You have finally arrived in Heaven, having lived a life of total obedience and commitment to Christ. You run up with rapturous joy to who you recognize as St. Peter standing outside the pearly gates. He is luminous and has an ethereal gaze of love on his face.
“You, my dear, may of course enter into the Kingdom, for you loved the Lord with all your heart, soul and strength and you loved your neighbor as yourself.” St. Peter glances past your name on the book of life he is holding and his face grows grim. He hesitates and then informs you.
“I do have something to ask of you,” he purses his lips. “If I were to inform you that your beloved daughter’s name is not on this list...” He stopped and then continued, “We do have a substitution option available. Would you be willing to give up your place in heaven for your daughter and take her place in.... well...?” St. Peter didn’t continue.
“Oh of course, of course! Oh please let my daughter take my place.” You respond anxiously, even though you are deeply disappointed at not being able to see Christ face to face. You never even think twice about what you will suffer for your daughter.
“Actually, I am going to have to ask you another question.” St. Peter tapped his pencil against the tablet he was carrying.
“There was a man that lived about a thousand years ago in China and never heard of Christ. He actually was a really good guy and he’s been kept out of heaven for quite a while. If God were to ask you a special favor, and maybe...” the saint faltered for a moment. “If you could give him your place, would you be willing to do that?”
“Is this some kind of charity test to get into heaven?” You think. Surely God would not ask this of you, but to say “no” would seem so selfish, so unchristian. So your face turns grave and you whisper, “I guess” with a gulp. “Really? No heaven?” You can’t believe what you are hearing. This was supposed to be an auto ticket because of your faith. You didn’t prepare yourself for this substitution thing.
Evidently that still wasn’t the end of the questioning, and St. Peter looks you straight in the eye and whispers. “Dearest, there is a man who was a serial killer of children and a pedophile. He is, in the eyes of the Host of Heaven, one of the most despicable people who ever lived. Would you give your place in heaven to him?”
You are confused. What kind of question is that? For a moment you silently stare into St. Peter's face trying to figure out if he is tricking you. You are unable to answer. And the saint doesn't retract the question. He awaits... patiently.. for your reply.
“No, no, no, no, no,” you think in despair as your heart breaks. God could not possibly be asking this of you. This just isn’t how it works. This goes against all your basic beliefs about justice and mercy and God Himself. Why would God even ask such a dreadful, horrible thing of you? You had faith, just like you were supposed to. You played by God’s own rules and even were a very good person while on earth. Oh God, Oh God, you panic, this couldn’t be a real question, could it?
You are unable to answer yes, and you sink to the feet of Peter sobbing with inconsolable wretchedness. You beat your breast and you cry out in immortal agony. You cannot fathom why God, a God of mercy and love would ask this of you and then, confused, you answer the only words available to your lips. An answer of mysterious faith.
“Not my will, but thine.” You are breathless and weak.
At that moment, you are taken back to the garden of Gethsemane and you feel the sweat of blood trickling down your face, the suffering blows of each of Jesus’ heartbeat against your chest. A torment unendurable to earthly flesh tears though your spirit. You experience a tiny taste of the bewilderment and abandonment of Christ as He is asked to take on the sins of the world by His Father.
You suddenly realize that if you had said, “yes” to St. Peter’s question of allowing a sinful maniac into heaven, you would have answered incorrectly--as well as if you had said “no.” For if God had asked us to take this man’s place, we should be willing.
Neither yes nor no would not have been an answer of love, for love demands both justice and mercy. You spoke the same words of Christ when He was asked this of God.
“Not my will, but thine.” The perfect answer.
It was a true answer born of faith. Faith in God, when all human possibilities are dark and unfathomable.
Then all is opened to you, you see with new eyes. We are not God and cannot grasp the end from the beginning as He can. The ultimate faith is a faith born of total surrender when all our control and understanding is darkened. When there is no answer but to give it all to Him--a surrender of our will and sacrifice of self to Him.
The blessed saint grabs you in his arms and lifts you gently from your faint and revives you. You see the door opened and bright light, golden and warm beckons you inside. A deep penetrating voice, lovely and strong calls:
“Enter into the eternal paradise. Your faith has saved you.”