Without letting go of me, he used his free hand to unbutton the cuff of his dress shirt protruding from his jacket sleeve, then proceeded to roll both up to his elbow, presenting his bare forearm. An array of gashes colored his skin in red, the outlay identical to my previous harm. I extended a finger from our persisting handshake to alight on the nearest laceration. The texture was an exact replica to mine.
“What is this?” I asked in horror.
“This is a father finally protecting his son, rather than a master sacrificing his prodigy,” he stated with reconciliation.
He humbly pulled away while I remained frozen, dumbfounded. The unprecedented mixture of solace and horror I experienced were unlike anything I could process. The abrupt love and loss of a father within the span of minutes was more than any mortal could be asked to handle. These were the moments that humans succumbed to grief and nothing could stir them. Yet I needed to be more. God needed me to be more.
He had marched halfway to the formidable, depraved door before my wits returned to me. In a hysteric frenzy, I rushed after him, desperate and devastated. I clung to his arm and fell to my knees. An ache from within crept to the surface and sent my mind into insatiable turmoil. Bowed at my father’s feet, I wept, my remorse inconsolable.
Through my cries, I pleaded, “This is my sin. I deserve to be punished.”
“But now I bear the scars. The burden is mine,” he tried to assure me. “Someone has to be punished for this and now someone will be.”
“Let that someone be me,” I implored wretchedly.
“You always have to be the one to make sacrifices, Jesus,” he commended. “Isn’t it about time someone made a sacrifice for you?”
Disarmed by his resolve, my clutch on his arm dropped away and I collapsed before him, too contrite and dolorous to speak. I hung my head and gave into misery. My sobs prevented a fruitful intake of air and my vision spotted.
God did not leave during my downfall. He remained standing beside my lamenting heap despite my lost hold on him. With my eyes down, I could still sense his presence.
Once my thoughts formed into words once more, I asked, “What am I supposed to do? Where do I go?”
“That’s up to you,” he answered with kindness.
A creak elsewhere in the room prompted me to lift my head. In the back of the courtroom, where the spectators would enter and exit, the door swung ajar. I spotted distant greenery and sunshine through the opening and recognized the phenomenons that could only be present on Earth. Another sound shifted my attention to the door behind the judge’s bench, in which God had come. The brilliance of light shining into the room like a life of its own was the celestial signature known only to heaven. The blackened, ominous entrance to hell opened last, but this was not for my benefit. This would be my father’s departure.
I staggered onto my feet, though my legs were too unstable to support me. God helped lift me when he noted my struggle. Once upright, I cast my arms around him in an embrace. Setting aside all divine dignity, he reciprocated, pressing his cheek against the top of my head lovingly. I buried myself in his broad shoulder, savoring this first and last moment of intimacy. The emanating warmth that beamed from him and into me was uncanny, yet more soothing than any mortal could ever hope to achieve. My tears soaked into the material of his jacket and he had no qualms about it. For this glorious, endless instant, God truly allowed himself to be a father and I was his son.
“Thank you,” I breathed.
With this, he unfolded himself from my arms and started toward the darkness. He only gained two steps before my heart shattered at the sight.
“Wait,” I called out to him. Serene, he paused for my sake. I approached him with my head and shoulders bowed. I mumbled in despondency, “I know it won’t make a difference, but I think I’m ready to repent now.”
A small, doting smile teased at his lips as he placed an affectionate hand on my shoulder. “And I will gladly receive it.”
Allowing his touch to guide me downward, I knelt before him, slumping in defeat, the burden of corruption finally proving too much to carry. I truly understood how unworthy I was to be in the presence of this being, and yet he never treated me as such. He was saving me, whether I deserved it or not. I longed to disintegrate into nothing. I wanted my unimportant existence to no longer trouble my father. All problems were of my making, yet he volunteered to pay the price. No words would sate my guilt, but I had to try.
