Chapter III: The Love of God
Have I disappointed and disheartened you at the outset of our communion by touching and attempting to destroy one of your cherished idols? If so – and I have little doubt about it -let me ask you to bear it for the moment as best you may. I know something of the tenderness of the subject on which I have been constrained to speak, can understand how the heart shrinks at the thought of relinquishing the hope I assert to be an illusion, but is not the history of the past strewn with fragments of the erroneous ideas truth has compelled our ignorance to cast aside?
The surgeon who drives his scalpel deep is not necessarily the enemy of our well – being, but rather our true – if painful – friend; it is the foreign and dangerous growth he removes that necessitates the operation he performs. So in our spiritual unfoldment the foes to truth and health must needs be cut away before we shall be allowed to tread the inner courts of the Father’s house. I am not altogether unprepared for the angry exclamations and hard accusations that are ejaculated during the operation, but I also know that in the coming days you will discover that, in the language of a well-known hymn, the
“Bitter is sweet, the medicine is food.”
and I can wait until that time to hear your calm and grateful opinion.
If we but knew the beauty of the flower
That hides potential in the uncouth seed –
Its shape, its perfume, and its brilliant glow,
How should we prize it? But, behold we heed
It not; we treat it with disdain,
Because we had imagined it would be
Exactly in the seed as in the flower,
And we should now its rich perfection see!
Not so, my child, ‘tis but experienced eyes
Can trace in seed the flower we shall so prize.
If eye hath not seen, how is it possible for us to conceive? The few who have hitherto returned have had so much to tell, I do not wonder at the prevalence of misconception, especially when I review my own experiences. But now that the true significance of the resurrection of Jesus is being so clearly understood and its ministry established we shall gradually clear away these errors and make the truth of God known. Nor shall we do this by the force of anathemas, but rather by an appeal to reason. If you cannot accept our message, we shall follow the example of the Christ – turn away. The future will decide the question of truth, and by that decision we shall all be acquitted or condemned to penalty.
Nor would I have you misunderstand me when I speak of penalties. God’s ways are higher than the ways of men, and the forfeitures He will exact will in every instance be those which are the just sequence of the offence. All sins and sinners do not merit the same punishment. Hence I make no threat of hell because you may honestly doubt what I say. When the truth is made known to you by experience, you will then understand as I now understand, and if by reason of refusing to consider what I have here advanced you have rejected it, you will have lost the help and assistance it had power to render, and find yourself so far behind where you had the opportunity to be, and the regret at what might have been will form the penalty Paradise will exact. God is love, not revengeful. Let me throw this ray of brightness across the temporary disappointment of the truth I have declared.
I will now proceed with my actual experiences.
Having spoken of an hallucination which had been dispelled, I would fain recount what unanticipated joy came to me in its place, but how shall I accomplish my desire? The silver-tongued Isaiah, in the partial vision vouchsafed to him, could only exclaim, “Since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen . . . what (God) hath prepared for him that waiteth for Him”; and Paul, who had been caught up to behold the glory, when comparing the experiences of earth with the reward in reserve, declared, “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory”; how then can I expect to paint or describe the more than fullness into which I entered?
I had lost something. Yes. I had lost the shadow from the sunshine, the husk from the wheat, the thorn from the rose, the possibility of a discord in the music, the uncertainty lest a fear might linger in the bosom of the joy, the doubt whether the hurried holiness was perfect or partial, the wonder whether God was strictly just. All these I had lost – lost completely and for ever. Death shook the last vestige of every doubt and mystery concerning these away, and when the mental earthquake had spent itself I opened my eyes upon ‘a new Heaven and a new earth in which dwelleth righteousness.’ Righteousness established upon a basis of law, not dwarfed and fashioned to suit the limitations of man; while my own powers, conception and understanding were all enlarged to comprehend something of the illimitable scheme as designed by God. I say something, but it was only a wee, wee part of the magnificent, stupendous love, which in length and breadth and height reached far beyond my ken. But above, beneath, around, all was harmony, peace and rest. I stood on the threshold of the eternal and shadowless calm.
