brain causing his feet to trip over themselves. He turned back one more time and tried to slap the questions out his head in the same way you might get water of your ears after a swim.
But the slapping did no good. It became apparent to Greg that every person that surrounded him seemed brighter, as if they were glowing.
He wandered through the mass of people, recognizing face after face, feature after feature, but couldn’t name the people he thought he knew. He thought of Bill Cosby and how he knew with certainty that it was Bill who was standing before him.
He was lost in the ocean, looking for something familiar. He looked for some sort of ship to save him, a life preserver or maybe a buoy. As he groped for a lifeline, a goofy looking man came into sight.
He could see his thin black hair combed over his nearly bald head. His face was pale. The most memory jarring feature, a thick stubble patch beneath his nose where it looked like someone had taken velcro and slapped it there, or a black marker and colored in a small square in between his nostrils and upper lip.
Greg rubbed his eyes with his fists, blinked hard, rubbed his eyes again, and then gave into a stare. Standing in front of him was Adolph Hitler; on his right were Joseph Stalin and Genghis Khan. All three of them were immersed in a conversation with the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, who, with what little space he had, was trying to give them a few pointers on how to do his signature “Moon walk.”
Almost instantly, he became aware of all the people around him. The famous ones, the people he grew up with, the people he learned about in school; they were all here.
Greg could see a group of knights off in the distance. They were dressed like they were ready for battle—robed in heavy chainmail, weighed down by polished metal armor—the wide slits in their helmets allowing them to breathe made them look like shiny walking freight trains. They carried swords and spears in their hands and had shields attached to their arms. They weren’t just kids or teens or men who lived with their moms who were just playing dress-up. They were the chivalrous nobility of the medieval times
Pope Benedict was there—all sixteen of them. They were standing next to Princess Diana. And lady Di’s mother, the Queen of England, was there, talking to Benjamin Franklin and Leonardo Da Vinci. Greg saw his childhood hero, Derek Jeter, shortstop for the New York Yankees. He saw his neighbor Joe, his best friend Ricky, he saw you and he saw me, he saw Carl, the man who used to own the old donut shop in town, the Chinese guy who cooked at the burger joint, and the sun-tanned Mexican gentleman who owned his favorite restaurant next door to the burger joint.
Out of the corner of his eye, Greg caught a glimpse of a man who looked just like himself, a man who haunted him in his dreams. He thought immediately of his father and how everyone always said they looked alike. He pushed through the mass of people, the image of himself flashing in between the faces and bodies of the moving crowd.
A few feet from him, Greg caught a full view of the one he hoped might be his dad. When the man turned towards Greg and he was able to look into his face. The person’s piercing green eyes stabbed at Greg’s heart and poured cement immediately down into his shoes. His legs were stuck as he stared at the young man with the green eyes. They were the eyes of his ex-wife, the eyes of a child they, no—he aborted—they were the eyes of the son they never had.
Greg could feel his heart mourning. It was weeping with every beat. Every time it pumped blood through his veins they were great big tears; big, bloody tears. He was crying for his son—and for yours, for all the unborn children of the world.
All the faces, now familiar, felt past, present and future—oddly eternal. Before, he thought that the multitudes of people all around him were somehow like the world, a metaphor or a symbol, but now he knew that the endless lines of individuals that surrounded him actually included everyone who had ever lived in the history of the earth.
And then a thought that had hidden itself in his brain earlier finally spoke up and Greg found himself wondering why everyone in the whole world was turned the same way and staring in the same direction.
His eyes traveled on a path that quickly joined the crowds, and Greg followed their stares up a hill that stood high above the world of people.
On top of the hill was a cross.
Everyone was pointed toward the cross, its backdrop the sunset: that majestic, bleeding sunset. When Greg looked at the cross his eyes and ears were drawn to it. It held his attention in a vise. He tried to turn away but he couldn’t. He wondered if everyone was experiencing what he was experiencing. He knew he was incredibly far away from it, there were so many people surrounding the cross, but as he stared, it was like he was looking through binoculars held in steady hands. It was so clear and so close.
