“We’ve been walking for so long now, and I don’t feel even a bit tired!” Johan shook his head, overwhelmed.
“Your new body is much stronger,” said Jesus.
“Yes, it’s strange. Somehow even my emotions are stronger,” observed Johan.
“There is much less distraction in this age. Without the aches and pains of a mortal body you will be able to observe your own soul more easily.”
“Can you tell me more about the soul?” asked Johan.
“It is the central core of who you are. Within the soul the spirit essence that comes from God merges with your individual human essence.”
“Why didn’t we know about this in the previous life?”
“Many did, but many did not. Humans tend to take much less seriously the things that cannot be seen and measured. But the spirit is beyond measure.” Jesus spoke with such clarity that it felt to Johan like his very words were alive. “The culture a person is born into also influences what they are able to observe and understand. For some, their culture blinds them, so they are limited in what they can accept about the unseen.”
“I see,” said Johan. “My father and mother were atheists. They thought religion was just a way to control people.”
“Well, they weren’t necessarily wrong. Religious practice can easily become corrupted by people thirsty for power and riches, and the weak things of the world can easily be trampled on by those with twisted desires.”
“The weak things of the world?”
“Yes, in the same way as a young sapling is easily crushed underfoot, those new to trying to live a life of love can easily be trampled by strong but perverted characters. Agape love is characterised by kindness, joy, peace and self-control. These qualities come from a spirit that is greatly influenced by the cosmic parent of everything that exists. However, a mature understanding of agape love is required to exercise discernment and establish boundaries when necessary. Without this deeper insight into how love bears all things, those seeking to live in agape love can easily be abused and dominated by people with controlling tendencies.”
Johan was now walking closely next to Jesus. He felt as if he was unlocking the secrets of the universe.
“Why must it be this way?”
Jesus looked at Johan with great affection, pleased to be asked such searching questions.
“The true nature of agape love was often misunderstood and miscommunicated in the Previous Age, and sometimes it was deliberately mistaught. Ruach always worked to encourage the full understanding and appreciation of agape love but could not override the desires of those not open to our message.
Here, in this age, it is easier for destructive ways to be recognised and rejected. Love will overcome hatred and evil – not by coercion or control, but by patience, forgiveness and mercy. When those with twisted and self-centred desires see clearly, they will turn away from their past way of life and learn to trust the love that is above all things. But this turning away can be a long and difficult process.”
“So how will you treat the evil people in the world?”
“We treat everyone with love. We seek a genuine turning away from evil, so we introduce circumstances in which people are made to face the futility of evil and hatred. It’s like a mirror. The longer they are made to look at their own reflection, the more they will see the ugliness of their evil desires.”
“Will any resist forever?” asked Johan.
“I am confident that even the hardest of hearts will eventually soften. Every human soul was made for loving relationships. The Previous Age has made many forget this most basic and essential of desires. Our great work is to see the restoration, reconciliation and maturing of all creation, and that means every human soul. God will be all in all, but only when all conscious beings have willingly chosen to live in agape love.”
Johan stopped walking. His mouth quivered and tears began to roll down his cheeks.
“I saw so much suffering. I thought that the evil and hatred in the world would overpower everything. I lost all hope. But now, being with you, I can see that all is not lost.”
Jesus turned and looked at Johan, moved by the deep longing within Johan for all things to be made right.
“But my friend, you never lost all hope. Despite everything you saw, your heart remained set on goodness. You may have been one small candle, but you lit up your corner of the darkness. You did what you could to follow me.”
“But, I didn’t know you.” Johan looked into Jesus’ face, still weeping.
“Your circumstances meant you didn’t have a fair picture of what knowing me meant. That is not your fault. However, our divine essence is agape love, and you did know this love. You sensed the guidance of Ruach, even in the most terrible dark days of war. We saw you. We knew you. You were never lost to us.”
Johan took hesitant steps towards Jesus. Knowing what this meant, Jesus opened his arms wide. Johan collapsed into his arms and Jesus held him tight. The two stood in an embrace. Johan had never felt so loved, and Jesus felt Johan’s deep gratitude and love returned to him.
“Thank you,” said Johan in a choked voice.
