A short story.
“Yes, I have an interview with his Angelicy Michael the Archangel,” I announce to the Keeper of the Gate. The gate is a tall, gilded portal—strong and impenetrable—cast from solid gold and installed on lofty hinges. Just up the hill beyond the gate I hear a gathering of angels laughing softly (almost musically): “I cannot understand the interpretive liberties these commentators take,” says one as he wags his head. “Indeed,” says another, “it is disappointing how often they reverse the intended meaning of our Master’s words.” I can hear many other conversations from within, for the air is acoustically resonant (as if the City’s architect intended there to be few secrets here).
“His Angelicy is removed to the Western reaches of the earth, and is unable to make his ordained meeting,” says the Gatekeeper. “I may however grant you an interview with His Holiness, the Almighty.”
“Is he not summoned to the National Day of Prayer Breakfast in ten minutes?”
“His Holiness attends many things at once, though we His agents cannot. If you wish for someone else, I can schedule you an appointment with Moses His Prophet.”
“But he is dead?”
“The Almighty Himself buried the Prophet, but that he has taken leave of your world favors your business here. I warn you however, he is prone to lengthy speech…”
“Then I shall take my business to His Holiness.”
“The Almighty will see you now; follow me.”
He opens the gate and motions for me to follow him up the hill. I notice that my guide has but one face, as I have heard that some angels have four faces. The lane I tread is inset with burning pearls which should blind the eye, but I imagine that blindness is forbidden within the City. A magnificent temple sits upon the hilltop, and from its white banners I hear the thundering of wings.
In the temple’s shadow I am admitted to the courtroom, then indoors to what they call the Holy Place, the main hall or lobby of the temple. Several narrow balconies wrap the hall’s perimeter at varying heights, though I see no stairs going to or from them. This place would be an elegant setting for an interview, but the angel now leads me through a corridor, between the torn remnants of a once richly crafted curtain. I wonder why they have not mended it, unless sentimentality fondles its presence? It is the first ragged sight I have seen in this lavish economy. As the angel is eager to press on, I must inquire concerning it later.
The inner room beyond the curtain is twice the size of the Holy Place, and it is no wonder that my guide calls it the Holiest Place. Holier must mean larger, I suppose. Looking up, I see that clouds of incense flock under its beams, some thousand feet up: they are the prayers of the Saints, the angel says. He bids me remove my sandals (I ignore his instruction) and takes leave. I am surprised to find no secretary present to attend to His Holiness, though there is a small display by the door, similar to our electronic devices. I assume it has been left in search mode, since the current window reads: “Search by mansion.” I had read somewhere that every being who lives within the realm of the city has a mansion of their own, and what a generous Almighty His Holiness must be Who gives them great homes and grants me an audience in the midst of His unceasing duties. The interface changes as I touch it—a crystalline Liquid Pearl Display (LPD). It can also be made to search by saint, angel, or higher being. (Depending on my search criteria I get one or three results for higher being.) I put my name in under “Saint,” and it returns the following error: “404. The Saint you were looking for could not be found.” Some things have not changed, but my omission from the database is understandable: I am granted itinerary here only while conducting this interview. I do long however to stay in one of those mansions!
I feel a presence nearing the room and instinctively remove my sandals, while a flashing memory tells me I have felt this presence before. When I was young I felt it in church, long before I lost interest in that sort of thing. The feeling now is much more powerful—a passionate, pure, even perfect presence. My idea of a level-headed interview begins to wane as the feeling grows and the train of presence sweeps across the room. In its gale the candlelight glows brighter and the golden utensils tinkle nervously.
Then He, the Almighty, walks in. It seems the room itself cannot contain the weight of His presence, for even the floor beneath me begins to tremor at His footsteps. I casually fall prostrate before the Almighty (I am told by the Gatekeeper that this is customary).
“Who are you,” the Almighty thunders, “and where have you come from?”
“Sinner,” I reply while standing to my feet, “from the Earth.”
“Sinner, Child of the Earth, please sit down.” He points to a small desk I had not noticed, in the center of the Holiest Place. It has one chair. In the presence of a vast Being I suddenly feel the inadequacy of a desk, but I find that my papers spread easily across its face.
“Sinner, Child of the Earth, I have anticipated this meeting from eternity past. Tell me about yourself.”
His face is stern, but His voice is raw and warm like flowing honey; in such a broad presence the words I had prepared dissolve from my mind. I had not considered how nervous I would be in the presence of the Almighty, especially in light of how many interviews I have previously conducted at Christian organizations. For a few moments I quiver without words.
