Despite the heavy rain that soaked the city streets he
walked through, Henry was, for the first time in many
long, hard years, wonderfully happy. And he owed this
joy the man he followed now into the West Side Diner.
Excuse me, the angel he followed. Despite his faith
and chosen occupation, he could still barely believe
it. But God showed him the Truth, had sent a messenger
to him, and he had no doubts now. He had seen the angel
in its full glory, and now the angel (after assuming human
form) was taking him away to give him an important
message. A message directly from God. Henry felt honored
and proud to be singled out for such a message --
whatever it might be. He knew, in his heart, that God
had always smiled upon his holy work, and now God had
something to tell him.
His work was, and had been, his whole life. It cost him dearly; his job, his wife, his son - these had all abandoned him. All he had left was his faith - the belief that his was doing God's work. This faith had never wavered; it sustained him every day. His faith buoyed his spirits when the passersby jeered at him, when he was insulted and yelled at. It carried him when he was attacked by street children last year and nearly died. It still hurt to walk, and was painful to stand each day on the street corner, preaching the words of God's Holy Bible to every person who could hear him. He ignored the pain, though, and he ignored the weight of his sixty-five years, for he had a mission. It was his mission to speak the words of God, and try every day to spread His divine message.
As he followed the angel into the diner, he clutched his well-worn Bible even closer to him. It was a gesture he often repeated, and it always helped him remember his faith.
The angel took a seat in a far corner booth, and indicated for Henry to sit across from him. Henry did so, placing his Bible on the table in front of him. He kept is right hand on it for comfort; it looked as if he was expected to be sworn in to some special service. Perhaps that is what he expected.
No waitress bothered coming to the table. As if sensing his anticipation, the angel was the first to speak.
"Henry William Taylor, I have a message. Are you ready to receive the words of God and Heaven?"
Henry didn't hesistate. "I am ready. Please tell me what my Lord and God wishes me to know."
Henry was surprised to see the angel's expression change; up until now, the angel's face had been impassive, almost like an alabaster statue. Now, though, his face bore a look of incredible pity. It was an expression Henry had seen on people who were speaking to terminally-ill patients, or victims of accidents that had mutilated their bodies. The expression scared him, and he realized that he didn't want to hear was was coming.
"Henry Willion Taylor, the Lord wishes you to know that the words and message you have been spreading are based on lies."
Shock and confusion showed on Henry's face. "No..." was all he could manage.
The angel shook his head sadly. "It is True, Henry. For the past forty years you have preached the words contained within that book. But that book was never written by God, Henry, it was written by men."
"But God gave them the words! He directed them to set down His Message!"
Another sad head shake. "No Henry, He did not. Consider how much of that book is devoted to rules regarding moral behavior - rules which today are considered barbaric. Consider how much of that book is devoted to pointless geneological histories and outdated codes of priestly duties. Do you really think that God, who is All-Knowing, would direct humanity to follow rules that would not stand the test of time?"
"There are no 'buts', Henry." The angel's voice was firmer now, almost angry. "That book was written by men. They had no directive from God. They were simply trying to establish control over the populace they lived in. By claiming their rules came from God, they gained credibility. It was a very old trick, Henry. Men have used it at the start of every religion. They constructed a code of behavior that they wanted people to follow, and then wrapped it up in fairy tales and parables to make people believe in it. And if they didn't believe it, they were stoned as heretics."
Henry realized that the angel hated the book -- hated what it represented and what humanity had done with it. Instinctively, he removed his hand from the cover.
Meekly, he asked, "What, then, about Jesus?"
The compasion came back to the angel's face. "There was never a Jesus, Henry. He was purely fictional. Many years after the religion was established, there was a group of young people who were unsatisfied with the priesthood. They wanted to establish their own moral code. They didn't have the political strength to force a change, so they did what their predecessors did - they invented a story. They invented Jesus, Henry, complete with a magic birth and tragic death. They told the story of Jesus over and over, and eventually it got written down. And people began to believe it. The only message Jesus ever brought to humanity was theirs."
The angel continued as Henry sat in silence. "I should point out, though, that Christianity is not the only religion based on such lies. Judaism, Islam - they too are false. Early experiments in population control, if you will. Any religion or man which claims to know the mind and will of God is lying to you, Henry, for God is by definition unknowable. God never wanted any man or woman to restrict the actions of their lives to some ancient moral code."
Tears were streaming down Henry's face now in rivers. "WHY?! Why did God allow this? Why did He let such lies exist? Why....why did let me waste my life?" Henry's voice was loud, but no one in the diner seemed to hear.
The angel's voice was full of compassion. "All God ever wanted of humanity was for each person to exercise his own free will. He wanted every person to do exactly what they felt like doing. He wanted them to enjoy their lives by making the choices they really wanted to make. And since these 'religions' came about by men making choices, He decided not to interfere. Men chose to make the religons. Men chose to follow them. He decided to honor their choice, even when people began to throw their lives away because of it. Which brings us to you, Henry."
The angel reached over and held Henry's shoulder. "God has compassion, Henry. He knows that you have been spending your life in a truely worthless endeavor. And He knows that you are doing it only because you love Him. He can no longer watch you suffer so. So He sent me. He sent me to tell you the Truth, so that you needn't waste anymore of your life. He wants you to stop, stop preaching lies, stop suffering. Stop, and do the the things you always wanted to do -- the things your 'mission' kept you from. There is no God-given moral code, Henry. God loves you regardless of your actions."
Henry stood up abruptly, shaking off the hand on his shoulder. "How could He? How could He?" The ambigious question hung in the air as Henry turned and left the diner, entering the rain-battered streets. The angel made no move to follow. Henry had left behind his Bible, but the angel ignored it.
Instead the angel watched Henry from the window, reading his Fate for the last time. The foolish man was past the point of no return now - in less than a half hour he would commit suicide by jumping from a bridge, which would in turn cause a massive automobile accident on the wet streets below. More than forty people would die in the accident. And Henry would find himself in Hell.
"I do so love watching you work, Israphane. My congratulations."
The angel -- excuse me, the demon -- turned back to the seat which Henry recently vacated. "Thank you, my Lord Lightbringer. I am sure Kronos will be as pleased as you are."
"Indeed. The preacher had almost reached his Destiny. I am glad you were available to take care of this business."
"I am always at your service, my Lord." The demon indictated the book in front of him. "Please, why don't you keep that as a memento of the occassion - I doubt Henry will need it anymore."
"I believe I will. But tell me, Israphane, why are you not pleased as well? Normally you are much more satisfied at the end of an assignment - especially one that went as smoothly as this one has."
The demon looked out the window into the rain, a whistful expression on his face. "To be honest, my Lord, sometimes I think my job is just too damn easy."
Israphane turned back to look at his master and smiled a long, sinister smile. "Sometimes."
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