Far, far away within the awful depths of that profoundly divine solitude, my poor earth-ideal of Heaven had reached the Father’s heart. Its clumsy model spoke eloquently to Him of impotence; it was more rough to His conception than a savage effort to mould a deity, but it told of a heart’s dear wish, of a great desire yearning to be satisfied, of the Heaven that would supply all the happiness I had power to conceive. Now for the wonder of my existence: He took my plan – the model I had built in the incompetence of my ignorance, and, retaining its outline, Love worked upon it, and from its imperfections prepared the rest into which He had given me entrance. It was my Heaven, enlarged, completed and furnished by the love of God, and just as it transcended all that I could ask or think, so must I fail to convey the overflowing fullness of joy which it inspired.
It was more than this, for when He had so far enlarged my Heaven, He afterwards so far extended the powers of my enjoyment that I might the more appreciate and enter into its glory.
Was the gain greater than the loss? Yes! as God is greater than a man.
So inexpressibly beyond my conception was the mansion of the soul into which I was welcomed. It gave to me the three great desires of my heart – Mother, home and Heaven – beyond all expectation.
Companionship has much to do with the measure of happiness attained in Paradise. When Myhanene stood beside me on the roof of my new home, I was enchanted with the beauty of the scene which lay unrolled before me, but gracious as he was, and tender with truly divine affection, the sense of his condition awed me until I felt something as Peter must have felt when he prayed the Lord to leave him. It was afterwards when I stood or sat beside Vaone in those surroundings that I entered into the full enjoyment of the sweet repose. The magnificence and beauty I saw when Myhanene was present throbbed with life and love in the closer sympathy of the nearer and dearer one. In the heights and depths of Myhanene’s meditations I was lost, but Vaone and I wandered hand in hand, soul vibrating in sympathy with soul, and the music heard by one echoed through the other.
With Myhanene I stood near the centre of a mountain-locked valley stretching into the distance in every direction, but the man was more fascinating to me than the landscape; he saw visions to which I was blind, heard music which could not reach my heavy ears, held communion I could not understand. Across his mobile face passed lights of inspiration I could not read, and through him throbbed a presence I longed to love but feared to meet. He was innocent of this, I am sure, or in his royal condescension he would have stooped to my estate, but I would not have him so. Rather far would I be with him as he is, for though I almost fear to see him, when he leaves there lingers with me a hopeful aspiration to rise and reach him, where I shall be so much nearer to the Christ he loves so well.
With Vaone everything was different. Sitting side by side we reposed in calm content, while the panorama before us became instinct with life – life free from doubt, uncertainty and care. The scene before me was one of indescribable loveliness, but its charm was increased a hundredfold by the strong, inherent assurance that all was – and must ever remain – well. The world within and the world without, for the first time in my experience, were in perfect unison; they were not even so far divided as to produce harmony – it was unison complete. I knew instinctively that God ruled, and that all that existed lived, moved and ministered in rhythmic harmony with His loving will.
This deep-seated consciousness inspired rest – the rest that remaineth, a rest synchronizing with the peace of Christ which the world can neither give nor take away, because the world is finite, the rest and peace infinite, hence it remains awaiting us as the exceeding great and eternal compensation for the momentary light affliction earth imposes.
In the sweet solace of these almost unbroken communings, now with Vaone and then with myself, a problem once propounded itself to my mind which I long pondered without being able at the time to find a satisfactory reply. I understand it now, and since it touches a point I shall mention again, I will refer to it that you may see how sensitive the soul becomes even to the minutest detail. The most luxurious and carefully considered rest the earth affords is never quite perfect. When we have done our utmost, when sympathy and consideration have been exhausted, there always remains something wanting, some unattainable trifle for which we sigh. This was not so in my experience of Paradise; on the contrary, I was at that time – here is the fact I wish to be noted – somewhat impressed with the sense that, if anything, the rest was overdone! It was too complete, almost tending towards an indolent content unless resisted.
I have conjectured that Myhanene saw visions as he looked over the Elysian landscape visible from the roof of our home. On more than one occasion I have been so favoured, and here I would like to recall one of my earliest, as it illustrates how close the bond may be drawn between the earth and Paradise.