And then somewhere off in the distance, beyond the cross and over the hill and past the sunset—someone started screaming.
It sounded like a woman giving birth to a child. It was not just the most physical pain that could be heard in the grunts and heavy breaths, but the irony of being suffocated from the inside out. It was every kind of pain, the sound of a woman and child abandoned.
But the voice was not a woman’s—it was a man’s.
Greg’s ears felt as if they were tight in the grip of someone’s hands, not letting him miss this symphony of slaughter. The hands seemed cupped around his ears, pulling and pointing toward the place of torture so the screams could echo in his brain. It was the opposite of having two giant conch shells covering his ears, he could not hear the muffled calm of the ocean all around him, instead he was listening to the shells of abortion as they gave birth to the sound of death.
In places, the sea of people that surrounded Greg tumbled like the rolling surf hitting a shore as the man’s low belly squeals rippled through the crowd.
The knights had all fallen to one knee and placed their swords blade first into the ground. Each of them, in some act of respect or chivalry for the man they knew would soon be dead, crossed their arms over their chests and placed their fists on top of their hearts. All sixteen Popes were still standing. In one hand they each held a small cross, with what looked like a person on it, and the other hand they waved in front of their heads and shoulders while they all repeated the same words in whispers. Stalin’s face was unchanged, and almost bored. Ben Franklin and Leo had their finger tips lifted to their chins, their heads searching for a better view of the scene. Their eyebrows were inquisitive, lips pursed tight, holding inside the questions they had.
Hitler had fallen down onto his knees and was wailing. Everyone near him pushed up against each other uncomfortably and away from him, but Hitler neither noticed, nor cared. His face was buried deep in his hands and he was jerking back and forth a little in his space on the ground, almost as if he were trying not to vomit. Maybe his ears couldn’t handle the sounds. The edges of his palms were shiny in the sunlight, softer and streaked and slightly shriveled from the salty tears he couldn’t hold back.
Greg could feel the faraway cries like waves crashing over him. They came in sets, each wave a different sound and a different feeling. A violent crack would whip through the air and he could feel the gust of wind it made as it blew past him. Then a grunt—then a loud, agonized shriek that would echo—a pulling sound, but also a ripping and a shredding sound that reminded Greg of meat being torn off a carcass. Finally, the sound of paint splattering against a wall—then it would repeat itself—and repeat itself.
Stalin stood like a statue. Mother Theresa was on her knees. Adam and Eve had pulled off their fig leaves and were dancing in circles, Hitler was crumpled into the ball on the ground with knees tucked into his chest, and Greg’s son—his unborn son—had his hands lifted above his head and was donning a smile that nearly stretched from one ear to the other. His eyes and cheeks were shining like Hitler’s hands; only it made his face radiant and bright. He was not mourning or alone, but his piercing green eyes were instead radiating joy.
And then the waves of violence stopped, and the air and the crowd regained some of its quiet in reaction to the sudden silence. The silence it took back was only the sad inability to talk, but all those that could, wanted, needed, or had been before, were still sobbing at the echo of what they heard.
A leaky faucet turned on somewhere over the hill—drip drip—thud. The thud made the ground quake. Greg’s legs quivered beneath him, his shoes shook. Drip drip—thud. A cold fingernail slid up Greg’s spine and shot ice up his neck It ran to the top of his head and recoiled back down into his arms, legs and toes. Drip drip thud. The noise continued. The dripping, though known to everyone to be a single drop that bled into vast sea of people, colored the mood of the crowd a deeper and darker hue. Every thud was a heavy foot, bearing the weight of the entire world in each step. It stumbled—drip drip—thud. Foot shaped craters in the ground forming a long procession line headed up towards the hill.
The fantasy sunrise was storming—transforming. The thuds of the footsteps were the booms of thunder. The crimson streaks would flash a bright scarlet lightning. The purple clouds formed a billowing maroon tempest and the shimmering gold in the sky bled a deep ruby red.
