This is the third part of an extended eschatological parable I wrote in 2012 after encountering the work of Oliver Davies and the emerging school of “Transformation Theology” at King’s College London (you don’t need to know anything about that to understand the story). The original dedication read that “It is dedicated to them in one sense, but in a more important sense also to all who continue to ask questions even if they do not expect an answer.” The central question that the story addresses is “where is Jesus?”
One day in the future, I was able to sleep in my bunk. I woke up after what seemed like barely a tick on the clock but must have been an eternity, for outside my viewport I beheld a marvelous sight. White light flooded the chamber from what appeared to be a thousand spheres. The orbs looked as if they were pure light bound to a single spot. They quivered in their suspended state and turned as I passed them. It was almost as if they were watching. The ship sailed through the spheres into what looked like a colonnaded space. Giant white pillars of light stretched on forever from the left to the right. I moved the ship so that they hung vertically on either side of me when I noticed that the spheres had lined up along my engine wake. The green slipstream I had left across the cosmos was now a road for the mysterious lights.
The more sets of pillars I passed, the more the light behind them seemed to look like clouds from Earth. The pillars began to multiply in increasingly complex patterns, lining row upon row of them to the port and starboard. I ventured out on a line to stand on the prow of my boat to look up. The pillars still stretched further than my eye could see. All around were clouds. I marveled at the cosmic architecture when an object hurling past me gave me a start. I fell from the narrow ledge into space, drifting away from the ship. I grasped firmly onto the line as I looked around frantically to see what happened.
Another object flew past and I realized that it was one of the spheres. They were oscillating between different colors now. As I pulled myself along the line back toward my ship, more of them flew by. Each of them moved as fast as an underground train, startling me each time. But they began to fly by in twos and threes. Soon, it was rainstorm. I cut the engines and rolled the ship around along its vertical axis to see behind me. Thousands of the spheres were hurdling toward me but none of them seemed to hit the ship. Another miracle.
Once the ship came around into its original position, I looked upon another strange sight. The spheres had arranged themselves in a path, two boundaries on the port and starboard, leading the way forward. They blinked different colors each time, occasionally colors I do not believe I had ever seen. The path appeared vaguely like an airport runway. Undaunted, I took the wheel and sailed down the path. Either I was truly going insane or I had reached some new place. If it was not heaven, it must become it. I had not travelled this far for nothing, it appeared.
The spheres eventually led me to what appeared to be a giant marble platform extending out from a white landmass. The spheres came in closer as my ship passed over the lip of the platform and began to attach to the sides. The wheel began to move on its own in my hands. I let go and stepped back, frightened. The spheres landed on all parts of my ship and inexplicably, my sense of things began to feel the ship moving downward. My feet settled on the ground and I felt gravity restore itself inside the ship. I wriggled my toes on the cold metal ground, feeling it as I had on earth again. I looked out the viewport to see what appeared to be a great city in the distance. Buildings of what looked like marble formed a brilliant skyline. A giant structure in the middle looked like a palace.
My wonder was interrupted as the ship roughly hit the ground. The spheres outside quivered and wavered as if in apology as the boat skidded to a stop on the marble tarmac. I looked around and felt the stillness. I picked up a mug from the shelf and dropped it, shattering it on the floor. Gravity felt weird and my legs were weak. I slowly made my way toward the airlock and put on my suit again. I stepped out onto the deck to see that the spheres were gone, nowhere in sight. I sat on the edge of the ship for what seemed like hours, maybe even days, before I got the nerve to climb down the ladder to the surface.
My feet hit the ground with a thud after I let go of the last rung. I looked around and before me was a great white city. Immediately ahead of me appeared to be a road of gold. The golden street led up to gates of pearl that more than bordered on cliché. That this heaven appeared so much like some imaginings of humanity surprised me. Surely we would have not been able to conceive of heaven … was it possible for humanity to know such a thing? Unhindered by the question, I walked toward the gates; they startled me when they began to open inward upon my approach. They moved with some noise, creaking as if not a soul had used them in many days. They closed back behind me in similar fashion. For a moment, I looked back through them toward my ship, resting on the heavenly tarmac. To go forward or return … it was not even a question now.
I walked through the streets surprised not to see another person. I wondered if they were all spirits so I — in the flesh — could not see them. However, the very existence of this physical place seemed to revolt against such a dualism. I thought perhaps that they might be hiding. Maybe inside the doors were cowering citizens of heaven marveling at me … a latter day conquistador. After several blocks of empty houses, I decided to test the theory. Approaching a modest-looking house, I found the door unlocked — not having a lock at all, in fact. The atrium was vacant, so I walked into an adjoining room. Peculiarly, the room was full of stacked boxes. There were words written on them in a script I could not read, but it looked vaguely like ancient Greek. Other boxes had other languages on them. As I reached to open one of them, I heard footsteps behind me.
I whirled around to see a man standing there. He was curious, small in stature, meeting eyebrows, and less hair than most would like on his head. He appeared strong in build but with a large crooked nose. He smiled with a calm I did not understand.
“Welcome,” he said.
I did not know how to respond. I thought of thanking him, but I felt out of place having broken into his house. He had to know I was from somewhere else. I was wearing a spacesuit. He was clothed in light white robes.
“Do you think you are lost?” he asked.
I thought his phrasing was odd. “Are you lost?” might have been a better question, a more natural one to ask.
“I think I might be.”
He shook his head, “You arrived right where you intended.”
“This is heaven?”
“This is my house,” he laughed. “But, yes, I guess you could say that.”
“It is not what I expected.”
“It rarely is,” he replied. He walked toward the door. “Come with me.”
When we walked out into the street, he took me down a side alley. We entered a different quarter where the architecture was less classical. The houses were no less beautiful, however. This area was also different in that there were people. They were walking in and out of houses, stacking boxes in the square. They were all labeled like the ones in this man’s house. They looked like they were packing, moving somewhere new. Such a notion was disconcerting. I asked my companion.
“Yes, you came at an awkward time, I’m afraid,” he answered. “We’re in the midst of moving.”
“Heaven has to relocate,” he did not answer. “The Father made that clear to us.”
“What?” I was bewildered. Was God trying to move heaven before I could get to it? Had I thwarted his divine timing? Surely not! “So … is God here?”
“What do you mean?”
I paused. Perhaps that was an inappropriate question. I rephrased myself.
“Is Jesus here?”
“I’m afraid not in the sense that you seem to mean it,” my companion answered as we walked further. We turned a corner and there was the palace I had seen from a distance.
“So,” I gestured toward the building. “If I went in there, no one is seated on a throne, and Jesus is not at the Father’s right hand?”
“Of course not,” he replied with a laugh, “Why would that be so? That’s just for decoration. We keep cleaning supplies inside it sometimes though.”
“That’s the caretaker’s?”
“We’re all caretakers here,” he said bemused. “If you’re looking for the right hand of the Father, I’m not sure you’re in the right place. He’s moved that.”
“Where?” I asked, exasperated.
“Come with me,” he said, extending his hand.