“We shall revisit that one then,” says the Almighty. “Now tell me, you are applying for ‘Child of God,’ is that correct?”
“Yes.” The word comes out with less difficulty.
“Why do you want this position, Sinner?”
I recall with photographic precision the job title requirements. Candidate’s moral background must be above reproach. Candidate must show independence and exemplary life. Candidate must demonstrate record of charity. Candidate must be well-versed in Christian literature. I had spent countless days preparing my answers with these criteria in mind, the thought of which assures me.
“For one, You Holiness,” I begin, “I feel I would be a great fit for this position. I have an extensive history as an attending member of Your house, a passion for charity, specialization in the study of Your church—as well as a profound interest in the things of God. I can help grow Your kingdom by strategizing Your evangelization methods and modernizing recruitment curricula.”
“Sinner, I do My business with the broken in spirit, not the proud in heart. Our three-fold management does not take pleasure in working with difficult personnel, and We are looking for a sinner who is humble and desirous to be molded, rather than to mold. Our last stiff-necked employee, Israel, was made to undergo sensitivity training for forty years; We wish to avoid future incidents and discontinue the program altogether. My servant Moses the Prophet could elaborate on the affair…”
“I truly wish I had time,” I interrupt. “But Your Holiness, if You are not looking for someone to help mold your kingdom, what do You seek?”
“A tender heart.”
“I see. I shall make that one of my short-term goals.”
“I would make it a long-term pursuit. Few have garnered that quality and none have gained it without patience. Now tell me, what you are doing now, and why you are in the job market?”
“Well, in addition to my doctorate and numerous certifications, I have recently taken up private study in church history and organization. I am eager to learn from Your Holiness and Your servants on the things of God.”
“That is an admirable,” says the Almighty, “but you must know that some of my previous employees—Simon Peter and D.L. Moody, for instance—had not the education you have, and yet I used their foolishness to confound the wise. In this Kingdom, the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge…and of wisdom.”
“Wisdom?” I say, surprised by the Almighty’s answer. The job description said nothing of this as a requirement, and it seems His Holiness has entirely dismissed my credentials.
“Almighty,” I venture, “It seems You do not respect intelligence like my previous employers have. What are You looking for, if knowledge is not foremost?”
“Reverence,” I repeat as I carelessly scribble the word on my notepad. Perhaps I had chosen the wrong Being to interview with for this opening.
“Now,” says the Almighty, “I understand from My omniscience that you are currently the founding CEO of your organization, and that you have plans to become a pastor—”
“Church speaker.” I grow nervous. I did not think He had read my LinkedIn profile.
The Almighty’s eyes flicker curiously. “Given your current obligations and pursuits,” He continues, “where do you see yourself, say, five years from now?”
“Well,” say I while shifting in my seat, “of course I would plan to stay on as ‘Child of God’ till the foreseeable future.”
“So this position would serve as a…certification to your becoming a ‘church speaker?’”
I shudder at His word choice. I have been careful not to depict this position as merely a stepping stone in my career, though clearly it must be. “You see Sinner,” He explains, “We are looking for someone who is endeavoring to grow with Our Kingdom. In the hiring process We frequently encounter double-minded candidates—tossed by the wind, as it were—and We wish to ensure you are not one of them.”
That was an embarrassing blunder, I think to myself; perhaps I have been too vocal elsewhere about my aspirations. “Sir—Holiness—what quality would You want in an employee that would convince You he will continue on with the kingdom?”
“That,” the Almighty answers easily, “would be childlike faith. I would inquire concerning how you handle a mission that appears prone to failure, but I already perceive your lack of faith. On another subject, why don’t you tell Me about your pursuits outside of your career—your family, interests, priorities, values?”
I am more than prepared for this question: “Besides enjoying time with my wonderful wife and two beautiful children, I fill my evenings with reading (philosophy and non-fiction), daily exercise, and The History Channel. I occupy my weekend with a counseling service I run out of my home. Every moment I have is spent in activity.”
“Impressive schedule—I can certainly understand why you have no time for devotions. It is a pity that we do not have more time; I recall a certain six-day deadline to create your universe, yet unlike you I found time to rest on the seventh. Those were such days. Considering your overwhelming schedule, can you describe your thought life? What occupies your mind?”
“Why obviously my duties at my organization are the chiefest object of my thoughts, but beyond that, thoughts on politics, eBay deals, beach houses, and my state’s football team engross me.”