The gathered crowd gasped without a sound as a man who was draped in an imperial colored robe, bathed in blood, like teary-rain drops running down window panes, came dripping and thudding and heading for the crest of the hill where the cross rose out of the earth with a posture of royalty. The man was dragging each foot, one after the other, across the plush and damp grass of dusk. Clumps and clots of life and fresh chunks of flesh followed him up the hill like a long wedding train. Just before losing his balance as he stumbled, he would unstick his exhausted feet from the ground and swing them forward desperately. They would land out in front of him just far enough to keep him hunched over and barely standing. When the foot and the full weight of the calves and thighs came down into the ground, they crashed forward with the full girth of the rest of his body and pounded the ground with a mighty thud, sinking deep into the grass and wet mud, impressing into the eternal hill a footprint; a footprint which soon filled up with the drip drippings of the blood that ran down the man’s neck, back, hamstrings, and ankles.
A thin film of remorse collected at the corners of Stalin’s eyes.
Greg’s jaw gaped—paralyzed—his own stare drowning in unbelieving tears that trickled down his cheeks endlessly with questions. His fingers had curled unintentionally up into his palms and his arms were trembling like he had been bit by the cold. Somewhere, deep in his gut he could feel his intestines being stretched, twisted, and knotted into balloon animals by calloused hands.
The disfigured man took a half step and then crumpled—the crown of his head first—sinking deep into the soft grass and muck at the foot of the cross. He groped for something in front of his face, clawing at the thin green blades and thick lumps of dirt. He sank his nails deep into the ground and pressed himself up onto his knees. His nappy wet hair hung down like drapes curtaining his face. The man hunched low with his feeble arms bent crooked and he crawled forward with his nose nearly kissing the dirt. His foot trapped the train of his robe as he inched toward the base of the cross, tugging the robe off his bony shoulders. He crept slowly—naked—but covered in a blended mess of bleeding wounds and crusted mud. His belly ballooned up with air, opening up the slashes that penetrated deep into the supple tissue; then his gut caved in, outlining his organs and exposing the shadowy lines of his bruised ribs.
From his prostrated posture of humiliation, the man stretched desperately for the torturous tree, the tips of his fingers reaching and then clenching the sappy residue of old caked up blood. He wrapped his arms around the trunk and pulled himself close, clinging to it like a child holding onto the comfortable leg of a father. His head slumped, defeated, against the cross.
The coarse, gore dampened hair slid off his face as his chin tilted toward the raging sky.
Greg collapsed to the ground. Screeching broke out over the muffled sobs, shrieks liberated themselves from being contained inside people’s mouths by tightly cupped hands. Screams escaped from the prisons of men’s hardened hearts, the dark closets of old women, and the painful places in the souls of small children.
Hitler was pushing his way through the crowded sea. “Bitte! Stoppen! Bitte! Bitte, stoppen! Nicht mehr!” he was yelling frantically as he slammed into people. Hitler’s agonizing howls burned Greg’s ears and tortured him. Greg could not understand Hitler’s words as they scalded his eardrums—but he felt them, hot and painful and wanting as they climbed up his throat and out of his own mouth, “Please! Stop! Please! Please, stop! No more!
They were the same hurting and dying pleas of everyone on earth, words being birthed forth from the depths inside of every person—every person who was wading in the never ending sea—drowning and struggling to hold their burdened heads above the turbulent waves.
Stalin’s shoulders sagged, heaving in sorrowful rhythm, his face concealed in guilty hands. He was bent over his knees, his curved spine adding the humble roundness of age to his back. The strong neck that usually sat nobly on his shoulders hung loosely. His head was bowed low, the bow of a man who had finally seen the old and hidden pride which strangled him for so long.
Kneeling together and weeping were Ben Franklin and Leonardo Da Vinci. Their inquisitive mouths and furrowed brows now turned into horrorstruck eyes and jaws clenched tight with shame. Their grimacing lips parted occasionally, revealing gritted teeth and the quiet exhale of the same words everyone else was speaking, “Please, stop.”
