Chapter Twenty-two: Ball of fire returns home
The ball of light that was Nick-Stephanie hurtled through space, many times faster than the speed of light, but slightly slower than the speed of thought; otherwise they would have been there already, Nick-Stephanie thought. They blasted through the Milky way galaxy, through planets, solar systems, black holes even, on their journey to heaven, then empty space for a short period of time, before encountering more matter from the next galaxy.
What joy they felt together. He and Stephanie were one, yet separate and distinct, combined together and knowing the totality of each other's thoughts and memories in a moment of time, perfect recall of all the good and all the bad things they each had ever done, and every thought they each had ever had about every action. But there was no shame or guilt about anything anymore.
The Lord was in their thoughts too, speaking more and more strongly as they neared heaven, pure instinct driving them home like salmon returning home to spawn.
Nick knew Stephanie's crucifixion firsthand, experiencing it through her eyes, which were his as well. He had experienced it, was experiencing it even now, and would experience it forevermore, as time was irrelevant in the present moment of their spirit existence. But while they had total recall, all pain was gone, only good emotions remained, and a sort of detached emptiness around awareness of any negative experiences they each had ever had.
Stephanie pulled away from him and the one ball of light became two. The light formed into something the likeness of Stephanie but more gender neutral. Nick formed into a likeness of his former self as well.
He felt emptier and alone now that they were separate, more like being human again, with only his own thoughts for comfort. His awareness of the intricacies of time dulled, and he was unable to share the present moment with as much intensity. But the joy was still there.
"Father is calling me home before you," Stephanie said. "See you when you arrive, slowpoke." She began to accelerate faster than him, and despite his best efforts to catch her, he could not seem to increase his speed. She suddenly took off like a jet, as if afterburners had kicked in, and he lost sight of her.
Galaxies rushed past him until he sensed his destination and thought himself into deceleration. The center of the universe was before him, an immense ball of white energy, something like a sun but millions of times larger and many times brighter. Hebrews 12:29 came to mind: "Our God is a consuming fire." Yet only a mild warmth radiated towards him, and a feeling of being invited. He plunged himself into the energy mass.
Nick's next awareness was of standing outside the gates of a beautiful and immense city, surrounded by a high wall of solid gold. Stephanie approached him from the gates.
"You missed all the excitement," Stephanie said. "Satan and his top Lieutenants were arguing your case before the Lord's court. He was severely pissed that he lost you, and made every argument he could that you had to go to hell with him when the time comes. The devil knows the scriptures backwards and forwards and quoted and twisted God's word like I'd never heard before. I gotta admit. I couldn't see any way around what he was saying, Nick. I thought for sure you'd get here just in time to be escorted to the lake of fire."
"So why am I not going there?"
Stephanie smiled. "Well, then the Lord opened his mouth to speak, and I understand fully now what Romans 8:33 means when it says: 'Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth'. God turned it all around, using the same scriptures, and interpreted your whole life's experience totally differently. Then I believed you had always been a saint since birth. And you were, and you are! This is why none of God's creation can ever again divorce God's input on His own words, Nick. They can be manipulated for both good and evil. Many people are going to hell because deception has them so trapped they can't see this and refuse to follow only the Holy Spirit's leading on interpreting His Word."
Nick was bewildered. "How are such things possible?"
Stephanie smiled again."You had to be there to understand. Satan knew he was defeated before he even entered the courtroom, but he had to spout his vile crap anyway. I was told these kinds of encounters are commonplace in heaven. God uses it as a chance to teach all of His creation the true difference between good and evil, but Satan just uses it as a chance to vent his frustrations, as he loses every time."
Suddenly, the city gates crashed open with a loud clang. A great towering red dragon led twelve hideous reptile creatures of various sizes and shapes through the front gate, escorted by a large angel with twelve equally large angelic cohorts.
"This isn't finished, piss-ass," Satan said and glared at Nick as he walked by. "I wouldn't accept the assignment if I were you. I won't go easy on you this time."
"Yeah, yeah, move along asshole," the leader of the angels said and gave Satan a shove.
"That was the archangel Michael," Stephanie said. "Captain of the Lord's army."
"What did the devil mean by that?" Nick asked.
Stephanie chuckled. "He's just pissed at the Lord's challenge. The Lord agreed to send you to hell only if you refused your special assignment."
"Doesn't sound like I have much of a choice."
"Sure you do. Want to know what it is?"
"You have to go back to earth and do for others what I did for you. You are the first person in human history to have totally crossed the line and yet been brought back from the brink. There are other people that have crossed that line and need your help. You really did commit an unforgivable sin, Nick. But you ultimately didn't because the Lord says you didn't. End of story. God's opinion on any issue is the final truth in all matters. It was all the Lord's plan to reveal a new level of grace and mercy to all of His creation. He has a plan and purpose behind everything that happens."
"Are you saying the mystery I thought I knew about having lived before coming to earth as a fallen angel is true? I mean, I'm not so sure anymore. I don't have any memory of that, and now that I'm spirit, I would think I should if it were true."
"Well I can't comment on that because it would affect your ability to complete the task the Lord has set before you. That's why I had to get here before you. The Lord didn't want you to witness all of this firsthand or you wouldn't be able to do what you have to do."
"But I still do have a choice?"
"Obey God or go to hell?"
"Right, but that's really the one and only choice God gives all of His sentient creation. The angelic rebellion and human history have proven that any deviation from this perfect standard eventually results in total failure. After all, if any person's opinion on any moral issue can be placed above God's, then others insist on that right too, an attitude which spreads, eventuating in anarchy. Absolute obedience in childlike trust and faith is the only way that leads to life. But we're focusing on the wrong thing here. The question you should be asking yourself right now is, what is the condition of your heart? What do you desire to do right now?"