I was listening to a sweet duet which the silence and glow of colour clothing the distant mountains were singing. Vaone stood beside me entranced with the soft, melodious colour tones. The whole valley was equally in repose, when I became conscious of an interspherence creeping over the scene. Every familiar point in the prospect remained distinctly visible, to which a pleasurable something was being added, and with an increase of joy I watched to see what would develop. It was a strange, almost weird, but by no means unwelcome effect, creeping over the whole landscape like a pleasant, but yet invisible, phantom asserting itself. Vaone saw it, and by the gentle pressure of her hand counselled me to watch. I did so, and presently wondered to see wellknown faces taking shape beneath the trees, by the river-side, and somewhat familiar forms passing to and fro around me. The outlines of an ill-lighted, sparsely furnished mission hall took shape and blended with the details of the valley. How strange and yet harmoniously incongruous was the effect! Knowing as I did the little Zion, where I had spent so many nights in my sympathy with the care-burdened congregation, what a magical transformation it underwent to stretch its confines to fill the whole scene in its interblending! But it did so, and for the time the two became one, not only one in the outlines of its inanimate features, but the men (alas! there were but few of these among the visitors), the women and the children intermingled, and the music we had so far been listening to died away, as the ending of a prelude introducing a favourite mission hymn:
Beautiful valley of Eden!
Sweet is thy noontide calm;
Over the hearts of the weary
Breathing thy waves of balm.
Beautiful valley of Eden!
Home of the pure and blest,
How often amid the wild billows
I dream of thy rest – sweet rest!
Nothing in all my experiences had hitherto touched me with the pathos of that song. God knows I would gladly have shouldered my earthly cross again if by so doing that under-fed, scantily clothed and weary congregation could have laid their burdens down and taken my place. For the moment the regret almost appeared to cast a shadow across the scene, but a gentle voice whispered from the height of the immensity within me – “They shall be Mine in the day when I make up my jewels,” and in confidence that the promise was sure the cloud withdrew. I was satisfied.
I shall leave the song to suggest its own description of the place. Any attempt to amplify would only spoil it. Such pleasures cannot be detailed – they are experiences. You cannot conceive, but must enter into them. We are told that ‘angels fold their wings and rest’ in the lovely dells of Killarney – and who can wonder at it after lingering in the enchanting spot? But Killarney is not Eden, where every detail of the place is fragrant with a holier presence:
This is an angel-home, not angel-rest,
Furnished and ready, all in order laid
To entertain our God in passing by,
For He will tarry in such sacred glade.
Someone will ask me how far removed from earth is such a home. The thought of it, with all the blessings it includes, makes the heart hunger, and the soul cry with the Psalmist, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away and be at rest.”
Let me answer you. In the things whereof I speak, near or distant does not consist in geographical miles but in condition. I have carefully refrained from any elaborate analysis of my spiritual development in the earth-life, while not neglecting to give such hints and suggestions in the course of my narrative as will readily assist you in forming a tolerable estimate of the position I occupied. But what I was (on earth) determines what I am (in spirit), and the where I was naturalized me for where I am. Spiritually considered I am but two steps removed from earth, but the intervening stage I reserve for closer consideration presently.
This should at once inspire hope, and I speak with the full confidence of doing so. I am not portraying a stage of life beyond the tomb, high and difficult to attain to. It would be a mockery to do so, handicapped and misdirected as the great majority of my fellows are. I speak of that which is easily attainable by any man however circumstanced, if he will but accept the golden rule and honestly do his best to put it into practice. Beyond me there are stages of indescribable splendour reserved for those who so follow the Christ-life as to be worthy to enter upon them, but of these also I do not now propose to speak. The majority of men have no serious thought of this life (spirit) which, to them, lies in a very doubtful beyond, having discovered that the men who proclaim it (priests) know no better than themselves. My one object is to arouse this sleeping interest by the simple narration of my own experiences. Truth is mighty to the pulling down of the stronghold of error, and the result of my former effort convinces me that humanity is not indifferent to the consideration of a future life which combines intelligence with spirituality.
