A Sermon of Life
All they had were questions. And stories.
So Danny began his story when the sun was setting.
“I once heard a sermon when you dragged me to your church that time,” said Danny, the younger brother.
“I remember that,” replied Joe. “It was the only time I’ve persuaded you to go.”
“But I listened – can you remember the sermon?”
“Wasn’t it about saving grace?”
“Not from what I remember,” replied Danny. “The guy on the pulpit went off on one about how people will be made to watch their lives all over again in front of God and give an account for all their actions. He said there would be a life review. It was a bad sermon and that is why I haven’t been back to your church. It put me off.”
“Oh, yeah, I remember. It isn’t usually that bad.”
“The preacher, what is the guy’s name anyway? Well, the preacher said that when people face the final judgment, which I’m not saying I believe will ever happen… he said that they would be forced to watch their lives all over again. How can he know that?”
“Are you going to tell a story?”
“Sure, but it’s all a bit scary… A man died and found himself in the throne room of your God. It was a huge palace and there was your great white throne, although goodness knows why it has to be a white throne and not a black ebony one… or a gold one. What is it made out of anyway? Ivory? Bone? Is that the so-called glory of God? Either way, the throne and your God shone… like a glow-in-the dark sticker.
Anyway, this man died and found himself in your God’s throne room and he was suddenly told that he would have to relive his life in a kind of movie form, with him watching all the things that were done, in front of a whole crowd of saints and angels and… whathaveyou. I can tell you now that the man blushed knowing the kind of things they would be watching. He had read a little about life reviews, people talked about their lives flashing in front of their eyes in near-death experiences and here he was, at the judgment being forced to watch the whole story of his life on some massive spiritual cinema screen in front of a lot of strangers. Perhaps the cost of the huge screen was raised through the tithes of the saints?”
“At least his family and friends weren’t there?”
“They had tickets for another performance. A small mercy? God told the man that he would need to simply watch the events of his life and that he would be asked questions afterwards. So, the life review began at his birth. Everyone was shown the man in graphic detail being born into the world. His baby cries filled the throne room. So far so good. This man was picked up by a doctor and the umbilical cord was cut and he was washed and placed at his mother’s breast. Tears filled the man’s eyes to see his mother looking so young. She had died when he was an adult and he had struggled so deeply with that.
There was no sign of his mother now in that throne room. So, he continued to watch and it became obvious that this life review wasn’t going to be edited at all. In fact, it seemed as if he would have to live a life in the throne room watching the events of his life in a kind of parallel time! I mean, think about it… even if he didn’t need to eat, drink and crap anymore, he was in for a long, long judgement.
The man appealed to God to fast forward and God sighed deeply and complied with the man’s request. The great white throne also happened to have a great white remote controller in an arm, through which God pressed a button and fast forwarded to the man as a toddler. It was just as well because otherwise the man and the rest of the audience were going to be very, very bored at a very banal life.”
“This is ridiculous.”
“No more ridiculous than some of your beliefs are, besides, I’m using your worldview, aren’t I? So, what are you complaining about? This man watched himself as a toddler, with both his parents. He watched himself holding the hands of his parents and being lifted by them and swung along as he walked. These were happy times for him and he couldn’t help smiling, although he did fear what would be edited out and what would be kept in.
And that was the trouble. It seemed that God had an agenda and all of the good deeds which the man did, all of the small kindnesses were fast forwarded. No sooner was the man about to say a kind word or share a toy with a friend before God was on the fast forward button, only pressing pause to show him in some naughty childhood mood, being disobedient to his parents or being selfish. It was like a very bad version of the latest reality TV show in which all of the good parts of the man’s life were edited out. Soon he was at school and God seemed to take some freaky pleasure in showing the man as a boy being mean to some schoolmates. There was one time in particular where he bullied a smaller boy… and to drive his point home God even pressed pause when the guilty party threw his first punch. Another time he was torturing tadpoles with a magnifying glass. You like saying that children are sinful don’t you, when your church isn’t abusing them that is?’
‘No Danny, I don’t. They’re just children.’
