Javi's Cafe, 14.
I sat in bed that night feeling as if there was something I needed to do before I slept. There were so many thoughts going around in my head that I couldn’t sort them, but figured my mood was related.
I guess I’ll read some before bed, I decided. I padded across the room to my desk, turned on my lamp, and sat down to read. I couldn’t focus on Genesis, so I flipped around, reading snippets here and there until something caught my attention. It was a list.
“They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.”
I kept reading.
“Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”
Deserve to die because of being disobedient to parents? That’s harsh.
I closed the Bible, flicked off the light, and dove into bed. My interest in Christianity was gone. That meant everyone deserved to die. Of course everyone dies eventually, but I knew from my grandfather that the Bible sometimes meant hell when it talked about death. That just wasn’t fair.
Whatever, I thought. It wasn’t helping anything anyway.
Two hours later, I was still awake.
Maybe God just takes all relationships really seriously.
I rolled over.
Still no sleep.
But if God is mad at people who do those things, then He’s mad at me and that’s yet another messed up relationship I can’t deal with.
It’s not like I’m disobedient to them anymore. And I wasn’t a bad kid anyway.
But despite all my excuses, my mind wouldn’t settle, because I knew all my reassurances were just that – excuses. I went back to my desk and searched for that paragraph again, wondering if I had read it properly. I had. But something prompted me to keep reading. In my lack of Bible knowledge and simultaneous lack of sleep, I understood almost nothing of the next few pages, yet couldn’t stop reading. Then a phrase jumped out at me.
“Peace with God.”
If that relationship was broken, then peace with God was what I needed, just as I needed peace with Emily and she needed it with her parents.
I didn’t know if I was going to get any more sleep that night, but I did know that I was going to visit Jerome first thing in the morning.
I reached the hospital before visiting hours and paced the lobby until it was finally time.
“Good to see you, Walter,” Jerome said.
“Good morning,” I said. “How are you feeling?”
“On the mend – slowly. They said they’ll release me before Christmas if I don’t get any worse. I don’t think they trust me on my own so are keeping me till I’m all better.”
“Good. We’d all be worried about you if they let you go before then.”
His gaze caught mine. “You didn’t sleep last night.”
I stifled a yawn as I shook my head.
“How are things with Emily?”
“Better,” I said. “At least, I think. And on the surface.”
“What’s troubling you?”
I pulled the Bible out of my bag.
“So you’ve been reading, then. What did you find?”
I found the place I had read last night and passed the book to him. He read and then looked up at me, nodding slowly.
“You agree?” I said. “Isn’t that harsh? Deserving death because of being disobedient to parents?”
“It seems harsh because we have so little understanding of who God is and the way He set up the world. Did you keep reading?”
“Then you would have seen that the writer – his name was Paul – is trying to make it clear that everyone – not just the murderers – have done wrong and deserve to die. He’s proving that we all have a broken relationship with God.”
“It still seems harsh, to have the death penalty for such small things.”
“Were you listening?” Jerome asked with a slight chuckle. “We don’t realize how big and important and perfect God is, so it seems like those are small things. Not listening to your parents may have brought you a time-out – but God is infinitely more than your parents, so not listening to Him is going to be a much bigger deal.”
“So then I guess my relationship with my parents is a big deal to Him.”
“Yes. Relationships in general are a big deal to Him. That’s what most of the things we do wrong center on – not thinking of or treating others like we should.”
“I have to think about this more,” I said.
“Take your time; it’s a lot to understand.”
We sat in silence for a while, but I knew it was going to take more than a day to figure out what I thought of God now that I knew more about Him.
“So if all that is true,” I said at last, “then how do we fix our relationship with God?”
“Not fix –” Jerome began.
“Okay, then, heal. There was a part later where it talked about peace with God, but beyond that phrase I didn’t understand.”
Jerome opened the Bible and found the verses I had read. He cleared his throat and read them aloud. “‘Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.’ What do you think it means?”
“That there’s no more brokenness between us and God – but I don’t get how that happens.”
“The answer is clearer when you read the rest of the Bible, but the short explanation is that Jesus’ death took the place of ours, and when we accept that, we are welcomed as God’s children and may know Him intimately.”
“Peace with God,” I said. “But Christians die, too. My grandfather died.”
“We all die,” Jerome said. “But there’s life after death. Those who do not have peace with God through Jesus go on to hell – called the second death – while those who do receive eternal life.”
We lapsed into silence again.
“I should go home for Christmas,” I said.
“Go home for Christmas. Try to see my parents for more than just good school and family vacations. And maybe encourage Emily that way, too.”
“Is this for you and your parents or for Emily?”
I looked him in the eye. “For my family. I won’t say anything but facts about going to her.”
A nurse came and shooed me out of Jerome’s room. On my way out of the hospital, I pulled my phone out of my pocket and called home.
“Hello.” It was my father.
“Hi dad, this is Walter.”
“I’m thinking about coming home for Christmas.” I said.
“We’re not at home,” he said, and I could hear people’s voices in the background. “We’re at your uncle’s house.”
I only had one uncle, and he lived in Georgia. “Oh. How long have you been there?”
“A few days. It’s been planned since the summer. Your mother mentioned a concert you’re having at New Years’, though. If I don’t have a business trip right after New Years’ we’ll try to come.”
“That would be great! I-”
“I have to go. Call on Christmas and we’ll talk to you then.”
The line went dead, and I slipped my phone back into my pocket.
At least I had tried.