The vision faded, but the lessons it enforced are with me still, have had much to do with the message I have already delivered, with the one upon which I am now engaged. I was not so far away from my old-time friends, after all, and the vision was a pathetic plea to be remembered in my new and happier home. It stimulated me to action, raised the question as to whether among the family group within the valley there were others who had passed homeward through the doors of that Little Zion, and sent me out to make a closer acquaintance with my neighbours than I had hitherto essayed. Yes, yes! There were others I had known, and many I had not met before who had come from that and other obscure corners of God’s great vineyard. This again gave home an additional charm, and more zest to the work I had determined to engage in if possible.
On another occasion as I meditated on the beauties surrounding me, I inquired of my beloved:
“I wonder if this was the particular Heaven into which Paul was caught up?”
“Why do you ask?”
“Because it so completely seems to answer to what he wrote concerning it: ‘Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared.’”
“Go on,” she murmured. “Why do you not finish the quotation?”
“I prefer to leave it unfinished. But surely this must have been the place he saw.”
“I think not. He called his the third Heaven, this is only the first.”
“Yet if he had seen what I have seen he would have found it equally impossible to tell. But if this is only the first, what will the third be like?”
“That cannot enter into our minds to conceive at present. Let us be content and satisfied until we have enjoyed the full extent of this. But tell me why you did not finish Paul’s quotation?”
“Simply that for my purpose it naturally ended where I left it. I am not so competent to speak of the love of God as the Rabbi-apostle.”
“And why not, Aphraar?”
“Because men have dressed it in so many fantastic garbs, and surrounded it with such complexity of conditions and adaptations, that I altogether failed to know what was true or false concerning it, and turned away from any profession of following after it.”
“Are you quite sure of that?” she asked tenderly. “Do you remember the vision, when you almost wished you could exchange places with those you have left behind?”
“Ah, Vaone; if you understood the suffering of those lonely overburdened souls you also would wish it.”
“But when you were with them did you not do what you could to assist them?”
“I did a little occasionally, not nearly what I might – nothing compared to what I wish I had done.”
“Still you did something, and however little that something may be it will equally serve my purpose to show you that it was done for God. Even ‘a cup of cold water given in My Name shall in no wise lose its reward.’ “
“But what I did was neither in the Name of Jesus nor in the Name of God. I had no thought of either. It was for humanity’s sake alone. No, no! Vaone, don’t credit me with intentions or motives that never once crossed my mind.”
“‘Inasmuch as ye did it to one of the least of these My brethren, Ye did it unto Me.’ Is not that sufficient?” she inquired, and the confident gleam of her soft loving eyes shone upon me with the light of another revelation.
“Can God so generously interpret such an insignificant effort?” I asked.
“He does. Did you imagine you could gauge His goodness by any possible earth conception? Listen to me, Aphraar, and let your experience bear evidence to what I say; the fallacies and misconceptions of the lower life concerning God and immortality are all based upon inverted arguments – men build their conceptions of Him upon themselves, rather than first learning to know something of Him and forming their ideas of man in accordance with Divine sonship.”
“My opinion has always been that an ancient council established itself, in its corporate capacity, as a divine regency, with God subservient to its decisions, after which the leaders of factions quarrelled to gain the ascendancy, splitting up the Church and leaving an authority in a wrecked condition, from which it has never recovered. But for you and me all this is now of the past, and I would know of those things concerning our present lives. Tell me, in the generous interpretation you have placed upon the trivial acts you have referred to, may you not have formed an erroneous conclusion?”
“No!” Her reply was made in dreamy confidence, as if her voice had been used as the instrument of an invisible authority. Then she continued: “Mistakes may and do arise in the courts of Ignorance, but God reigns here. His law is perfect. His justice acts with automatic precision. Righteousness is natural while error can only be secured by effort. Do you understand?”
“Perhaps not,” she replied in the same abstracted tone. “You are scarcely free from the last of the earth influences at present, and you unconsciously carry old habits of thought into your new environment.”
“I feel you are right in that,” I replied. “Everything seems so strange to me because I am so mentally unprepared for it, that I frequently feel as if I wanted to go back again in order to understand.”
“That is due in a great measure to the manner of your translation.”
“Ah!” I exclaimed, catching at the hope her words inspired. “Tell me something about that. I know so little, and all is so confused. Why was I and the child I brought with me left alone upon the slope with no one near, when I awoke, from whom I could ask for information? Why were we not carried to one of the reception homes, such as I have seen, and allowed to sleep until all these earthly influences were broken?”