Greg scanned the crowd for some answer, something familiar and soothing, something that might distract or blot out the terrifying drama unfolding before his eyes—but there were only the bleak faces of his childhood friends, neighbors from long ago, you and I, the people he learned about in history books or saw on television; all no longer familiar. Uncle Joe, Babe Ruth, Mom, George Washington, Terry from work, Darryl the barber, Stalin and Hitler; they all had distant stares that were searching for far away answers, each of them wondering—begging to know “Why?”
Greg needed to know. The question didn’t echo and fade out faintly in his mind, but slammed persistently against his skull, “Why…Why, Why, Why, WhyWhyWhyWhyWhyWhy!” It was the same drip dripping of the leaky faucet, and it drip dipped and thudded hard in his head. It sank into him—until Greg buckled under the question. Folded up on the ground with his eyes shut, he watched “Why?” flash like a projector picture slideshow on the screen of his mind—over and over.
He was going cold again, the “Why?” blinking rapidly and blurring into a line…and Greg was afraid that the flashing “Why?” would go fuzzy and flat—a line going green once again.
But some resilient warmth seized Greg’s numb wrist. The hairs awakened on his arm, goosebumps were born on his neck. Greg opened his eyes to the terrible and beautiful, piercing stare of life. Not a neon line, nor the dark end, but the radiant green irises of his son.
The strong hand clung tightly to Greg and pulled him to his feet—then turned back to the cross. The face of Greg’s son was wet and polished with tears. But in his emerald stare Greg could not see the same searching for the far off question of “Why?” He saw only thankfulness. He saw the bright and glowing face of a man satisfied, the wide smile and high cheeks, the unsurprised but still high arced eyebrows of a person in awe. He was witnessing something beautiful and mysterious; something like a child being born.
Greg tore his eyes from his son and forced them back to the cross.
The high hill on which the cross lingered was an isolated island in the middle of the sea, the cross a beacon, a lonely lighthouse in the ocean. The people all around, with their guilty hands, were heavy tempest waves breaking up against the rocky cliffs and forcing his humble frame in their frenzied foaming swells high into the torture tree.
The consistent pounding, the hammering, held the man in place against the wood. His thin veins bulged out the tightly pulled back skin, his arm span stretched beyond their full length across the plank. His nearly dislocated shoulders twisted awkwardly in their sockets and the backs of his palms pressed hard into the air for everyone to see.
The man’s head kicked back. His mouth opened and formed the shape of anguish. Silent words spilled from his lips. His agony emerged from every voice in the crowd, different tones and accents and languages. They spoke in his place, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!”
The words burnt Greg’s lips. Over and over he wailed, “My God! My God!”
Every tongue in the crowd sang, “My God! My God!” Then every wave stilled. The sea crashed onto its knees, continuing in their confession, “My God. My God.”
The world was breathless, choking out the last sounds of, “My God.”
The man held in his finals words. His stomach was shrinking as life left his body. The crowd had poured out all they had; the world was suffocating. The man drew in what was the only air that was left and in one final exhale, breathed out. A wind blew through the crowd as the words lefts his lips. The man’s head dropped but the crowd filled with life and lifted. “It is Finished,” he said.
The storm screamed throaty booms and spit searing flashes of lightning. Then it squealed. And died. Swallowed by a thick darkness.
An eternity passed overnight. A hot sun rose from behind the hill and there was no man to be found. The sunrise was calm, glittering gold without crimson clouds or purple rains.
Greg stood in the sunlight with the rest of the crowd. Like the man, the tears were gone, the questions were gone, and the blood was gone. All that stood with the people was the cross.
“You wanted to know why,” a familiar voice said to Greg.
He turned. It was his son.
“Because not everyone believed him the first time,” His son said. “He didn’t want to do it twice. How can any man do what he did even one time?”
Greg stared into his son, into the smile, and Greg knew, it was because of that man that his son was standing before him.
“He did it twice because he loves us—all of us. He did it once because he was the only that could, but people still rejected him. He did it again—because he wanted too.”
Greg reached forward and touched his sons shoulder. The unfamiliar tears of joy spread across Greg’s cheeks. His son gripped the hand that rested his shoulder, and said, “I love you dad.”
“I love you son,” Greg replied.
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