I arrived in Heaven to find a row of judges seated before the gates. Jesus was at my side.
When asked which saint would judge me, he pointed toward a large crowd gathered in front of a young man who had clearly died in his prime.
“Who is he?” I asked.
“Uriah the Hittite,” Jesus replied. “He will be your judge.”
I was confused. “Am I not to be judged by you?”
“Did you forget that I said the world will be judged by the saints?”
I looked at the young man peering intently down on the crowd from his seat of judgement. “But Jesus, shouldn’t I be judged at least by a Christian?”
The Master shook his head and pointed into the crowd. “Most of your generation will be judged by him.” Putting a loving arm around my shoulder, he guided me closer. “You’ll see why,” he assured me.
As I drew nearer I could see a big, strong man on his knees begging the judge for forgiveness. The judge said only a few words in response, then waved the man away. Angels dragged the man toward the pit of Hell; he was still screaming for forgiveness as they threw him in. The next man in line dropped to his knees immediately, begging for forgiveness in the same ancient language.
“Who were they?” I asked Jesus.
“These are Uriah’s soldiers, whom he led into battle in his lifetime and whom he loved as though each of them were his own sons.”
“Then why is he so heartlessly sending them away?”
Jesus pointed. “Look.”
As the crowd watched, the life of this soldier appeared as though a vision above the gates of Heaven. We all watched while the soldier blindly followed the orders that led to Uriah’s demise. The events were shown, again and again, as each of Uriah’s soldiers relived those moments when they obeyed the general’s command that meant certain death for their captain. I was shocked to see that none of these mighty warriors stopped to ask themselves if they were doing the right thing. A few didn’t even think letting him die was the wrong thing to do. They were simply showing unquestioning loyalty to their king.
After each soldier’s perspective was relived, Uriah would show the same vision—the aftermath of their decision: The corruption that crept into the marriage between Uriah’s widow and the king with whom she was having an affair. The son who would grow up to murder his own brothers in an effort to consolidate power—and who would edit the historical texts to justify it as a holy act of God that few would dare question for thousands of years to come. As the vision continued, we watched the nation these men fought so hard for collapse under the influence of the pagan women whom the corrupted prince took as wives. Then, as the vision would fade, Uriah would point to the soldier before him and speak five words of judgement before waving the lost soul away.
As the last of these soldiers were sent to their final punishment, I turned to Jesus. “Lord, I was not of his generation. Why does he judge me?”
Jesus showed me the other men in line. Some of them I recognized. Men from my church—from my own Bible studies. Men who’d spent most of their lives in the church. Men just like me.
I watched as a man was shown his own life—as he spent thirty minutes every day reading the Bible…but his mind was far from the words on the page that his eyes moved across. Instead, he let his thoughts wander to things more important to him: the football game, television shows, and silly movies he planned to watch just as soon as his thirty-minute reading obligation was over.
I saw one man I knew from a neighboring church looking the other way as the church leadership made inappropriate advances toward one of the children in the choir. The vision went on to show the aftermath play out as pain, rebellion, and eventual disaster in the life of the young child who was victimized by that encounter.
I saw men from my church who claimed to know the Bible, but they were better versed in Game of Thrones lore than the corruption of Israel’s throne in the wake of Judge Uriah’s Death. I saw men from my church who blindly followed the teachings of our pastor. Men who only served the charities our pastor suggested—who only condemned the sins she told them to. Men who openly slandered and persecuted those whom our pastor told them to oppose—who only voted for candidates our pastor endorsed. I saw them stumble blindly through their lives, always thinking they were following God when, in fact, they were merely following the tyranny of a human leader in a position of religious authority.
And at the end of each man’s vision, Saint Uriah spoke those same words of judgment to them and waved them away.
I turned to find Jesus still at my side. “But Lord,” I pleaded, “Are we not saved by our personal relationship to you?”
Jesus replied, “Show me that relationship.”
Suddenly I realized that I did not know what that relationship looked like. As I pondered how to show it to him, Jesus pointed to the next man in line. “Watch him. He had a relationship, too.”
I recognized the man before the judge. It was the elder who led my men’s group. I saw flashes of myself in the room with him as the events of his life unfolded. I also saw Jesus—always behind the elder, tapping him on the shoulder, offering helpful bits of advice or trying to draw the elder’s attention to something or somebody that had been otherwise overlooked. Each time, the elder ignored Jesus’ input and continued making decisions with his own brilliant leadership skills. I remembered how, at the time, I so strongly aspired to be like that elder. To make the same leadership decisions that he made.
Suddenly the elder was on his death bed and the vision shifted to me. I realized that it was now my turn at the seat of judgement. There was that discussion we had right after the elder’s death as we chose the next book for the men to study. Somebody suggested we order copies through our local Christian bookstore, but the costs were much cheaper for me to just buy them all online. Jesus was there, I now realized, tapping me on the shoulder. Reminding me that he had blessed me with that comfortable income for this very reason—to supplement the extra costs of supporting our local Christian outlet.
Then I was leading the group, working to keep the men on track each week as we watched the video curriculum and discussed each topic. But this time I also saw the men at home, leaving their books in the car or on a shelf for six days and then picking them up only when it was time to return to the meeting. I saw the young man who always sat in the back of the class—his week was different. He read the entire book through, along with many other books on theology and spirituality. And he was reading his Bible, too. Jesus was constantly hovering over his shoulder, showing him insights into everything he read…but when he came to our meetings and asked to discuss parts of the book that weren’t covered in the video curriculum, I silenced him. “Let’s get back to the curriculum,” I said, ignoring that gentle tapping on my shoulder.
The visions continued. I watched the local Christian bookstore go out of business, drying up the fountain that slaked that young man’s thirst for spiritual teachings. Eventually he vanished from the meetings—I never remember missing him. I watched the men’s group continue to grow less and less spiritual as the men continued to bluff to each other over whether they had actually done the weekly reading. Instead, the conversation wandered more and more into discussions of current television shows and sporting events. Sometimes we brought up current political issues, but always the decisions we made centered not on wisdom that we might have gleaned from reading the Bible or from listening to that gentle tapping, but from voting exactly how the respected authority figures told us to vote.
Jesus showed me more of my life, as he tapped me on the shoulder, over and over, to show me the growing corruption of my generation—the rot festering in my own church and community. I barely remembered those moments—they seemed like interruptions at the time. And yet here they were, over and over again. A relationship that consisted of one person ignoring the other.
Jesus said to me, “That was our relationship.” And then he left me to face Uriah alone.
I watched as the consequences of my generation played out before us all. As society began to decay until it finally went stark, feral-mad. All the while I continued to make my personal and leadership decisions based on a morality that had come not from my own personal relationship with Jesus, but from the religious authorities I had let lead my life. The same religious authorities I had aspired to become—and, at the end of my life, I had indeed become to others.
As the vision of my life and its aftermath faded, the saint looked at me and said those same five words every other “soldier” in line dreaded the most.
“It Happened On Your Watch!”
Dear brothers, I must ask: What fate do you consider more of a Hell? To be thrown into a pit of fire, tormented for all eternity or burned away until nothing was left? Or to be returned to the world I had allowed to decay? To be born as a helpless child in a society I had blindly allowed to become more and more hostile to them? To try yet again to get my relationship right with my Lord and Savior—not for my reward in the afterlife, but to bring a little bit of Heaven to the world I was hoping so hard to leave behind?
No. Don’t answer that. Not yet.
Perhaps you should pay attention to that gentle tapping on your shoulder first.