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A Holy Speculation
Christmas is a time for our imagination to soar, and the Twelfth Night is no different: what would it have been like to be one of those shepherds on the hillside under divine splendor? And to hurry back to the village and find the angel-sung Newborn lying on hay among the beasts of the stall?
In the sacred scriptures, there are innumerable such occasions to exercise our mental imaging. If we do so in obedience to what we learn from them, we will perhaps honor God, for the ability to imagine is one of the most important features of our minds as he has created us—but it must serve him by following his revealed truth. As I was writing a textbook that situates biblical theological themes in the cultural contexts of the times in which they appeared, certain questions arose that struck me as worthy of exploration, even if we cannot know in this life their ultimate outcomes. Is it possible to imagine some accounts of them in a way that brings honor to the Lord of the scriptures? I invite you to be the judge….
Then the angel showed me the river of life-giving water, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb…. On either side of the river grew the tree of life that produces fruit…; the leaves of the trees serve as medicine for the nations.
Revelation 22:1–2 New American Bible (Revised Edition)
Veni, redemptor gentium;
ostende partum Virginis;
miretur omne saeculum:
talis decet partus Deum.
Come, Redeemer of the nations;
show forth thy birth of a Virgin;
let every age marvel:
such a birth befits God.
St. Ambrose of Milan
The mortal breath left my body, and I was gathered to my fathers. My spirit was lifted into the air and through the upper bounds of this Earth, and it passed the moon and the planets, then the first stars, and then through all the universe of creation. I saw its unspeakable magnificence, yet there was no strength in me to marvel. It was at once endless and small. And thus I arrived in the anteroom of the very courts of God himself.
I saw various shadowy forms passing to and fro as in a mist, indefinite both to my eyes and understanding, but this mist, which I would have feared in my former state, now comforted me with a strange peace. Then a distinctness approached, huge in the distance, but growing ever smaller as it drew near, until it was little greater than myself.
And he had the air of God. And I fell down to worship him, but he lifted me by the hand and bowed himself before me. As I marveled, he opened his mouth and said, "I am called Reza, for most of my service in your Earth has been to your Middle East. And I bow to you, for the Lamb has never honored me or my kind as he has honored you, for he willingly died on your behalf, therefore I bow to you."
Still no words came to me. I saw that his skin was the color of light brown olives, and his face full light that shone on me, and he smiled at me in his light, for he had the air of knowledge of all things concerning me, yes, and to commend me. And he said to me, "Indeed, if I know you, it is thanks to the Spirit that I do. And I honor you and love you."
And I wondered at his appearance, for I had read that many of God's unfallen servants had that of fearsome beasts. And again he answered my words unspoken and said: "Ah, I assume many forms. This one I have found most useful in speaking with mortals and former mortals. But now, tell me, have you questions for me? What would you that I show you? For I am at your service for the Lamb's sake until the judgment of all your Earth before the Great Throne. And we must abide in this place a little longer, you and I, for the Lamb Himself is preparing a feast to welcome you into our midst. Therefore we may converse a little.”
And then, as it were a gift, my reason returned to me, and I answered and said, "O Reza, who served in the Middle East, I would that you show me the redeemed of that region living in the New Earth, perfect and holy in the eternal joy of God."
And he said, "Yes, you often thought about this in your mortal life, did you not? Yearning to see the redeemed living as the united people of the Lamb in entire bliss and honor."
And I answered, saying, "Surely. For example, what language will all the Lamb's redeemed speak in the New Earth? For the leaves of the trees planted along the River of the New Temple will be for the healing of the nations, therefore they will be of one speech and tongue."
Reza answered with gentle laughter, saying, "My dear friend, healing is not annihilation. Do not imagine that the Most High would destroy in judgment what he has preserved by confounding in love. But why do you ask of these things? Is it not that you would take pleasure in communing with those peoples that went before you that love the Lamb as you do?
“And would you know those peoples, yes, and sojourn with them, and hear from them the high praises of God, as only they of their own tongues can utter them? And would you, being unbound from your former ignorance of those peoples and tongues, partake with them of the joy that only they can know?”
I answered and said, “O Reza, you know my heart. Are these things possible? Will I see them?”
And he said, “The counsels of the Highest are hidden from all to whom they have not been revealed. But your wishes will ever be surpassed by the works of his hands, and peradventure you will see the fulfillment of your desires.”
And I said, “May it be given me to share the joys of all these redeemed, they whom I left behind when I departed my former life.”
And he said, “Amen. Yet what of they who lived ever before you, when the Earth was much younger than at your time there? What of they who were redeemed by the Lamb ever before your own people came to be? You must see them also.”
“Is this possible?” I said.
“If the Highest grant it to you, surely. It will be as a very long road with many stopping places, and you may enter any, and you may fellowship with the redeemed in their own land and time and tongue in the New Earth. May the Spirit enable you so to do, since this is a desire of your heart. And they will be the redeemed peoples of all times, living in the holiness and light of the Lamb, and telling forth his praises in their own tongues, and you will hear and praise with them, yet they will be one.
“And their diverse speech will give, as it were, the different colors and hues of the rainbow to the Lamb’s praises, and his glories on their tongues will be all diverse glories, yet one glory. And you will not fear these unknown peoples, for you will see the love of the Most High in them, and they in you, and you will honor them for it, and they will honor you. And they will recount the salvation of God among their people, and you will bow and worship with them in their tongue. And the Lamb Himself shall visit them and feast with them.”
Then I said, “O Reza, do not wonder if I ask you, will I also see any events of the past in the old Earth—the works of God testified to in his scriptures?”
He answered and said, “You know that neither pain nor sorrow will be in the New Heavens and New Earth. Howbeit, the olden works of the Highest you will see in their true nature, in the glory of Him who redeems all things.
“Would you see the Lamb lying in the stable of Bethlehem? You are no longer a son of time; if it is given to you, you will surely see him, and worship him there.”
“And, and…” I could speak no more. “And the Lamb sacrificing himself on the wooden tree?” said Reza softly. “That will be the holiest shrine of all, and the redeemed in all eternity will journey there often, and tears of love and joy will flood them. For the Most High will take away all pain and sorrow from the former things. He renews all things that they may show forth his glory.”
I could speak nothing more, being overwhelmed. And in this manner I abided still with Reza. And after a little while, he turned to me, smiled upon me, and said, “Ah, the Spirit says that all things are now ready for the feast. Pray, come with me and enter into the joy of your Master!”