“Dear heavenly father, I confess to my sins. You set a promising path before me and I refused to follow it. I receive you into my heart and I ask that you cleanse me from unrighteousness.”
When I showed no intention of rising from my submissive stoop, he hooked beneath my arms and hoisted me up to stand level with him once more. Ensuring that my eyes locked with his, he pronounced with adamance, “All is forgiven.”
The profound honesty and graciousness in that gaze enthralled me. His astounding ambience of goodness could somehow convince me that all was well. His acceptance dissipated much of my misery. He was saving me in more ways than one.
This enchantment mesmerized me for a prolonged instant in which I vaguely noticed my father descending to the ground in front of me. When I regained my faculties, all my questions were only answered with confusion.
“What are you doing?”
Settling onto his knees, humble yet heroic, he remarked, “Repenting of my sins.”
I scooped under his arms in the same fashion he had raised me up, but his sturdy, powerful form would not be swayed by the likes of me. I persisted to object with words, “You don’t have any sins. You’re not capable of sinning.”
“Yes, I am. You made me see that.” He pulled my fumbling hands away and clasped them in his. A twisted, pained expression haunted his pallor. The God of all creation groveled at my feet. “You were right. I may have fulfilled my plans for the whole of humanity but I neglected to think about you. I wasn’t there when you needed me. I failed to be your father.”
He released my hands so he could further lower himself, surrendering to my will. He feebly confessed, “I failed you. And if you can find it in your heart, I beg for your forgiveness.”
I brushed away my tears, though a new stream swiftly replaced them. Since I was incapable of standing him up, I dropped down to join him. My thoughts rushed with words, but my mouth would shape none of them into being. I simply observed the journey of teardrops that mirrored my own, carving a shimmering, breathtaking path across the face of God.
Sensing my inability to articulate, he asked nothing of me. He cradled my cheeks in the immense softness of his palms and said, “You may have lost faith in me, but I will never stop believing in you.”
He leaned in and placed a small kiss on my forehead before climbing to his feet. His majesty and might were more pronounced than ever. He held his head high. His glory was striking. He strode to the blackened oblivion with pride and fearlessness. He hesitated only a second at the aperture, and this was my fault.
I finally regained my voice when he was a step away from vanishing forever. In a cowardly whimper, I managed, “Goodbye, Father.”
Despite the faint volume, he heard. With his undefinable, thunderous timbre, he replied, “Goodbye, my son.”
His last footfall crossed the threshold and the swirling darkness curled around him. The tendrils cloaked him in their wispy, predatory grasp, bit by bit, until his silhouette melded into it, indistinguishable. Pleased with the offering, the doorway shut itself with a satisfied crack, sealing my father away from me for the rest of eternity.
I sprawled on the floor, giving into despair. I doubled over, the pangs in my stomach unendurable. As my sobs echoed back to me from the wood surfaces of the chamber, they sounded alien, detached from my existence. I was supposed to be the one gone, and every twinge of pain, every sound, every tear seemed unreal. I was not meant to be.
A droplet alighted on my wrist and cruelly yanked me from my sorrowful revery. The tiny bead of water slid down the thew of my pristine forearm, unhampered by the slashes that should have been there. This tear demonstrated the fact that I was whole again. My father had granted me a second chance and I was choosing to wallow in the impossibility of it.
The remaining two doors still stood open for me, different degrees of light pouring onto the hardwood from both. My future resided behind one of them, but I had no idea what that future would hold for me. If I went back to heaven, would I now be ruler due to my father’s absence? Or would I be shunned by the heavenly host for my misdeeds? If I returned to Earth, would humanity be able to accept me? Had anything truly changed? Was my father’s sacrifice worth it?
A fresh determination seized me in response to this last query. No matter my decision, the one element I was set upon proving was that his sacrifice was not in vain.
With this in mind, I rallied, pushing onto my feet, and marched toward my new home.
© 2020 by Kelsey Garber