There is a haunting appeal to contemplating the unknown. Since the dawn of mankind, we have turned our faces towards the heavens and searched the brilliant stars and the shining moon for answers. Who are we? Where did we come from? What is our purpose? What will happen to us after death? Is this all there is to life?
My daughter insists she has seen an angel. When we drive into our gated community, go up the slight hill and around the curve beside the large pond, she always points to a certain tree growing at the edge of the water.
“He was right there, Dad. Really, he was.” She describes a lanky, thin man with a beard and long hair wearing jeans and a simple tee shirt. She saw him as we passed but in looking back, he was gone. There and gone. A brief encounter with the unknown. At that time in her life, she needed this encounter. Struggling with her epilepsy and the terrible toll it had taken on her life as a high school student, she needed to know that God was still in control.
I did not see the angel. But then, the visitation was not for me. It was for her. A quiet message of reassurance that God is watching. We may not understand why life happens as it does, but we must cling to the assurance that God is in control. All I have to do is look up at the universe wheeling and spinning around our little oasis of life and know that God is in control. He is holding it all together and directing the path of each star, each galaxy, yes, each atom.
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Colossians 1:15-20
I received a lovely email from a reader of “The 13th Demon”. I know the book seems to be a frightening and potentially horrific tale, but it is only in our terror that we see the power of God and His incredibly redemptive acts. In my book, I give a major character an affliction. I don’t want to say more than that for fear of spoiling a reader’s experience. The author of the email loved the book, particularly the story of the caterpillar. But, she didn’t like the fact I had used her affliction as that of one of the characters.
I saw in her email a hint of the pain and struggle of anyone who wakes up each day with a chronic illness. I see it in my daughter, who at 24 has just now begun to awaken to the possibility she can have her own life. She has started back to community college and is actually looking forward to holding a job and having an independent life. My wife and I marvel at the sudden change and not a day passes that I don’t look over my shoulder for the oncoming train. To my email fan, I sent commendation for her bravery and her honesty. I am all too aware of the toll such disease takes on a life. But, God is in control.
In the days to come, I will share more information about the nature of God’s messengers, angels. The power and presence of these creations of God are at the center of my books and to grow in understanding of these creatures is to get a glimpse of the unknown; a passing glimmer of God’s grace; a tall figure of reassurance standing by the road of life.
Steel looked away. “I feel like I’ve only lived for two years, Claire. I can’t remember most of my life. I’m not ready to die.”
He felt her hand on his cheek. “Silly, I don’t want to die, either. I said I’m not afraid to die. Imagine you’re a caterpillar.”
Steel raised an eyebrow. “A caterpillar?”
“Just go with it, Jonathan. Your whole life is spent crawling along a leaf and eating. That’s all you do. You have no appreciation of where the leaf is. You have no idea of how far you are from the ground if you were to fall. You never see the bird that swoops down to devour you. Your appreciation of the universe is limited. And then, one day you feel this horrible sensation of dread. You feel a change coming. You’re going to die. You dread it. You fear it. You go on eating and crawling pretending it’s not going to happen. It happens. You spin yourself into a cocoon of death and know no more.” Claire’s eyes were wide with emotion. The night air grew still and close, thick with humidity. Time seemed to slow.
“And, then Jonathan, you awaken. Your body stirs and you realize you’re no longer dead. Your cocoon falls away and you spread out huge, luminous wings. You crawl away from your death shroud and you take to the air! You’re no longer a caterpillar. You’re a butterfly! You fly through trees and fields of flowers. You see the sun and the stars. An entire universe you never could have imagined is yours to appreciate. And suddenly, you spy a caterpillar crawling along its leaf. You watch your former self and you wonder how you could have ever wanted to stay like that.”
“That is death, Jonathan. We’re fat, clumsy caterpillars waiting for the day of metamorphosis. We fear the cocoon. But, when we emerge on the other side, we’ll look back from God’s eternal perspective and wonder how we could ever have wanted to stay like this.”
I’ve been overwhelmed at the response to this one passage in “The 13th Demon: Altar of the Spiral Eye”. Some say it is “profound”. Others say it is “comforting”. But, why?
Just yesterday, we learned from a very moving testimonial to the life of Steve Jobs by his sister that his last words were “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.” What did he see? Did he emerge from a cocoon and see his new form as a “butterfly” free from the confines of this earthly shape? Or, did he see the Creator in all of His splendor, majesty, and grace? No one can say for sure. But, he did see something.
This weekend, I also watched “The Captains”, a documentary by William Shatner interviewing all five actors who have played a captain of a starship in the Star Trek franchise. The most odd person was Avery Brooks who spoke in lilting metaphors and piano riffs and made very little sense whatsoever. The most concrete was Shatner himself, taking every opportunity to tell his own story of his life and how it was affected by his stent as “Captain Kirk”. But, what was most disturbing, most troubling was the answers he elicited from those he interviewed about God and what happens after death. Most answered, “I don’t know.” And, Shatner’s answer was his final lines as Captain Kirk in the ill fated “Generations” Star Trek movie that bridged the gap between the classic Star Trek universe and the Next Generation universe. As Captain Kirk lay dying his final words were, much like Steve Jobs’, “Oh, my!” I guess Shatner was expressing his desire that he hoped something was out there and whatever it is, he will be surprised.
Recently, the Discover channel premiered a show “Curiosity” and the opening episode answered the question, “Did God make the universe?” The physicists and cosmologists on the show were emphatic. There is no God. We don’t need God. The universe made itself. Even Stephen Hawking proclaimed there is no God and heaven is a “fairy tale”.
How then to put all of this together? I would say that each and every person listed above is nothing but a fat, clumsy caterpillar. Of course from our limited perspective, we can say there is no God; no transcendence; no afterlife. After all, what is our greatest desire? As a caterpillar it is to eat more leaves. In fact, give me a rain forest of leaves without predators and all of eternity to eat leaves! Wouldn’t that be the best existence? And, to defend such a Choice, for it is ultimately a choice; a worldview; a personal decision what to believe; yes to defend such a Choice we must say there is no butterfly! There is nothing beyond the cocoon. That makes all of THIS more important; more desirous; more under MY control. For the butterfly lies beyond my control in another dimension of reality that many would called the realm of “fairy tales”.
Steve Jobs triumphed the adage, “Think Different”. It is time for us to think different; think beyond the leaves and the clumsy state of existence and realize there is something beyond us; something that brought all of THIS into existence and something that has prepared an existence as fantastic and unimaginable as a butterfly is for a caterpillar. We are destined for that far country where we will fall at the feet of our Savior and say “Oh wow! Oh wow! Oh wow!”