To realize one's destiny is a person's only real obligation.
- Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
What is the question you will be asked as you one day stand before the pearly gates, or St. Peter, or God himself? I realize that assumes you hold to a pearly-gated-St.Peter-as-sentinel-before-God-himself scenario, but most people believe there will be some kind of moment of accounting for life once we die. There are a few who believe we'll just become food for the worms. But even then, maybe the worms will ask us a question before they eat us...if so, what will that question be?
I was taught that God would ask: Why should I let you into my heaven? I was also taught the answer God wanted to hear: Because I put my faith in Jesus Christ who died for me. As I think about this now, here in my forties, I don't have any misgivings about the answer, but the question bothers me. It presents the picture of a god with arms crossed, chest puffed, barring the way to Elysium, booming out that question so all creation would pause for your answer. And unless you give the right answer, you're out, escorted to the food-for-worms line.
There's a beautiful picture in the rest of the Story of a father hiking up his manskirt and running in a rather undignified manner when he sees his prodigal son limping toward home. This father doesn't give a rat's ass what other people may think; his son, who was away in the far country, has come to his senses. When this father reaches his son, he embraces him and showers him with kisses, and holds his son's face in his hands and says Oh, just let me look at you. How I've missed you. My son! Not once, in this story, does the father stand back, cross him arms, puff his chest and boom: Why should I let you come home? Not once.
An old Catholic chaplain used to play with my lower-middle-class-pasty-white-bread-evangelical-mind by asking me: What do you think God's going to ask you when you one day stand before him? At the time of my friendship with him, I was fresh out of divinity school, ready to save the planet, questions and answers in hand. I would answer my friend with the answer I'd been taught. And then being polite, another thing I'd learned in divinity school, I'd ask him: Paul, what do you think God's going to ask us? He would pause, lean back, rub his prodigious belly and beard, and then lean in and whisper: Did you find out who you were? He would then smile and go about his Catholic chaplain duties. I would smile back, politely, and think to myself: Silly Catholic-rabbit, tricks are for kids. I know better.
Here in my forties, I can imagine the father and his prodigal son walking back toward the Ponderosa. The father's arm is around his son's neck and from time to time they pause and the father buries his son's head in his chest as tears of joy salt his cheeks. There isn't a lot of talking. There is a moment, however, in one of those pause-hugs, when the father looks the son square in his whored-out eyes and says Did you find out who you were? The son slowly replies through pig-slop crusted lips: I'm your son. The father gently pats his son's beggard-cheeks and resumes walking: Let's go home. And the rocks along the way begin to sing, while all the worms smile.