There was a man, could have been any one, who considered himself a decent sort of person, but who never put much thought into an afterlife. There were too many things in life which occupied his attention, and which also allowed him to avoid thinking about the inevitable. Unexpectedly – at least for him – his life dreamily ended. He found himself in the place where all souls are said to be judged by God. As it dawned on him about what had happened and where he was, he suddenly was terrified of what awaited him.
An angel of the Lord approached him. The angel’s appearance was awesome, and the man cringed and swallowed hard. His mind was racing for what defense he might offer at his judgment.
The angel spoke in a harmonious voice, asking the man, “Are you now ready to choose your eternal destiny?”
“Choose?” The man was astounded at the question, for he had given no real thought to it in his lifetime and he couldn’t believe he had any real choice in the matter at this particular moment, considering where he was. “Do you mean I even have a choice?”
“Of course you have a choice.” replied the angel “You have to choose where you will spend your eternity. Who did you think was going to do that for you?”
The man was at a loss for words, but for the first time in a long time, God came to mind.
The angel led the man to a room which had four doors in one wall. The angel explained, “Behind one of these doors lies your eternal destiny. But you have to choose which one you will enter. Three of these doors open paths to heaven. Only one of the doors leads to hell. You have to choose what your fate will be. Choose wisely because whichever door you open is the one you must enter.”
The man was now becoming concerned again. “But . . . how do I know what door to choose? Is it a trick . . . or is it all left to chance?”
“There is no trick,” The angel responded, “and it isn’t a matter of chance; it really is choice. You have to decide which door you want to go through. I’m even going to tell you a something about what is on the other side of each of these doors.”
The man didn’t know whether to breathe a sigh of relief or whether this was going to be such a test that he would certainly fail.
“One of these doors leads to martyrdom and suffering for the Gospel, but you will find your way to heaven on that path. One of these doors leads to people who are suffering terribly and it will require that you spend time to care for them, but it too leads to the Kingdom of Heaven. Behind one door are all manners of poor people, beggars, the unwanted – and they will ask you to give them everything you own including the clothes off your back. But this too is a path to the Kingdom. Some of the saints thought this door with all the beggars is the easiest path to the kingdom because it requires no suffering – all you have to do is give everything you own away – let them lighten the load for you. It is the easiest path to the kingdom but that door is the most difficult to choose.”
Then the angel said, “Only one door leads to hell.”
The man was not a little glad that judgment was not in God’s hands. And in any case choosing heaven was three times more likely then choosing the path to hell. His mind was whirling with his good fortune as he realized his fate was in his own hands. He was overjoyed to hear that one door gave him easy access to heaven because he certainly assumed everyone chooses that door.
“How can I tell the doors apart?” the man asked. “This is the trick . . . isn’t it?”
The angel again assured him that there was no trick. “Just approach each door and listen carefully to what you hear,” the angel instructed. The angel handed the man a well stocked backpack. “You will need this on your journey – it will speed your on your way.”
As the man looked at the backpacks contents he noted medical supplies, analgesics, antiseptics, bandages, food, extra clothing, water, bedding, a tent. The back pack was very heavy, but the man was feeling buoyant because of the care being shown to him and the provisions given him. He put the pack on his back, feeling confident that he was now prepared to choose his destiny.
The man hesitantly moved toward the first door, still fearful that maybe it was a trap. But as he drew near to the door he could hear terrible screams from people on the other side of the door as if they were being tortured. They cried out in horrible agony, begging for mercy. It sounded like their bones were being snapped or as if they were being eaten alive. Did he smell burning flesh from under the door? The man was horrified and fearfully backed away from the door lest he somehow fall through it. A shudder went down his spine as he moved more quickly to the second door. At first he didn’t hear anything coming from behind the second door. Carefully, he put his ear to the door. The sound on the other side of the door was the most pitiful moaning, people groaning in their suffering. The piteous sighs of these people struck his heart with a dread – he did not want to find out what was causing their grief, nor did he feel that he wanted to deal with that suffering. He felt oppressed by the thought of it.
He looked back over his shoulder. The angel was watching expectantly, and the man felt encouraged.
As he moved toward the third door, he could hear a loud clamor from the other side of the door before he got near it. People were pounding on the door begging for help. The man thought the door itself might burst open because of the crowd pushing against it. There was a myriad of voices all begging for something to alleviate their need – medicines, clothes, food, water. Amidst the din, he thought he heard someone shout out a warning from the other side of the door – “Don’t open the door! Those people are diseased and dangerous. You’ll unleash them on the world.” He almost felt as if their arms were reaching through the door trying to pull him in. His hands tightened their grip on the straps of his backpack. He leaped back away from the door, thankful that he had escaped being dragged into that mess.
He then cautiously moved toward the fourth door. He stopped and listened but didn’t seem to hear anything. He moved closer to the door. He tentatively placed his ear against the door. What he heard seemed so soothing to him. For the sound was as if a running, bubbling river was passing by on the other side of the door. There was no other noise. The man liked the quiet, peaceful babbling. It was so inviting, very much what he hoped heaven would be like. He grabbed the door handle and pushed the door open and confidently stepped in.
The sound it turned out was not a river as he imagined it at all. What was flowing past the door was a rapidly moving stream of sewage of the most foul kind. There was no other sound because everything was quickly being swept away by the force of the flow. The man’s back pack dragged him down into the sewage and he was carried directly to the mouth of hell.
The man had chosen his eternal destiny.
The angel cringing, marveled at the man’s choice.
The man suddenly felt his neck snap, as his eyes popped open and his mind jolted awake as he heard the priest chanting:
And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”