‘Whatever. The man was made to watch it all and he would look at God’s face – a face which was furrowed with concern and disapproval and lots of head shaking. All the time… the shaking head of God. Things didn’t look good. But you keep saying that your God is merciful and mercifully he fast forwarded through the man’s bad habits and most of the embarrassing things he did. He was at least glad of that. He wasn’t so glad when God showed him breaking into a house. It was something he had done as a teenager and something he had never told anyone about. The man broke in and stole some jewellery and sold it. And God shook his head sadly. And the man started to worry about other secret things which he had done in his life. There had been no murders, no genocides, but what was shown time and again was a kind of bad motivation behind so many of his deeds. He was shown in his first relationships, behaving selfishly. And he was shown being over-competitive in his career. And every time they were about to reach some point at which the man knew that he had done something kind or some good thing then God would press a button and the cinema screen would show some other scene. It was emotionally exhausting watching all this and the man began to feel the Saints and the angels looking at him with disapproval.
Also, watching his life all over again was taking such a long time and the man couldn’t seem to get comfortable with the crowds all around him, gasping in horror at his many sins.
There seemed to be one scene that God wanted to get to. It was just the one scene and God kept fast forwarding. He fast forwarded over the grief that the man expressed with the death of his parents. He fast forwarded over the many petitions which the man signed and the many small acts of kindness he made. He fast forwarded even over the major things that the man felt sure he would linger on. He seemed to be wanting to get to one particular place.
And then the man cringed as he realized what was about to happen. God found the place in the film of his life where he had been invited to a church service in one of the more charismatic evangelical churches. And the man was once again made to sit through a sermon which was all about whether they were willing to accept Jesus as their Lord and Saviour and that this would mean that they would live forever. And in the film in the throne room of God they all watched as the preacher asked the congregation on the TV screen if they would bow their heads and pray.
The preacher said: ‘All you have to do is to say sorry to God, which is to repent, to thank him for what he has done and to ask him to come into your life. God so loved the world that he gave his only son that WHOEVER believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.’
And the spiritual big brother camera zoomed in on the man who was playing the latest open world role playing game on his mobile. And then the preacher asked if anyone would like to raise their hand to show that they wanted to become a Christian. And the man swore silently because he lost a boss fight and was barely listening to the preacher. And all of the throne room, including the 12 disciples, gasped at him for that. And God shook his head and pressed stop on the movie of his life so that he wasn’t even able to watch the significant events which had occurred after that one so called defining moment. And then your God looked straight at the man with a sad, slightly annoyed look.
‘Why did you do that?’ asked God. ‘Why did you reject me? I am a great King.’
And the man was forced to tell the truth, ‘Because I had a good percentage score in the game and I wanted to share it with my friends on Facebook…’
And all the throne room gasped yet again. And God shook his head and said:
‘You betrayed my son because you loved a game more than you loved me and that was symbolic of everything in your life – ever.’
‘It wasn’t!’ shouted the man, ‘What about all the good I did?! There was this time when I once helped a…”
And then your God pressed a button on the other arm of his great white throne and an angel appeared and dragged the man to a huge pit which had appeared and the man fell, and fell, and fell… to your ridiculous hell.
Then the next man walked in. The end.’
“Who’s the moralist now?” asked Joe.
“Not at all, I’m merely highlighting how biased and unfair the whole system you ascribe to actually is.”
“No, that would never happen.”
“The preacher at your church said that was going to happen.”
Joe sniffed and closed his eyes. “Yes, Danny he did say that. But you’re mocking a made-up God. He’s not like that.”
“A victimless crime. Anyway, the preacher doesn’t know for sure. No-one really knows what will happen. And I never rubbished your God, I rubbished that crap sermon.”
Joe gave his brother the last word as night deepened, too tired to argue.
Suddenly, thirteen bats began to flutter around them both, quickly dancing their circular song in what remained of the dusk light… returning again and again to the same places. Joe was spellbound. One of the bats seemed to shine, just like a glow-in-the-dark sticker.
Danny picked up his mobile and started to play the latest open world role playing game. It was not judgement day yet.