“Thank you,” Jesus replied in return.
They laughed, blowing out the emotion, and continued to walk together, allowing the power of the moment to linger.
Waking with a jolt, Johan sat up in his foxhole and tried his best to pull the blanket tighter around his freezing body. Keeping his arms against his chest he looked down at his wristwatch. It was 6.09am. He must have had about three hours sleep. Hunkered down with him to his right was Wilhelm, his closest friend in the company. Their shared body warmth had kept them alive another night. Their battalion had dug in, defending the town behind them from the advancing enemy. So far, the front had been quiet in their sector, but the sound of action had been creeping closer over the last two days. Plumes of smoke could be seen rising over the tree line as daylight slowly appeared.
Roused by Johan’s stirring, Wilhelm wriggled slightly.
“Any water? I’m out,” he asked, his eyes still closed.
Johan reached down. If you didn’t sit on your water, it would be frozen solid in no time. He passed it to Wilhelm under the blanket. Despite being close friends, it wasn’t unusual for Wilhelm to take advantage of Johan’s good nature. Wilhelm was from a comfortable background and was used to having all his needs met.
Wilhelm finished off what was left of the water. Johan sighed, realising there was nothing left for him.
Jesus noticed that Johan was lost in thought. He pushed some branches aside and held them open for Johan like a doorway. Johan was startled to see a plunge pool fed by a waterfall before him.
“Let’s drink,” suggested Jesus.
“How… how did you know…?” asked Johan.
Jesus whooped loudly and took a running jump, cannonballing into the pool. He emerged, shaking the water from his dark hair. Johan was more cautious.
“Try the water,” said Jesus, swimming closer to the edge of the pool. He took a mouthful of the water and blew it high into the air like a fountain.
Johan stooped down and took a handful of the water in his hand and brought it to his lips. The water was warm to the touch and sweet to taste. It was the purest water he’d ever come across. Johan looked at Jesus and smiled. Jesus pushed out his hands, sending water splashing over Johan.
“Hey! That’s it!” yelled Johan leaping into the water, sending a wave over Jesus. He took a huge mouthful of the water and swallowed it.
“What were you thinking about?” asked Jesus.
“My friend Wilhelm. I was just thinking about him. Seems like it was yesterday I was with him. Was it yesterday, or a lifetime ago? Maybe it was both.”
“Ah yes, Wilhelm,” replied Jesus knowingly.
“I loved him, but he was not a good man. He was selfish and could be cruel.”
“Yes,” said Jesus ambiguously.
“He died with me?”
“Yes, but remember, even if you die at the same time, you are raised to this age at different times,” explained Jesus.
“Will I see him again?”
“When you are both ready. In the fullness of the ages, everyone will find one another. But for now, you have different paths to tread.”
“I have my own path?” asked Johan.
“Yes, Johan. Come, it’s time for you to see your new home.”
The air was warm, and Johan and Jesus were dry again in no time.
“There’s a couple I want you to meet,” said Jesus.
Two people emerged from the trees. One was a shorter woman and the other a slight Asian man. Both had animated, excited expressions on their faces.
“Johan, this is Yvonne and Yan. They will bring you to your new community.”
“Hi Johan!” said Yvonne with a broad grin.
Yan bowed toward Johan. Jesus ran around behind Yan, leapt onto his back and gave him an over-dramatic kiss on the cheek.
“I love this guy!” Jesus yelled.
Yan began charging around with Jesus on his back, giggling.
Yvonne laughed so loudly that it echoed through the forest.
“They always do this,” she said breathlessly to Johan.
“Jump on, Yvonne” called Jesus as he passed her. Yvonne leapt like a cat onto Jesus’ back and Yan groaned.
Johan stood back and watched a mass of humanity running around like a strange beast. He couldn’t help but well up again at the sight.
‘Well, I never expected the afterlife to be quite like this,’ he thought to himself.
By now Jesus, Yan and Yvonne had collapsed into a heap of laughter on the ground. When they eventually untangled themselves, Jesus approached Johan.
“I’m going to have to say goodbye for now,” he said. “I leave you with these two good folk. You’re in great hands. They will show you your new home. I’ll see you again in a while.”
