This is the fourth and final 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?”
The last thing I remembered was taking the man’s hand and feeling everything shift. I could not see for a moment, but I quickly realized that was because I was in darkness again. I moved my feet as well as I could and realized they stood on solid ground. I reckoned that I was standing still. Looking to my right, I saw I still held the man’s hand. I loosened my grip as my eyesight adjusted. I almost fell over in fright, realizing that we stood in space. Stars and distant planets were all around us. I could see far-off swirling galaxies. I looked at him with a start. He had that amused look on his face again. He looked down. I followed his gaze to our feet, which appeared to be standing on nothing.
“He knew you were coming, so he made a way for us to come.”
“This way,” he replied.
We walked along the transparent road for what seemed like hours. I could not bring myself to say another word. The wonder was too much; often it reduced me to fear and trembling. Once, a comet drifted under us — it was about all that I could handle. We stopped at one of the planets upon which I had taken rest before. I did some breathing exercises to calm myself. All of this was a bit too much. I began to wonder if I had gone insane on my ship. Maybe I had tied taking off and this was some cruel different afterlife. I was afraid my hubris may have reduced me to madness. I think my companion could see these thoughts on my face.
“Not to worry.” he said. “All of it is real.”
“That is precisely what you would say should I be insane.”
“You’re not a good counselor.”
“I admit, I struggle in that area sometimes.”
“Where are we going?”
“God has taken heaven elsewhere.”
“I suppose so.”
At this point I despaired. Had we been so evil? Had we been so evil that God had to leave us? Has he finally left us to our own ends and desires? The conclusion seemed inevitable. God had left this physical space for somewhere better. Maybe he was taking some of us along, but certainly it did not appear to be us all. Perhaps I would get to see him before he left.
“Will I get to …?”
“Of course, he knew you were coming. That would be rude.”
I hardly thought this God would be bothered by such trifles as hospitality, but I supposed I needed to learn to modify my expectations.
“Let’s carry on then.”
We walked for a while longer. In the distance, I could see the forbidding nebula from before. It did not chill me such as it had once. It was further from me now, and I had since despaired. It held no threat to me now.
“We all thought that was hell,” he said. He answered no further queries about it.
After a time, we approached what must have been the edge of the Milky Way. I looked into the deep blackness before us. To me now it seemed as if there were no stars beyond it. The distance felt oppressive, the emptiness almost violent. I was looking upon the end. For a moment, I thought I saw a twinkling light across the abyss, but it was always at the edge of my field of vision. We stood there for a moment. He began to look around curiously. Maybe he was expecting someone to show up. I sat down on the edge of our transparent bridge and put my head in my hands.
Did he forget about me? Maybe there was still a boat coming. Maybe a ship like mine would arrive and pick us up to take us to the new heaven. The bridge ending here did seem like a sort of dock. Maybe great angelic ships would moor here for a time. Perhaps they ferried souls to heaven … a Greek concept? Was this the river Styx? Was death all that lay before me now? Was Hades beyond? Was all our thoughts about heaven some cruel joke? Had we missed the point or just missed the boat?
I ran my hands through my hair with a mix of frustration and deep sorrow. I wished I had never left. I wished I had never asked questions of the vicar. I wished I had never built the hideous boat. I wished I had never taken off in such a wild, nonsensical, fallacious expedition. Who goes off in a spaceship to find God anyway? Who has the gall to think they could find heaven? I did! And let this story be a warning to all who think they might do the same … look upon my works, you mighty, and despair, for it was all vanity. It was all for nothing.
Just as I fell backwards, lying on the strange path, my companion spoke. “Apologies, I took us a bit further than I meant. It’s that way.”
I struggled to my knees and following his pointing finger. At the other end was something I struggled to comprehend. The light refracted in just such a way that more and more translucent paths shone in the deep space. Walking along them were people of all sorts. They wore the robes of my guide and carried the boxes from back in the city. Floating above them were pillars, pediments, doors, and windows, all made of the white material of the great city. Moving among them was a giant box labeled with words I could not hope to read. Flying among them were beings beyond description. A giant tree carried on the backs of many drifted along on top of them. A great light was before them, leading them in a single direction. A single man walked directly in the light. Then I saw it, only for a moment, where they were going.
At the end of the great pilgrimage from heaven was Earth.