I was in the middle of my daily Bible reading late one afternoon, deep into Deuteronomy 14 where it says, “And the swine, because it divideth the hoof, yet cheweth not the cud, it is unclean unto you: ye shall not eat of their flesh, nor touch their dead.” I was thinking about how those instructions were aimed at the ancient Israelite tribes, but if pork was unclean for them, why isn’t it unclean for everyone? Just then my wife called from the kitchen.
“Honey, I can’t think of a thing to fix for dinner that sounds good. Let’s go out. I am just dying for some barbecued ribs.”
“Sounds great,” I responded. I yawned and settled back to continue my reading.
After a few minutes, I sensed a presence behind me, but when I turned to look, there was nothing there. I got a whiff of sulfur, plus another odor that I didn’t recognize. It smelled a little like soul food. Then a voice started to whisper in my ear.
“Your wife said she is dying to go to a restaurant. For Christians like you, going to a restaurant is just like dying. Either you are enjoying a nice meal…that’s Heaven…or you are being cooked in Hell, or you are waiting for a table in Purgatory. Oh, and that smell you didn’t recognize? It’s scorched soul.”
With that last, I knew that I was being visited by Mr. S himself…the Prince of Darkness, the Evil One. Only a supernatural being could have known what I was thinking.
He continued, “Of course only Catholics have to wait in Purgatory. Protestants sit at the counter where they get immediate service. It’s not as comfortable though. They have to be more upright.” He cackled at his own joke.
I am not Catholic, but I had a sudden surge of sympathy for them. I have suffered through interminable waits at some busy restaurants, where the charming lady at the reservations desk keeps saying, “Just a few more minutes.” Sometimes, it seems like I am waiting for the Second Coming.
I was confused! After a lifetime of being told that Satan is to be feared and hated, when I am finally confronted by him, he seems more like a stand-up comic. I finally screwed up enough courage to speak.
“You are not what I expected,” I quavered.
“Yeah, you people demonize me. I am just doing my job. The Boss likes to be entertained sometimes. Remember the court jesters that Kings used to have? I am The Boss’s court jester.”
“You are often blamed for a lot of bad stuff,” I ventured. “Like hurricanes and earthquakes and tsunamis that kill millions of people.”
“Stuff happens. The design is not without its flaws.” He snickered. “You are a good example of that. Nothing personal, of course.”
“But if we’re not perfect, why are we punished when we make mistakes?”
He hesitated. “I am not supposed to tell you this, but it’s not really punishment. It’s just part of the game.”
“That’s classified. You do not have the need to know.”
“Can you tell me how the game works?”
“Nope. You wouldn’t understand it anyway. And it would screw up the scoring if you knew. The playing pieces have to be ignorant.”
“Are we the players or the playing pieces?”
“Yes.” Another cackle.
“Did you come up with the idea of Heaven and Hell?”
“Yeah, and the Boss just loved it. But Catholics added the idea of Purgatory on their own. We figured, oh well, it’s just another little wrinkle and it makes the game more interesting, so we let it go.”
“Do souls that go to Hell really suffer forever?”
“Classified. You don’t need to know that.”
“I suppose it’s the same with Heaven.”
“Do we really have free will?”
“I’ll tell you this much. The idea of free will is an important part of the game.”
“Does the game have a beginning and an end?”
A pause. “Not in the way you think of it.”
“Will we ever figure out what the game is all about?”
There was a long rolling laugh that faded as he left.
I could barely hear his answer. “That’s part of the game.”
My wife shook my shoulder. “C’mon, you can sleep later. I’m starving!”
I didn’t tell her about my dream. She already thinks I am losing it, and I did not want to give her any more ammunition.