The Victors - On the Purified Earth
The three of them were walking along a garden path, perfectly weedless and well tended. There were also no weeds in any of the beds that stretched toward the horizon. The gardens showed a rainbow of color from thousands of blooms, each one perfect. Not one was withered or dry or eaten by insects or fungus. Birds sang from the trees that outlined the main beds, laid out quilt-fashion in large block patterns. The air smelled of dew and blossom combined in a potpourri of fragrance.
Down the garden path walked Jesus, Abel and Benigna, each one pausing ever so often to smell a blossom or admire a bud. They came to a fountain whose spout of water fell into a circular pool. Benigna sat first on the wide marble rim of the pool and pushed her fingers into the cool water, then bent over as she drank from her hand. Abel and Jesus sat on either side of her.
"It's another perfectly beautiful, beautifully perfect day in paradise," she said.
"Yes," said Jesus.
"Quite so," replied Abel.
"Being here is every bit as splendid as I knew it would be," she said.
"Quite so," said Jesus.
"Yes," replied Abel.
"But my, it's so boring," Benigna said.
"Yes," replied Jesus and Abel together.
They looked at the pool as insects went this way and that across its surface, walking on the water.
"I did that once," said Jesus.
"So I’ve heard," said Benigna.
"No big deal," he replied.
A small sparrow flew from one of the border trees and landed on the marble rim. Abel held out his hand and the sparrow, without fear, walked onto his index finger and stayed calmly there while Abel brought it to within inches of his face. The bird looked at him and then chirped. Abel chirped back and soon there was a real conversation. Benigna and Jesus watched the two, then laughed out loud.
"I always enjoy talking to the animals," said Abel in response. "I enjoy getting away from my own kind once in a while."
"See there?" said Jesus to Benigna. "You've offended him. Now he'll pout."
"Abel, I'm sorry," said Benigna honestly. "I actually envy your ability to communicate so easily."
"Ah," replied Abel, "Envy is a sin and this is a sinless place. Isn't that right, my Nazarene?"
"Quite right," replied Jesus. "There is no sin in Paradise. Here, everything is beautiful. Everything is without stain, a far cry from the world you came from, don't you think?"
The others said nothing at first and the sparrow flew away.
"I always spoke to my sheep," said Abel. "Each one had a name. At lambing season I waited days to make sure each lamb would live before giving it a name. And my family helped me: Father, Mother and . . . Cain."
He paused, covered his eyes with a hand for a moment, then lowered it before turning to Jesus. "Why are there no lambs here?"
"There are no lambs," said Jesus, "Because there is no pain. There cannot be birth without pain, so we eliminated birth."
"But why couldn't there be painless birth?" asked Benigna.
"Well, actually there could be," admitted Jesus, "But because there is no death, there must be an end to birth as well so the Garden and Heavenly City are not overrun by pretty lambs."
"So you're saying that what we're seeing is what we'll ever get?" asked Abel.
"More or less," admitted Jesus. "But it's always beautiful and it's always perfect. Isn't that enough?"
"I'm not sure," said Abel, "But something's missing."
"It sure is," replied Benigna. "And I know what it is."
They looked at her.
"I miss my brother."
"And I miss my brother," said Abel.
The two of them looked at Jesus, who looked away.
"I cannot lie," he said. "I, too, miss my brother."
"So paradise isn't perfect after all, is it?" asked Abel. "There's a hole in it."
"Which means it's not whole," said Benigna.
"Which means it's not holy," concluded Jesus. "Yes, I know. But I don't know what to do about it. Each of us played by the rules. Everything happened according to plan, according to prophecy, the way it was supposed to happen. There could be no change, no deviation, from what we did. But I, too, feel the loss, the unease, that tells me something isn't right. I didn't think it would be this way. The Heavenly City is supposed to be the end of time, the place where all things stop. There was nothing in the Book after this. The last page was clearly the end. But it's not, is it?"
The others shook their heads.
"Believe it or not," said Jesus, "I am at a loss for words."
"Our families have been torn apart, and partly due to us, and yet you are saying there's nothing we can do to heal this intolerable situation and to bring our brothers back?" asked Benigna.
"I'm saying I don't know what to do," replied Jesus. "Even absolute consciousness has an end. It comes to a wall that joins another and another and another till you're surrounded by four walls without doors or windows. Then you see a floor beneath you and a solid ceiling overhead and you realize you're in a box. The contents of that box are completely understood. Within that box you are master. And at one point you thought the box was all there was. But at another point, you begin to wonder . . . then you begin to realize something else indeed does exist beyond these walls, but you have no perception, no knowledge, no experience of what that thing is, and so you just wait because no matter how hard you look, the walls of the box remain completely smooth. And no matter how hard you pound, the walls stay there. And no matter how loud you scream, nothing responds. So you sit and wait, sit and wait, for something to come to you."
"And if it never comes?" asked Abel.
"Well it is a beautiful box, after all," replied Jesus with a smile.
"But it's not a box I want to live in," said Benigna, "Not this way. Not at this price."
"But what can we do?" asked Abel. "How can we bring them back?" Turning to Jesus, he asked, "Can you free your brother from that fiery lake?"
"I put him there and I can free him," replied Jesus. "But I will not. And that is the fate I must bear."
"So are they to spend eternity without forgiveness?" asked Benigna. "And we without forgiving?"
Jesus said nothing.
"Then at some point," she continued, "I will begin to wonder exactly who is really in hell."
"I know," said Jesus, "I know."
"Even in our pain and hardship," said Abel. "There were times, just moments really, of harmony, when Cain and I worked together and cared for each other and everything seemed so right with the world. Now, our condemnation is that we can never forget those moments, as few and as far apart as they were."
"Quite so," said Benigna.
"Yes," replied Jesus.
"We can remember the past but never change it," said Abel.
"Yes," replied Benigna.
"Quite so," said Jesus.
And they looked down the long vistas of fragrance and color towards the trees that bordered the Garden.