Nick beamed. "I want to fall before the feet of the Lord of glory and worship Him!"
Stephanie smiled. "Good answer. But I'm told that would also affect your ability to complete your assignment, as once you are in His presence, you won't be able to leave. You've been forgiven much, Nick, and you just wouldn't be able to tear yourself away. What is the second biggest desire of your heart right now?"
"I desire to be used of the Lord to make a difference for good! I'm willing to go back and do anything necessary, suffer anything, whatever glorifies the Lord!"
"Exactly my point. Nobody forces anybody to do anything here. We all do what we want, and we all want to love and serve God here. If you had any other attitude, you'd be headed to the other place. Well, I'm happy to say then that I am authorized to send you back at the speed of thought. I bid you good journey." Stephanie leaned over and kissed Nick on the cheek.
Nick instantly found himself back at earth, floating above his dead body, which was on a cremation slab, door open to the crematory, fires blazing.
"I wish we had time to find a good burial spot in Star City cemetery," Lawrence was saying. "I'd like to have respected your wishes, Jeff, but there just isn't time. The Lord tells me Sandy will be here in minutes, and Jarius' men will be close behind her."
"I still don't understand why you prophesied that only one of my children would die but now both are gone," Jeff said. Valerie was standing beside him, holding her husband's hand and sobbing lightly.
"The Lord is sovereign over everything, Jeff" Lawrence said. "Just trust Him. At least you know you'll see both Nick and Stephanie in heaven one day."
"Alright," Jeff said. "Push him in."
Nick decided he'd better move fast and willed himself into his body. Then he sat his flesh body up and said, "Don't you think you'd better ask me first?"
Valerie screamed and Jeff stepped back a few feet.
"Don't be afraid," Nick said. "I've been sent back for a special assignment."
"You've been dead for hours!" Jeff said, and both his parents stepped forward and gave him a big hug.
Lawrence smiled and said, "Well, I'm glad you're back. We should be on our way then. I have to take up my position in the center of the complex before Jarius gets here. I'd suggest you three come wait by my side until Sandy arrives."
They all left the crematory and followed Lawrence to a central spot on the main floor of the complex. The place was deserted, with the exception of the odd straggler here and there. Jeff asked Lawrence to tell him again the exact time of Jarius' assault.
"2:12," Lawrence said, and Nick glanced at his watch, seeing it was already 2:08.
"Why isn't Sandy here yet?" Jeff asked. "We can't afford to wait much longer."
Lawrence suddenly stretched out his hands in what appeared to be a gesture which said "Stop." Then he closed his eyes and communicated a message from God. "I see her team. They are three blocks away, speeding here as fast as they can, as Jarius has spotted them and is in hot pursuit."
"She knows I'm waiting for her, doesn't she?" Jeff asked.
"She knows. The team plans to drop her off and escape through the back roads. Jarius will let them go because he is more concerned with destroying the complex." Lawrence opened his eyes. "I'm waiting for them."
"Why exactly are you just standing here, Lawrence?" Nick asked.
"I'm resting my hands against the pillars," Lawrence said.
"What?" Nick asked.
"God has revealed to me that my end is to be like Samson. I am to stand here, arms outstretched, touching symbolic pillars. When the time is right, I will push out my arms, bringing down this entire structure around our enemies' heads."
"But you'll be killed!" Valerie said.
"No. Then I will truly live. I will leave this earth to go be with the Lord forever. Do not grieve for me, my friends. My time is ended. This is the way He wants my death to glorify Him. I'm sure Nick understands my feelings, having already been to the other side and back."
Nick nodded, but his father seemed at a loss for words.
They all knew Lawrence well enough to realize there was no way their leader could be talked out of the plan. If Lawrence was convinced God wanted him to die this way, then he would gladly do it. He'd been such a good friend and leader to all of them.
Jeff smiled and nodded. "We'll miss you."
"I know. But we'll all meet again."
Jeff sighed and asked again, "How much longer until Sandy gets here?"
"That's going to be cutting it close."
Jeff turned to Nick and Valerie. The complex was totally empty now. Any last stranglers had fled quickly. "There's a back door in that direction," Jeff said and pointed at a hallway underneath his room and off to the right a bit. "Maybe you two should leave now."
"We're staying with you, dad," Nick said.
Jeff smiled. "I want you to know how proud I am of the man you've become, Nick."
Nick stood beside Lawrence and his parents, the longest one minute he could remember, until the front entrance smashed open and an attractive blonde woman came running across the wide complex space.
"It's time," Lawrence said and started to move his hands. "I'll give you as much time as I can, but you'd better move fast." The structure started to rumble. Sandy tripped and fell several yards away and Nick's dad went to help her. Before Jeff could reach her however, the door smashed open again and an unending stream of men came running through.
Lawrence moved his hands slightly and the place rumbled again, but Jarius' men kept streaming in. Nick heard gun shots. By this time, his dad and Sandy were running towards him. Then Sandy suddenly fell to the floor, blood gushing out of her legs.
Jeff grabbed her, flung her over his shoulder, and kept moving, more guns rattling in the background. Nick led the way to the escape hallway, his mom and dad close behind. When his parents had cleared the door, Nick turned to take one last glance and saw bloody holes appear in Lawrence's back before he stretched out his arms completely. As Lawrence fell to the floor, the roof started to cave in, and Nick realized his own hallway would be next. He ran forward and didn't look back again.