I once visited a curious place. In this place were many people on a journey. Many didn’t know they were on a journey, but they were. There were old and young. They were small and great. They walked over a vast sweeping landscape with a winding path that formed a road to Forever. All the plains and meadows, valleys and mountains, lakes and rivers were all contained within this great wide path to Forever.
But all this was less curious than the people themselves. It was as though they could see a pace or two ahead, and the entirety of what was behind, but they couldn’t seem to see what lay ahead of them down the path.
As I came closer to some of them, I noticed that each person’s vision was blocked. They were unable to see what truly was to be, only what they thought would be, as though walking toward a mirror that was ever before them. On these mirrors, each traveler had placed their thoughts like a living painting onto it. The pictures I saw on their mirrors did not reflect them, per se, but what they thought the path would be ahead of them. Some of the mirrors reflected the people inhabiting lovely futures full of romance and wealth. Some seemed to be consumed with the pursuit of fame. Some just wanted a simple life in the countryside in which they walked; a simple home, good health, enough money to live on. Some painted horrible things, futures lined with crags and cliffs, with suffering splintering the edges of their mirrors, and their fears like living beasts stalking them.
I shuddered and kept watching. I could see that a few things were common in all the mirrors — they all pictured what the individual wanted. But the mirror did not match what was actually before them. I could see, plain as day, that their future paths looked nothing like what they expected, especially when they were young. Sure, some achieved romance, wealth or fame, and many had simple lives full of wholesome things. And still others were fraught with troubles. Most had a combination of happiness and trouble. But none of them had an accurate idea of what the future held.
But on they went. And as they walked and their present path (a pace or two ahead) became clearer to them, they carefully (sometimes mournfully) adjusted the living paintings that blocked their view of what was ahead.
I saw some that were not to go on living much longer. Their mirrors showed rosy dreams of career and family, but their time was over long before they ever dreamed it would be.
Some, under the fatal news of terminal illness, had relatively accurate pictures (compared to others), but even then, their details were hazy and some were shocked to continue walking long after they thought their journey would end. Others found themselves walking on rough pathways of rocks and sharp glass that tore unexpectedly into their feet or made them trip and fall. A few walked straight into trees, off short cliffs, or even through burning coals of trails that blacked their feet with scars, or found themselves swimming in raging oceans of doubt or mental illness. Others with bleak paintings actually found themselves in lovely meadows with soft willows brushing their faces. But their paintings were so bleak and taking up so much of their perspective, they couldn’t seem to appreciate where they were.
The futility of it all filled me. If only they could see what actually was.
But each journey eventually came to an end. Most of them, as their painting fell away, suddenly saw Forever. They all looked up and saw the Lord seated in the Heavens, the vista of Forever stretching out before them.
For some, their faces showed no awe, only hate. The veil that hid his glory from them also thinly concealed who they really were, deep haters of God himself. They raged at the Lord seated so high above them, raged at the loss of their lives and comforts, at the loss of their artwork and expectations. They raged at the demons that laughed around them. Gnashing their teeth in fury they leapt into the Abyss even as the demons tried to drag them in. I noticed that the door, like a huge cellar, was locked from the inside. No one, not one person, ever came out.
For other travelers, there was a difference in their paintings. Their paintings were just as varied as others, and just as full of pleasure or sorrow. But, in each one, there was a central hill in the landscape, atop of which I saw an ugly Cross.
They met the Savior there, saw him die once for all in that eternal moment staked in time. At first, they looked around bewildered as he died. Their hearts ready, their sin so heavy. What was God doing? Why could they not see? But as their paths crossed His on the third morning, the valleys in their painting were showered with glorious light.
Somehow, the Lord had given them a sight of the far off future of Forever. Each had filled in their paintings with those grand vistas that, though fuzzy and dim, were shockingly accurate before they ever actually saw them. Their nearer futures, closer to the bottoms of their paintings also had expectations for their lives, but these were small, fuzzy, simple and not well drawn out.
For the remainder of their lives, they too walked through fire and swam through oceans, cared for hapless children and endlessly served the people around them. They winced or wept or called in desperation like regular people, but their mirror was so lovely they just couldn’t take their eyes off of it through it all. Their view of the cross and Forever never changed, and it seemed to give them strength for their troubles. It only grew clearer and more lovely the more trouble they overcame.
They spent most of their time thought-painting at the center, the portrait of the man they met at the Cross. Meeting him was far away in their journey, but for how detailed he was, he might as well have been right in front of them. Men, women, children, they all pictured him there placed in the center of their expectations. And when they died, their painting falling away from them, they barely noticed because what was in the painting was the same as what truly was.
I walked next to one of them, unobserved. Her future was grand, but her present was terrible. People around her died at alarming rates. They were taken from her, young and old — people she loved, babies she carried. Other people flung insults and rage at her as she walked, or came up close to sock a punch at her peaceful face. But still she walked on. She seemed to be wholly focused on serving the people that no one cared about, determined to seek out the least of all humanity.
Gradually, by looking at her mirror, a few of the people she loved started their own path to the Cross. And thus the accurate picture spread.
Always walking forward to the vista of hope, her clothing gradually changed. She was carefully and purposefully putting off old things, which I can only assume were on her from her days gone by. They littered the ground as she walked on. Selfishness, pride, greed, anger, she set them aside distractedly, in shreds, as she gradually was further clothed with white cloth.
In one step and not a gradual descent, she died. With a soft release like the letting out of a sigh, it was over.
At once surrounded by the Light of Forever, her painting was gone. But in its place was the reality. Like a veil lifted, she saw what she had been carefully painting all along. She smiled, her face and clothing radiant, but she still didn’t notice them. Woven from 9 colors, instead of the usual 7, it was a color spectrum I had never seen. Together they formed a white so brilliant it was hard to look at. But then I would blink and her clothing looked normal again.
She only saw Him, there in flesh and blood where before had only been hope and paint. The peace, clarity and glory of that first moment of Forever, the first moment of seeing his face was not worth comparing to her troubles on earth. It all fell away, her journey done, her eyes opened, her future secure and fixed in the heavens. “Well done,” the man of Forever said gently, “my good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master.”
He took her hand into his nail-scarred hand and together they walked higher up and deeper in, present in Forever.
And so shall she ever be, with the Lord.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:18-25
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12
As for me, I will be vindicated and will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness. Psalm 17:15