He held out his arms and Johan embraced him. He felt a knot of emotion in his throat as Jesus waved to him as he left the clearing.
“What a lovely man,” he mused out loud.
“He’s wonderful, isn’t he?” replied Yan. “Not at all how most people expect him to be.”
“Yeah, he’s fun!” said Johan in a surprised tone.
“It makes sense that the one who created life knows how to enjoy it,” chirped Yvonne.
Yvonne’s observation made Johan think. “That makes sense. But… what of the bad things? Did he make those, too?”
“Desires can become twisted,” said Yan. “But what we learn here is that the desires within our hearts can become untwisted and restored so that they are able to serve both us and other people.”
“How does that happen?” asked Johan.
“Through a constant learning process. The more openly we engage with the process, the quicker we learn.”
“It’s a deep process though,” Yvonne added. “Don’t be surprised if you are shocked by how deep it goes.”
Johan wondered what this idea of ‘process’ could mean for him. Maybe it was what Jesus meant by ‘path’. The only time he’d felt he’d gone through anything like a process was when he trained to be a soldier.
The suns in the sky cast changing tones of light onto the wooded terrain. Johan followed Yvonne and Yan along the path through the forest, heading towards an unknown destination. Johan knew that he trusted these new friends, but a lingering anxiety flickered within him when he thought about the word ‘process’. He hoped that it wouldn’t be like boot camp all over again.
Johan was crouched on the ground. He turned back to look at Yan and Yvonne. On the lawn before him, his little sister, Gertrude, was showing him how to hula-hoop. Their reunion had been more natural than Johan had dared hope. Gerty knew exactly who he was and had immediately run up to him, taking his hand to show him her rabbits.
“From her perspective, she last saw you a few days ago,” explained Yan. “She went to sleep in the Previous Age and woke up here.”
“She was raised just before you and had been told to expect you,” added Yvonne.
“She died twelve years before me,” said Johan. “She knew nothing of the war, thank God. She was only seven. I was thirteen at the time and I missed her every single day of my life.”
“Now you will be with her as she grows up here on the New Earth. Everyone gets to be a child once,” smiled Yan.
“When will our parents be here?” asked Johan.
“That’s not for us to answer,” replied Yvonne. “You will be together with all your loved ones at some point in the future. But the process must come to maturity, for both you and your parents. We don’t know how or when this will happen for each person.”
Johan stood up and clapped his hands. “You are so good at this!” he called to Gerty, who was laughing as she spun the hoop.
He turned to Yan and Yvonne.
“Our father. He… he had tendencies. You know, he liked other men. I saw him once, kissing another man in a forest. Will he be damned?”
“No one is ever damned, and it is not a sin to be homosexual,” said Yan. “He may have to face a process for other aspects of his heart, but sexuality in and of itself doesn’t conflict with knowing agape love. The culture he was born into may not have understood this, but that doesn’t mean he was wrong to feel deeply for other men.”
Johan nodded and released a breath charged with emotion.
“I think our mother always knew. She wasn’t angry with him. I think she wished he could be free to express his love for this man without fear.”
“I don’t know where they are. They might not be raised yet, but you will both see them,” Yan reassured him.
Johan nodded, pursing his lips, trying to keep from sobbing with relief at the prospect of seeing his parents again.
Gerty let the hoop fall to the ground, stepped over it and ran to Johan who squatted down to greet her.
“Come on, I want to show you something,” she said, grabbing his hand with both of hers.
She led him excitedly into a wooden house. Through the open front door Johan could see bright bunting with letters for the words ‘Welcome Johan’ stitched onto the triangles.
“I made it with Yvonne last night!” enthused Gerty, bobbing up and down with glee.
“Oh, Gerty, I love it!”
Johan reached down and hitched his little sister up onto his hip.
“Come and see your room!” she exclaimed, clasping her brother’s cheeks between her hands.
Johan looked at Yan and Yvonne briefly in turn as he and Gerty moved toward the stairs.
“We’ll see you soon!” called Yvonne. “We’ll leave you to settle in.”
“There’s nothing better than reunions with loved ones, is there?” said Yan as they set off down the path. “And speaking of loved ones, we need to get to Zion for the meeting this evening.”