When Adam was last unemployed for a few months, he spent each Saturday sitting with an elderly man in a nursing home. One week, I did this for him, when Adam had something else to do. We'll call the old man Mr. D. We liked Mr. D. He was 91 but in pretty good shape. He'd licked cancer, survived the Navy, buried a wife, and been an artist for many years. He was also a flaming pagan, even in his dotage. He'd lived a debauched life and enjoyed recalling it all. To be painfully honest, he had a filthy mouth and an equally filthy mind, but we loved him. I do not tell this to disparage him; I also found remnants of God's image in him, a man who saw beauty and loved art, who treasured friendship and clung to life. We never gave up trying to show Jesus to him.
I remind myself not to be amazed at the pagans I meet. They feel perfectly normal to them, and I imagine they see me as an oddity, a fringe wacko maybe? I am the one who believes in a God who creates a universe, a virgin who has a baby, a man who comes alive again after dying, and a happily-ever-after life. I don't think that's nutty, but lots of people do.
It must be freeing, in a way, to be a pagan. To put God aside thoroughly and live one's life as one's own master. If your luck holds out, you might have several decades of really good living. If Satan decides not to mess with you, and God ignores you (because He has a bunch of children to raise), you might go sailing on to many successes. It must feel eminently normal to be a pagan in the modern world.
But there it ends. I feel sorry for my pagan friends because I know that their belief system is only good for their 70 or 80 years. It really doesn't work for afterward. And many of them are satisfied with assuring themselves that there is no afterward. You die, and that's it. No consciousness of existence. I think many believe that. If you deny God and all His eventualities in this life, you might as well continue that thinking into the next.
Only ... only, I don't find it very logical. The whole idea that this immense, mind-blowingly complex universe could exist by total accident, is ludicrous to me. And as Sherlock Holmes (or somebody?) said, if you have eliminated all other options, the one remaining, no matter how bizarre it seems, must be true. I can come to no other conclusion than that some entity more grand than the universe, made it. From that, all else follows. He would have an interest in his creation. He would probably want to communicate with it, and involve himself with it. If he's a spirit, it makes sense that he would make us spiritual, so our relationship with him wouldn't end with death.
But God is such a chore. If he does exist, the whole thing becomes so complicated, and requires so much of us. So my pagan friends shrug their shoulders and choose a truly lighter, easier path. For now.
I sat one Saturday afternoon with Mr. D. in the patio area of the nursing home. The chairs were comfortable, the sun was warm overhead after a long, cold winter. We were thrilled to be outside. He was dozy, as was I. As we sat with faces upturned and warmed, and breathed deeply of the sun and color and beauty, I knew he was groggy. I knew also that his artist's heart was tugging at him. Who, even a pagan, can sit in such a place with face up and warmed against blue sky, and not feel a spiritual yearning for beauty? So I played a dirty little trick on Mr. D. I did. I said something like this:
"Wouldn't it be wonderful to go stay in a place just like this all the time -- warm, sunny, beautiful, relaxing, safe -- there is a place like that." I phrased it somehow so that it did not arouse his suspicion.
"Really?" he replied, jostled lightly out of his reverie. He sat up a bit and looked at me. "Where?"
Then I told him simply that it was the beautiful place God was preparing for us, and wouldn't he like to go there? As soon as those words were out of my mouth, Mr. D.'s soul switched back off. He'd detected a whiff of religion, and that put him off.
But for a moment, a few seconds, I had him. He knew inside himself that the New Earth is really simply the place that we all long for. He longs for it. Every pagan longs for it. They just want it without God attached.
I bet this is too preachy to read, and I'm sorry. I wish every pagan I know would suddenly have a light bulb event, and say, "Yes! Of course! It's all so logical, and so very beautiful. Who wouldn't want that?" I hope Mr. D. still wants it. I hope he wants it enough to ask God to take him there.