I found myself standing outside a great walled city. The city sparkled, casting a million dancing prisms across the faces of those standing outside. The walls stretched beyond my sight in either direction. In front of me was an enormous pearl, catching the light and softening it. The light invited me to move closer to the pearl. I saw a hole had been made in the center of the pearl, a hole large enough to drive three trucks through, with room to spare.
The crowd buzzed as it moved toward the gap. Everyone seemed eager to enter, but then came a man with golf clubs over his shoulder. Moving against the crowd, he passed by me, muttering, "No golf. How can there be no golf? Surely a city like this would have a fine course. I thought at the very least there would be a par 3 course." He continued to mutter as he passed on, apparently in search of a golf course that would suit his talents.
No sooner had he passed than a woman passed me on the other side. She, too, was speaking to herself, though everyone could hear her words: "I thought Mother would be there to greet me. I so longed to see Mother, to hear her voice again, to have her guava cobbler again. But Mother wasn't even there. That big, hulking angel was surprised I asked about her. Maybe she's in this crowd somewhere."
I looked around and saw others move away from the great pearl. By now it was plain each had expected something different at the passageway. Each was disappointed.
A bespectacled man carrying a load of books walked away from the gates. He stopped to adjust his books, and I could see they were weighty tomes of theology. I ventured to ask him where he was going, and he huffed, "I am going where theological learning is appreciated. I asked that angel where theological discussions were held in the city, and he looked puzzled. Then he informed me that none of that sort of discourse occurred in the city. Imagine! No conversation about theology! No divinity school! I'm going to find someplace where people debate the most important issues." He hurried off.
I was puzzled by this man's reaction. Obviously, he was a theologian, and this place was certainly divine. I believed he was disappointed there would be no arguments about God in the city.
Several yards away from me, I saw a burly man moving against the crowd. He was dressed in camo, cradling a shotgun. "There's nothing to hunt here. Nothing!" he exclaimed to one of those waiting to get in. "Why, that jerk of an angel told me I couldn't bring my shotgun in, nor my pistol. How does he expect a man to defend himself?"
The more complaints I heard, the more I wanted to find out what sort of place this was. Why would people not want to go into such a splendid place?
A man came into view, not moving toward the pearl, but not moving away from it, either. An attractive woman clung to his right arm, and another attractive woman hung on his left arm. He stopped in front of me and said, "Hey man, we're getting a group together to have a party. I asked the big dude up there where the best action in town was and he told me, 'We have laughter and joy, but we don't have the kind of party you're looking for.' I asked him, 'What kind of dull place is this?' and he laughed. He said inside it was anything but dull, but I could tell by the way he talked, he didn't know the first thing about having a good time. So we're trying to get a group together and go find a party. Want to come?"
One of the girls winked at me. Her expression was an invitation to forget whatever was in that city and lose myself in her charms. I felt a weakness at my knees, and my heart accelerated. But there was a vacant look behind her wink that chilled me. I told the man I'd pass. He said, "Your loss, dude," and moved on.
Finally, I was near the front. I saw there a majestic angel standing guard, speaking to each person who desired to go in. He consulted an enormous book and would either smile or shake his head "no." The strangest thing was the people who received the "no" were not upset. They would walk away muttering like others I had seen, off to pursue some other venture.
It was my turn. The angel consulted the book. A grin broke onto his face. He gestured toward the gate. "He's waiting for you," he said.
"Who?" I asked.
"The one who knows you, the one who pours grace over you, the one who forgives all, the one who is true joy."
It was then I remembered his name: Jesus.
I woke with a start. It had been a dream, but a dream as real as the beauty of the rising sun. *
* Inspired by C.S. Lewis, "The Great Divorce."
The Rev. Dr. Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter.
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