“Sinner, I am concerned with your disposition to preoccupy your time and thoughts on the temporal things of life. Not only are we looking for a candidate with a tender heart, reverence, and childlike faith, we also expect him to perpetually occupy himself with his position as a Child of God, as evidenced by apportionment of his greatest assets: time and imagination.”
“I would guess then you are seeking a further quality…perhaps a surrendered life?”
“You are catching on, Sinner.”
“Nevertheless Almighty, what of my donations to your establishment? Surely treasures must evidence a surrendered life.”
The Almighty pauses and turns His face. The silence is astonishing, and from such a weighty Being inappropriate. By and by he turns back, and I see pain written in His eyes—eyes akin to the father who has watched his own child go astray. The Almighty’s lighted cheeks now glisten with tears while the once wholesome presence abates, and with a deep sigh He answers:
“Sinner, I am looking for someone who shows the same kindness to his fellow man that he does to his Maker. That I see you lack.”
“I don’t understand?” I ask bewilderingly.
“You give your income freely to My cause, and yet withhold the gift of forgiveness from your father.”
I turn red. “Your Holiness, with all due respect that matter is private and has little to do with this position. Is there not a more applicable question You have for me? Perhaps concerning the rigors of my Doctorate in Philanthropic Studies?”
“Sinner, your heart is bent on enmity! Those who love only for reciprocal affection are not the kind Our Kingdom wants.”
“My father did not want me either,” I hiss. “How can I forgive him?”
“You are right: your father did not want you before you were born. You overheard your mother speak of his repulsion to having a child, and you have harbored a vessel of resentment since. He has long repented of antipathy and even now abhors himself for ever wishing you away. Shall I accept offerings from your open hand but ignore your closed heart?”
I dare not answer.
“For I, the LORD,” He says with burning lips, “desire compassion, and not a sacrifice. Take care lest you neglect the weightier provisions of the Law as many of My early employees have. But you have forgotten the forgiveness I have shown you by My own Son’s death; should not you too extend this forgiveness if you wish to partake in My business?”
I turn from His view, stung by that stern, pitying face. I cannot think of my barren heart without abhorring myself like my father did. “Compassion,” I murmur while trying to contain my weeping.
“Now,” says the Almighty reassuringly, “you never told me about this company you founded.”
It takes me many minutes to recover from self-loathing, but by and by I take up the courage to answer.
“It is the third largest charitable organization in the country,” I say dispirited, “but there must be a greater service You seek, in the knowledge of which a business is nothing.”
“You are correct Sinner, for charity, not a charitable body, is the greatest of commandments: to love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind. The greatest of all virtues is love...and so it is a loving heart that you lack.”
My hopes for this position have disintegrated, for the Almighty has brought me to my lowest. If He has shown me anything, it is how evil I am.
“Almighty—Father, is there any hope for me to gain this position? My whole life I have prepared under the requirements of this job description in my hands. These qualifications, amassed from family, peers, and even Christian assemblies, cannot satisfy the demands this position.”
“There is Hope,” says the Almighty. “But first I have one last question: the hardest one.”
“Almighty Father, I am so devastated that no other question can bring me lower than I already am, for you have exposed my shame beyond doubt.”
“But this question brings Hope; so bear it with faith. I pray, tell me about a time you failed.”
Is it not obvious? Does not the reek of my prideful, unforgiving, unfaithful heart fill His nostrils? I could furnish a library with the records of my sin, and how is it He ask me for a single time I failed?
“Father, you know my unworthiness; I cannot count the times I have failed.”
“It is a good answer. Now add this to your ledger: a repentant soul.”
“It is already on my heart,” I cry. “I see now that my life is devoid of the qualities to suit this position. Give me this hope, or I will die of sorrow!”
“The Hope, and the answer, was proclaimed by your lips at the first. Now that you have answered My last question, tell me your name again.”
“Sinner,” I reply. A sudden horror gropes within: how it has never dawned on me that my name—my title since birth—is so disgusting. Despicable. The Almighty reads well my reaction.
“Your name means you have missed the mark. You cannot redraw the archer’s arrow, and thus the Hope of change lies with me. If I could train you in these qualities—a tender heart, reverence, childlike faith, a surrendered life, compassion, a loving heart, and a repentant soul—will you accept the terms and cost of this position?”
I bite my lips, unsure how to put my groanings into words.
“Sinner, Child of the Earth, speak your thoughts.”
My lips finally discern the words to say, as if He Himself put them on my tongue.
“Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
“My Son’s HR department specially employs sinners. You shall be called Child of God from hereon,” He smiles rapturously as He shakes my hand. “Welcome, Adopted, to the Kingdom.”