“The almost numberless methods by which the process of discarnation is effected,” she replied, “are perfectly natural, and determined solely by preceding circumstances. Those who sleep do so from one of three causes: a lingering illness which leaves a sense of exhaustion on the soul, the desire for life producing something analogous to hysteria for the time, or uncontrollable grief in those who remain behind tending to draw the newly-released one back again to earth. For all such cases a period of sleep is provided during which the soul is adjusted to its new life. But with you none of these causes existed. You came by accident, as earth would say, were quite healthy, and, what was much more to your advantage, had no very strong desire to continue in the body. Your one great attraction,” and she looked fondly into my eyes, “was already here, so the separation was willingly consented to, and there was no occasion for more than the briefest pause to recover from the shock. As for the rest – well, can you imagine how it might have been better arranged?”
“No! That I most gratefully admit. It is the confusing perfection and considerate adaptability of everything that perplexes me. It is too good. I am not worthy of it, and for that reason I fail to understand it.”
“Now I have to turn you back again from a termination you have often reached before,” she tenderly answered. “Perhaps it is too good, but it must always be so because it is of God. You remember the old illustration – the prodigal would have been content to become a hired servant, but the Father said, ‘Bring hither the best robe, and put it upon him; put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet.’ In the old life you were able to cover your head and shut out all thought of God; but here you must walk with Him and know Him as He really is.”
Yes, she understood my ever-present consciousness, and was overjoyed to find each new experience prove how completely I was hedged around.
Turning my thoughts in another direction, I inquired:
“Will you tell me something about yourself? My father – do you ever see him?”
I half-regretted asking the latter question, but she instantly divined my thought, and taking a seat, indicated her wish for me to sit beside her. The sweetness of her face was not clouded, it rather softened as the smile vanished and gave precedence to a look of quiet, restful content.
“Why would you recall your inquiry?” she asked.
“I cannot say. Perhaps I was – shall I say, half-afraid I had no right to make it?”
“You have every right, if you have the interest, to inquire into a relationship from which your existence sprang. I have seen your father once, in the sleep state. He failed to recognize me, so we did not speak. It was better that it should be so, since our association had been nothing more than a cool friendship, and was always irksome. Our marriage was one of opportune convenience by which my father was saved from some unpleasantness – an arrangement which I was never allowed to forget. When your sister was born she was at once removed from my control, and then you came and I had scarcely time to kiss you before all my trouble ended. There is nothing more concerning that part of my life that need be told.”
“But your own friends?” I inquired.
“There again I was equally unfortunate. My mother’s aversion to children was very deep-seated, and though I was her only child she never forgave my intrusion. She passed away when I was but a few years old, and my memory of her is more tinctured with fear than with love. You will not be surprised to hear, therefore, that I have made no effort to find them since my arrival. I could easily do so, but in the absence of love and sympathy, I am assured it is better not to attempt it for the present. We shall be brought together when our development overcomes the difficulties which lie between us, and until then I am content to wait.”
“And have you, then, been all alone?”
She laughed merrily at my solicitude.
“Loneliness in Paradise, Aphraar, would be as impossible as summer without the sun. Look at the multitude of friends by whom I am surrounded, at the innumerable visitors ever coming and going, and the excursions to which I am frequently invited. In addition to this, have you not been with me a large share of the time? No, no! I have never known anything of loneliness.”
That was one of the most welcome declarations I had heard. Thank God, her experience had not been a similar one to my own. In my gratitude I was silent for a while, reflecting on the difference of life in the two conditions, and when I had set the contrast clearly before me, I was about to speak again, but something restrained me.
“Why did you not say it, Aphraar?” she inquired.
“What did I wish to say?” I asked, wondering how much of my thought was known to her.
“Shall I tell you?”
“It was something like this,” she replied. “It matters not where I go, what I see, or upon what subject I speak, everything here moves harmoniously, in narrow circles, all of which turn to a common centre – the wonderful and ever-present love of God.”
“You are right,” I answered. “It was so, and so it must ever, be.”